Monday, May 09, 2011

Can Scotland Succeed Where Ireland Has Failed?

For the first time since the Duke of Cumberland routed the Jacobites in less than an hour on Culloden’s moor over 300 years ago, Scotland has a chance to take her place among the nations of the Earth once more. The SNP won an against-the-odds majority in the British elections last week and are determined to hold a referendum to see if the Scots want independence. If independence is granted, can the Scots make a better job of it than the Irish have? There are four reasons why she can.

Home Rule
The Scots have a number of advantages going for them. The first is that they are nominally independent as it is. Ireland was directly ruled by Westminster until 1921. We never got a chance to practice governance, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we’re so terrible at it. The Scottish Parliament is supersized local council, but still. It’s a start.

National Resources
One of the reasons behind the calls for Scottish independence is that the Scottish economy is fundamentally different from the British. This is not an argument that was made here. There were no economic arguments made here for independence, other than not-very-grounded notion that raising families on nineteen acres of bog and rushes was viable.

The reasons behind Irish independence were cultural and religious, not economic. For an independent Ireland to survive in the 1920s, it was necessary that the people compensate for relative economic penury with their love of their language and the Catholic religion. After ninety years, I think we can mark Plan A down as a bust.

No Civil War
The single worst way to conclude a fight for national independence is by having a civil war immediately afterwards. It clouds the goals that were aimed for in the beginning, and the achievements after independence has been granted. Nobody wins, everybody loses.

Also, it’s possible that the civil war is the direct reason why cronyism is so endemic to Irish public life. Garret Fitzgerald, a statesman whom this blog wishes all the best in his current ill-health, places great store on the statesmanship of the initial governments of the state, unlike what he sees as the corrupt, Mohair-suited governments that followed. An Spailpín suspects this analysis may a little simplistic.

The first aim of first governments was to stabalise the state, which is why they executed those who remained in the IRA in the numbers that they did. Bad things happen in wars. But is the more worrying long-term legacy of that policy of stablisation at all costs the inability of the institutions of state to self-regulate, and to purge themselves of waste, inefficiency and corruption?

The effort to establish the institutions of state has left an incorrect weighing in the balance in our public life. The state and her institutions – such as her banks, for instance – are not questioned when they should be, and when irregularities are discovered, all the machinery of state rolls into action to defend the institution rather than the citizen. There was no need for legal representation at the tribunals if nothing said at a tribunal can be used in a court of law. It was a mistake, born out of this tradition of protecting the state from subversion. That the good name of a public institution or deed is more important than justice being done to a citizen.

It is extremely unlikely that any result in a Scottish referendum will lead to a civil war. For that they should be grateful. Ireland is still reaping a bitter harvest from hers.

A More Subtle and Nuanced Understanding of Sovereignty
A Scottish MP made the point to the great Kirsty Wark on the BBC's Newsnight on Friday night that sovereignty is not a Boolean concept – it not a question of fully on or fully off. If that is the widespread view, it shows a great level of maturity and understanding of the state in the modern, multi-cultural 21st century world.

We are not so lucky. The blather and bleatings we’ve heard here about sovereignty shows that we really don’t understand what is it is to be a sovereign people, ninety years after that sovereignty was granted.

Our current disaster is not an accident. It’s been inevitable and we can only hope and pray that the national debate which currently features interest groups saying cut anything but my cake can rise to a level where we discuss what it is to be sovereign and what we’re willing to do as a people to ensure that sovereignty continues. In the meantime, best of luck to the Scots in the months and years ahead.