Why is there so little reference to Ireland in the ongoing debate about Scottish Independence? Specifically the existence of the Republic of Ireland, which let us remember was formerly an integral part of the UK. We will soon be celebrating or at least remembering the 100th anniversary of Irish Independence. Which came about through violence and a bitter war. The UK is already broken. The Republic of Ireland broke it up in the 1920s. To use the language of Unionists, the Republic of Ireland had the audacity to choose separation and divorce. Yet the rest of the UK is now and has been for decades, best friends with the Republic. Even our beloved Queen on her recent visit to Dublin was able to state: “Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than just neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.”
Let us pause for a moment to take this in. The Republic of Ireland is living proof that there is life outwith the UK. Not just life, but a successful and viable life. Without the benefits of North Sea oil and gas, I note in passing. And this has been achieved not in opposition to the rest of the UK, nor in hostility to the rest of the UK, but as the Queen stated, as “firm friends and equal partners.”
Yet the current generation of Unionists trot out the same old assertions about an Independent Scotland, as though the Republic of Ireland does not and never has existed. Let us take some of the most repeated Unionist claims about Scottish Independence and review them in the light of the experience of the Republic of Ireland.
Scotland is too wee and too poor to survive on its own. This oft repeated refrain is impossible to maintain in relation to Ireland. Without the natural advantages of Scotland - oil and gas, whisky, rich variety of landscapes, home of golf, historic universities etc - the Republic has become one of the richest countries in the world. According to the IMF in 2011, GDP expressed as Purchasing Power Parity per capita was $39,507 for the Republic compared to $35.974 for the UK. How do Unionists explain this transformation? It cannot all be down to grants from the EU. Unionists simply ignore the existence of the Republic. Though recently they have started to take some pleasure in the current economic woes in the country. As if the UK was somehow immune to austerity and cutbacks and low or negative growth. It is also worthy of note that despite their current economic difficulties, no-one, but no-one in the Republic is suggesting that they would be better off by re-joining the UK.
An independent Scotland would be defenceless in a dangerous world. So how does Ireland survive? The Republic is not even a member of NATO. Yet it manages to support a small army, navy and air force. Primarily for coastal protection. Ireland does not get involved in invading and occupying other countries, and I imagine Scotland would not wish to do so either. The Republic’s military does however contribute successfully to UN peacekeeping actions. If the UK has ambitions to remain a global military power, so be it. As the Republic shows, there is no need for Scotland to be part of this.
Beyond arguing that Scotland is too wee and poor, some Unionists like to claim positive reasons for maintaining the UK. The commonly come down to talk about shared values, a shared history and links with family friends in England. Again all of this explicitly ignores the existence of the Republic. As the Queen’s speech referred to above makes clear, these shared values and shared history are also shared by citizens of the Republic. It is the same with these famous ties that bind us together. As the Queen put it so exquisitely: “These ties of family, friendship and affection are our most precious resource. They are the lifeblood of the partnership across these islands, a golden thread that runs through all our joint successes so far, and all we will go on to achieve.” Remember, this is our UK Queen celebrating ties of family, friendship and affection that exist between two independent states. There is no reason why they would not continue to flourish when Scotland, like Ireland, becomes independent.
A final argument beloved of Unionists is that we are stronger together than apart. In order to meet the many challenges of the future Scotland needs to remain within the UK. This ridiculous claim also ignores the existence of an independent Ireland. Thankfully the Queen, so beloved of Unionists, did not. In her speech in Dublin, she specifically addressed this issue of future challenges. “The challenges of the past have been replaced by new economic challenges which will demand the same imagination and courage. The lessons from the peace process are clear; whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load.” Lovely words and sentiments - working together and sharing the load. But as independent countries. Ireland can and does work together with the UK to meet the challenges of the future, and does so as an independent country. There is no reason why an independent Scotland cannot do so as well.
Three cheers to the Queen for providing such succinct and impeccable arguments in favour of Scottish Independence. When will our Unionists start reading the Queen?