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No, the Irish are not afraid of Scottish independence

13 December 2013

3:06 PM

13 December 2013

3:06 PM

If I were to say that I admire Charles Moore tremendously you would know there must be a ‘but’ looming towards the end of the paragraph. Nevertheless I do admire Charles Moore an awful lot. His column is a weekly treat much enjoyed by all sensible folk. If you don’t do so already you should subscribe to ensure you never miss his weekly epistles from High Toryville. But…

I am not persuaded by his suggestion that people in the Republic of Ireland are worried by the prospect of Scotland voting to become an independent state. He says “most people” do not want Scotland to vote for independence. I daresay this is the case, at least amongst those folk favoured with Charles’s company but it still strikes me as an odd conclusion.

In my experience Irish people are, like people in most parts of the world, intensely indifferent to the referendum’s outcome. They will be able to live with the result, no matter which way it goes. My experience is that Scottish independence, in as much as it is ever raised, tends to be accompanied by a joshing What’s keeping you? kind of attitude. If Scots vote Yes there will be a friendly welcome from Dublin. Welcome to independence, the water’s lovely.

According to Charles – or according to the people to whom he has been talking – the Irish are, however, worried that an independent Scotland might reopen the parked question of a United Ireland, that Edinburgh might become a low-tax competitor for Dublin and that a Yes vote would “weaken the UK and therefore make it a less useful ally for Ireland in the EU”. Well, perhaps.

I suppose the further unravelling of the United Kingdom could reopen the Ulster question but it is hard to see how it could advance the cause of unification since it cannot do anything to resolve the knotty problem (sic) of consent.

As for the EU question, if one supposes – for the moment – that the interests of Dublin and London are often similar we might think that Edinburgh’s interests would, broadly speaking, be aligned with Dublin and London too. The rump UK’s influence might be marginally diminished but that would, at least to some extent, be compensated for by an additional English-speaking voice and vote at the table.

Finally, there is the question of tax. Scotland could become a low-tax haven for investment and enterprise within the EU. I think that preferable to many of the alternatives. It must be admitted, however, that this is a minority viewpoint in Scotland as a whole and an opinion not shared by very many people arguing for independence. The Irish, if they worry about this at all, may not have very much to worry about. At least not until reality bites.

Poor Ireland is, in any case, the abandoned step-son of the independence debate. Once upon a time Hibernia was used as a cautionary tale, then she became a model of aspiration and now she is, once again, ignored. Alex Salmond no longer talks of an Arc of Prosperity stretching from Dublin to Oslo and Rejkjavik via Edinburgh (an oddly-shaped arc but never mind) and we all know why that is the case. Comparisons with Dublin, once so envious, are now quietly forgotten.

Despite all this Ireland, rather more than Norway or Finland, remains the best country with which to compare an independent Scotland. It is a closer cultural fit than anything in Scandinavia and closer, if different, in history too.

And Ireland is still a successful place. It is worth noting that Scotland would begin its independent life in a much more fortuitous position than did the Free State and, god willing, we might not have to endure half a century of misgovernment as the Irish did.

We have a tendency, sometimes, to focus on the short-term at the expense of a broader, longer view. In Britain, for instance, it is true that median incomes for non-retired families remain 6.5% below their 2006-7 level. But, as Chris Dillow points out, they are still – in real terms – 18.6% higher than they were in 1998-99. It would have been good to avoid a crash but let’s not abandon the longer view. A lost decade is regrettable and comes at a heavy price but it is not quite the end of the world.

Similarly and despite its recent difficulties Ireland remains a much more prosperous – and better – place than it was when I first went there 20 years ago. Much has been gained and recent losses have not wiped out those profits.

So, actually, we should talk about Ireland and the Irish example more than we do. The Irish can still make a go of life as a quasi-independent republic; there is no reason why Scotland should not prove equally capable of doing so. (Memo to St Andrew’s House: crazy property booms are a bad idea.)

But, again, it is not really a debate about economics. Or rather it should not be a debate solely-centred on economics. It is about nationhood, identity and belonging. Here Scotland diverges from southern Ireland but the Irish example shouldn’t be used as a bogeyman warning Scots off from independence any more than it was a persuasive shining example in the years of the Celtic Tiger.

And, to return to Charles Moore, my fancy is that the Scottish vote looks more “multi-dimensionally dangerous” if it is viewed from London or Sussex than it does seen from Edinburgh or Dublin.

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