Current Affairs Politics

The Partition Of Scotland?

Well, the Scottish leader Alex Salmond came to town for the Irish-British Council summit yesterday and hit all the right notes for an Irish audience (and quiet a few of the wrong ones for a British/English one). I wonder did he read my earlier posting on the “Ireland Scenario”? (not really!)

The Guardian carries some of the details of the event for the folks back home in Blighty:

“Alex Salmond has invited David Cameron and Nick Clegg to visit Scotland to discuss the UK government’s proposal to accelerate the timetable for a referendum on Scottish independence.

But Salmond launched a strong attack on the UK government for what he described as bullying tactics as he appeared to draw a parallel between London’s treatment of Scotland and its historic behaviour towards Ireland.

“I am sure many people in Ireland will remember that sometimes people who are in leadership positions in big countries find it very difficult not to bully small countries,” Salmond told RTE on Friday morning. “What we have seen over the last week is a most extraordinary attempt to bully and intimidate Scotland by Westminster politicians.

“Sometimes Westminster politicians, and Nick Clegg is very much a Westminster politician, find it difficult to let go the strings of power and believe they are still in a position of dictating terms to Scotland. I’m afraid Nick Clegg and his colleagues David Cameron and George Osborne, who is very much in charge of this, are going to find out these days are over.”

Salmond was speaking shortly before the start of the British-Irish Council which is taking place at Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule in Ireland until the 26 counties of the Irish Republic achieved independence in 1922. The castle is a mile from the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the scene of the Easter Rising against British rule in 1916. It was Britain’s violent response to the rising – the leaders were executed by firing squad – that helped trigger the Irish war of independence.

Salmond’s decision to draw a parallel between Scotland and Ireland, however obliquely, may stir a debate in Scotland, where sectarian divisions are still pronounced.

The first minister was warmly greeted by Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin’s deputy first minister, when he arrived at Dublin Castle.”

While the majority of the Irish media seemed to enjoy the discomfort of the British delegation amidst expressions of Celtic and Gaelic solidarity, back home the Scotsman newspaper claimed that the First Minister’s comparisons had caused outrage in Ireland and beyond. Really?

“ALEX Salmond has sparked a furious row by comparing his bid for Scottish independence with Ireland’s violent struggle against British rule.

In Ireland, politicians from both sides of the religious divide criticised his remarks, which were made before he met Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the yesterday’s British-Irish Council summit.”

“Religious divide”? I presume the Scotsman means the political divide between the two communities on the island of Ireland, Irish and British. But then again those old propaganda lines are much easier to rehash, aren’t they? On the other hand, someone who knows a thing or two about religious fundamentalism does have an opinion to make. Though, be warned, you might be struggling to remember his name.

“Mr Salmond’s comments were criticised by Lord Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist leader who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Lord Trimble said Mr Salmond had been “playing to the gallery in spades”. He went on: “It is grandstanding on stilts. It is totally divorced from the reality. My understanding is that the government have been trying to get into a conversation with Mr Salmond for the past year, but he has been declining to talk to them.”

As one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement – the template for the settlement that has brought today’s peace to Northern Ireland – Lord Trimble took issue with Mr Salmond’s comparison of Scotland with Ireland.”

Wow. David Trimble? Blast from the past, that one. Though hardly, um, current. But wait, there’s more:

“The First Minister also angered politicians on the other side of the political divide.

Seamus Mallon, a former leader of the moderate, mainly nationalist SDLP, suggested Mr Salmond should brush up on his history, saying many Scots were members of the Black and Tans, the notorious British militia that gained a reputation for violence in Ireland after the Great War.

Mr Mallon said: “Scotland was part of the bullying that took place in Ireland. People from Scotland were the cornerstone of the plantation of Ulster. I think Alex is a very able performer, but his knowledge of history is a little weak.

“As recently as 15 years ago, you had Scottish regiments here, enforcing the writ of Britain so, I think I could recommend a good history of Ireland for him.””

Okey-dokey then. Someone woke up granddad, he’s realised its not 1998, and he’s a wee bit grumpy. So that’s the outrage sparked in Ireland by Alex Salmond’s remarks? Would the words, “bottom”, “barrel”, “scraping” have any relevance here?

Meanwhile, over on the other wing of an increasingly desperate British Nationalism, more ghosts from feasts long past, via the Scotsman again:

“AS AN Ulster Scot I know there would be concern in Northern Ireland should Scotland vote to leave the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland is not only geographically close to Scotland but shares more with Scotland than with any other country. When the majority in Ireland voted for independence from the UK there were 220,000 people in County Donegal. After independence thousands emigrated back to the UK – especially to Glasgow and Londonderry. Only 100,000 now remain in Donegal.

Northern Ireland remained within the UK as was the desire of most people in that part of Ireland. Should there ever be a majority in Scotland for independence it should not be binding on all the people of Scotland.

If, say, Strathclyde or the Lowlands prefer to remain in the UK then that decision should be honoured by a partition of Scotland.

(Lord) John Kilclooney

House of Lords


Partition Scotland! Now there’s an idea we’ve been waiting to hear. Come on now, you know it was bound to happen sooner or later. Lord John Kilclooney, or former UUP politician John Taylor to mortal folk like you and me, knows a thing or two about partition. For instance, a “border” never stopped him having a foot in both camps as it were, with business interests across the island of Ireland. Politics and nationality is one thing, but someone has to pay the bills. Right?

Of course this could just be the start, as a report in ForArgyll points out:

“When Scottish independence was no more than the aspiration of a small minority, few, if any, questioned the nationalist claim ‘It’s Scotland’s oil’, made in the fervour of the 1970s.

However, in 2011, with the Scottish Nationalists already in their second successive administration of a devolved Scotland – and with every prospect of at least a third one should the present political arrangements still obtain – serious attention has begun to be paid to which nation really owns what.

As in most relationships, as soon as divorce is on the horizon, even as a possibility, minds turn to the issue of division of assets.

The English Democrats are now claiming that, depending on which territorial convention is applied, either half or a quarter of the North Sea coastal sea bed, with its oil  and gas reserves, belongs to England.

They say that the geological test – the same as is applied to try to determine who owns what in the pillaging battleground to come in the Arctic – would see England own one half; where the national land boundary test would give it one quarter.”

Would a partition of Scotland, moving the traditional border forty odd miles further northward, enhance the claims of the “UK” under international law to the southern reaches of the current “British” North Sea oilfields? What about communication links to the last remnants of the British colony in Ireland? Would a remnant UK state be content for its nearest direct route to the North of Ireland to pass through the territory of a “foreign” nation? Under these circumstances a new border stretching from beyond Stranraer to North Berwick, encompassing much of the population of the “Borders”, and placing the Scottish demographic hubs of Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Central Belt strategically close (should the “need” arise), would be a tempting proposition for any far-thinking British state.

And lets not mention the Shetland Islands.

Now what were those Ireland comparisons Alex Salmond was making?

15 comments on “The Partition Of Scotland?

  1. Excellent Article, very well put,and you obviously have the measure of the Scotsman, or the Hootsmon as I call it.




  2. Dave Coull

    No doubt some Unionists will try the “divide and rule” card in Scotland, but, as Scotland is a very different country from Ireland, there are good reasons for thinking that, unlike in Ireland, they will get nowhere with that here. Here’s just some of these reasons. The Kingdom of Scotland was an independent country for around a thousand years. Although it became united with England in 1707, that Union was as a result of negotiations which ensured it was, in two important ways, never an incorporating Union. These two ways were religion and Law. The Church of Scotland remained completely separate from (and very different from) the Church of England. (And, since education was largely run by the church, this meant the Scottish Education System remained completely separate from that of England.) So far as Law was concerned, Scottish law continued to apply in Scotland. There were 3 possible verdicts in criminal trials, not 2; Juries consisted of 15 jurors, not 12 as in England; and, of course, you could get married at 16 without parental consent, which led to the phenomenon of English teenagers “running away to Gretna Green” (the nearest place just across the Scottish border). Whether the differences were “good” things or not is beside the point; the point is, Scotland always remained different. Comparing with Ireland, because of the massive influence of the Roman Catholic Church in most of Ireland, but less so in Ulster, it was possible, in Ireland, for Unionists to carve out a statelet dominated by the protestants who were a minority in Ireland as a whole. But protestants are the overwhelming majority in Scotland, so they – we – have no need to fear domination by the Catholic church in an independent Scotland – and, even if some do, they have no geographical base. Oh, they have isolated “Orange” strongholds, like Larkhall or Bridgeton, but nowhere do these add up to a significant area of dominance. There will be no “Six Counties” where Scotland is concerned, nor 5 counties, nor 4 counties, nor 3 counties, nor 2 counties, nor even one. There will be no part of Scotland wanting to “break away”, or to stay with the rumpUK. And since, for Scots, even most unionist Scots, being Scots comes first, even those who had voted against independence will accept the result, because they want to stay part of the Scottish nation. Remember, we’re talking about a predominantly protestant nation. In Scotland, only about one person in seven, just around 14 percent of the population, is Catholic. And yes, despite not actually attending church, most of the rest do identify themselves as, in some sense, protestant. I was quite impressed when Enda Kenny made a speech in the Dail denouncing the grip which the Roman Catholic church has on the Republic, but, let’s face it, it only took about NINETY YEARS for a prominent politician in the Republic to get around to doing that. But there will be no such problem of the Church having too much power in an independent Scotland. And without that, there will be no basis for any kind of unionist breakaway.


    • Thanks for the Comment, Dave, but I think you are over-emphasising the religious element of the conflict in Ireland (or potentially in Scotland – though a far less likely occurrence). Religion is an indicator of ethnic or national identity in Ireland, rather than the definer of identity (and a very poor indicator at that). It is not a Catholic vs. Protestant conflict. It is an Irish vs. British one. And there are many exceptions to the rule of thumb. In the north-east of the island it might still have some relevance but nowhere else in the country.

      Unionists are British not Protestant. Yes, the religion is part of that identity, but not the only part. Many Catholics in Ireland were (and in the North some still are) Unionist because they identify themselves as “British”.

      Any potential conflict in Scotland will be about national identity and allegiances first, and religious affiliation second. Those Scots who view themselves as Scottish and British or simply British are the ones Unionists will be focusing on. Including those on the lunatic fringe now proposing the madness of “partition”.


  3. Mike Grant

    Where does the map come from? I’m asking as an intrigued inhabitant of Shetland, by the way…


    • Adopted from an old British counties’map, with a “partition” line added in by myself based upon various Unionist claims for those areas they would (dubiously) state have overwhelmingly “Unionist” voting populations, as well as the insertion of a “strategic” corridor for the UK to reinforce and expand its claims to the North Sea oil reserves and a direct communications route to the North of Ireland based upon various comments made in online forums, articles, etc.


    • British counties map (an old one). Shetland is shown in the UK to illustrate some of the wilder claims of British Nationalists/Unionists to those areas in Scotland they believe should remain in the UK.


  4. Joseph B. Fox

    I like the map – it shows the counties of Great Britain as they were before the modernisers got their hands on them


    • Indeed. I never understood the constant drawing and redrawing of local British government boundaries. The ones in Wales have been an unmitigated disaster for decades.


  5. Iain Magill

    As a staunch Unionist from Northern Ireland i feel that many of the statements made by Trimble and Mallon were very valid. There is a constant air of English bashing in independence rhetoric. It is a well known fact that the Scottish played just as much a part in the subjugation of Ireland as members of the Black and Tans. Salmond should watch the Wind that Shakes the Barley before he makes anymore hilarious comments comparing his political posturing to the struggle of brave Irishmen who opposed their vile treatment by the Welsh, English and Scottish at the time! As an educated Unionist i have no problem accepting the reasons for the partition of Ireland.

    Also I feel David Cameron is under no obligation to treat Salmond as an equal in any way considering that Cameron is Prime Minister and Salmond is an SMP, I have saw this criticism of Westminster many times so it just confuses me why people would ever consider that Cameron and Salmond are in any way equitable.

    I do see why partition of Scotland is absurd but you don’t honestly believe that Westminster would ever consider that, they have already conceded too much in allowing the creation of devolved assemblies in the first place. If Westminster had never let it get to this stage then the United Kingdom would be better for it.

    Anyway why go independent if you share the monarchy? (It was a Scottish King who united the crowns), why keep the free open border and the pound? Salmond has flawed independence; he should clarify what he wants. A “free Scotland” with an English Queen? He is now trying to pander to and appease those who feel the shared British identity through the fact the Queen’s popularity is at a high level.

    Despite the fact that i don’t think Scotland will become independent i do think that it is an extremely valid point that if it ever did the situation in Northern Ireland would become fairly unstable although for years now the large Catholic minority has seen a notable shift towards moderate unionism as the polls still show a unionist majority in a country now approaching a nearly 50/50 Catholic Protestant divide

    And please stop playing pragmatics with Northern Irish terminology, while incorrect the term Religious divide is considered synonymous with Political divide in Northern Ireland even if i find it a frustrating misconception.


    • Iain Magill

      Sorry I re-read one of your (An Sionnach Fionn) comments about the religious/political element i therefore apologise for my last paragraph as you evidently are aware of the difference between the divides in Northern Ireland. My comment regarding that was purely based on the earlier statement in the article where you criticised the Scotsman for getting the terms mixed up.


    • Hi, Iain, and thanks for taking the time to Comment.

      Certainly people from Scotland played their part in the British subjugation of Ireland down through the centuries. The most obvious example being of course the Plantation of Ulster and similar colonial settlements elsewhere in the country.

      The reasons behind the partition of Ireland were, in my view, driven in part by the need to exclude from an independent Ireland that part of the country that had the largest concentration of an “ethnic British” population. This was coupled with ensuring that Britain could continue to exploit the then important industrial base in the north-east of the country, as well as safeguarding its important military and strategic interests in relation to its western approaches, with territorial claims etc. There was also the added incentive of crippling any new Irish nation-state by removing its industrial resources, reducing its tax-base, stunting its internal market, etc. etc.

      The arguments are well known – on either side.

      The signing of the Edinburgh Agreement between Cameron and Salmond certainly came off, in PR terms, as a meeting between equals.

      The partition idea, though dangerous, is not without precedent. And, as with Ireland, there are real incentives for pursuing it, from a British state point of view. Thankfully it is an idea that remains confined to the fringe for now. But it is odd that it is Unionist from Ireland that are suggesting it, however tentatively.

      Shared monarchies between otherwise sovereign nation-states has a long history in Europe. As do other shared areas of responsibility, like customs, fisheries, etc. What the SNP are proposing is far from novel. The “English” queen is acceptable to many Canadians and Australians, for instance.

      I strongly disagree with the claims by Unionist politicians and commentators that there is a growing politically Unionist population in the north-east of the country. The polls they cling to for evidence of this are dubious at best. The real test is at the ballot box and – so far – there is no evidence of a growing Unionist block. Be they Protestant, Roman Catholic or anything else.

      Of course the next Assembly elections will be the proof of it, one way or another. The last certainly didn’t indicate any change in the growing Nationalist trend.

      Thanks for the points of view. They are very welcome even if I disagree with them.


  6. Great post as always Seamas. Can I ask, have you much skin in the game regarding Scotland? For myself, I have an interest in politics North and South, Westminster and Washington and trying to get into the politics of somewhere else I have found to be a bit difficult, so the point I’m getting at is is there something out there that would help give me a better flavour of Scottish politics in general? This request isn’t just aimed at you btw Seamas, has anyone anything out there they’d recommend for reading?


    • Well as a Celtic Nationalist (not just an Irish one) I very much support the Scottish independence campaign. I have several friends involved, albeit both from a cultural and political point of view (they are bilingual speakers of Scottish/Scottish Gaelic and English).

      My regular go-to-reads are:

      Wings Over Scotland

      Lallands Peat Worrier

      Gerry Hassan

      Newsnet Scotland – though use with caution as it has been the subject of some controversy recently.

      I have several RSS feeds at the bottom of my blog dedicated to Scottish affairs.


  7. Interesting article, although the map is incorrect; the Isle of Man is not part of the uk


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