David Torrance’s recent suggestion that “Ulsterisation is now complete” when referring to developments in Scotland’s body politic is not only careless, it is irresponsible journalism and potentially dangerous. Other than the obvious disregard this language has for the victims of unionist behaviour and British policy in Ireland, it forces a similarity between what is happening in Scotland and Ireland that simply does not exist. At best Torrance’s interjection is shockingly ill-considered and ill-informed, and at worst it is an appalling and cruel piece of scare tactic propaganda.
No one will defend the savagery of the IRA bombing campaign or the loyalist bombings in Dublin, but Torrance and the rest of the Scottish unionist establishment would do well to understand that the violent polarisation of politics in Ireland did not spring from a vacuum. The Troubles were not the result of the British Army opening fire on unarmed civilians in the Derry Bogside in 1972 but the consequence of centuries of British policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide, with countless human rights violations and extra judicial murders. Comparing Scotland’s present political climate to this is inaccurate and grossly offensive.
While Torrance may write with wonderful and sophisticated style, his language repeatedly betrays his political leanings. He tweets that journalist Stephen Daisley is “on good form” when he wrote of the Tories as “fending off separatism” as though separatists were beasts of prey, monsters or zombies. In his Herald article, “The Ulsterisation of Scottish Politics is Complete,” the reader notices that Nicola Sturgeon “spits rather than speaks,” while Ruth Davidson – being classier of course – “stands up to the Nationalists.” How very British of her.
He is entitled to his opinion and his political position. The freedom of the press is something dear to my own heart; as is the freedom of speech, but these freedoms do not give him the right to shout fire in a crowded room. Scotland’s history and present realities are not those of Ireland or indeed the six counties of Ulster.
This entire furore, as an aside, cuts right to the heart of the problem with The Herald, The Sunday Herald, and The National – they have no ideology. Yes, we on the pro-independence camp are relieved to have at last some media on our side, but these papers are commercial organs, providing us only with that which is of financial benefit to the London based Newsquest Media Group.
We cannot deny that something is happening to Scottish politics. Labour, once the giant of our national politics, has been obliterated under the shockwave of the independence movement, and has been pulled by the gravity of the SNP to consider abandoning its Blairite unionism in favour of Home Rule. The Conservatives, under the same gravitational pull, are adapting to a new form of nationalist-unionism – as opposed to its traditional conservativism of the privileged – to keep its newly won support from the ranks of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Even Sturgeon’s SNP is evolving to accommodate the Greens and so reviving the 2014 ecumenism of Yes Scotland.
All of these particular dynamics are happening in a period of rapid polarisation, but this widening divergence of Nationalist and Unionist politics is not an “Ulsterisation.” Paul Kavanagh is closer to the truth in describing Scotland right now as “Catalonia in the rain.” Yet even this is not exactly helpful, and we can be sure the Wee Ginger Dug well knows it. The truth is that this is, and only ever has been, the Scottishisation of Scottish politics – this is our politics, happening in our country, and we are the people affecting it. We need no other frame of reference, especially one Torrance and others don’t understand, to grasp what is going on.
For the day that’s in it (12 May), there is one useful relationship between the politics of Scotland and Ireland; that of the Edinburgh born James Connolly who was executed one hundred years ago today at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. In Easter week 1916 Connolly’s Citizen Army, together with the Irish Volunteers, and Cumann na mBan proclaimed Ireland’s independence, guaranteeing:
…religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
– Easter Proclamation of 1916
Nothing about this statement of a nation and its right to self-determination vaguely resembles the reductionist and narrow religious or “tribal” (another one of Torrance’s tricks to make nationalists savages) sectarianism of this Ulsterisation nonsense. Connolly’s Ireland, like our Scotland (and his), is a nation of equal rights and opportunities for all its children regardless of their politics or religion. This is closer to the truth: the polarisation in Scotland – as it was in Ireland in 1916 – is not about religion or any other sectarianism. It is about class.
Unionism in Scotland, as it rallies around the Tories, is about the preservation of a status quo of wealth inequality, privileged access to opportunity, and the preferential treatment of some of the nation’s children over others. Eamonn McCann, writing for the Guardian on the Troubles in the north of Ireland, said exactly the same thing. The division of communities in the six counties was always the product of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, keeping class interests out of politics and the unionists in control over a weakened working class. Of course this is what the Tories are most frightened of; the realisation among the working people of Scotland that their interests are better served outside the British project.
The Butterfly Rebellion