Tomorrow, thousands of members of the Grand Orange Lodge in Northern Ireland will be attending a march in Edinburgh along with their Scottish Orange Order brethren, to show their support for a no vote in next Thursday’s referendum.
The unionist community in Northern Ireland feel they have very close ties to Scotland. As do the republican community, but the unionist community feel like they have more in common with Scottish Brits, than English Brits and would be sad to see us go. Speaking to the BBC, the director of services for the Grand Orange Lodge in Northern Ireland argued that unionists in Northern Ireland felt very attached to their Scottish friends and relatives. Unionists could undergo an identity crisis if Scotland votes yes next week. It’s easy to assume that the default position for people from Northern Ireland, living in Scotland but that isn’t quite the case.
We’ve heard a lot from Welsh Yes voters and English Yes voters, but we haven’t heard a lot from Northern Irish yes voters.
When I was researching for this piece, I put out an appeal for Northern Irish Yes voters on twitter. The response I got, was phenomenal.
Lots of people who have settled in Scotland from Northern Ireland appear to be voting yes.
The first of these is Gerry Mulvenna, who is 47 and lives in Edinburgh. Gerry has lived in Scotland for fifteen years on and off since 1985. He believes that a yes vote in Scotland would be challenging for all identities in Northern Ireland.
“Irish, British and Northern Irish identities will need to re-evaluate what is important about the way they are governed. What type of society do they want for their children and grandchildren in light of the social justice agenda set by the yes movement…Achieving major constitutional change through peaceful grassroots campaigning on a referendum may be a powerful example for political movements in Ireland.”
In Northern Ireland, the Irish republican community have stayed quiet on the matter of the Scottish Independence Referendum. Sinn Fein have said that it is a matter for the Scottish people and would be staying out of the debate. But Gerry believes that a yes vote would mean Irish people taking a fresh look at the economics of any future settlement in Ireland. He asks whether or not the UK would be able to continue subsidising Northern Ireland indefinitely. There could, potentially, be a new case for looking at the strengths and weaknesses of a united Ireland.
If Scotland votes yes, it may see the death of unionism in Northern Ireland, argues the Belfast Telegraph.In this article, there is an argument that people won’t know what to call the entity that is England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This seems like an extremely petty concern- there are much bigger issues at hand when it comes to Northern Ireland and the perceived consequences of a yes vote to Northern Ireland.
Although I’m not from Northern Ireland, I have seen the ugly parts of unionism leak into the West of Scotland. On my Dad’s paternal side of the family, is history of being linked to the Orange Lodge. My grandpa used to make frequent trips to Belfast and told us stories of how the pavements were painted red, white and blue. Some people still keep that view of Belfast.
I had wanted to visit Belfast for a long time, partly because it’s an up and coming tourist destination, partly because of my family’s historical links to the city but mostly because I have a great interest in the politics of Northern Ireland. I visited earlier this year. I didn’t know what to expect, exactly. But I found less division there than what I had expected, the peace wall gate between two divided areas was open. We took the time to ask people in Belfast what they thought of independence and they were worried about it. What would it mean for Northern Ireland? What was interesting though, is that people were saying there was no reason that Scotland couldn’t be independent. We had the natural resources, exports and financial services to run a fairly good economy. People started talking about the prospect of Northern Ireland being independent and found the prospect laughable, but “Scotland could go for it.”
Another Irish Yes voter I spoke to, David who is 33 and came over to Edinburgh for university (and never really left), said that a yes vote in Scotland would “put the cat amongst the Unionist pigeons.” He hopes that a yes vote in Scotland could see Northern Irish politics move beyond the ‘crude tribalism’ that dominates at the moment.
I asked David about the planned Orange march through Edinburgh tomorrow and he told me that it was an absolute gift to the yes campaign. Although David came from a Presbyterian background, he “doesn’t do religion” and believes that unionists are relics of a bygone era.
I can’t help but agree with him.
Unionism seems somewhat outdated, especially with the guaranteed Conservatism that comes with unionism in Northern Ireland. When the same sex marriage bill went through the Northern Ireland Assembly recently, it was nationalist politicians and by extension, typically Catholic, who voted in favour of the bill. Unionists voted against the bill. The single Democratic Unionist Party MEP sits in the European Parliament as a Non-Inscrit. Amongst those who also sit as non-inscrits are the French Front National, the Greek Golden Dawn and the Hungarian Jobbik who are all ultra right-wing parties and in some cases can be described as neo-fascists.
Peter Robinson, the First Minister of Northern Ireland defended a racist attack on a man who moved to Belfast from Northern Ireland after some racist loyalists put banners on a Nigerian man’s door saying “Local homes for local people.” He said that the perpetrators did not intend it to be racist. The DUP also wants to abolish the Parades Commission and introduce more flagship events to the 12th of July ‘celebrations’. We can’t forget that Peter Robinson and his wife, Iris, once earned six salaries between them and gleefully claimed the expenses of all of these positions.
I’m not from Northern Ireland. I can’t comment on what the best thing for them would be, in terms of their constitutional status, but a yes vote could have a positive effect on the people of Northern Ireland who are completely disaffected with politics. The independence debate in Scotland has reinvigorated politics and debate in Scotland and it could happen in other places in the UK too. Unionism is not progressive. Many people who have left Northern Ireland see them as relics and as dinosaurs. They are clutching on to power for dear life at a time when the demographic of Northern Ireland is changing and society is changing. Unionism has to embrace that change.