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Inside Track: Comparisons with Ireland do not help the debate

FROM Kintyre with decent binoculars you can see houses 12 miles across the North Channel in County Antrim, and even the colour of cars travelling along the coast road.

The Scoti, from whom this nation gets its name, set up their kingdom of Dal Riata spanning the north of Ireland and west of Scotland around 500AD, and by the time they arrived from Ulster were simply the latest in a long line of migrants.

And from the revival of Ulster-Scots culture in Northern Ireland to the indelible mark made on modern Scotland by those who came during the Irish Famine, the link between these shores is inextricable.

Which is why the mutual historic, social and political illiteracy about our respective "Celtic cousins" never fails to astound.

Some of the stuff often considered offensive, racist even, I can tolerate. The Irish Tricolour, for instance, is not a "sectarian flag". No-one I've ever met says "to be sure", while "all that bigotry stuff" isn't a one-way import.

Similarly, despite now having three Glasgow-born grandchildren, my mum still refers to friends she meets on holiday as "Scotchies". (They're all "a geg", apparently.)

But with the independence referendum creeping ever closer, there's an infuriating new pursuit of making ill-founded and extremely limited comparisons between nations with vastly different dynamics to prove some point or other.

Recently I helped journalistic colleagues in Belfast with some programming on what the referendum means to Northern Ireland. They were surprised to learn (from their own research) that "Catholics and Celtic fans mostly support Labour and therefore the Union" and even more surprised when told their socio-political analysis was, in the main, decades out.

Also, the notion that Unionism in Scotland wasn't that strident, shrill, flag-waving brand associated with the parties in Northern Ireland was, well, new to them. (Of course, though, the final packages included the obligatory talking heads outside Ibrox and Celtic Park.)

In the past fortnight an already near legendary column on the Celtic Connection elicited much collective slapping of Hibernian and Caledonian foreheads.

Comparisons were made with the Irish Republic's political history to make the point that an independent Scotland might never have a labour movement of influence and significance due to their never being a Labour government in Ireland.

Quite apart from the fledgling (and agrarian) Irish Free State having no heavy industry to spawn a mass labour movement, the trade unions in Ireland haven't ever had the relationship with their own Labour Party as traditionally existed in the UK.

If there was another point during which Irish politics has been dominated by two groups with largely the same ideology, does one need to look to The Dail to find that?

Independent Ireland isn't a case study on the potential complexion of an independent Scotland. Nor are tribal divisions in the North a portent of communal strife in the event of Yes/No. Argue your cases on their own merits.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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