In my blog ‘Cameron democracy – what a chancer’ of 2016, I forecast that the Brexit option would be a license for the Scots to redouble their efforts to gain independence. I did not place the same emphasis on Northern Ireland but now a united Ireland looks more likely than ever. Wales ‘the place the size of Wales’ is also stretching its muscles and gaining ground in campaigning for independence.
Johnson the current PM is huffing and puffing that, only with his express permission, can the Scots be allowed to have a referendum on independence, since that was the agreement following the last referendum some seven years (2014) ago, when a majority of 55% to 45% voted for the union. It was tacitly agreed then that the referendum would be held not more than once in a generation.
The SNP now claims that if they earn a clear majority in the 2021 elections in the devolved administration, gaining a clear majority, then, that will be a clear indication of the Scottish desire for independence from Westminster. As a consequence, they should therefore be allowed to have another referendum on complete independence.
Against this argument Mr. Johnson responds,’same old, same old, have a referendum until it falls in your favour,’ is not a tenable choice. In the meantime the wily leader of Scotland keeps on, particularly while the Brexit issues remain raw. The UK Government knows very well that with the downward price in the long term for oil, Scotland’s fiscal deficit with London is bound to rise, and therefore the longer the wait the more obvious will become the case for Scottish integration into the UK. Additionally the more remote will become, the readmission to the EU for Scotland. All this is complicated enough but compared to the Northern Irish issues it pales into insignificance.
Northern Ireland, a constitutional problem that has plagued the UK since its inception. What is Northern Ireland? A province? A Country? A region? A ‘self governing; (home affairs suspended) province. Since the ‘Troubles’ which have been almost continuous since 1921. Explicitly recognised since the 1950’s, the internal conflict which was born of the fight for full emancipation of Catholics, claimed at least 3,500 lives and countless injuries both mental and physical. The Good Friday agreement of 1998 acknowledges that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wished to remain as part of the United Kingdom. It also acknowledged that the majority of the people on or in the Island of Ireland want Northern Ireland to be part of a united Ireland. The 1999 agreement was only opposed by one political party the DUP. If, and when, a majority of the people in Northern Ireland and Ireland vote that there should be a United Ireland, it will come to pass.
As memories of the ‘troubles’ fades and religious fervour declines, so the idea of a United Ireland becomes more acceptable to Irish people of all opinions and political parties with the exception of the DUP and hard line fringes. A substantial proportion of protestant unionists remain wary of catholic domination, (as they see the prospects of a united Ireland). However the majority of both Catholic minority and the protestant majority in Northern Ireland are becoming less polarised and more relaxed about the idea of a United Ireland.
Brexit has added another very complex dimension to the overall political equation. In simple terms when the UK was a member of the EU there was no border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. After UK withdrew from the EU there is a de facto hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. By allowing a border to be drawn through the Irish Sea the UK Government has essentially imposed different conditions on Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK. (It promised the DUP this would never happen.) De facto this has pushed Northern Ireland towards the idea of a United Ireland – like it or not!
It is not difficult to see that in the near future that the island of Ireland will be united as one. It makes a lot of sense.
Wales is larger than Northern Island with 60% larger population of 3.3million# people. People talk of England and Wales when referring to statistics, with Scotland always referred to separately. This has been so since Edward 1st in the 13th century. Wales at that time was run by a band of princes or rogues depending on your point of view, Llewellyn ap Gruffyd being an exception in the North. By 1282 it was all over and since then Wales has been part of the United Kingdom. Modern history has seen Wales exploited for its mineral wealth from copper, to coal, to slate, and its population subjected to the slings and arrows of industrial slavery. The de-industrialisation of the late twentieth century has seen Wales left behind, despite its enormous cultural wealth, its wonderful intellectual stock and great natural beauty. Wales has much in common with the poorer exploited former industrial heartlands of England. The essential difference is size and lack of colonial influence and wealth, i,e, London.
What then, the future of this lesser member of the United Kingdom, where does the future lie? Is there a viable way forward for an independent Wales. If the devolution vote is anything to go by, one could argue that the people of Wales could hardly care less, since only 29% of the voting population turned out some 20years ago. Since the foundation of the devolved ‘Senedd’ apathy remains the single most driving political force in the Principality. There have for many years been a flickering of nationalistic fervour but it has never really burned very bright.
The prospects of Wales remain weak unless there is a much more outward looking impetus. The present attitude of inward eying and weak dependency on handouts is unlikely to yield an exciting prospect. The opposition parties in the ‘Senedd’ seem ineffectual and parochial, no wonder the Welsh voter is not moved.
In Westminster the Government of Boris Johnson has met the perfect storm, managing Brexit (for good or ill), the pandemic, the consequent economic disaster, it might seem that the very likely break up of the union is of little consequence. However, Mr Johnson does have the ace in the pack, and that is the fiscal deficit that each of the devolved nations/province of the UK depends on. In simple terms Westminster forks out about £34Bn a year with £17bn to Scotland (exclusive of local taxation) 15Bn to Wales and 11Bn to Northern Ireland. If dear old Westminster departs, who picks up the bills? Despite this, that cute politician in Edinburgh could yet shake the world.