The Union is coming to an end

Martina Anderson
Martina Anderson

In this article Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson argues that while the north of Ireland has come far, more can be done to move forward collectively and together on the island of Ireland

“No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country “thus far shalt thou go and no further” […] While we struggle today for that which may seem possible for us with our combination, we must struggle for it with the proud consciousness that we shall not do anything to hinder or prevent […] men who may come after us from gaining better things than those for which we now contend”

People may be surprised that I begin not with a quote from an Irish Republican but with one from the leader of the Home Rule movement in Ireland in the 19th Century, Charles Stewart Parnell – and a bit surprised at using a quote that refers only to “men”. However, towards the end of his political career Charles Stewart Parnell began to realise the constitutional limitations of Home Rule. He understood that once in motion it was impossible to constrain by constitutional or any other means the ‘march of a nation’. Furthermore he correctly ascertained that ‘home rule’ or ‘devolution’, his political goal, was only the start of a process of national affirmation not the end.

These words were not only prophetic, given the momentous events that preceded events such as the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence. But they are as applicable today as when they were first uttered. They suggest to us an incontrovertible historical truth; that the Union enforced in 1701 in Scotland and 1801 in Ireland set against transfer of powers to the North of Ireland, Scotland and Wales is coming to an end.

A process of dislocation by democracy within what is called the United Kingdom has begun. The process is steady, restless and moving inexorably in one direction. Every new power transferred is a calibration towards peaceful independence. Nobody has anything to fear from this.

In the context of peaceful independence a new possibility arises one which is the antitheses of the old Union. The old Union being imposed, elitist and colonial - where one nation ruled the others. But points towards a new association of equal and independent nation states within Europe.

A new congress of equals. An Inter-Isles confederation where we can utilise each other’s strengths and build and work for a more social Europe and encourage equality between nations and its citizens. Where we work in our mutual interest as island nations that lie off the coast of mainland Europe.

In Ireland, Sinn Féin has set its political drive towards building a New Republic. An all island Republic which truly ensures that its people are sovereign. Where the political institutions work for public good and not the sectional interests of bankers and developers. Where basic human needs are met and services are free at the point of delivery in Health Care, Housing and Education. Ireland as an island needs to muscle up economically and politically – in the face of aggressive economic recession world wide, two economies dislocated on one small island is insular lunacy.

And yet in the North of Ireland it is truly remarkable how far we have come. Political equality and stability has been achieved. Despite the futile efforts of those who would seek to drag us backwards, we can and will do more, moving forward collectively and together on this island we all call home. Sinn Féin, for a considerable period of time has campaigned for fiscal powers to be transferred to the Assembly. This realignment would allow us to make better, closer and more informed decisions on how we raise taxes and develop our economy and public services, in the north and in an all-Ireland context. Unionists here should embrace a return of fiscal powers, their Unionist contemporaries in Scotland have.

In the life time of the current Government of Scotland, there is now a promise to hold a referendum on independence – and of course as Martin McGuinness said, it is for the people of Scotland to choose their own destiny. Much has been made of this in the media, and judging by the reaction of local Unionists in the North of Ireland they are at odds with reality. They have no power to save the Union and they do appear to be losing their political compass points, one by one. However, Ulster Unionists do have power, real power, here on the island of Ireland – sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees.

The Union on this island was irrevocably breeched with the institutionalisation of the Strand 2 of the Good Friday Agreement creating permanent all-Ireland bodies and cross border work is accelerating at a pace, while political broadswords of the SNP hack away the residual connections with a domineering Westminster.

I do not feel that it is my place to encourage people in Scotland to vote one way or the other. However, I can discern, from what I have read, that the current constitutional status quo in Scotland is not really an option.

That even the political unionists of Scotland in Labour, the Tory and the Lib Dem parties will all campaign for more power in what is being called degrees of independence lite or devolution max. It is interesting to note that the Political unionists of Scotland are bolder and more far sighted than their counterparts in the North of Ireland, who are against the transfer of more powers to the North’s Assembly.

At this juncture I am again reminded of the prophetic words of Charles Stuart Parnell,

“No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country “thus far shalt thou go and no further”

There is no doubt in saying that Scottish Nationalism has changed the face of politics in Scotland and beyond. Scotland, the North of Ireland and Wales are constitutionally linked by the same process of ‘Devolution’ from Westminster.

The transfer of more powers to any of these constituent parts diminishes the position of the status quo and makes the case for the same powers to be transferred universally.

Scotland’s march towards independence, by degrees, and the institutionalisation of the all-Ireland political decision making here is at the forefront of the process of dislocation within what we can now call the dis-united kingdom

The last millennium saw an antagonistic process of conquest, colonialism, insurrection and conflict.

The new millennium is ours to mould, it will be one of peace, independence and a mutual recognition of our commonalities and shared interests as close island nations in the global community.

Union of 1701 in Scotland is gone, the Union of 1801 in Ireland is history, what we put in its place is not a problem but a great opportunity.

A great opportunity which is all about our future and not about the agonies of our past.

In the words of the United Irishmen – “let us bury our animosities with the bones of our ancestors”