Unity, Peace and Concord

This was a common sentiment expressed on banners on the occasion of the celebrations for the August 1902 Coronation of King Edward VII.  It was a statement of ‘hope for the future’ at a time of uncertainty following the death, the previous year after the longest reign and era, of Queen Victoria.  The second Boer War had come to an end in May, much to everyone’s relief.  It had been a modern war with many elements, which were to be replicated in future conflicts and copied by other nations.  The conduct of the war and the actions used had been subject to criticism, especially concentration camps and starvation by way of farm destruction and crop denial through burning and salting.  There was apprehension caused by German naval expansion and competition, but there was a sense of relief.

A similar sense of relief is palpable at Westminster and Whitehall in September 2014 following the result of the independence referendum in Scotland.  However, the scenario is more reminiscent of 1938 than 1902.  On 30th September 1938, United Kingdom Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain landed at Heston Aerodrome on returning from Munich after a conference of the European powers – France, Germany, Italy and the UK – had agreed to German demands that they be allowed to annexe the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, which didn’t have much say in the matter.  German unification was again on the march with the threat of naval expansion.  The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 was not holding-up and appeasement of Germany was a popular policy.  Following the death and destruction of the Kaiser War there was no stomach for another war.

At a side-meeting to the main conference the Prime Minister presented the German Chancellor with a one-page agreement confirming the Naval Agreement and that they would work to maintain peace.  Hitler signed without question, but deemed it to be of no consequence.  On landing at Heston, Chamberlain waved his piece of paper, signed by himself and Herr Hitler, and later declared “Peace for our time”.  There was an outpouring of relief and praise for the Prime Minister for averting war.

Two days before the Independence Referendum, Gordon Brown arrived back in Scotland waving his own piece of paper, signed by Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband, promising more devolved powers if the Scots voted for unity.  Following the vote against independence, Gordon Brown was feted as the saviour of the Union, which was deemed to be a settled issue for a lifetime.  The Government of Scotland did not have any say in the matter and the residual feeling is that the agreement is of no consequence.  While the Party Leaders (for they were making promises as such and not as the Government) had panicked at the last moment at the prospect of a yes victory, they did not have the backing of their own parliamentary colleagues.  The Nationalists are resentful, claiming that Scots voters have been duped and have bought a pig in a poke.  There is some justification for this.  While the Agreement sets down a timetable for implementing more powers and confirms the continuation of the Barnett Formula for allocation of funding, there is no consensus about what the powers should be.

So while the main political parties give assurances that the Agreement will be honoured, they are fighting like ferrets in a sack and there is a back-lash in England.  Meanwhile in Scotland, the Nationalist factions are threatening retribution if there isn’t maximum devolution of powers.  The Scottish Nationalist Party are about to elect Nicola Sturgeon as party leader, and thereby First Minister of Scotland, which in itself should worry Westminster.  She looks more and more like Angela Merkel and it is very clear that her vision is of a federal United Kingdom.  All in all it is a mess – there may be trouble ahead.  How did we get here and what are the lessons for a referendum on independence from the European Union?

The Christian Democratic Party is fully committed to the principle of self-determination and the right of Scots to decide their own future and destiny.  Interventions from outside are not helpful, especially from ‘celebrities’.  Even though the CDP is registered as a political party in Scotland we did not voice an opinion, one way or the other.

The framework for the Independence Referendum was politicised with both sides seeking to gain advantages.  It was never intended or anticipated that the SNP would be in a position to push forward on its keystone policy.  New Labour had set up devolved government on the basis that there would always be coalition governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  After one term of minority government the SNP achieved a second term with undisputed control of the Government of Scotland.  They were in the driving seat and the demand for a referendum vote was irresistible.  For their own advantage they planned a long campaign of two years that was destabilising, creating uncertainty and boredom.  Certainly something to be avoided if we ever get a referendum on EU membership.  Instead of a straight yes or no question they also wanted to include a question about additional devolution of powers.  This was rejected by the UK Coalition Government as they would have to reveal their hand, but it back-fired on them.  By agreeing it also back-fired on the SNP.  The result of voting yes was always certain and clear.  The result of voting no was altered during the campaign from – no means no – to become – no means yes to change with more powers – which wrong footed the yes campaign.  But with a two year campaign the UK Government had ample opportunity to spell out what those powers would be; they didn’t and still have not.  So it is very  clear that the question in a referendum on EU membership must be unambiguous.

Independence is a very clear and simple to understand concept.  It is about freedom from external powers when making decisions that decide your future and destiny.  It is a heart and soul vote.  If people were voting on whether they would be better off in or out of the UK they were voting for the wrong reason.  That is where the EU throws its shadow on proceedings with the Commission in Brussels and the Council of Ministers making decisions that affect us all.  Can a Scotland within the EU be truly independent?

The yes campaign over egged the advantages of independence, painting a picture where everything was rosy.  It was dishonest because there was risk and there was the unknown.  They tried to bribe voters by producing reports and studies to show that everyone would benefit and there would be no losers.  The no campaign by its very nature was negative, pointing out the disadvantages in economic, financial and monetary terms.  Urging people to vote with their heads and wallets and not their hearts.  It intended to scare people on every aspect from defence through to health and welfare.  Business, commerce and industry leaders all weighed in with dire warnings and consequences.  The message was that the sky would fall in on Scots if they voted yes.  This was also dishonest because whatever the result, it would not be the end of the world.

It is the dishonesty of both campaigns that is most worrying.  This will happen in any referendum.  It happened during the referendum on the proposed change to alternative votes for elections.  It will happen during the referendum campaign on EU membership.  Scenarios were put forward that would never happen.  These were framed as possibilities and probabilities, when the outcome was all too clear.  The answers were to be found in Irish history and their protracted march to independence and freedom from the English dominated United Kingdom.  Given the uncertainty that still exists the lessons are still there to be learned.  The pitfalls to be avoided are also signposted.

The first Irish Home Rule Bill of 1886 was defeated.  It was fatally flawed and extremely restrictive.  Prior to this the Repeal Association in Ireland had campaigned to reverse the 1800 Act of Union, between Great Britain and Ireland, and restore the Kingdom of Ireland with a personal union under the British Monarch.  And prior to that and for 600 years the Irish had fought against foreign domination.  Striving for freedom to decide their own destiny, no matter the cost, was ingrained in the Irish psyche.  The second Home Rule Bill of 1893 suffered the same fate and for similar reasons.  The difference being that the first Bill excluded Irish MPs from Westminster while the second Bill allowed a reduced number of Irish MPs to sit in the House of Commons.  Lack of progress was due to Conservative Party intransigence.

In the period from the start of the first Boer War in 1880 there was widespread Irish empathy with the Boers and their fight for independence with which they identified.  This marked a gradual switch away from hopes of self-government under the Crown towards full independence with the creation of a republic.  Irish working in the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State made common cause and formed Irish Brigades and Commandos, also attracting Irish recruits from the United States and Ireland.  Most notable was John MacBride from Westport who was Leader of the Irish Transvaal Brigade, took part in the Easter Rising and was executed by  firing squad.

The third Bill of 1912 eventually became an Act in 1914 with greater powers for an Irish Parliament and annual transferred sum mechanism to maintain spending in Ireland; with a further much reduced number of Irish MPs in Westminster.  The problem was that the Unionists were opposed and created militias to become the armed Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913.  In response the Nationalists formed and armed the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizens Army.  A compromise proposal to exclude the six-counties for six years satisfied nobody.  Tension between the Unionists and Nationalists increased but with the outbreak of the Kaiser War an Act of Suspension was passed for the duration.

This unforeseen consequence resulted in the Easter Rising by Republicans in 1916 and the War of Independence from 1919.  After the Rising, which proclaimed the Irish Republic, an attempt was made by the UK Government to introduce separate self-government in the six counties of the North and the remaining twenty-six counties in the South.  Due to duplicity in the negotiations by Ministers the attempt failed and the home rule Irish Parliamentary Party went into decline.  A further attempt in 1917 with the calling of an Irish Convention also failed and the Republicans were now in the ascendency.  The General Election of 1918 saw the defeat of the IPP and a majority of Sinn Fein republicans elected in Ireland who refused to sit in Westminster.  Sitting in Dublin as the First Dáil Éireann (except for the 30+ who were still imprisoned), they immediately declared unilateral independence and war followed.

The Irish Volunteers were renamed as the Irish Republican Army and commenced operations throughout the whole 32 counties in what became a bloody and violent conflict.  Avoiding set piece actions like the Easter Rising they adopted tactics modelled on the Boer commando with territorial brigades and flying columns, and invented urban guerrilla warfare.  The UK Government response was bloody but with a political initiative of a fourth Home Rule Bill in 1920 that enacted separate parliaments for the north and south.  Whitehall failed to realise that the home rule train had already left the station and they had missed it.  Their emergency make-shift train immediately hit the buffers and had to be written off.  A General Election for the Parliament of Southern Ireland resulted in Sinn Fein gaining 124 of 128 seats unopposed.  They refused to take their seats and Whitehall backed off from imposing a Colonial administration from Dublin Castle.  The Dáil and IRA had been outlawed.

The initial breakthrough was at the initiative of King George V.  He made a reconciliation in Ireland speech at the opening of the  new Parliament of Northern Ireland in June 1921 calling on “all Irishmen to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget, and join in working for the land they love; a new era of peace, contentment and goodwill”.  This had been inspired by a close friend of the King – General Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, a former Boer commando leader.  A  truce was agreed in July 1921.  Fermanagh and Tyrone were forced against their will in to Northern Ireland.  In November Tyrone County Council pledged allegiance to Dáil Éireann.  In December the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in London and later that month Fermanagh County Council also pledged allegiance to Dáil Éireann.  The Treaty was approved by Dáil Éireann on 7th January 1922 by 64 to 57 votes and fighting continued in the Northern six counties.  The UK surrendered Dublin Castle on 16th January.

The twenty-six counties became an autonomous dominion of the British Empire.  The Irish Civil War started on 28th June and ended on 24th May 1923.  On 6th December 1922 the Irish Free State was created and by 17th December the last UK Forces departed.  The sea around Ireland remained British and three Treaty Ports were retained for the Royal Navy.  In 1931 the UK gave recognition of full legislative independence for the Irish Free State.  In 1937 a new Constitution was adopted with a name change to Eire or Ireland.  In 1938 the Treaty Ports returned to Ireland and the seas came under full Irish control.  In 1949 Ireland was declared a Republic and the last remaining duties of the King were removed.  Republics were not allowed under the rules of the British Commonwealth.  When the rules were changed to allow republics Ireland did not apply to re-join.

There is much talk about the special relationship between the UK and USA, but the real special relationship is between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.  In addition to the historical ties there are family ties.  It is stated that 25% of the British population have at least one Irish grand-parent.  All citizens born in Northern Ireland qualify for Irish citizenship and passport.  The land border with the Republic is the only international border that the UK has and it is an open border.  The UK and RoI, together with the Isle of Mann and Channel Isles are part of the British and Irish Council and the Common Travel Area with no passports required.  There are full voting rights for British and Irish citizens in each country.  The economies of both countries are intertwined.

The Irish Free State used Sterling until 1928.  The Saorstat (Free State) Pound had parity with Sterling for another 50 years.  From 1938 it was referred to as the Irish Pound.  Sterling was accepted for transactions in Ireland.  The Punt was not accepted in England.  Neither country accepted Northern Ireland or Scottish currency notes..  In 1978 Ireland joined the European Monetary System while the UK stayed out.  European Exchange Rate Mechanism broke the link in 1979 and an exchange rate was introduced.  In 1998 the exchange rate with the European Currency Unit was fixed and in 2002 there was a physical change to the Euro.

The UN Human Development Index 2011/13 ranked Ireland as the 7th most developed country in the world.  It rates highly in other indexes and for quality of life and as a place to live.  The death of their Celtic Tiger economy has had dire consequences and has been quoted as reason why Scotland should remain part of the UK, as it is better together.  If that is the case, then why isn’t Ireland hammering on the door to re-join the UK?  Ask any Irish Citizen that question and you will be disabused.

If Scotland does eventually get independence it will follow the same trajectory as Ireland.  It will have a special relationship with the UK, being a member of the British and Irish Council and the Common Travel Area with an open border and no need for passports.  Its currency will evolve just like the Irish Pound.  It will progress from devolved self-government to home rule with maximum devolution of powers, excluding defence and foreign affairs.  This might be described as the Gibraltar solution, except that while Scotland is part of the EU they could never achieve the same unique benefits enjoyed on the Rock that is not burdened with the Common Agriculture Policy, Common Fisheries Policy or the Custom Union and Value Added Tax.

Joining the EU should not be a problem with the precedents of East Germany’s seamless transition and the division of Czechoslovakia.  Does Scotland really want to be part of the EU?  If they do what happens if the rest of the UK decides to leave?  If independence is achieved the Orkney and Shetland Islands should not be treated like Fermanagh and Tyrone.

What is clear is that the Scots will decide their own future.  The question they need to ask themselves is; what is independence?  In 2016 the RoI will celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising with its current politicians accused of betraying the founding principles of the Republic.  It took 30 years to go from a de facto Republic to a recognised Republic and after another 50 years to capitulate to Brussels and the Euro Zone.

Echoing the words of King George V, we wish Scotland an era of peace, contentment and good will.

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