Today, on St Andrew’s Day, I am a proud Scot. Not a proud Scot of the ‘proud Scot but’ variety, who seem to think they need to tell you how proud they are just before they go on to convince you that really they arenae that proud, and that it would be entirely impossible for the country they say they are so proud of to govern itself, to have its own currency, to manage and benefit from its own natural resources and the skills and innovation of its people, and to work to build a society that actually looks after its citizens, all of them. No, not that type of proud Scot, not the type that takes a very narrow, short-sighted, short-term view that we are too wee, too poor and couldn’t survive without being dependent, the blinkered ‘we’d be a third world country’ brigade.
No. After several months observing the more than worrying rise of right-wing xenophobic ‘patriotism’ (the other kind of nationalism, the one of a sinister nature)as it steadily becomes considered palatable and normalised through media coverage of such figures as Farage, Trump and Le Pen, I feel proud simply by reading a speech, then seeing footage of the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon’s reception, and warm and encouraging welcome during an historic visit and address to the Upper Chamber of the Irish Parliament (Seanad Eireann).
Having received a rousing reception from the students of the prestigious Trinity College the previous day the First Minister in her speech spoke of the shared history of emigration of both countries (arguably much of which historically has a causal link to the actions of our then mutual partner in Union).
She spoke of the current massive humanitarian crisis which has created the greatest movement of enforced refugees since World War II, and of the sense of understanding that the peoples of Ireland and Scotland have “ the instinct for self-preservation and the desire for a better life to seek a future far away from the lands of their birth.” She suggested that this may help explain why both countries have responded with such an open heart to the current crisis. Scotland is now home to almost a third of the Syrian refugees that have been resettled in the UK and Ireland too is playing their full part.
The First Minister spoke of Europe and the vital relationship both countries have with other members of the European Union, and how “the experience of interaction with other European states, on a basis of equality, has helped our national self-confidence and heightened our awareness of the value of our distinctive contribution to European culture and civilisation.”
She talked of Brexit being a problem not of Scotland’s making, Scotland having by majority democratically voted to remain an EU member, and a challenge too for Ireland. She spoke of protecting Scotland’s interests, and working towards presenting plans to remain within the single market whilst still a partner in the United Kingdom. She made it clear however that should these plans prove to be unsuccessful the option of Scotland considering again the question of becoming an independent country remains firmly on the table. “If the path that the UK chooses to take turns out to be deeply damaging to Scotland’s best interests – to our economic, social, cultural and international interests – then the people of Scotland must have the right to choose a different future.”
In the last few months Nicola Sturgeon has made similar statements several times but in the spirit of seeing ourselves as others see us the reception she received from Irish parliamentarians, which was heart-warming and clearly a meeting of kindred spirits, committed to positive civic nationalism, social justice and equality, was impressive, not that you’ll get that impression probably from any reports that you may read or see in the mainstream Scottish media.
Following the speech, and prior to a standing ovation, a number of the Irish Senators in attendance rose to praise Scotland’s First Minister.
Catharine Ardagh of Fianna Fail said “Scotland’s day will come” on fulfilling its constitutional destiny. “I admire your continuing passion for independence,” she told Sturgeon.
Independent senator Michael McDowell dedicated much of his response to independence, arguing that Scotland would benefit from self-government and the ability to determine its own future.
Irish Labour senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it was now “inevitable” that “Scotland will take its place in the nations of the world”, and commended the civic nationalism and democratic nature of Scotland’s independence movement.
Senator Mark Daly, also Fianna Fail, asked Sturgeon how his party and Ireland can assist Scotland in its moves towards independence.
Independent senator Frances Black told Sturgeon: “I do wish you all the best in fighting for independence for your country.”
Compare and contrast this visit, where existing relationships were further cemented, promises were made by the government of Ireland to stand for Scotland in any future Brexit negotiations (the First Minister having agreed that she will support Northern Ireland receiving access to the single market) and the prospects for future improvements to trading relationships enhanced, with Theresa May’s lukewarm reception in India, or the combined buffoonery of the Brexiteering Foreign Secretary, and his elitist pals, making ludicrous publically stated assumptions about fictional superior trading access to the single market post-Brexit, only to be consistently and clearly contradicted by the European ministers that at some point they are going to have to negotiate with. The message has been made clear that the UK will not have tariff free access to the single market without accepting the freedom of movement of EU citizens.
The First Minister has been impressive in many ways since taking over the mantle from Alex Salmond. Looking through the dross of privileged elites, professional politicians, chancers and sycophants who pass for government ministers in the UK government, I think we can be more than genuinely pleased that Scotland has an outstanding leader, who will do everything in her power to protect the interests of the people of Scotland. A leader who, when the time is right, will unlock the door to Scotland becoming an independent nation. That is when the real work begins.
Happy St Andrew’s Day, from a proud Scot.