Old chestnuts from the New Statesman

The New Statesman is as Unionist as any publication in Britain despite its left-wing image. That stance is evident in articles about both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A recent issue saw the nightmarish prospect of nuclear attack by Russia in terms of the UK”s constitutional question. It argued that Scots would not wish to become independent if it meant getting rid of Trident.  Andrew Marr, now able to take a more explicitly Unionist stance having left the BBC, wrote:

“Putin didn’t start a war to damage the SNP, but that’s what he’s doing.” 

Marr did not consider whether Putin’s current nuclear threats actually do the opposite - by suggesting that the doctrine of MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction - may not be as reliable a way of averting nuclear war as had been hoped. That makes the “nuclear umbrella’ an outdated concept. 

Marr claimed the Ukraine war means the Scottish independence movement risks:

“subsiding into a normal, social-democratic managerial machine in decline, just like the Parti Québécois after it lost its independence referendums.”

Marr didn’t mention the many differences between Quebec and Scotland.  Quebec’s independence movement is based on a particular ethnic identity and language. Canada’s response was also unlike the UK”s. Quebec has the right to call an independence referendum if it ever wishes to do so; it controls immigration, social security and administers more of the public spending budget than the central Government does. Quebec’s Parliament is consulted over international trade deals. Canada also has more claim to be a democracy than the UK. An increasingly sore point for Scotland is the 800-seat member House of Lords where Evgeny Lebedev and Malcolm Offord have more right to rule over Scotland than anybody elected in Scotland. Canada in contrast has a Senate with just 105 seats,  appointed on a geographical basis - Quebec has 24 Senators. 

On Labour’s performance in the council elections, in the current issue, Chris Deerin comments:

“Scottish democracy would undoubtedly benefit from a better and stronger challenge to the dominant, overweening nationalist machine, and closer political competition.”

Those who vote for Scottish independence-supporting parties don’t see it that way. In fact, since Brexit, a series of acts such as the internal Markets Act, the Nationality and Borders Bill and the Electoral Reform Act have been pushed through without Holyrood’s consent. These all threaten Scotland’s devolution settlement - which was supported by 75% of the electorate in 1997. Independence is the only way to confirm the rights of Scotland’s elected Parliament. 

Northern Ireland gets the same treatment. In a profile piece on Michelle O’Neill, the New Statesman writer Martin Fletcher quoted the Daily Mail which dubbed her:

“the beauty from a family drenched in blood,”

referring to Republican sympathisers in her family.  The piece was a cuttings job without insight. Most of it seemed lifted from a piece in the Sunday Times that attracted criticism for its focus on O’Neill’s teenage pregnancy with the sexist headline “from pregnant schoolgirl to Northern Ireland’s next leader”. (The headline has been changed on line but still appears in the URL)

In the April 27 issue, Fletcher introduces a piece entitled ‘Is a United Ireland now inevitable’  by remarking “It is a far cry from the last time I was here. That was in July 1998,”- therefore perhaps, he is not well qualified to opine on the province’s future?  

The New Statesman looks at Northern Ireland through an anglocentric, Unionist lens, much as it does Scotland. Fletcher concludes his piece with a string of wizened chestnuts:

“I have a great affection for Northern Ireland and its people. My family and I spent two happy years in the province in the late 1990s. But, as I return to London, I recall Reginald Maudling’s famous comment as the home secretary flew back from his first visit in 1970: “For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country.” Or Winston Churchill’s after the First World War: “The whole map of Europe has been changed… but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.” 

Fletcher uncritically reports the DUP’s analysis that: ”The UK is the world’s fifth-largest economy. It gives Northern Ireland up to £15bn a year, access to the NHS and a welfare state.” All of that is disputed - many argue that Northern Ireland’s potential has been wasted and its economy ill-served by British rule.

Fletcher does not consider the fact that unification would be likely to trigger large-scale investment in Northern Ireland from both the EU and the USA. The EU invested heavily in supporting Germany’s unification process. The USA’s Irish diaspora would be keen to see new Ireland make it. This investment could help unleash Northern Ireland’s huge productivity and development potential. 

For many who support independence, there is much to celebrate in the prospect of a new future for the islands of the British archipelago where independence for Scotland and Wales and possible unification in Ireland will bring democracy. 

By Jackie Kemp