Post-Nationalism V (I think!): Let’s look at Scotland, the Scottish National Party and all that… April 26, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Scotland, Sinn Féin, Unionism.
An extremely interesting snippet in the Guardian some weeks back, which events have prevented me discussing. Michael White was writing about “Fear and Midlothian” (and isn’t that a tired phrase at this stage?) and the policies of the Scottish National Party in the upcoming Holyrood elections. The SNP is well ahead of Labour and set, if events go well, to become the largest party in the parliament.
According to White “Alex Salmond’s …In his concern to reassure sceptical Scots that independence is a viable option he promises to keep all sorts of things, including the Queen, sterling, and what he calls the “social union” with England.”
Now, this is sort of kind of true. Which means that it’s a little bit in the eye of the beholder whether these are promises to ‘keep’ these things, or instead a promise not to jettison them overboard if Independence is won at a referendum. And there is a small yet distinct difference between those two positions.
In fact if one views the SNPs rather fine website (which by the by says many very nice and complimentary things about Ireland) one will discover that the actual policy positions are as follows.
What will Scotland’s currency be?
The euro may well already be a reality in Scotland at the time of Independence. If not, however, Scotland has three options – entering the euro, setting up her own currency, or remaining within Sterling.
The SNP is favourable to entry into the euro, assuming that economic conditions and entrance requirements at the time are favourable to Scotland’s interests. The currency shall continue to be sterling until such times as the Scottish Parliament decides to change that position. Any move to adopt the euro will require the sanction of the people in a referendum.
It’s that second paragraph which is important. The SNP is itself in favour of entry to the Euro (and I’d be four square behind them on that), but it will
Will the Queen still be Head of State?
The Queen and her successors will remain Head of State, in the way that she is presently Head of State in fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. If, in the future, the people of Scotland wished to change these arrangements, they would be free to do so by amending the constitution through a referendum, and it is the SNP’s policy that the issue should be tested by such a referendum once Independence is fully in effect. Ultimately, the decision rests with the people of Scotland.
and Alex Salmond said some weeks ago in the Scottish Sunday Herald that:
“That is the argument to transfer full political and economic control to Scotland, not to interfere with either the monarchy or social union between England and Scotland.
“The two countries will be independent but with the same head of state.”
Again, the SNP is largely a Republican party, but it must appeal to a base which is divided on this and many other issues. So this in a sense is the compromise. Through the Commonwealth there is an opportunity to retain a link of significant importance to many Scots while at the same time becoming Independent. Incidentally, intriguing here to see how there is little of the angst and breast beating that accompanies many Republican dissidents regarding issues of sovereignty. Even with the Queen as HoS parliamentary sovereignty is regarded as absolute and the fact that Scotland will be Independent even under such a system is taken as read. Now, this isn’t an argument for reintroducing the monarchy to the Republic (although there is a different argument regarding the Commonwealth which I’d certainly be more than sympathetic to – say as a relationship between the North and the UK under yet further transitional arrangements).
But overall this is an extremely nuanced approach by a party which, of necessity must operate on two quite different political levels. On the one hand it must be a largely left of centre political party operating within Scotland on a range of issues. One can be cynical and propose that this is a means for it to garner the largest possible vote under the circumstances, but on the other hand it’s instincts have throughout it’s history – despite having a more conservative element within it – generally been progressive (or at least since the 1960s). On the one hand it must, as it were, address the constitutional issue of Independence and all that entails. This is quite tricky balancing act. How to push a population in the contemporary period, one where constitutional politics is of diminishing interest? Well, to be honest, I’d argue that they’ve been very fortunate in recent years. The establishment of the Scottish Parliament gave a focus for them to shine in a local setting. Counter-intuitively, or not, Blair despite ceding this measure of self-rule is fairly extensively loathed north of the Scottish border (perhaps less so than the Conservatives, but comparisons on this level are invidious). The Iraq misadventure has only exacerbated this.
So the SNP has managed to present itself both as the recognised opposition at Holyrood, but also an effective and professional one. And it can’t have hurt to have the SSP to it’s left perhaps indicating how moderate the SNP was for those as were worried. Add to this the partial self-immolation of the SSP in recent years and the SNP becomes not merely an alternative, but effectively the default alternative.
In such a context the SNP must acknowledge the realities I’ve mentioned before, of a population that in some parts has a profound attachment to the UK. Hence the talk of ‘open borders’ with the UK following Independence. Such things generally don’t need to be said, unless one has a constituency that wants to hear them. Now this hasn’t gone unchallenged – even within the SNP, and there are those who see this as capitulation. But the clear drive of the SNP to hold referenda, if in power, on these subjects is telling and demonstrates their appetite to put their case before the Scottish people.
And what are the lessons for this island? A number spring to mind. Firstly the curious similarity between aspects of the Sinn Féin project and the SNP. Now first let it be said that there is no comparison on one level. The SNP never attempted to forcibly repeal the Union (although like SF it took on a distinctly left hue unlike many nationalist parties of the last century). But strip away tactics and what are revealed are common problems, most fundamentally the strategic necessity to disengage from one federal entity and establish (or reunite with) a new political entity. The distinctions aren’t minor. It is clearly easier and less contentious for the SNP to operate within a society where the sectarian/political/communal divides while extant are much less sharp edged than in the six counties. Moreover the existence of the Republic of Ireland hinders Sinn Féin and separatist Republicanism much more than aids them (since it provides a half way house to full independence and in doing so mutes the demand for full unity).
But more important is the necessity to grapple with reality. How does a Northern Ireland transitioning towards leaving the UK in ten or fifteen or twenty years retain the aspects that are of significance to Unionists? This isn’t an issue of cosmetic approaches beloved of Republicanism which from Éire Nua onwards has had a sincere (and sincerely wrong) capacity to pretend Unionist national allegiance is colonial, a case of false consciousness, can be erased as if by will or an amalgam of all three (most heartening in recent times has been Alex Maskey’s entirely credible engagement with Unionism on the part of Republicanism).
The SNP seems to have grasped the difference between substance and image. Hence they’re comfortable with talk of a ‘social union’ between the UK and an independent Scotland and with elements of this social union which might make most Irish Republicans balk (and which would be inappropriate in any event in the context of the Republic) but which are not regarded as a significant diminuitions of Scottish sovereignty.
As noted above, this is not meant to be an argument for a shared head of state. As I say, that would be inappropriate (unless they agree to share the President ), but it is reasonable to consider that within the area of the six counties in the context of further development of the GFA there might be a dual or overlapping aspect to identity even in the context of a ‘near-united’ Ireland or island.
Secondly, it is notable how the psychology of this is developing. The SNP are generous. Remarkably generous in fact in even countenancing a shared head of state. But that generosity isn’t the product of fear of failure, but the possibility of success. This is something Irish Republicans should think about as well. And it requires Republicans to be generous.
Scotland is convinced that there is much to learn from the Irish experience of independence since 1921, and in particular from the specific experience since Irish entry to the EEC. Perhaps we have as much, if not more, to learn from the Scottish experience of dealing with another aspect of British Unionism.