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The path to a united Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 06:03:10 PM EST

Ever since the Brexit referendum in the UK, and particularly since the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland Protocol, and the UK EU Trade and Security agreement, there has been a plethora of writing and comment on the prospects for an independent Scotland and a united Ireland. This is based partly on the fact that both Scotland and N. Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and partly due to an antipathy to the insurgence of English nationalism, which is largely what drove the Brexit project and threatens to drive the component entities of the "United Kingdom" ever further apart.

Proponents of the Union, in opposition to Scottish and Irish nationalists, have tended to point to what they regard as the large subsidies which Westminster gifts to Scotland and N. Ireland, and scoff that these entities could never survive on their own. Little matter that nationalism generally, and particularly the English nationalism which drove Brexit, is rarely predicated on the short term financial benefits of independence. Nationalists want to "take back control" of their patch of mother earth regardless of what the economists and business leaders of the day might say. It's about culture and identity, its about ruling their own patch, its about taking back control from multinational entities which they neither understand nor feel intimately connected to.

The seminal example in this respect is probably the "Free State" or Republic of Ireland which came into being in 1922 and ushered in a period of civil war, a trade war with Britain, crushing dominance by the Roman Catholic church, and abject poverty for the vast majority until it became part of the EU in 1973. Yet no one has ever suggested returning to its colonial status under Britain, the wet dreams of some Brexiteers notwithstanding. Nationalism simply isn't about short term economic advantage, although it may rest on the belief that in the longer term most people will be better off as well as freer under independent self-rule.

And so it is with some impatience that the proponents of nationalism, be it English, Scottish or Irish, brush off the accusations of economic illiteracy and political stupidity, dispute the amount of actual subsidy from Westminster or benefits from EU membership, and argue that it will not be necessary once their goal of independence has been achieved. If an independent Ireland within the EU can do ok financially, albeit after a long period of adjustment, why not Scotland with a very similar geographic position, size and population, and N. Ireland, as part of the Republic?

The difficulty is in getting from here to there, with (at best) large minorities opposed to any change in the status quo, and possibly many years of adjustment required to re-orientate their economies from English dominance. Already the dominant English based supermarket chains in N. Ireland are shouting foul at the minor inconveniences of the Northern Ireland Protocol in disrupting their British based supply chains, and many British suppliers are claiming to have stopped taking orders from N. Ireland, or are charging extra for doing so. It has not occurred to many commentators that similar goods can be sourced through Ireland and the EU if it really comes down to it. Most people and businesses are simply change averse.

The time frame for most personal decision making, media cycles, and electoral cycles are simply much too short to provide for the sort of strategic decision making required to change the Sovereign governance of a nation. The complexities of the ramifications are simply too great. The great majority simply want to get on with their daily lives, doing their job, advancing their career bit by bit, socialising with their family, friends, and neighbours and buying the products and brands they have become used to. Changing the state of the nation is for poets, visionaries, charlatans and dreamers: it is simply not part of the reality that most people inhabit - unless driven to extremes by economic hardship or political oppression.

So what is it that is driving Scottish and Irish nationalism if not an aversion to English nationalism and dominance, and a sense that an alternative and better future beckons? Newton Emmerson, perhaps the most perceptive northern Irish unionist writer uses his regular column in the Irish Times to decry the wilder excesses of both Sinn Fein Irish Nationalism and (DUP) "British" nationalism, and argues that the vast majority in  N. Ireland want little enough to do with either, and instead want to make the status quo of N. Ireland, more or less as is, work better in the interests of the majority of its population.

He is wise enough to know that if Unionists want to retain their cherished status quo of union with Britain, then N Ireland has to work for the majority of nationalists as well, and astute enough to know that the evidence for majority support for a united Ireland now is at best ambiguous, rapid demographic change notwithstanding. I have responded to his article in the comments below as follows:

Just as the DUP's support for Brexit was intended as a bit of recreational nationalist bashing which they never expected would come to pass, calls for a border poll are a bit of recreational unionist bashing which its nationalist proponents hope will never come to pass in the near term, as it is almost certain to fail. It's the "hold me back or I'll kill him" pub talk of the hard man who knows he's on a losing wicket.

Nationalists need ideological cover for their compromising over the practicalities of Stormont just as unionists must continue to hype their "Britishness", whatever they may think in private. It's a way of keeping the wilder men in their tribe in line. The fact that it may antagonise the opposing side is merely a fringe benefit, or collateral damage, depending on your point of view. Tribal cohesion is the prime imperative.

The reality is that so long as the Westminster spigot pouring £10 Billion p.a. into the North is kept turned on, the vast majority of unionists, some nationalists, and many non-aligned and non-politically engaged will continue to vote for the status quo in N. Ireland, on the principle that "the devil you know" is better than some unknown and uncertain future. The dirty secret is that many in the south would vote likewise.

An independent Scotland, or a post Brexit crash in the UK economy and public finances might change that dynamic, but that implies that the key to the future of N. Ireland lies in what happens within the UK, and not in the latest arcane posturings among nationalists. Anybody who proposes a referendum on Irish unity in the absence of a detailed "Transfer of Sovereignty" Treaty between Ireland and the UK cannot be serious about making it happen.

People don't vote for abstract ideals and will need to understand exactly how a proposed united Ireland will effect them, their families, their security, prosperity, culture and values. Referenda in Ireland aren't about agreeing something in principle - as the Brexit referendum was - with the details to be worked out later. They are about inserting a very precise and legally binding wording into our constitution,- something which can only be done after a Treaty agreeing the transfer of sovereignty between the UK and Ireland has been agreed setting out the timelines, transition arrangements, financial terms and governance of the new combined entity.

That work can only begin if and when the UK decides it wants to part company with N. Ireland, and we are a very long way from that yet. Ultimately the results of referenda, north and south , depend on the terms that are on offer, and on people deciding they are likely to be better off under the new arrangements than under the then status quo or future prospects as part of the UK. It's not about coercion, forced conversion. or "force majeure". It's about a free choice by free people for what they consider a better future.

That's not on offer just yet, and its up to all of us to make it possible.

Elsewhere Brendan O'Leary, Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania argues that a referendum on Irish unity is coming, "whether we like it or not," and so we might as well prepare for it. Demographic change will lead, inevitably to an increasing nationalist majority, and the now ambiguous position of N. Ireland as part of the UK internal market and EU Single Market is precarious, at best. He repeats all the classic nationalists arguments for a united Ireland, omitting only the rather sparse evidence that a majority in N. Ireland actually wants it. But it is his contention that the Republic of Ireland will have no option but go along with whatever N. Ireland decided (on terms the UK will dictate) that particularly concerns me. It feels almost as if a campaign is development to dump N. Ireland and all its costs and problems onto the Republic merely to relieve the UK of the costs of maintaining the Union.

I have responded in the comments below his article as follows:

If the UK government calls a referendum in N. I. without agreeing its precise terms with the Irish government beforehand, I suggest the Irish Government should refuse to hold one unless the following applies:

  1. The £10 Billion subvention remains in place (paid via the Irish government) for a lengthy transition period - c. 20 years

  2. The GFA remains in place, protecting all minorities in the north.

  3. The Stormont assembly remains in place at least for the transition period with its members having the right to sit and vote in Dail Eireann if they so wish.

  4. The Irish Senate is reformed to ensure minimal representation for all minorities

  5. Agreement is reached with the EU on the level of transitional regional aid to be made available, particularly for border counties.

  6. Agreement is reached on an Ireland UK peace deal providing for the integration of all army and police services on the Island and settlement terms for any who might wish to resettle from the North to the UK (or what is left of it).

  7. No further constitutional change (after the transitional period) unless agreed by Majorities both North and South.

Elsewhere, the liberal unionist academic, Peter Shirley, who is also a founding member of the Arins (Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South Project) argues that "Interdependence is the antidote to the politics of immiserating dissonance that have crippled Northern Ireland for so long."

I have responded in the comments as follows:

It seems that its open season for every corrupt has been UK politician (Denis MShane), or obscure US or British academic (Brendan O'Leary, Peter Shirlow) to lecture us on whatever inevitable future they think awaits us "whether we like it or not". We may not have chosen Brexit or Covid-19, but we still have agency on this island, and it is for the south, as well as for the north to decide what that future should be.

The EU was founded on the idea that the greater the interdependency between nation states, the less chance of wars and other conflicts breaking out between them. It is this common membership which had, for almost 50 years created "an equality of esteem" between Ireland and the UK, had softened the barriers north and south, and enabled the Good Friday Agreement to be negotiated and signed. After all, if "an ever deeper union" was being created between member states, the importance of borders and cultural differences would gradually diminish.

That was working fine until Brexit came along. Historic conflicts diminished and the Queen was welcomed to our shores. Our relationship with the UK became that of an equal sovereign partner rather than that of a colony. But now that rift threatens to open up again as the UK and EU drift ever further apart post Brexit. True, the Single Market and Customs Union within Ireland , North and south has been maintained, but everything else (CAP, EU regional and structural funds, public health policies etc. threaten to diverge ever further, even where common interests would be better served by a joint approach.

Britain may very well decide to dump N. Ireland when post Brexit austerity kicks in, and Scotland goes its own way, but for us to unthinkingly agree a united Ireland just because England needs to save £10 Billion p.a. would be a greater folly than even Brexit itself.

Will Britain offer re-settlement terms to unionists who feel they can only be true to their British identity within Britain itself? Will Britain pay the pensions of ex-British service personnel and civil servants who chose to remain in Ireland? Who will fund a transition period when effectively two systems will have to be maintained for two communities, with all the incremental costs and inefficiencies associated with that? Who will ensure that former British army and police force personnel will transfer their loyalty to Ireland and provide jobs in Britain for those who choose not to?

In the absence of a detailed transition and "transfer of sovereignty" plan, a referendum in N. Ireland will have little more validity than an opinion poll. It does not bind Ireland to take on burdens and citizens which don't, or who don't wish to belong to us. A referendum on Irish unity should not be held in the south unless there are clear answers to all these questions. When faced with a choice between the status quo and an unknown and uncertain future, most people will opt for the devil they know. A truly united Ireland requires a transformation of both societies, north and south, and that can only come about with the fully informed consent of all sides based on a detailed roadmap of how the unification processes will proceed.

Yes, increased economic inter-dependency will be part of that, but one does not necessarily lead to another. People's cultural affinities & political preferences can matter just as much.

In response to further discussion I summarised my position as follows:

  1. A northern vote for a united Ireland is most unlikely so long as the Westminster spigot is still pouring out money.

  2. The Irish government should advise the UK government not to hold a referendum in the north, absent a detailed Treaty as described.

  3. If the UK government, desperate to off load the north holds one anyway, absent a Treaty, it is most unlikely to pass as no one will believe the south can take on the debts and still offer a better standard of living.

  4. If it does pass, the Irish government will commence negotiations on a Treaty with the UK government but shouldn't feel under any obligation to accept terms it cannot afford.

  5. A referendum in the south is not some glorified opinion poll or agreement in Principle to a united Ireland. It is the mechanism by which we insert very specific and legally binding terms into our constitution. In practice that means inserting the provisions of the Transfer of Sovereignty Treaty into our constitution.

  6. Any such Treaty is likely to be 500 pages long and make the Brexit negotiations look like a walk in the park.

  7. In my view, referenda North and south will only pass if and when such a detailed Treaty has been negotiated - subject to ratification by referenda in both parts of Ireland. Only then will everyone know exactly what a United Ireland means in practice, how it will be governed, how it will be funded, and what everyone can expect in terms of their quality of life and standard of living afterwards.

  8. When faced with a choice between a known (even miserable) status quo and an unknown and uncertain future, most people - other than ideologues - will vote for the status quo, on the principle of the devil you know.

In response to the above, someone suggested I be appointed chief negotiator! No thanks, it will be a negotiation that would try the patience of even a Michel Barnier... But of one thing I am certain: Irish Unification could be a bigger problem for Ireland than even Brexit and Covid-19 combined, and would be proportionately, a much bigger problem for Ireland than German re-unification. I am all for it, in principle, but only on terms that will ultimately be to the benefit of the vast majority living on the island.

England offloading an unwanted and expensive colony does not meet that criterion and no concerted campaign by academics to promote the idea can make it so.

Regarding this £10 Billion per year "spigot": how much of this was EU development funds?
My employer has an office in Belfast and I understand it has been, like other businesses in NI, EU subsidized.

I remember having seen a subject on Belfast on French TV: they were showing entire neighborhoods walled off from one another with big iron gates shutting down major thoroughfares at each end every evening, complete with neighborhood volunteers to operate the whole system. This must have an extra cost surely (you don't have that kind of non-sense in the South) and weighing on the economy: I'm wondering which proportion of the spigot funds are funding "sectarian lifestyle" rather than developing business and industry?

by Bernard on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 07:43:23 PM EST
The £10 p.a. Billion subsidy is subject to some opaqueness and much controversy - see my letter here, where I argued that some of these costs would not apply in a united Ireland.

Broadly speaking it is the difference between UK Government spending and tax receipts within N. Ireland, but precise figures vary, depending on how the costs of UK wide expenditures are allocated.

In this context, I don't think the EU contribution is particularly large, and would be mostly in the form of CAP payments, as agriculture is a disproportionately large part of the N. Ireland economy, compared to the UK as a whole.

Indeed some of the costs incurred are effectively bribes to various paramilitary groups to get them to sign up to the Good Friday agreement and generally stay out of trouble.

Northern Ireland is still a very dysfunctional place, and only a fool would take it on without significant reform, at least in the medium term.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 08:48:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A Chara, - A number of recent articles on your opinion page have discussed a united Ireland from a variety of unionist, nationalist and liberal perspectives.

Northern Ireland unionist Newton Emerson (SF, DUP refuse to concede their atavistic nationalism a huge strategic error, Opinion, 13th. Jan.) has pointed out that the evidence that a majority in N. Ireland support a united Ireland does not currently exist, despite all demographic change, and that, indeed, voters there have overwhelming endorsed parties supporting a return to Stormont led devolved government.

Liverpool based Prof. Peter Shirlow (Interdependence is the antidote to Northern Irish politics, 11th. January) has argued that increased economic interdependency within Ireland, north and south, post the Northern Ireland Protocol, will result in reduced emphasis on the "binary" solutions of union with Britain or a united Ireland.

Pennsylvania based Professor Brendan O'Leary argues that "A referendum on Irish unity is coming, whether we like it or not" (Opinion, 11th. Jan.), and that we should therefore prepare for it as quickly as possible, suggesting that we form a "ministry of national reunification".

What these writers have in common is suggesting that we in the south of Ireland have a lack of agency in the whole process. We are apparently either helpless onlookers or the victims of events beyond our control - Brexit, Scottish Independence, N. Ireland demographic change, or ongoing economic development pursuant to being in the Single European market together with N. Ireland.

But we do have choices, even if the UK were to become anxious to off-load N. Ireland and its £10 Billion p.a.  cost to the British exchequer, or if N. Ireland voted for re-unification.

Firstly, the Irish government can only hold a referendum to insert some precisely worded and legally binding provisions into our Constitution. Referendums in Ireland are not some glorified opinion poll signalling agreement in principle to something, the details to be worked out later - as was the case with the Brexit referendum.

Secondly, any such constitutional amendment would have to incorporate into Irish law the precise terms of a Transfer of Sovereignty Treaty with the UK, which would have to specify the timescales, transition arrangements, financial responsibilities, and governance structures of the new combined entity.

Voters in Ireland, north and south, would have to be satisfied that the proposed arrangements are equitable, stable, and provide a reasonable prospect of a more peaceful and prosperous future for us all.

To agree to re-unification for anything less could visit upon Ireland a greater crisis than Brexit and Covid-19 combined, and cost more, proportionately, than German re-unification, which is still problematic 30 years after the event.

It is to be hoped that authors writing about a united Ireland do not take voters in the south for granted, or indeed fools who would vote for any deal offered to us by the UK government.  Much as many of us would like to see a united Ireland in our lifetime, it has to involve a re-unification process which works for everyone. Our northern brethren would expect no less of us.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 08:36:56 PM EST
Probably the best thing would be to offer any NI Protestant family £1,000,000 to bugger off o the UK.  Expensive but cheap when compared to the cost of hundreds of years of sectarian conflict pretty well guaranteed by Ireland re-unification with the Orange Lodges, UVF, Red Hand, & etc still infesting NI.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 09:23:54 PM EST
Algeria was colonized by France in 1830, and many French families settled there until the 1962 independence at the end of 8 years of a bloody colonial war.

Over one million of "pied-noirs", descendant of the French settlers, relocated to mainland France: such an sudden influx of population at the time was absorbed by the booming economy of the early 1960s. Repatriating Unionists to Britain nowadays would be much more challenging in a post-Brexit depressed economy.

by Bernard on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 09:43:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to mention the fact that the Great Britain unionists are loyal to no longer exists in large swathes of the country.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 10:43:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have mentioned an increasing trade between NI and the South, like milk collection systems straddling the border. Also, if Aldi and Lidl (two German grocery chains) are supplying from the South and the EU rather than British mainland, it looks like they're bound to gain market share in NI, if Tesco and other British grocers are not able to diversify their supply chains accordingly; empty shelved are not good for business.

Last, I've noted that Dublin will be paying for keeping NI university students in the Erasmus scheme, arguably one of the major EU integration engines among the younger generations of Europeans, not least by the number of bi-national households - and children, it has given birth to (pun intended). Former Erasmus students have forged a European identity in addition to their original national identity, a European identity that Brexit is now taking away from the future generations of British students.

All these various bits and pieces give me the impression of a slow, but inexorable process of "convergence" between North & South (I may be wrong), where the differences between the two sides of the border are slowly waning, thanks in no small part to NI remaining anchored to the single market, with the border itself progressively fading into irrelevance withing the next decades.

by Bernard on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 09:28:59 PM EST
All true, but we had all that and more when we were both part of the EU. Now the loss of the EU dimension - minus continuing free trade in goods, free travel and Erasmus - is a net loss, not really compensated for by "the border down the Irish sea". But I have no doubt that the increased integration of our economies will continue, and perhaps even be exacerbated by Brexit.  

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 09:37:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's one of the factors I wanted to highlight: the "border in the Irish sea", whether the Unionist like it or not, is increasing the distance between NI and Britain and mechanically bringing NI and the Republic closer.
by Bernard on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 09:48:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Coronavirus sparks exodus of foreign-born residents from UK
Estimated up to 1.3m people left UK between third quarter of 2019 and same period in 2020
Coronavirus has sparked an exodus of immigrants from the UK and what is likely to be the largest fall in Britain's population since the second World War, according to a statistical analysis of official data.

A blog, published on Thursday by the government-funded Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE), estimated that up to 1.3 million people born abroad left the UK between the third quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2020.

In London alone, almost 700,000 foreign-born residents have probably moved out, the authors of the blog calculated, leading to a potential 8 per cent drop in the capital's population last year.

Many of those migrants will be unable to return because of Brexit immigration rules...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 11:46:33 PM EST
You'd hope that the Brexit experience would be a huge warning of the dangers of committing to a complicated course of action without having at least an outline of the specific details. Both for governments and voters.

(And while not wanting to detract from your main point that nationalism Isn't About Economics, Scotland seems to be a case where the nationalists want to "take back control" to rejoin a multinational entity. But that's because its a better expression of their identity than the one which dragged them out of it).

by IdiotSavant on Thu Jan 14th, 2021 at 11:57:42 PM EST
Scotland apparently wants to join what Mark Blyth called "the warm embrace of Germany." He also notes how that worked out for Greece.

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 07:47:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Greece joining the EU on fraudulent terms didn't work out great of anybody, but you will note that the Greeks still decided to remain not only in the EU, but in the Eurozone as well. Apparently they find democracy preferable to dictatorship.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 08:08:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Greece joining the EU on fraudulent terms

Surely, you meant joining the Eurozone? Greece was admitted in the EZ in 2001.

Greece joined the then EEC in 1981, eight years after Ireland, Denmark and... the UK.

by Bernard on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 09:16:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My apologies, of course yes - it was Eurozone accession which was enabled by false accounting, but once in, Greece decided to stay in for all the difficulties they subsequently encountered, partly because of the inflexibility of Germany and the Frugal four, but partly, also, because of their own past misdeeds.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 10:06:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh, I'd disagree, but that whole line of discussion is moot anyway. The Brexit referendum and Brexit happened, because the press wanted it and the Tories would have split otherwise. No one in power wants Scottish independence so they won't get it.
by generic on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 10:50:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Tories won't be in power forever...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 10:53:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Labour is betting everything on getting the Mail to declare them fit for government. Even if they reform again after getting ham-sandwiched and second-homed again we're looking at about a decade more of a Torie run country. And it looks like that already:

They might not be in charge forever, but will there be anything left when they leave?
by generic on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 11:22:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No there won't be much left, and Scotland and N. Ireland will probably leave shortly thereafter - if not before. The imperial cash flows simply won't be what they used to be.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 11:27:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Scotland and Ireland are quite different cases. Northern Ireland is already under a different economic regime, no one in London cares about it, if faced with the decision it would be very difficult for the Republic to refuse reunification and keeping the status quo going is an enormous drain on all involved. At some point in the nearish future a united Ireland is more than likely. But for Scotland all the signs are reversed. There is no independent Scottish economic regime that could be extracted from the UK economy, the land border would be even more of a pain than on Ireland, and you'd have to build a Scottish state from the ground up. I don't see it.
by generic on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 12:10:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The case for Scottish independence, like Brexit, is not based on short term economic benefit. Neither would the case for Irish re-unification be based of short-term economic benefit, although the point of my piece is that Ireland should refuse re-unification until and unless terms are on offer which offer some prospect of improved economic circumstances in due course. Only the zealots will vote for it otherwise.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 01:53:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that's the thing. Brexit was based on power and tells us nothing except that the Tories and the press can do whatever they want. No one really cared about the EU until they were told to. The Scottish nationalists have no lever they can pull to make their wishes come true, that decision lies entirely in London.
And while I take the you're point that Ireland shouldn't rush unification, it's going to look inevitable pretty soon. Though of course the future can stay inevitable for a long time without ever happening.
by generic on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 01:11:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Scottish Independence could look "a lot more inevitable" pretty soon, if the SNP win overwhelming majorities in the May elections. The SNP /Scottish Parliament could organise their own "plebiscite", a la Catalonia, and challenge Westminster to ignore the results, if they dare. With all the talk of the "will of the people" in the Brexit campaign, it will look hugely hypocritical for BoJo et al to ignore them.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 02:11:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's no doubt the SNP would win, but implementation would be difficult for both sides.

Aside from trying to secure a land border and set up an independent economy, one huge complication from England's POV is that Scotland is home to the UK's nuclear deterrent. England can't let that go, so it's likely troops would be sent in to secure it. That takes everyone into very difficult territory.

I suspect behind the scenes NI, Ireland, Scotland, and perhaps Wales are discussing some form of Celtic Alliance. It would be much harder for England to move against a union of countries which would likely have some form of EU backing. That's possibly the ideal outcome for everyone except the English.

But England is also split. The bigger towns and cities lean progressive, and anti-establishment sentiment is up for grabs by either end of the spectrum in the North and parts of the West Country. Only the Midlands, East Anglia, and some of the southern shires are wholly dedicated to Tory Brexitism.

It's a very volatile and dangerous situation, not least because the current Westminster government is spectacularly and blatantly corrupt and self-serving, as well as astoundingly childish, petulantly aggressive, and dysfunctionally stupid.

None of the major English parties are being run by adults. The Greens and the SNP both have adult leaders and there are some good MPs in Labour. But the top of greasy pole is populated exclusively by chancers, timeservers, and Establishment seat warmers. They either have no idea how fragile the entire country is now, or they simply don't care.

I'm going to be hugely surprised if the UK makes it to 2024 without a major convulsive rupture. And I wouldn't be entirely astounded if it happens before the end of this year.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 02:56:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The placidity, timidity, and establishmentarianism of the average Brit never fails to astound me. They seem to accept all sorts of outrages as normal. The blatant cronyism, corruption, and incompetence of their betters never seems to bother them too much.

Many actively support Boris and his cronies as being made of "the right stuff". Everyone else is being extremist or inconsiderate. The Queen is untouchable, as are many of the established institutions of the state. All are obviously "the best in the world" compared to those horrible foreign countries.

So no, I don't see a revolution any time soon, despite a precipitous decline which they seem barely aware of - a bit like the frog who was boiled alive because the water temperature only went up a little at a time. Instead they appear to live in a sea of WWII victories, 1966 World Cup wins, and Beatles nostalgia - back in the day when England was best in the world at something.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 04:35:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also there is the "overtaken by events" factor. Planning for an independence referendum a decade from now assumes that the UK situation remains stable during that decade. It's easy to think of scenarios where something changes the UK's position relative to the EU's economic setup, or the US's defense setup, or the oil or wind energy market, or fishing, etc., that could change the tradeoffs.

I would propose that at the moment, the biggest issue in play is the short-term results of Brexit. Collapse of the London financial industry, disruption of the auto industry, electrical power marketplace difficulties, serious food shortages, a tourist industry collapse, or any of dozens of other potential Brexit-related difficulties could pose much bigger problems than Scotland or Ireland.

by asdf on Sun Jan 24th, 2021 at 05:42:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indyref2: SNP reveal 'roadmap' to another independence referendum

It states that if the SNP take office, the Scottish government will request from the UK government a section 30 order - part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster.

It says "there could be no moral or democratic justification for denying that request" and adds that if the UK government did adopt such a position it would be "unsustainable both at home and abroad".

The document goes on to say that if it has a parliamentary majority it will introduce and pass a bill allowing a referendum to take place after the pandemic.

It says that will leave the UK government with three options:

  *  agree that the Scottish Parliament already has the power to legislate for a referendum
  *  agree the section 30 order - as happened ahead of the 2014 vote
  *  take legal action to dispute the legal basis of the referendum

"Such a legal challenge would be vigorously opposed by an SNP Scottish government," it adds.

I read the current statements as not willing to commit to Catalonia-style referendum, at least not yet.

However, having decided to fight this fight in the court of public Scottish opinion last time, London really doesn't have any leg to stand on except "We don't want to and we have the power". Which they will probably argue, and if it is settled in London courts I expect the London government to win. Which in turn will likely increase support for independence - nothing like a perfidious overlord to get independence thoughts going - and then we shall see if the Scottish government folds or goes for independence anyway (with or without referendum). Maybe re-establish the Auld Alliance? Or just argue that it was never revoked, and therefore in place, so if England invades (ie, refuses to leave) Scotland, then France is treaty-bound to come to the aid of independent Scotland.

by fjallstrom on Mon Jan 25th, 2021 at 10:38:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You will note I used the word "plebiscite" rather than referendum. Thus holding a non-legally binding popular vote need not be a direct challenge to Westminster authority. However if the SNP were to win such a plebiscite, they would have the upper hand in any negotiations with London. (Even the Brexit referendum was only politically, not legally binding).

They could then enter into a formal period of negotiation with London, and informal discussions with the EU, and put any outcome of those discussions - currency, national debt, military bases, border management etc. to a formal referendum vote for final approval.

The unspoken threat would be that either London agrees to an orderly process of separation, or Scotland goes its own way anyway - but the key issue is democratic legitimacy. London trying to over-ride a Scottish popular vote would inflame the situation to a degree even the Brexit process never did.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 25th, 2021 at 12:25:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely they can hold one to direct Scottish government policy e.g. to begin negotiations with Westminster for independence. That sort of question seems to fall well within the Scottish government's legal powers and respect Westminster's self-appointed role, while also conveying a serious message about the popular will and where legitimate power lies.
by IdiotSavant on Mon Jan 25th, 2021 at 10:57:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good idea. I'm very much against holding referenda on vague, ill-defined proposals which charlatans can twist any which way they please. But a referendum instructing the Scottish government to open independence negotiations with Westminster and membership "exploratory discussions" with the EU doesn't impinge on Westminster prerogatives - to be followed by a formal referendum on the precise terms negotiated.

Of course if Westminster plays "silly buggers" and seeks to impose impossible divorce terms onto Scotland they could inflame the situation to the extent that Scotland proclaims a unilateral declaration of independence and England is left with military force as the only means of maintaining the Union. Then the situation would get very nasty indeed and perhaps provoke US/EU/UN intervention...

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 26th, 2021 at 12:10:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]

It would seem to me to be a similar road like the one they started on in 2014:

Legality of a referendum

The Scottish government insisted in 2010 that they could legislate for a referendum, as it would be an "advisory referendum on extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament",[17] whose result would "have no legal effect on the Union".[16]:17 Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, said in January 2012 that holding a referendum concerning the constitution would be outside the legislative power of the Scottish Parliament[24][40] and that private individuals could challenge a Scottish Parliament referendum bill.[41]

The two governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement, which allowed for the temporary transfer of legal authority.

As far as I know, the Edinburgh Agreement came before there was any serioud legal challenges.

If I understand correctly, the objection is based on the subject matter - Scotland's relationship in the UK - isn't decided by the Scottish parliament. And any legal proceedings about this kind of political matters are always a political matter even if it is fought in courts.

by fjallstrom on Tue Jan 26th, 2021 at 12:21:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The smartypants at Politico.eu have come up with yet another funny post-Brexit related expression:

Ferry firms avoid Britain with `Brexit buster' services from Ireland

DUBLIN -- Ferry companies in Ireland are pulling some of their newest, biggest vessels from British routes to boost "Brexit buster" services direct to the Continent.

Such sea routes were unpopular before Brexit, when the U.K. landbridge linking Dover in southeast England with Holyhead in Wales gave truckers a much faster path between Ireland and the Continent.

But after new U.K.-EU trade rules kicked in January 1, a dysfunctional New Year's rollout of customs checks is driving unprecedented demand for alternatives that avoid the hassle of Britain.

At Rosslare, Ireland's closest port to France, sailings and cargo capacity for roll-on, roll-off shipments by lorry have quadrupled in the past month. Other vessels are being rerouted from Belfast, Liverpool and Holyhead to launch more Dublin-France services.

Stena Line, the biggest operator on Ireland-Britain routes, on Thursday night launched its brand-new Stena Embla on its maiden commercial voyage from Rosslare to Cherbourg in northwest France. The 41,700-ton vessel, which arrived this month from China, was supposed to serve the Belfast-Liverpool route.

by Bernard on Fri Jan 15th, 2021 at 03:42:05 PM EST
North `slowly becoming part of united Ireland', says former British chancellor
The former British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne has said Northern Ireland is "heading for the exit door" from the United Kingdom.

Writing in the London Evening Standard, where he is now editor-in-chief, Mr Osborne said the North was "slowly becoming part of a united Ireland" and most people in England "will not care".

The former Conservative MP wrote: "By unleashing English nationalism, Brexit has made the future of the UK the central political issue of the coming decade. Northern Ireland is already heading for the exit door.

"By remaining in the EU single market, it is for all economic intents and purposes now slowly becoming part of a united Ireland. Its prosperity now depends on its relationship with Dublin (and Brussels), not London. The politics will follow," he wrote on Tuesday.

Mr Osborne said unionists in Northern Ireland had always feared Britain was not sufficiently committed to their cause.

"Now their short-sighted support for Brexit (and unbelievably stupid decision to torpedo Theresa May's deal that avoided separate Irish arrangements) has made those fears a reality. It pains me to report that most here and abroad will not care."

The departure of Scotland from the UK would be a more serious matter, he implies, and it would represent the end of the United Kingdom "with no disrespect to the Welsh".

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 20th, 2021 at 10:47:07 AM EST
Similar to my comment above: looks like I've been thinking like George Osborne. Should I be worried?
by Bernard on Wed Jan 20th, 2021 at 03:11:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, the dogs in the street have been barking it, just don't tell the DUP, they're still in denial...

What George Osborne didn't say, but I suspect thinks, is that England would quite like to be rid of N. Ireland, subject, of course to getting the "right" referendum result. And that can't happen now because it would set a precedent for a Scottish referendum, which George doesn't want.

So it all depends on what happens in Scotland, and I suspect Scotland would quite like to strengthen historic ties with N. Ireland as part of the EU. Fintan O'Toole has a very good article on the evolution of the SNP there.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 20th, 2021 at 03:28:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With polls consistently giving Independence over 55% support and the SNP looking to take 55 out of 59 Holyrood seats it doesn't matter what George wants.  Scotland will do what Scotland wants and it is looking like they want out of the United Kingdom and back into the European Union.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Jan 20th, 2021 at 05:48:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
George's advice to Boris is to refuse permission for a new Scottish Independence referendum, regardless of how well the SNP does in the polls. Not sure how that will work, if the Scottish parliament votes to hold one anyway. Will Boris arrest "secessionist" SNP leaders like the Spanish authorities arrested Catalan leaders for organising a plebiscite?

Not a good look, what with Hong Kong and all...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 03:26:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Oui on Wed Jan 20th, 2021 at 02:27:44 PM EST
Paris-London and Brussels-London services too:

Eurostar is owned by: 55% SNCF (French railways), 5% SNCB (Belgian railways), Canadian pension fund 30%, Hermes private equity 10%. No UK nor Dutch government ownership.

Using common logic, you'd think the prospect of Eurostar disappearance would be a more pressing issue for Britons than it would be for Continentals. You'd be wrong.

by Bernard on Wed Jan 20th, 2021 at 03:10:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How would this effect the economics of running the Chunnel?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 03:27:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very badly, unsurprisingly: Eurostar is one of the main sources of income for Getlink, the company running the tunnel, along with train shuttles for cars and trucks. Getlink is in trouble too, and is calling for support.

`Arm wrestling' to save the Eurostar  - Politico.eu

Getlink, the Paris-based company which owns the Channel Tunnel, is also calling for government support for Eurostar, touting the operator's green credentials to the British government and making comparisons with the aviation sector.

"In the long term, Eurostar is the transport of the future: fast, frequent, low carbon and with great potential to expand to other destinations. Their business and leisure passengers will be back as soon as conditions allow," said John Keefe, Getlink's director of public affairs.

If Eurostar goes under, it leaves a big hole in Getlink's finances, one that's unlikely to be filled by replacing passenger trains with cargo ones.

What I find surprising is that both Getlink and Eurostar are majority owned by French shareholders. You'd think that people living on an island would have at least a passing interest in the smooth and continuous operation of the only terrestrial link to the Continent, especially in times where empty supermarket shelves are a major concern for the British public.

by Bernard on Sat Jan 23rd, 2021 at 11:31:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just like Moody's downgrading countries ... "because we can!"

by Oui on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 07:12:00 AM EST
This is the "Ministry of silly walks" at it's silliest. Next time the UK wants an agreement on anything, the EU should tell them their ambassador is no longer able to sign on their behalf. Better still they should just withdraw the ambassador "for consultations" which can take as long as it takes.

Only the truly silly could come up with such a ruse, Where is John Cleese when you need him?

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 11:43:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A Chara,- I see that the UK Foreign office is refusing to grant the EU ambassador to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida, the full diplomatic status and privileges afforded to diplomats under the Vienna Convention which give them immunity from detention, criminal jurisdiction and taxation.

The British decision is in marked contrast to 142 other countries around the world where the EU has delegations and where its ambassadors are all granted the same status as diplomats representing sovereign nations, and represents a change of UK policy from 2010, when the UK agreed that the EU's foreign service should be granted the "privileges and immunities equivalent to those referred to in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961".

The danger is that hostile states might copy the UK and downgrade the protections granted to EU diplomats in their own countries. This could open EU diplomats up to being more easily harassed and expelled. Might I suggest that the EU should withdraw its ambassador to the UK for consultations and that any discussions between the EU and UK on outstanding matters be put on hold in the interim?

The UK decision is another petty and silly attempt to downgrade a mere "international organisation" like the EU - despite the fact that its treaty obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland Protocol, and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement are with the EU, and not with individual member states. Where is John Cleese of the "Ministry for Silly walks" when you need him?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 05:40:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 08:42:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not a good idea to be a spiteful, petty, jerk right before a critical negotiation.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 05:22:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shorter The Times: How dare you take back control of your borders?

British to face ban on entering EU under German plan to shut borders - The Times

(Reuters) - European governments would be allowed to ban all UK residents from entering their countries and cut all passenger transport links with Britain under a German proposal to the European Union, the Times reported on Thursday.

EU member states are free to impose temporary bans on entry and on transporting passengers entering from non-EU countries with virus variant areas, the Times reported, citing a draft proposal reviewed by the newspaper.

by Bernard on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 05:44:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shorter tabloids: How dare you remove the bust of Churchill from the Oval Office?

Reaction to Churchill bust removal muted for Biden after outrage for Obama - CNN

It had once been a transatlantic art scandal -- or at least various actors of questionable intent would have you believe it was.
Overheated, confusing and laden in the end with blatant racism, the case of the White House bust of Winston Churchill still persists.
President Joe Biden has removed it from the Oval Office after four years standing sentry under his predecessor, who thought he looked something like the wartime prime minister.

An Oval Office redesign brought in new busts instead: Latino civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Some British tabloids deemed it a snub. The US Embassy in London put out a video Friday morning underscoring the special relationship between the US and the UK -- emphasizing that it is not about a piece of sculpture.

Four years ago...

by Bernard on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 07:24:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about replacing it with a bust of Parnell?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Jan 22nd, 2021 at 07:26:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to Nile Gardiner, Churchill saved the free world and is a huge hero on both sides of the Atlantic.

Looking at it from this side of the pond I think I can safely say that there are not many Americans who would agree that Churchill did much saving of anything. Eisenhower, maybe, or MacArthur.

by asdf on Sun Jan 24th, 2021 at 05:53:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
British Victory in WWII

"History will be kind to me as I intend to write it myself."
[Quote Winston Churchill]

The role of Roosevelt to end colonialism and direct call on Churchill te end the British Empire.

The United Nations and Decolonization - The The Atlantic Charter of August 1941

Churchill at the White House | The Atlantic |

"After my husband's death, I was lunching one day with Mr. and Mrs. Churchill at their home in London, and sitting by me, he suddenly turned to me and said, 'You never have really approved of me, have you?'"

Franklin Roosevelt: "That Hell-hole of Yours"

by Oui on Sun Jan 24th, 2021 at 08:07:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]

"Britain First!"

by Oui on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 06:10:31 PM EST
Michel Barnier receives European of the Year award - Irish Examiner
"I continue to believe that we have to be both patriotic and European -- patriote et européen -- Irish and European, French and European. The two go together... That is why preserving EU unity was so important throughout the Brexit process."

Mr Barnier said Brexit "did not trigger the end of the European Union" but rather strengthened its unity in building a Europe that protects and inspires, quoting the Irish proverb "Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity."

by Bernard on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 06:16:35 PM EST
Once it was considered just a matter of waiting until Catholics out bred Protestants to shore up the numbers. Does it have to be complicated?

sapere aude
by Number 6 on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 07:49:34 PM EST
Changing the fundamental structure and governance of a society is always complicated...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 08:04:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Oui on Thu Jan 21st, 2021 at 08:29:06 PM EST
sweats the bastid queen
by Cat on Sun Jan 24th, 2021 at 02:58:40 PM EST
Most UK voters believe Scotland will be independent by 2030
In Scotland, the poll found 49% backed independence compared to 44% against - a margin of 52% to 48% if the undecideds are excluded.

In Northern Ireland, 47% still want to remain in the UK, with 42% in favour of a United Ireland and a significant proportion - 11% - undecided. However, asked if they supported a referendum on a United Ireland within the next five years, 51% said yes compared to 44% who were against.

In Wales, where support for independence is traditionally weakest, 23% still backed leaving the UK while 31% supported a referendum.

The survey findings indicate Boris Johnson faces a struggle to keep the UK together following its departure from the European Union.

Across all four nations, more voters expected Scotland to be out of the UK within 10 years than thought it would still remain.

In England, the margin was 49% to 19%, in Northern Ireland it was 60% to 28%, in Wales 49% to 23% and in Scotland itself 49% to 30%.

With crucial elections to the Scottish Parliament coming up in May, the poll found the SNP way ahead on 70% - up seven points since the last elections in 2016 - while the Tories were down six points on 25%, with Labour down five points on 19%.

- Panelbase polled 1,206 adults resident in Scotland between January 19-22. YouGov polled 1,416 English adults between January 19 and 20, and 1,059 people in Wales aged 16 and over between January 18 and 21. Lucidtalk polled 2,392 people in Northern Ireland aged 16 and over between January 15 and 18.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 25th, 2021 at 12:37:27 AM EST
by Oui on Fri Jan 29th, 2021 at 10:51:40 PM EST

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