Yesterday, a demonstration in Glasgow, in support of those who want to keep the British flag flying at all times over Belfast city hall saw a number of people gather in George Square flying mini British flags. Seeing the British flag in such alarming numbers, it seemed at first sight to be BNP or some variation thereof, until someone told be about what was going on in Belfast.
The Alliance Party offices in Belfast have been bombed by rioters who are demanding that the proposal, backed by the Alliance, that the British flag should only be flown on a limited number of occasions, while two other Alliance councillors are facing being driven out of their home. No where else under British rule has the flag flying all the time, yet it would seem that Unionists in Northern Ireland are sufficiently upset about this to not only riot but bomb the offices of the sandal wearing, fluffy party of Northern Ireland politics.
Growing up in the time of the troubles, I remember them only scantily. The deaths and the arrests, the pub bombings, the supergrasses and the hungerstrikers then followed by the miscarriages of justice, the peace process, the releases and the inquiries. See it would seem that the fluffy “lets all be nice to one another and talk this through” party had won the day – ideologically if not in practice. There were marches and flareups, but contained. Yet in the meantime, Ireland remains occupied – the only place in the UK where all police are routinely armed, where Marian Price is interned ….and the only place where the British flag is continuously flown.
The solidarity demonstration in Glasgow is an indication that this has resonances in Scotland. That there is a Scottish community that fears the breakup of the UK. There has been a deliberate attempt in the recent decade or two to cultivate an artifical sense of Britishness. From “Cool Britannia” to drowning in a sea of Union Jacks this summer – Britain has been going “Look to me, Look to me, look to me, LOOK TO ME” for the last twenty years.
We have less than two years to secure our independence.
We need to provide something else for people to look to.
We need something with more substance than a flag, lots of good sporty-types, an anniversary, a pretty wife and a bonny future baby. Of course we can pull out the Saltire, point to Sean Connery, celebrate Bannockburn, admire Nichola Sturgeon, and ooh over a golf course which I suppose is the Scottish equivalent, but its going to take more…because those diamonte Union Jacks tend to blind as they sparkle …got more money behind them, you see.
We need to highlight substance, for the unionists cannot win on substance. The substance of Britain is illegal wars, drone use in Pakistan, extraordinary rendition and selective compliance of extradition orders. But we need to tell people that the substance of Scotland will be different. The UK state is a powerful entity. Although vastly reduced, it still has an empire, it speaks the language of the rich and in a dialect which is pleasing. International political and military support is courted, and its elder statemen frequently take up positions of power within international entities (although interestingly I can think most obviously of Labour figures who have done so rather than Conservatives most of whose previous leaders are still hanging around). In the international stakes, being British is desirable.
Underlying much what is going on in Northern Ireland today is fear. Informed by historic tensions, they see what is happening in Eire and it resonates with the hardships that are starting. Austerity is starting to bite and there is a demand for UK protection from its ravages. . Looking to the South, it sees a country mired in recession and at the whim of the European Central Bank. “Look after us“, it calls to the UK establishment “and we will serve and protect your interests”
Eire got its independence less than 100 years ago, yet there are no demands from within for it to rejoin the UK state. Instead, like other states suffering austerity, it looks to its new master of Europe and considers whether the deal is a devil’s bargain. The working class needs to be united, but united in what is the question. The aim of the European Union is for an internal market, not only of goods and services but also of labour – through internal immigration and emigration – to drive wages down across the bloc. Capital demands that workers accept the wages that are offered, it is for the European working class to demand that a greater share of profits of each of the countries goes into the hands of workers. The EU may be a tool to achieve that, or alternatively it may be an obstacle in its way – there are arguments on both sides – but slavish devotion to a trading bloc – be that the UK or the EU our of fear of the unknown is no basis for decisions.
The whole Independence Movement needs to become more sophisticated. Its not about Saltires, but neither is it just about narrow European trade. Membership of the EU is for the people of Scotland to decide – just like all else. The unionists want us to declare whether what we want, or rather, they want to tell us what we should want and that we wont get it, but whether we are in or out should only be a temporary position until we are in a position to decide for ourselves what we prefer. On the other hand there are fundamental principles that the whole Independence Movement should be talking about. Our place in global society and how we are aligned within it – what are the fundamentals of how we want our global society to be and how can we best achieve it.
What is being offered under “No” is the Scottish equivalent of Northern Ireland – a few more powers here and there, but fundamental power to remain with the British State – all of our benefits, our public expenditure, and our taxation still under the control of the UK government, and all our foreign policy, including our EU status to be controlled by the UK state. A “No” vote is the equivelent of pleading for the UK state to protect us, to exploit others more so we may not starve like them. And in return we will happily turn over all our resources, our money, our associations and our security to your hands. Instead we must have confidence that we can manage our resources better, distribute money more fairly, have more responsible associations and secure our own safety.
The fash were apparently mingling amongst the Union Jack waving crowd. It doesn’t surprise me. The Union Jack is quite often used to hide atrocities, so why should walking ones be any different. A potential link up between the Unionist community and fascist supporters is danger to be watched out for. The unionist community – which, as far as I am aware mainly comprises of Orange Order (a Protestant Christian organisation) members and supporters of Glasgow Rangers football club with friendship groups and family ties among them – has no particular association with fascism. Culturally many fash supporters come from that background, but don’t particularly tend to tend to play a major part within it. We need to be careful how we approach the unionist community in the run up to Scottish Independence. And we need to be careful on two fronts.
Firstly we need to be careful that the Independence Campaign is inclusive. A relatively patriarchal white community may be an odd thing to plead for inclusiveness for, but its about ensuring a lack of barriers. We need to be careful that we do not stereotype members of Rangers Football club, nor tar them with the politics of some of its supporters. We must be sensitive to what we celebrate in Ireland’s history, noting that some of the organisations which can be lionised on the left have histories of civilian bombings leaving a legacy of resentment which percolates out of the immediate family and through the community.
Secondly we need to be careful that we stand firm. The British state is responsible for starting illegal wars, mass murder, displacement of peoples, imprisoning refugees and holding nuclear weapons. All this the fascists approve of – a strong muscley Britain is their aim. In contrast the Unionist population in Scotland generally want the fluffier nicer side of Britain. The welfare state (now crumbling), the NHS (being dismantled) and pretty pictures of the Royal family being loved around the world. We need to demonstrate to the unionists that independence is not a threat to their wellbeing, but that fascism is.
Where-ever there is austerity, there is fear. Where there is fear, the default position of people is to cling to the known. We must give hope and vision to the independence movement, we must explore a future in which we shape our own destiny, inviting people to dream of a future in which we do not rely on another’s protection for security – economic or otherwise.