The news channels are ablaze with the latest opinion polls which indicate that a majority of Scots might well vote 'Yes' for independence, to secede from the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Presbyterianism in Scotland and Ireland has had a number of secessions, because of theological or church government differences, when congregations decided they could no longer continue as members of the wider denomination they then decided to go it alone as 'Seceders'. Scottish church secessions soon reverberated over here - once again, the vote in Scotland has implications for us on this side of the water too.
On December 20, 1860, seven of the southern states of America voted to secede from their Union, the United States. Six months later 4 more states joined them, eventually totalling 13. Some people I have met and spoken to from those southern states insist to this day that slavery was not the core issue at stake (which has become the orthodox narrative) but in fact 'states rights' was at least just as important - federal government had become too powerful and was imposing itself on the individual states. Here is a balanced article on the subject, but Google away for yourselves. In Waynesboro, Virginia, in 1997, a young man in a musical instrument shop told me 'the South will rise again, and next time we'll win.' I had a similar conversation in a genteel college town in Kentucky. Tennessee was divided on the issue and the state itself nearly broke into two separate states, following the East Tennessee Convention of 1861.
Few people appreciate that Northern Ireland also seceded, from the Irish Free State, which had been effectively formed by a Treaty on 6 December 1921. A year later it had been adopted. During the following four weeks of 1922 - known as 'The Ulster Month' - provision was allowed for the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland to opt out of the new state. The inevitable happened - an address was presented to the King the next day which said:
"... MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland ..."
The King's response on 8th December 1922 was:
"... I have received the Address presented to me by both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in pursuance of Article 12 of the Articles of Agreement set forth in the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922, and of Section 5 of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, and I have caused my Ministers and the Irish Free State Government to be so informed ...'.
(The vote in the Northern Ireland Houses of Parliament had been 40 for secession to 12 against. A full list of MPs who had been elected in 1921 is online here. One of them who would have supported the secession was Tennessee-born William John Twaddell, but he had been murdered by the IRA on 22 May 1922 at around 40 years of age. Twaddell Avenue in Belfast was named after him.)
I find that very few people in Northern Ireland today understand that our state was brought about by an act of secession. Most think that the 26 counties which comprise today's Republic of Ireland opted to leave the UK. In fact, the 6 counties opted to separate from the 26. That's a wholly different dynamic. "Occupied Six Counties" suddenly looks questionable. Regardless of what our views about it are today, at the time a democratic majority decided to withdraw from the larger entity of the Irish Free State. With secession part of our history and psyche, we can hardly deny our Scottish kinsfolk the same right if they wish to exercise it.
But, because we are kinsfolk, whatever the outcome next week, the historical and cultural ties between Ulster and Scotland will be unchanged. Malachi O'Doherty had an excellent article in the Belfast Telegraph just yesterday on this very point. In fact, the cultural future might be enhanced by closer co-operation than has been the case for many generations.
During my time as Chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency, I know full well of how bureaucrats on our side of the water worked to prevent constructive links with Scotland being set up. They had their reasons, they always do.
PS - US readers, please feel free to comment below on the states rights issue. It is raising its head here in the UK with demands for a referendum on our continuing membership of the European Union.
(Below - 1914 map of the suggested partition/secession of Ulster and Ireland. It would be interesting to compare this with 2014 electoral demographics)