Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Illiberal Interventions

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.

1 comment:

  1. A reader has forwarded the following comments:

    "Yes, indeed. It is the only time in my life that anyone has asked me the question and rather gave the lie to the sociolectal poet's much vaunted working class credentials and championing of the underdog. But in one regard you are wrong, the notable feature of SNP voters in more distant times was that they were the most likely of all party supporters to claim no religious affiliation. Observers of these matters suggested a number of explanations — lack of association with religious cleavages enabling a freer attitude to association with political parties, the presence amongst SNP voters of a significant proportion of non-aligned Poujadiste-type small business people for whom religion was of little consequence and the tendency of the SNP to be most active and successful in areas (like Aberdeen and the NE) with the lowest number of Catholics. These areas tended to have much lower levels of tribal religious observance, leading to less religious observance and more secularism in general, leading to less religious voting, and so on. I studied this extensively at university, since one of my main areas of interest has been religion and politics in Scotland."


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