Reflections on Independence

Scottish Independence from an Irish ‘Look In The Mirror’ Perspective

Recent local election candidate for Fianna Fáil, James Doyle writes about the imminent Scottish referendum:

Within days we will know whether our celtic cousins vote for independence or opt to stay within the United Kingdom. If Scotland does vote Yes, how long will it take to evaluate whether her decision was the right one, or the wrong one?

Choices such as this one don’t come ‘once in a lifetime’ – they’re far more scarce than that. Think of the hundreds of years that passed before Irish men (and a few privileged women) had the opportunity to vote for a form of independence in 1921? Quite a few.

Choice: Self-determination. The chance to choose your own way as a nation.

We didn’t throw it away. Well, we differed on how to get there – there being the promised land of an Irish Republic. But, ultimately we took our chances with independence.

By ‘we’ I  mean of course our ancestors – grandparents and great-grandparents. They’re not here to see the results. You and I are.

And that’s the point of this article. The right to choose is a special one (and a fundamental one – if you’re a democrat) but what’s more important is what you do with the house once you get the keys. That’s an even bigger challenge in my view.

Big decisions like whether to join the European Community or introduce divorce shape the path that society wants its laws and state to take. Big decisions bring opportunity as well as responsibility.

Only last weekend the international press reported that the British authorities had left it late to work out how exactly a Yes vote would impact on the Queen’s role in Scotland, of more significance for ordinary Scottish men and women are questions such as whether they will continue to use the Pound. Will social services suffer without London’s backing? Will large employers and lenders exit the market?

Again it’s a question of choice: Self-government. The challenge of paying your way as a nation.

Here’s a question for you and me about our choices and challenges: Having chosen (voted, negotiated, fought for) independence over the first half of the twentieth century how well have we managed now that more than a half century has passed?

wicklow voiceLeaving aside the trauma of events since 2008 you might say we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. Domestically we’ve had enhancements in education (from basic literacy to more attending university), we’ve broadened our economic base from agriculture (first to industry and then services and technology) and social services and health standards, although far from perfect, are in a better place than they were in 1950.

Internationally, we have participated in international peace keeping missions, held the presidency of the European Union and, significantly, secured peace in Northern Ireland.

These are admirable achievements – once we’re honest about a few home truths of course. Would improvements to our road network have happened without EU financial aid? Investment from the private sector has raised the bar in aspects of health and education: but equal access to care and opportunity is sadly lacking.

There’s no point in sugar-coating it: our experience of independence has not been a walk in the park.

At home, electoral reward over-rides long term need as the driver behind budget decisions as income tax cuts clouded the reality of outdated care facilities for the elderly, and declining education standards for the young. A deluded denial that spiralling public pay demands could be satisfied with taxation windfalls from ever-increasing property transaction valuations inflicted job cuts, heaped tax hikes and saddled mortgage debt on a stunned society, crippling its emerging generation.

On the international stage our failures are less obvious at first sight. We immaturely dismissed the advice of our economic and currency partners in Europe when they said our housing market was ‘over-heating’. We weren’t the only ones of course – Scotland will have observed the hypocrisy that saw large EU member states run budget deficits in breach of agreed rules a decade ago and then acknowledge that any future EU bail out will involve private bond holders taking a hair cut yet offer no such retrospective relief to the Irish Tax payer who’s bailout, along with those of Greece and Portugal, provided the blank canvass for supposedly unprecedented scenarios in  the international treaties of the European Union.

On deeper reflection our record appears even more questionable in the sense that internationally our peers would (many of them, although not all) raise serious questions on our lack of regulation and neglect of our vulnerable.

10352209_252641374940950_6466157104021813704_n (2)Two examples spring to mind. First up there’s government corruption of course, and there’s been lots of it. In all our years of independence our laws have still not comprehensively cleaned up corruption in planning decisions. Scroll through the archives of any local newspaper since the mid 1990′s and you’ll uncover low standards in high places. In our country – up to recently (we are assured) – the zoning of land was a question not of housing supply and demand but of bribes, favours, votes and profits.

Human self-interest will naturally seize an opportunity. That’s understandable. The way to handle this risk is by passing laws and introducing deterrents to safeguard the public interest. In planning and bank regulation we failed at this fundamental hurdle. As a result we have suffered.

It didn’t have to be so. Having chosen independence we were presented with the challenge of running the country. Cleverly we retained many of the state institutions, structures and laws from British rule. That makes sense – I imagine Holyrood in Edinburgh will be the seat of Scotland’s first elected assembly of the independent sovereign should she vote yes.

What’s not so clever is leaving institutions, structures and laws intact (without review, reform of replacement) as society and the economic and social facts of life move on. That’s not to say Ireland lurches in the dark ages. We took the brave step of joining the European Single Currency, homosexuality is no longer a criminal offence, Catholics can attend Trinity College Dublin.

What we failed to do is protect generations of our children from abuse: through a reluctance as a society to question the authority of the church, or the propriety of its involvement, in education.

I am not offering an opinion on how the Scots should decide this Thursday. The choice is theirs to make.

What I predict however is that it will be their children and grandchildren who will experience the effects of whatever decision they make. They will appraise how today’s Scots meet the challenge of running a country from Friday onwards.

I this ‘decade of centenaries’ we Irish have an opportunity to celebrate the historic events of the early twentieth century. We also have a responsibility to evaluate our performance and perhaps resolve to do better in the century to come.

It’s interesting that precisely one hundred years ago this week an Irishman by the name of John Redmond made a speech here in County Wicklow at Woodenbridge. His part in our pathway to independence was similarly marked with choices and challenges like those faced by  Scotland exactly one hundred years later.

There is no right and wrong, there are so many changing variables.

What there is however is choice and with it a responsibility to govern.

Best of luck, Scotland.

Click here to read this article on the Wicklow Voice Website.

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