The Edinburgh agreement

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Editorial, Home Rule, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2012), Volume 20

They say that it’s never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. What, then, are we to make of the apparent sweet reasonableness of the deal (the ‘Edinburgh agreement’) recently hammered out between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to facilitate a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014? In a formulation reminiscent of our own 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the London government (for how much longer will it be described as ‘British’?) has agreed in advance to accept the decision of the Scottish electorate as legal and binding.

 

This is of more than just passing interest to the people of Ireland, North and South. Having failed miserably to establish our own centralised kingdom in the Middle Ages (until one was foisted upon us by Henry VIII in the 1540s), we nevertheless managed to provide one for our north-easterly neighbours (albeit in a roundabout way) through the morphing of the Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada, which originally straddled the North Channel, into the late medieval kingdom of Scotland. We even provided the brand name (‘Scotia’ was the old Roman name for Ireland).

The demise of that kingdom in 1707 has uncanny parallels with our own recent economic collapse. Scotland—bankrupted by the collapse of the Darién venture, a scheme to monopolise Pacific trade by establishing a Scottish trading colony on the Panama isthmus and which soaked up nearly half of Scotland’s capital—had little choice but to enter a union with England.

A more recent parallel is with the Home Rule crisis of a century ago. The Scots are indeed fortunate that Cameron has agreed to clarify the legal aspects in advance. We were not so lucky. After the 1912 Home Rule bill had jumped through all the necessary legislative hoops, a sizeable section of the British establishment refused to recognise the will of their own parliament (never mind the overwhelming will of the Irish electorate) by openly supporting the Ulster Volunteers’ determination ‘in using all means which may be found necessary’ to defeat what they considered a ‘conspiracy’.

And finally, what are the implications for Northern unionists if the union to which they cleave no longer exists? But for the moment neither they nor Cameron need worry. Opinion polls in Scotland currently show a decisive majority for union. On the other hand, the referendum is two years away: if a week is a long time in politics, two years is an aeon.

Tommy Graham
6 Palmerston Place, Dublin 7

 

editor@historyireland.com
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