Tuesday, 25 September 2012
The BBC reports that Dr. David Hume, Orange Order Director of Services, has demanded that "Ulster Scots" be given a vote on whether Scotland becomes independent.
One cannot help thinking that the intervention by Dr. Hume, who also sits on the board of the embryonic Ulster-Scots Academy, is ill-judged, having its basis in part, perhaps, in a false image of Scotland extrapolated from his limited experience of the kind of people encountered at west-of-Scotland Orange Order events such as the one at which he was quoted.
As everyone knows, sectarianism in Scotland, while a serious problem, is not of the structural kind encountered in Northern Ireland — that is, unlike in Northern Ireland, if one is not sectarian-minded, one is not forced to make decisions about politics, residence, education, home decor, music, the names of one's children, or, indeed, what minority languages one supports that are liable to be interpreted as sectarian statements. The truth is that ower the Sheuch the Orange Order lacks the kind of rural and middle-class element to its membership that in Northern Ireland keeps it from an out-and-out association with the urban poor (though that may come yet). Far from being a national issue, green and orange in Scotland is, by and large, a tawdry, often inebriate affair of the footballing underclass in the west. It is largely meaningless with regards to Scotland's constitutional status — historiographical interpretations notwithstanding, there must surely be few people in Scotland today who believe that the present-day Union is founded on Protestantism. As a friend of the Blether Region once said, "Scots I know tend to view the Orange Order as something that holds up the traffic.".
They will no doubt also identify as bogus any specious equation of "Orange" and "Ulster-Scots".
Of course, sectarianism is still very real to those experiencing it, though they may on occasion, like Dr. Hume, project that experience onto parts of Scotland for whom it is a whopping irrelevance. The Blether Region once heard tell of a feted sociolectal poet from the west of Scotland reduced to saying "Do you know who I am?" when offered the opinion at a reading that the sectarianism apparently so grim in the west might not figure too highly outside it.
One cannot help but think that interventions from Northern Ireland — such as Lord Kilclooney's call for Scotland to be partitioned or Peter Robinson's well-rehearsed plea to Alex Salmond — may, from a Unionist perspective, do more harm than good. Certainly Dr. Hume's blatantly undemocratic call (he wants votes for "Ulster Scots", not "Northern Ireland residents", after all) will do much to recall his tribe's association with gerrymandering.
Once upon a time the SNP drew its support mainly from Protestants whose previous unswerving loyalty to the Conservative Party had, for understandable reasons, broken down. A key constituency that it must capture to win the independence referendum is Catholic Labour voters in the west of Scotland, a constituency among which, at the last Scottish Parliament elections, it began to enjoy considerable success.
In that context, SNP strategists may be hoping for more such illiberal interventions.