Posts Tagged ‘Independence’

As I write this article, I am listening to the breaking news that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are essentially using United Kingdom’s attempt to leave the EU as a geopolitical football. The defacto leaders in Northern Ireland, the DUP have said they will not accept a Brexit deal that leaves Northern Ireland in a regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland. This Regulatory alignment means a soft border between the Irish regions with both of them having access to the Customs union. The Taoiseach of ROI has been firmly against the idea of a hard border within the Irish region. One could say that the The Prime Minister resides in a difficult position known as the infamous Catch 22, if she picks the side of the DUP, the ROI could act as veto power against the success of any potential brexit negotiation. If May chooses the ROI as her ally, her Conservative Party could lose their fragile pact with DUP, in which case the conservative would only be able to form a  Minority Government which could ultimately lead to another Snap Election thus being potentially be fatal for Brexit itself.

When I initially wrote about Irish politics painfully reinserting itself in to the Anglo-sphere, this is sort of what I meant. The General Election and Brexit have acted as a sharp reminder that Irish politics must be acknowledged, respected, treated in a way that not only preserves the prosperity of the United Kingdom but also maintains the precious diplomacy between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This has been one of the most pressing and difficult matters for British and Irish politicians of the past 200-300 years and it is of no surprise that it is its rearing ugly head again. My old history lecturer used to say “if you want to know what was happening in Britain at a particular time just look at Ireland, whatever they’re doing, we’re doing the opposite “. Unfortunately that sort of exceptionalism of Irish politics no longer remains, its issues remain even more complicated from a cultural, political and economic standpoint. I do believe that whilst we have swept Irish problems and complexities under the Rug, we have forgotten some of the key turning points in Irish history that have led us to this current deadlock between the EU, UK and ROI. I will attempt to revisit some of these momentous historical changes whilst also touching upon some of the other global struggles for sovereignty to see how much relevance they have to our current situation.

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How much influence will the DUP have in British politics?

R. F Foster’s Modern Ireland 1600 – 1972 has been a massive help in trying to help me breakdown some of the key moments in Irish modern history. It is essentially a narrative work that successfully interweaves some of the key themes that have come to represent the divisive Irish society.  What I found most interesting is the way he dismantles the concept of the Irish struggle as essentially a war between Catholics and Protestants, he reveals a world in which  Ireland that was dominated by class, racial, intellectual and regional lines set during the century preceding this book. I feel as if this has huge importance towards the state of British politics in this century. A lot has been made about how the DUP are just a party hellbent on delivering a rigid and conservative theocratic agenda to Northern Ireland, but many commentators have missed the class distinctions between themselves and the Northern Irish populace, their pledge to lower the Corporation Tax to 10% – which would be the joint lowest in Europe – has been largely ignored by the mainstream media. This is an example of how Irish civil disputes have been skewered to portray a certain stereotype about Irish politics, Foster’s book helps to challenge these typical portrayals and explore some of the themes that underpin the classic divisions in Ireland. Foster’s book also enlightened me to how past global affairs have greatly influenced the pathway of Irish struggles, I believe this is particularly relevant to our current political landscape and the way the EU has been instrumental in the development of both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland itself. It is important to emphasise this point as it questions the concept of Irish exceptionalism and the idea that Ireland’s political journey remains unique and independent of its neighbours.

Foster’s book surveys Irish modern history from the start of the seventeenth century , but I particularly want to examine the Irish period from the late eighteenth century onwards as I believe this is the period when the relationship between the Irish and the British begins to intensify, furthermore I think they’re some interesting comparisons to be made with the UK and its connection with the Irish populace.

Irish and European Unionism

Much has been made about how the constitutional relationship between Irish people and the British is changing because of the democratic decision to leave the European Union. There has been talk of the Northern Irish drifting away from the United Kingdom, But at the beginning of the eighteenth century the Irish people became married to the British with the Act of Union in 1801. The repercussions of this event greatly affected the political life of the Irish in a way that is not entirely dissimilar to how the Northern Irish could be affected once they leave the European Union. When the Irish became legally bound to the British in the nineteenth century, their religious status became a problematic feature in their quest to acquire full citizenship. The vast majority of the Irish were Catholics but during this time Catholicism was outlawed across Britain, a successful popular movement thus emerged and developed in Britain and Ireland to give Catholics the full set of rights and liberties to ensure they could properly participate in British political and economical life.

As Fosters notes “In 1821 the granting of emancipation – full rights of political representation and civil office-holding – was still on the agenda a limited measure had just been passed by the Commons and rejected by the Lords…by then the principle of emancipation was the priority..”

When the Catholics eventually obtained emancipation in 1830, it seemed to be a day of great achievement and success for British and Irish Catholics..

“Middle-class Catholics rapidly became part of the unofficial establishment: in 1835, the French magistrate Gustave de Beaumont would note that this class “seems almost dazzled by its own splendour”

It would initially seem then that the inclusion of the Irish within the British legal system had a positive effect for Catholics across in Britain. But what about the political situation in Ireland?, although Catholics may have increased their ability to access state offices and arenas of political authority as well being able to worship with less restrictions,  the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland had their political and social strength enhanced by the Great Reform Act which was enacted a couple of years after the  Catholics received emancipation.  Even in the Catholic areas of Ireland, the reforms actually widened the protestant electorate due to the fact that the catholic were a more impoverished and mobile social group who were not able to meet the property tax and residence requirements needed to vote. The Protestants were also boosted by the the extra investment into Northern Irish infrastructure and industry, as one prominent Presbyterian in protestant Ulster commented “When I was a youth I remember it almost a village but what a glorious sight does it now present – the masted grove within our harbour – our mighty warehouses teeming with wealth of every climate…all this we owe to the Union“. But one must not forget that although the protestants had benefited from the new economic prosperity, this was under threat by the growing influence of Catholics. The Irish towns which normally typified aristocratic protestant domination became battlegrounds for patronage and local power in which the moneyed catholics played a great part. To add, the Irish Protestant church began to lose its sovereignty as a result of the Union. In 1833, the Irish Church Temporalities Act indicated that the government was prepared to use the state to reform the church, suppressing 10 bishoprics and intervening in the administration (Church Revenue Commissioners from Westminster)  of sparsely populated parishes. These commissioners played a central role in the tithe war, which forced the Catholic Church to pay for the upkeep of the Protestant-led Church of Ireland, it was particularly this sort of social reform that contributed to a sectarian feeling and a level of animosity between the protestants and Catholics that had not previously existed.

This divisive feeling began to escalate and was even portrayed in the popular Dublin University Magazine which tried to assert an identity that was distinctly  protestant, unionist and Irish, this line of thought inevitably became provocative as the magazine tried to adopt a of Irish traditions and customs that were also shared by Irish Catholics. It became hard to ignore the ethnic agitation in everyday civil life, as one Irish land agent commented in 1832: “our politics are a curious commodity. They are mere county politics and have little or nothing to do with any general principle or feeling save that of Catholic versus Protestant.” So although the Act of Union was legislated with the intention of bringing about a prospering alliance between Ireland and Britain, it appeared to be counter productive as it actually led to an atmosphere of conflict, division and competition between the different sort of social groups in Ireland and Britain.

One could say that a slightly different pattern has occurred in the relationship between the UK and European Union. Whereas the relationship between the Ireland and Britain had deteriorated and made more complicated by the 1801 Act of Union, one could say that the Irish republic’s decision to join the European Union has had a positive effect for the Irish people. It has been argued that the march towards peace in Northern Ireland was only completed because they had to reform their domestic policy to make it in line with the EU’s European Convention on Human Rights. It was this sort of utilitarian level of governance which improved ethnic relations within Northern Ireland. The problematic nature of Anglo-Irish relationship usually arose around whether the constitutional alliance with the UK was either too weak or too strong, but by claiming to be a citizen of Europe you automatically symbolised a geo-political unity with not only all of Ireland but also with the British. As the 1992 Taoiseach of Ireland once said

“Ours is a small Island of relatively limited resources which history rather than social structures, economics or geography has divided…in the context of the EU, we now face a range of opportunities and challenges which invite a joint response”

This sort of progressive rhetoric was unheard of when Ireland decided to join Britain in 1801, but this was for two reasons. Firstly, Britain did not have a coherent or even recognisable human and civil rights policy that could have provided an immediate opportunity for Irish people of different races and ethnicities to integrate in to that new union. Secondly, the historical relationship between those ethnicities were not as divisive in 1801 as it was during the 20th century. One could therefore suggest that the relationship between the Irish and the European Union became a success because the Irish were moving on a path of progression; notably away from the frequent bloody civil conflicts and towards a union that could deliver a culture of equality and justice. Thus, to place a contemporary analysis on this topic; when one measures the viability of a union, one must also consider the current conditions under which it joins the Union. When Northern Ireland leaves the European Union it will effectively have to renegotiate its relationship with the UK, in essence this would effectively mean that Northern Ireland will be rejoining the United Kingdom. At the moment, the Northern Irish assembly is in turmoil as it fails to form an effective government, perhaps the strengthened power of the DUP in the brexit negotiations between the Northern Irish and the British could provide a renewed sense of purpose, direction and unified governance for the devolved state.

Brexit on Northern Ireland

What impact will Brexit have for Northern Ireland? Will we see a new Act of Union?

Repeal and Federalism

One of the more straightforward comparisons to the brexit vote was the Irish campaign to repeal the Act of Union in 1801. One of the biggest criticisms of the Leave campaign was that it was vague and often ambiguous approach, with no clear direction for the sort of political and economic structure that would exist for Ireland, after the repeal. Many readers have probably already heard the line that Brexiteers didn’t really understand what Brexit actually meant. This is not necessarily an attack on those who voted to leave the European Union, but assertion that was directed at the leadership of the prominent leave campaigns and the incoherent direction that they took. As Caroline Lucas MP has noted

 

“When we say that people did not know what they were voting for, that casts no aspersion on their intelligence. The fact is that the Brexit campaign deliberately did not set out what leave would look like. “

But this sense of confusion was also apparent in 19th century Ireland. When the Repeal Association initially developed, it seemed to suffer from the same criticisms as the Brexit campaign did last year. It has been said that the brexit campaign suffered from a sort of misguided passion to transform Britain as it rebelled f under the yoke from the EU to be thriving in to a revival of Anglican Golden Age. Well it has been claimed that the Irish were also motivated by an impulsive opportunism to throw a symbolic punch at the British establishment as Foster neatly explains

“Repeal remained an emotional claim shaded into the broad spectrum of Radicalism. O’Connell (leader of the Repeal Association) indicated that the demand was limited as well as unspecific…The ideal was to force the British into offering something and negotiate from there”

But this level of vagueness did highlight the hypocrisies that often lay within nationalist movements, much of the Repeal Association wanted greater sovereignty for Irish Catholics and to remove the jurisdiction of British Law. However, one must stress that it was the British legal system that contributed to the political and social elevation of Irish Catholics in both Britain and Ireland. A comparison can be drawn here with the controversy around employment rights in the brexit negotiations; many activists have claimed that leaving the European Union will ensure that our civil liberties are governed by British legal institutions as opposed to European Court of Human Rights. However, it should be emphasised that although the EU were not first legal body to legislate workers rights in Britain, they did formally enshrine workers rights into British law. Of course, it is not a forgone conclusion that an exit from the European Union will inevitably lead to the erosion of worker rights, but one could say that it is large gamble particularly with a conservative government that has been accused of degrading the power of employees via Trade Union reforms. Furthermore, perhaps one could draw a lesson from the 19th century Ireland, where if Repeal was eventually successful; the protestant ascendancy would have continued their aristocratic domination over the Irish Catholic majority. Obviously, we reside in an age where governments have a greater obligation to uphold the rights and liberties of their citizens. Theresa May has even spoken about how EU law will transfer smoothly into British Statute, should the public rely upon her rhetoric alone?

 

Interestingly, the attempts to leave the European Union did mirror the Irish campaign to repeal the Act of Union. Many similar arguments were made, and some of those appeals for independence can provide us with a closer insight into the constitutional issues surrounding brexit. Currently, there is large schism amongst both Remainers and Brexiters who favour either a soft brexit (a minor legal link to the EU) or a hard brexit (a clean break from all EU sponsored institutions). A similar discussion existed in 19th century Ireland, one of the leaders of Repeal Campaign Daniel O’Connell claimed that Ireland needed to break away from Union because of its illegitimacy but also stated that Ireland needed some sort of governing alliance with the British authorities

“I will never ask for or work for any other save an independent legislative, but if others offer me a subordinate parliament, I will close with any such authorized offer and accept that offer”

This is not too dissimilar to politicians who state that Britain can have a judiciary and its houses parliament but will also share its economic obligations with the European Union as part of its continued membership with the Single Market. But it seems that Ireland was initially even more cautious with its attempts to reform its relationship with Britain. I believe it is worth noting that O’Connell’s political caution was borne out of his responsibility to protect Irish Catholics, he envisioned Irish nationalism as one that had to be pluralistic in nature, the idea that he would “not give up a single Irishman” indicates that he saw Irish sovereignty as something that must transcend the barriers of religious sectarianism before any call for pure call for independence. Perhaps we could share this mindfulness in our own brexit negotiations; with EU nationals being used a political football in the quest for a ‘great brexit deal’, would it be wise for us to walk away from the negotiations so that the government could first and clarify and certify the citizenship status of EU nationals as opposed to sacrificing certain parts of our economy or society – as we have seen with the the government’s weak handling of the EU budget negotiations. This is not an appeal for Britain to aim for a soft brexit, but for Britain to take the time to protect and guarantee rights of all its Citizens before any rushed move to leave the European Union.

Secondly, I feel that O’Connell’s cautious type of political reform came from an inert desire for a federalised relationship between Britain and Ireland. Similar to the idea of soft brexit, this proposal went even further and called for a more decentralised type of government with certain regions having more control over their domestic affairs. As O’Connell once said

The principle of self-government by representation should be carried through every institution of the state; and local taxation, whether in a parish or a town, should be imposed and managed, and the by-laws affecting the locality enacted by a body representing the locality which taxation or these laws affect and the whole kept under control and regulation, by the central power of Imperial representation”

Interestingly, O’Connell did not receive much support for these principles, his Young Ireland Repeal Association began to alienate him from the group and he eventually became infamous for being ‘next to the British Government, the worst enemy that Ireland ever had’. Although a harsh statement, one can understand how his call for a soft but sustained relationship with Britain could be interpreted as a betrayal on the Irish people. Nevertheless, O’Connell’s Irish Repeal Association created unprecedented amount of political activity, The Nation newspaper was distributed widely in nearly all Repeal reading circles and this greatly enhanced their cause. Although the Repeal Association was eventually crushed by the British government, I believe O’Connell’s initial appeal for federation has significant relevance in today’s society. With the burden of government enforced austerity and accusations that councils don’t have the capability to tackle the organisation of public services, I believe that a federalised United Kingdom could attract support across the country. It would certainly alleviate the concerns that the northern towns have about the lack of investment into their social infrastructure. It may also allow those areas to retain their cultural identity through more locally approved measures of integration. There is also  the possibility that councils in large urban areas such as London would have the power to resist the forces of gentrification. Lastly, by giving fiscal autonomy to regions such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this may fulfil the demands of those who once called for independence in the Celtic regions thus strengthening the social and national solidarity in those areas. O’Connell’s demand for a federalised union may have been perceived as a weak and watered down version of independence, but for a 21st century United Kingdom that often seems economically and socially shacked by central government it may prove to be a radical yet effective solution.

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Just an existing proposal for a Federal Uk? Is this feasible?

Ideological Inspiration

One of the strange yet somehow complex elements of democratic uprisings, is their influence from foreign forces. This operates in many different ways, but occasionally these movements are accused of either being controlled or manipulated by foreign agents to the detriment of the ruling power. There is often little respect or analysis for movements that are influenced by the ideologies or decisions of foreign nations without actually being controlled by them. This same accusation was often made towards Irish struggles for independence and the British Campaign to leave the European Union. In some instances this has proven to be true, particularly during the first world war when Germany gave Ireland weapons and ammunition to support the Easter Rising of 1916. But there have been periods in Irish history when the Irish were simply influenced by foreign ideological attitudes.

As Foster explains

“There was an educated middle-class element, an initial desire to see the men of small property represented in politics –  which could , with the radicalization of events in France…move on to ideas of universal suffrage and complete Catholic emancipation, as well as the secret ballot and payment of Mps”

This aspiration for the Irish middling sorts to improve their political station did not distinctly originate from France, there has been a tendency for certain Irish social groups to see themselves as part of a historical journey that traverses the globe. When the nationalist United Irishmen were founded in 1798, they chose to create their crest based on ‘democratic’ principles in the US and France.

“What have you got in your hand? a green bough. Where did it first grow ? In America. Where did it bud? In France. Where are you going to plant it? In the crown of Great Britain.

This was not to say that the French and the Irish did not correspond and share supplies, France indeed saw Ireland as a potential base for destabilising Britain. But there were occasions when Britain often exacerbated the situation and provoked the Irish in to forming an alliance with the France. This is evident when Prime Minister William Pitt arrested french agents in 1794 and also implicated Irishmen such as Tone and Rowan in a grand international conspiracy. The intention was to slander and defame the United Irishmen but the only consequences were a closer rapprochement between and Ireland and a belief amongst Irishmen that the discontent and distrust in Britain was to such an extent that ‘the people’ were predisposed to a mass uprising. It could be suggested that our creation of a big bad French bogeyman is not dissimilar to our creation of the Russian bogeyman. There have been numerous accusations of collusion between Russia and the Brexit Campaign which have been denounced by not only prominent brexiteers but by certain members of the British ministerial cabinet. Russia have recently been noted for their different foreign policy and the renewed sense of nationalism in their domestic affairs, the brexit campaign may have been influenced by these principles, particularly if one looks at the isolationist attitudes when comes to Brexiteers thoughts about the war on Syria as well as their ideas on immigration and cultural integration. Whilst not trying to legitimise or discredit the Russian government, it is unfair to claim that the Brexit Campaign was simply a plot by the Russians to destabilise Britain without considering the idea that ideological influence is not the same foreign manipulation. As in the 19th century, we were guilty of transforming France in to ‘The Other’, we must be cautious in making that same mistake, not out of respect for foreign governments but out of respect for democracy.

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Were these events linked? Were we inspired or repulsed by the Arab Spring?

Sovereignty vs Prosperity

One of the central themes surrounding the Brexit vote and indeed for most movements that have pushed for independence, is the concept of sovereignty. Whilst, it is a principle that I believe should be honoured and fulfilled by host nation states I also believe that the principle has been abused and manipulated for reasons that are harmful to the majority of the nation. Secondly, I believe that some politicians have overestimated the strength to which ‘sovereignty’ can help resolve some of the burdening social, cultural and political problems of British society. However, I don’t necessarily believe that this an issue that was exclusive to the United Kingdom, other nations faced this problem in the past and to even to this present day. Modern Ireland outlines the difficulties that the Irish labour movement often had with the campaign for Irish nationalism and unionism, Irish labour supporters were not against Irish cause for independence or alliance – per se – but they believed it was occasionally inconsistent with vision of creating prosperous, fair and equal Ireland. When the central government decided to enforce the Trades Disputes Act, it legalised the right to strike in all the British dominions. The labour movements became energised by this opportunity to effectively enact collective action, one republican and socialist leader James Connolly stressed the importance of an independent Ireland to serve the struggle of the working classes

“His main contribution was to argue that a nation-state must be established in Ireland as a necessary pre-condition for social and economic progress, not merely as rather vague end in itself” 

He was not the only Irishman who often saw independence as a superficial ideal which could not guarantee to raise the living standards of the average Irish citizen. In 1906, A protestant and unionist activist spoke out in protest about sectarian issues stifling any sense of progress in Irish society.

“I would like to know…what Orangeism or Protestantism has got to do with men fighting for their rights, when the issue lies not in religion but is a question of bread and butter, and shorter hours and better conditions which we should have had twenty years ago”

This quote was referring to the Irish Land Act in 1855 which was set up for any tenant who wanted to take a loan out to buy land, the legislation was probably created to absolve some of the emotional and economic damage caused by the Great Famine about 20 years before the Act was put in to place. But it is now clear to witness that the legislation had such little impact upon the depressing living conditions in Ireland. Whilst economic prosperity may not have always been at the forefront of Irish strife for independence. It has always operated as the motivation to underpin the nationalist struggle as one historian has noted:

”  Much of the rhetoric of nationalist is justifying the possession of land”

However, once the Irish achieved some level of home rule the financial benefits were delivered to the nation universally, and any financial gain that was initially awarded was not distributed to the Irish people equally. In 1938, 16 years after the Irish Free State was created, their domestic economy did not prosper at the level that was expected. The Banking, Currency and Credit commission reported that Cattle products had decline in value from £54 million in 1929 to £31 million in 1936, even crop production had increased from only £4.1 million to £.5 million. Furthermore, Irish agricultural exports fell by nearly two-thirds between 1929 and 1933. Much of this economic outlook was initially perceived as a response from the retaliatory duties imposed on the Irish trading customs as response to the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty (the document which severed British dominion over Ireland). I believe, this does have some comparison with how the president of the EU has been accused of punishing the UK over our decision to leave the EU, particularly regarding the excessively high budget bill with which our government has agreed to pay. This is not to legitimise the negative effect to which independence can bring, the economic forecast for the UK ‘s life after the EU is conflicting and inconsistent, but it is important to stress that sovereignty does not automatically guarantee economic prosperity. Even, if we look at separatism in Spain; many Catalonians were fearful that their neo-liberal politicians were only seeking independence so they could enforce their austerity measures without resistance from central governments. As a member for the Spanish Communist party has commented

“Who leads the process of independence?…it is highly questionable that the independence will serve the working classes as the parties of the Catalan bourgeoisie have approved in the Catalan government biggest cuts in health and education”

Whether this statement fully embraces the realism for Spanish political life is slightly irrelevant, the important thing to note here is that independence can make room for corruption.  It must be remembered that sovereignty may be granted to a nation out of independence, but it can be controlled, manipulated and abused by a government that has no interest in fulfilling the demands for the people. If we look back Irish society in the early 20th century, we can witness how fiscal sovereignty is worth very little to a nation that does not have the internal unity and capability to enforce an approach which could benefit all. Sean Lemass, who eventually became the minister for industry and commerce in Ireland stated that:

“Ireland could be made a self-contained unit, providing all the necessities of living in adequate quantities for the people residing in the island at the moment and probably for much larger number…until we get a definitive national policy decided on in favour of industrial and agricultural protection and executive in office prepared to enforce that policy, it is useless to hope for results”

If fiscal autonomy is to be achieved, the people must press for this at every stage of government. From the those at the top of the Imperial leadership to those in local government. A similar case could also be made for unionists who managed to retain their alliance with the United Kingdom after the Irish Free State came into being. Once they achieved administrative devolution, the dire financial situation did not encounter immediate change, the legendary slums continued to exist, the house building rate was lower than that in Britain, health and living standards remained at abysmal levels with disease and illness rampant. By 1939, a large chunk of Belfast’s working class was living at the degraded level “absolute poverty”. So on the hand, we can understand how an economic motivation for greater sovereignty may initially arise; if a country has better control of its finances the chances of fair distribution are greater. However, this does not always guarantee prosperity and newly created governments need to take responsibility for this, this has great importance for current age in British society which is suffering from an onslaught to public services across the nation. If an unfortunate situation occurs where Britain overturns its democratic vote and decides to remain within the European Union, there must be a greater unified fight for economic equality. If the brexit negotiations are successful, we must not let the struggle for sovereignty blind us and thus ensure that we apply an intense scrutiny towards any brexit deal so its terms are fair and just for the entire population.

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How can we make sovereignty delivery prosperity?

Today’s Global world & What Can Britain learn?

Across the world, sovereignty and independence are often seen as weapons to destroy the establishment. It is a political mood that has infused nearly every continent, its origins lie in in North Africa with Tunisia often as the country to trigger the Arab Spring  revolutions. Whilst, most of these movements were born out of a genuine desire to increase civil liberties, the unity of these countries was destroyed much to satisfaction of western regimes that looked to capitalise on the political chaos. But this created a backlash in other global regions, as Americans felt that the Arab chaos was creating terrorism within their own country thus hoping that Donald Trump could isolate themselves from the neo-liberal world police state. This demand is yet to be fulfilled. A similar sentiment however was felt across Europe, with Britain seeking to ‘take back control’ of not just its borders, but its finances and its courts. The ‘discontent with authority’ began to spread across the continent with Catalonia seeming to spearhead the separatist drive and the European Union seeming to be paralysed by a fear of regional disunity particular considering the strength of far right euro-sceptic parties rising in Germany, France and Austria all echoing desire for political sovereignty. Much of their success was a consequence of the Migrant crisis which is an issue that seems to have influenced the Kurdish attempt for independence, given that many immigrants in to Europe have often been Kurds who feel alienated and detached by the Iraqi government. This mood of grand political upheaval seems to be relentless as the independence movement in Quebec grows at a rapid rate, even sub Saharan Africa has witnessed the epic collapse of political elites with Robert Mugabe being effective forced to resign as Prime Minster of Zimbabwe as part of a military coup. Asia has received very little attention within mainstream media, but its coverage has highlighted a separatist feeling amongst some of the Burmese Muslims and there is growing provocation and pressure with the western powers trying to break down one of the most deeply sovereign states at the moment, North Korea.

By comparing Ireland’s subversive political past and Brexit, I have attempted to place these global movements in a different comparative historical context. The ideological foundations that try to overthrow the establishment never seem to change, the American and French revolutions often used a version of sovereignty as an inspiration to achieve aims. But this blog post has tried to demonstrate that sovereignty is not a straightforward process and that nationalist uprisings do not always carry a progressive attitude, similarly I have explained that attempts to strengthen regional unity and to formalise alliances with other states can be deeply problematic for all parties involved. Foster’s Modern Ireland articulates this point neatly and offers a portrayal of Irish nationalism that – like our own – travels in complex cultural/economic lines. As we progress towards a Brexit deal, politicians and the public need to be made aware of  our political naivety when it comes fulfilling the ‘demand of the people’. Hopefully, we will witness sovereignty being enacted in a way that demonstrates a radical departure from historical failures of independence and towards a path of cultural, political and economic prosperity and harmony.

 

 

 

 

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sovereigntyWith the decision of the Scottish Parliament to approve another independence referendum, the formal decision of Theresa May to official invoke article 50 and the nationalist tone of the general election; Questions surrounding sovereignty and the ‘recovery of power’ are fully in play. The rise of populism throughout the world and the increase around nationalist feeling has made Scotland particularly interesting in their growing interest towards leaving the United Kingdom.

Scotland’s recent change in political mood has been born out of a supposed fear that Scotland will be “dragged” out of the EU despite the country wishing to remain inside the European Union (as was evident in last year’s referendum).  But what I find intriguing is how Scotland wishes to leave an union based on the principles of sovereignty but at the same time wishes to remain inside a European Institution that requires member states to pool their sovereignty.

I have seen instances of this in other regions of the world, where a country has ceded from its host nation, only to join another a larger union that requires some pooling of sovereignty. Western Sahara or Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) became an unofficial independent region since 1975 when Spain retired its administrative power over the region following an uprising by the native West Saharan People (Polisario Front/ Sahrawi people). In 1979, the UN granted SADR the right to self determination and independence. There has been an ongoing conflict between Morocco and the West Saharan people for control within the region, with several protests and demonstrations resulting in fatalities. With this struggle for independence and sovereignty, it may be seen as a surprise as to why the Western Sahara are happy to join the African Union(African Union), an institution that advocates African states giving away their sovereignty. It may be said, that this was done for diplomatic reasons since the AU has historically recognised SADR. But recently, several countries are considering withdrawing their recognition of SADR, and over half of the member states within the AU may call for the expulsion of SADR from the Union. Why would Western Sahara want to join a Union that seeks to undermine the status and the integrity of its government?

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Who has legitimate sovereignty over Western Sahara?

I believe that some comparisons can be made here with Scotland. EU law has specifically outlined the difficulty with which Scotland will face if it attempts to rejoin the EU after leaving the United Kingdom The conditions of admission……..shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State…….This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements’. This agreement will not be easy to conduct if the negotiations between Theresa May and European Union are anything to go by. The rhetoric from some senior European/Scottish officials have expressed the struggle that Scotland may face in attempting to rejoin the EU, MSP Adam Tomkins said ”

For all its moaning about Brexit, it knows fine well an independent Scotland would not simply step into the European Union. Not only would it join the back of the queue, but we now learn it may have to adopt the euro and tackle an eye-watering deficit.

“It’s time for the nationalists to be honest about Brexit and stop using it as a tool to agitate for separation“.

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What are the true intentions for the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon; surrounding Brexit and Scottish independence?

I find it particularly interesting how Tomkins claims that the Scottish government are using the European Union to further their own nationalist agenda. One could argue that Western Sahara/Polisario are attempting to a similar path, in that their attempt to join the AU is less about supporting African unity and prosperity and more about strengthening their cause for self-determination. Is this a matter of political dishonesty? Or is it just a necessary feature of modern politics? What sort of an impression does this give to the African and European Unions’ idea of continental unity if membership is seen as a political tool to gain independence?

Although Western Sahara are in the midst of a violent conflict with Morocco, Scotland and Western Sahara both harbour criticisms about joining a corrupt institution. African Political Scientists, Okumu and Makinda have remarked on the scale of fraud and misconduct in the African Union “personal greed; the internalization of bad habits; weak government structures.; poor remuneration of civil servants. These facts have generated corruption from the local governance authorities, through the state to the African Union”. Interestingly similar comments have been made about the European Union and its ability to prevent the growth of corruption, political scientist Warner has actually claimed that the European Union has supported the rise of wrongdoing and misconduct. “Across the EU, corruption has been found to have occurred not just in the ‘old economy’ sectors but in new and supposedly competitive sectors such as telecommunications, with politicians getting kickbacks for steering contracts or making favourable arrangements for firms”. Is it a possibility that the prospect of economic growth may be more significant than the idea of sovereignty. Both Scotland and Morocco have expressed an interest in joining smaller regional financial organisations; Scotland are currently considering joining EEA whilst changing their relationship with the WTO. Morocco are following a similar path by joining the (ECOWAS) Economic Community of West African States as well as being a part of  the Arab Maghreb Union. Now both Scotland and Morocco both adopt a strong patriotic tone with their politics, with the idea of national sovereignty being paramount. But does their relationship with these small political regional organisations suggest a changing nature around our idea of sovereignty?

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Are our perceptions of sovereignty changing?

As Political Scientist Dr Nat O’Connor discusses

Part of the explanation for the British vote to exit the EU is a reaction to the uncertainty and fast pace of change brought about by globalisation. The calls to ‘take back control’ and for the UK to be fully sovereign are a rhetorical expression of this malaise.

Yet, how many countries are truly sovereign in this idealistic way?

Once the government of any territory wants to interact—even in a purely transactional way—with other jurisdictions, there must be some level of co-operation, if not compromise, which represents pooled sovereignty. “

From my perspective, this entire argument over sovereignty rests on the notion over a paternalist state versus the right of the individual. It could be argued that a paternalist state is allowed to seek financial agreements if it supports economic growth for its citizens despite the lack of transparency or approval with its subjects. The ‘right of the individual’ argument will often stress however that the citizen has the right to be informed over every decision and that “the people” should be part of the ‘negotiation process’. The complexities surrounding these notions of sovereignty is about the definition of “the people”. Many prominent Brexit Campaigners have cited the 52% of those who voted to leave the European Union as an accurate representation of “the people”. What happens to other 48%? Are their political voices to be ignored because the result of the referendum went against their wishes by 2 percent? These questions have led me to believe that political representation is central to our differing notions of sovereignty. But it also alludes to some conflicting ideas that some British political parties have about sovereignty. Nicola Sturgeon often makes the argument that the SNP are the party to spearhead Scotland towards independence, using her electoral gain of 50 seats from the 2015 general election as a democratic mandate for home rule. However if we take a look at the figures from that election, one could argue that SNP are not wholly representative of the Scottish electorate. They may have claimed 56 of the possible 59 seats in Scotland, but they only claimed 1/2 of the possible votes from Scottish electorate, how can a party promote the values representation and sovereignty for the people when it benefits from a disproportionate and a flawed system such as First Past The Post?

proportional representation

Can the First Past the Post System claim to accurately reflect the voice of the UK electorate? If it does not, then are the British electorate truly sovereign?

I do wonder however whether it is possible that the SNP could  prosper the idea of an alternative left wing movement that transcends the traditional idea of sovereignty. As we have seen, both Morocco and Scotland believe that their political and economic responsibility reaches beyond their national boundaries. Furthermore, the SNP have claimed that the employment rights of Scottish citizens are so enshrined within the European legislation,  that it actually makes the EU a stronger guarantor of worker rights than the current Conservative government of the UK. Interestingly, whilst there have been criticisms of the Conservative government spending disproportionately on defense at the expense of education, health and welfare departments, a similar sentiment has been echoed in much of North Africa including Morocco. Tunisian politician Riad Ben Fadhel has stated that  “[There has been an] unusual level of expenditure on arms, instead of social budgets, with austerity still being widely implemented across the Arab world…with Moroccan and Saudi Arabian governments receiving military assistance from the US…”, but Fadhel also states that to combat this militarist agenda, north African states should attempt in “building a united left-wing political coalition in the post-Arab spring political environment.” Fadhel speaks in a similar rhetoric to many SNP voters in that he does not wish to ignore the national identities of countries such as Morocco and Tunisia but to remind us about the social responsibility we have to those who are vulnerable regardless of their citizenship.

These principles may not be entirely new as it has been argued that institutions like the EU were founded on a social democratic promise to protect ‘ordinary’ European citizens. But with the rise of left wing politicians such Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders as well as the growing leftist movement DIEM25, there seems to be developing political trend outside of the establishment to unify and transform global politics. I am not sure whether this will have the same impact as the populist right due to the facet seem to espouse and support the governments neo-liberal handling of brexit furthermore the mainstream media outlets tend to offer more coverage to right-wing administrations such as the American Trump presidency over of British left wing movements such Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum.

Of course historically, the SNP have always celebrated their ability to pool sovereignty with the government of England  the union with England and Wales. The Act of Union which was signed in 1707 was in seen as a great opportunity for the Scottish middle classes to rise up the social ladder and enjoy financial benefits of a prosperous British Empire. An English traveller to Scotland by the name of Daniel wrote in 1726 that “the Union opened the door to the Scots in our American colonies and the Glasgow merchants took up the opportunity”. I could be argued that this mentality of Scottish nationalism is still inherent today, with many Scottish citizens claiming they enjoy the benefits of the UK’s economic reach across the world. Would it then be radical political step for Scotland to detach itself from the Union which could thus threaten the national identity of Scotland progressing as a state.

 

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Can a cross border movement based on the idea of democracy beat a populist narrative based on the traditional idea of sovereignty?

 

It is clear then that sovereignty is not a black-and-white issue like it has been portrayed in the national media. Our perception of power and where it resides can often be contradictory and fleeting. But is dominates our political conversation to the extent that certain contextual issues such as military intervention, party politics, austerity can often be forgotten. It thus important that our voices and opinions on these issues are accurately represented by our politicians and the media. We often hear how the support for national sovereignty is reflected in the far-right support for populist parties, but perhaps we should look beyond these claims to the idea that something more powerful can transcend the traditional ideas of sovereignty.