Friday, August 20, 2010

The Integrated Isles

NewImage.jpg20 years ago, when I left school back in 1990 I had offers to go to art college either in London, Glasgow or Dundee, but decided to stay in Belfast. At the time the staff at the University of Dundee interview said that 1/3 of the students in the city were from Northern Ireland. Just last month, having flown from Northern Ireland to the south coast of England for our holiday in Devon, I met a retired ex-RAF man whose father had grown up on a farm just a few miles away from the one I grew up on. The British Isles are small.

One of the things that becomes clear when you travel within the British Isles is the huge amount of integration there is among the general population. The five main jurisdictions - England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - aren't as alien to each other as some politicians and commentators would have you believe.

IRELAND: Northern Ireland & the Republic of Ireland There are about 6 million people on the island of Ireland. As if by magic, there are 6 million Irish-descended people resident in GB who are entitled to Irish citizenship and Irish passports.

SCOTLAND 20% of the present day population of Scotland are said on this Wikipedia page to be of "Irish (either Protestant or Catholic) heritage"; that's about 1 million people. But close to the same amount - over 800,000 - of the present day population migrated southwards from Scotland into England and Wales (source here). In previous generations I suggest that that figure would have been much higher - meaning that a lot of English-born folk in fact have Scottish parents or grandparents - but this isn't recorded on any census so there are no stats available.

WALES A quarter of the population of Wales weren't born in Wales (that's about 750,000 people, the majority of whom were born in England) - with more or less the same number of Welsh-born folk living in England.

The idea of devolution - a bit of regional responsibility away from centralised London government - is in my view a good thing in that it should enable policies to fit with local differences within the regions. But when politicians use their wee devolved fiefdoms (whether Oireachtas,Assembly or Parliament) to build walls of division and nationalism they do so without any sense of the benefits of how connected the people are. The populations of the five "home nations" are deeply interwoven through the centuries-old whirlpool of internal migrations that continue right up to this generation.