Dorcha Lee

IRISH President Michael D Higgin’s address on June 29 to the Scottish Parliament was an important moment in the relationship between Ireland and Scotland. To a packed and attentive audience, he spoke with warmth and elegance of our close kinship, our shared history and potential for future cooperation. He did not, however, emulate de Gaulle’s Vive le Quebec Libre moment, by calling for an independent Scotland.

Nevertheless, if Scotland were to achieve independence, it would open up a whole range of options on future cooperation between our countries. Nor should it stop there. Post Brexit, I believe a case could be made for a form of union between the republic, an independent Northern Ireland and an independent Scotland, a union which could be of benefit to the approximately 12 million people concerned.

If such a union were to come about, the Isle of Man, a crown dependency denied the right to vote in the recent EU referendum, might also be interested in an association.

The union I am suggesting would initially be cultural. It would preserve and protect the heritage of our Q-Celtic languages, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx, without stuffing them down the throats of our English-speaking peoples. It would promote tourism as one geographic area. It would be a union that slowly evolves in consensus, not just of its respective governments, but of its peoples. Progress towards this union should never threaten the separate national interests of our respective states.

I would not list, or limit, the scope of cooperation that could emerge from such a union.

When the first referendum on Scottish independence was launched, the Irish Government decided not to get involved. It was the right decision, as the UK-Irish relationship took absolute priority. Still, it was strange to watch a fellow Celtic nation trying to achieve independence, and not offer them a hand, not even sympathy.

As it turned out, it suited the Scots not to have the Irish in their corner during the independence referendum campaign. For decades, Scottish nationalists had looked to the republic as a role model, a great success story. But when the economy in Ireland collapsed, mentioning Ireland had the opposite effect; it showed what can happen when a ‘home country’ leaves Mother UK’s apron strings.

But things have changed. By deciding to leave the EU, it is the UK that has taken a big step away from Scotland and Ireland. Moreover, Ireland is no longer an ‘economic basket case’. While we Irish must do our best to help the UK negotiate a good exit deal with the EU, we no longer have to put all our eggs into the UK relationship basket. We can surely spare a few for our relationship with Scotland. For starters, we should at least give real support to Scottish aspirations to remain in the EU, and perhaps the Irish Government could, somehow, shift its ground and become more sympathetic towards Scottish independence.

Now is not the time to raise the spectre of a united Ireland. The southern Irish political leadership should refrain from trying to ‘spook’ the Northern Irish unionists.

It is clear that, in the event of the UK breaking apart, the Northern Irish unionists will need time and space to work out their own future. Interestingly, the last NI Census (2015) revealed a fast growing sense of NI identity (20%) as distinct from British (40%) or Irish (25%). Let us not exclude totally the possibility of an independent Northern Ireland if the UK were to break-up. The old claim that an independent NI would be ‘non-viable’ is no longer true. For many Northern Irish an independent Northern Ireland, with links to the republic and Scotland, might well be a more attractive option than a united Ireland.

Of course, this idea of an Ireland/Scotland union is not completely new. Maybe Robert the Bruce had something like this in mind when he sent his younger brother, Edward, to invade Ireland back in 1315?

When, if ever, could this all happen? Let’s discuss this again, when the head of state of an independent Scotland comes to Dublin to address the Irish parliament.

In the meantime, we are all in the Brexit together!

Colonel Dorcha Lee (retd) is an occasional contributor on Irish and Scottish defence issues.