The great fear in the 1970s was that the Troubles would cross over at the narrowest part of the Irish sea. Scotland and Northern Ireland are so close that they almost touch, but Glasgow was never turned into Belfast.
The Scottish Central Belt and especially the part around Glasgow is quite foreign to most Scots. While we in Aberdeenshire are shy and reluctant to talk to strangers, Glaswegians are more like Italians. While we are usually unaware of whether someone is Protestant, Catholic or nothing, because we all went to the same schools, people from the Greater Glasgow frequently define themselves by their religious origins even if they no longer go to church. While to us the 12th of July is just one more forgotten date no more known than the 14th of October (1066) and the Easter Rising took place in a far away country of which we know nothing, to them these things happened here and just now, rather like Faulkner’s southerners replaying Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg.
There is little that unites most Scots with greater Glasgow. They are either too friendly, or else too unfriendly. You may be their best friend on five minutes acquaintance, but if you went to the wrong school or follow the wrong football club, you may turn into a mortal enemy in five minutes more. This is not Scottish. It is something quite unlike the Scotland the rest of us live in.
My grandfather moved from near Dublin sometime before the First World War, but I don’t think of myself as particularly Irish. I don’t define myself by the religion that he followed, nor am I particularly obsessed by Irish history. Yet I am far more Irish than most Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and more Irish too than many Glaswegians whose families arrived here rather earlier. Why do they wave the flag of a foreign country? Why do they sing rebel songs and sympathise at least in part with the aims of the IRA? Why do they differ from me, when we have the same Irish origin?
I think it must be a question of numbers. Most people in the UK who have Irish relatives live in places where no one cares at all about Irish politics. There just aren’t enough people in rural Aberdeenshire who want to march about things that happened in Ireland long ago. But in the area around Glasgow there are enough. There are enough also to fill separate schools and separate football grounds. Defining yourself as Irish and Catholic will be met with bemusement and indifference in most of Britain, but not in Glasgow.
But while some Glaswegians might in the past have grown up with tales of one thousand years of British oppression, famine and Oliver Cromwell, they no more wished to import the Troubles to Glasgow than people in Dublin wanted to import it there. The traditions of Northern Ireland, the sectarian marches and painted gable ends are as foreign to Dubliners as they are to Aberdonians. So long as the bombing only happened Northern Ireland, none of us paid much attention. The news of another bomb or riot in Londonderry was of as much interest to me as a cyclone in Bangladesh. We went through the motions in our condemnation. There were set phrases and we waited for the next time.
Two things have changed the situation both in Ireland and in the West of Scotland, Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism.
The Irish state has always wanted unification. There has always as well been a desire to right the wrongs of history and gain some sort of revenge on the Brits. Britain was invaded by Romans, then by Anglo Saxons and then by Normans. But we don’t bang on about two thousand years of occupation nor complain to people living in France, Italy or Germany about how they oppressed us.
Famines have happened all over the world owing to natural causes, human stupidity and wickedness. Most of them have been forgotten. A brief study of European history finds that each country is responsible for some good and much evil, but none of us are guilty for the things that are parents did. To apologise for something, I didn’t do is decadent.
But while the Irish state claimed Northern Ireland it knew that it could not achieve its goal militarily. This was the same conclusion that Palestinians came to after the 1967 Six Day War. If the Arab world could not defeat Israel with tanks and fighter jets it would instead have to use hijacking, and nail bombs. Irish nationalists came to the same conclusion at just about the same time.
The goals of Irish nationalism were tacitly supported in the Republic of Ireland. Without this the IRA campaign could not have even begun. If the Republic of Ireland had stated from the start that it respected that Northern Ireland was an integral part of the UK and that it had no claim on the territory of a neighbouring state, then there would have been nothing for the IRA to fight for.
By an accident of history Ireland was partitioned, but this is no more unjust than any other international boundary in Europe. Germany has no claim on parts of Poland, because they used to be German. Neither does Russia have a legitimate claim on Crimea because it used to be Russian. It doesn’t matter if the majority of people in parts of the Donbass want to rejoin Russia. Ukrainian sovereignty trumps pro-Russian votes.
Claiming the territory of a neighbouring state is inherently hostile. The only reason people living in Wrocław don’t wish to be in Breslau again is that all the Germans living in Breslau were either killed or driven out at the point of a bayonet. German nationalism is no longer a problem in Poland because there are no more Germans living there.
But even though Irish nationalism had no legitimate claim on Northern Ireland, thirty years of terrorism brought the Republic of Ireland’s chief foreign policy goal within reach. They no longer had to win a war in order to reunite Ireland, they just had to win a vote.
It is this I think that is responsible for the rise of Irish nationalism in Scotland. Irish nationalists in Scotland in the 1970s could do nothing practical to help the cause or Irish unity. They didn’t usually sympathise with Scottish nationalism. The SNP was small and while it might win a few seats claiming that North Sea oil was Scotland’s, these seats were mainly won in rural parts of Scotland. Irish nationalists did not see the connection with Scottish nationalism. This all changed with the Scottish independence referendum.
It isn’t accidental that the only parts of Scotland to vote for independence were those with historically high concentrations of Irish immigration. Both Dundee and Glasgow have Protestant and Catholic football teams. Aberdeen doesn’t, nor does most of Scotland.
Irish nationalists in Scotland saw their chance with the Scottish independence referendum to achieve both their goals. They could inflict an historical defeat on the UK by breaking it up and at the same time make Northern Ireland’s position as part of the UK untenable. Once the bonds of the UK had been broken by Scotland’s departure, English nationalists would see little reason to keep Northern Ireland. Why keep paying for Northern Ireland when the UK was no more?
The combination of Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism gave Irish nationalists the chance they had been waiting for to bash the Brits twice over. They could partition Britain and unite Ireland with one vote for Scottish independence. It is this above all that explains the recent growth in expressions of Irish nationalism in Greater Glasgow.
The Irish Republic could, as it always could, undermine Irish nationalism, by making it clear that it had no interest in uniting Ireland any time soon. But instead, they have a Taoiseach who perhaps hates Britain because of both his parents rather than only one.
The UK is a sovereign nation state. We have a perfect right to leave the EU. It is simply not the business of the Irish Republic even if Brexit has the unfortunate consequence of damaging Irish trade with the UK.
Varadkar has damaged UK Irish relations, which once more has blown oxygen on the embers of for Irish nationalism both in Northern Ireland and in Scotland. Brexit has nothing whatsoever to do with Irish nationalism. It should be possible for Britain to leave the EU without changing the border situation in Ireland. But people in Ireland must accept that there is an international border on their island. It’s there because Ireland choice to leave the UK. Brexit will turn it into a border between the EU and the non-EU, but it need be no more a problem than the boundary between friendly countries like Sweden and Norway.
But this is the problem, Irish nationalists are not friendly. They wish to do harm to the UK, but they always do just as much harm to themselves. This is the folly. Irish nationalism gave Ireland civil war, partition, mass emigration, poverty and thirty years of terrorism. It gives rocket fuel to West of Scotland sectarianism, by giving it the Scottish nationalist stick with which it can bash the Brits heads in. But the combination of Scottish and Irish nationalism is unlikely to end well either for Glasgow or Belfast.
British people on the whole love Ireland, especially the Republic. Most countries where Irish people have settled, are loved in return by the people who remained in Ireland. The exception is the UK. It is this that has poisoned our relations. They will remain poisoned until Irish people cease hating the Brits for perceived wrongs from long ago. The French no longer hate Germans, nor do the Poles. Why in Ireland alone is it just fine to hate someone because of where he is from?
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/09/the-uk-is-none-of-irelands-business.html