Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Some rough thoughts on Scottish Independence

(thanks to Robin for the photo)

Over the past few months, a few people have asked me to write articles about potential Scottish independence for other websites. I decided to keep my powder dry as I don't really want to set myself up as a 'talking head' political commentator sort (of which Northern Ireland has far too many anyway). But as the opinion polls and coverage of the subject continue to swing back and forth, I thought I might outline my train of thought here and get it oot o the road.

I'm a Unionist
In a nutshell, as regular readers here will know, I believe that here in Northern Ireland there's far too much emphasis on POLITICAL identity and not enough on CULTURAL identity. The media and public institutions are stuck in a politics-only mindset and can't imagine a world any other way. I have political views and I vote regularly. I am a Unionist, both rationally (because to me it makes sense) and emotionally (because of family and ancestry). But politics is just one part of my world.

Culture more important than politics
Culture will always be more important for me than politics. Why? It's very simple - politics can change at the whim of a politician or political party, but culture is shaped by centuries of communal experience. If I only regard myself politically, that means I am trusting my identity to a future First Minister, Prime Minister or election result. And in the meantime I am leaving myself exposed to the rollercoaster of endless political debate and opinion polls. Madness!

What if Scotland goes independent?
So if the people of Scotland were to vote for independence, what impact would that have on Northern Ireland? In this supposed "nightmare scenario" for Unionists of Scotland voting for independence, and the likely break-up of the United Kingdom - where would that leave Northern Ireland's Unionist population? A major part of our POLITICAL identity would have disappeared, perhaps forever, thanks to politicians and the wrong result in an election. If the Union disappeared then Northern Ireland's Unionists would surely also then disappear. No Union, no Unionists?

However, our deeper and more powerful CULTURAL identity would carry on regardless. Scotland would not drift further away - it will still be 18 miles from Donaghadee to Portpatrick. Our centuries of historic and cultural connections with Scotland would not change one iota. These connections predate the Union; they have at times opposed the Union, have in the main supported the Union - and they may even outlive the Union. Our ties with Scotland could even be strengthened as a new Scottish independent government might well want to forge closer links with Northern Ireland (and the rest of Ireland too), making that 'official' relationship stronger than it has been for generations. But on a more human level, far away from new governments and new policies and new initiatives, I would still have family and friends in Scotland. Independence will not change that either.

So, get cultural!
Culture and heritage matter far more than politics. And yet our CULTURAL identity is the one thing which has been (and is still being) trivialised, ridiculed, attacked and under-resourced. Many opportunities have been lost and resources wasted. I tried to influence the rarified world of "the system" for four years and it was daily struggle to get good quality Ulster-Scots work done. And I know plenty of others who bear similar scars, some far deeper than mine. But between us we've still somehow managed to get some good stuff done. But there's scope for so much more. Where are the promised "East-West" organisations and initiatives? Oh that's right, there aren't any, that was just a deception spun by politicians.

"The system" resists culture because it views everything as political, and moulds everything it touches to become political.

But people need something far deeper. Cultural identity will outlast all politics - whether that's within independent countries or as part of a United Kingdom.


Robert Campbell said...

Hear, hear