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By Jason Michael
ON HOGMANAY 2014, as the year that saw Scotland split down the middle on the question of independence came to an end, Scottish Labour activist and journalist Aidan Kerr published a blog post describing what he saw as the “Ulsterisation of Scottish Politics.” Over a year later, writing in The Herald, columnist David Torrance capitalised on this term to describe what he saw in essence as an insular politics of conflict in which Scotland – like the occupied six counties before it – withdraws from British politics as it continues to polarise on the constitutional question. This was a clever manœuvre on the part of the unionist commentariat. At a stroke it brought the dark and awful shadow of Irish political violence down on the Scottish debate and, by associating Scottish independentistas with Irish “nationalists,” planted the idea that it was the campaign for independence which had introduced this threat to the peace of Scotland’s democracy.
Independence supporters and the Scottish National Party reacted, as was to be expected, with both dismay and disgust. What we had done in the Yes campaign bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Irish struggle either from 1916 or latterly from the 1960s in the north of Ireland. Yet, this was a deliberate attempt by the unionist media to create a relationship in the public’s mind between the independence movement here and what would inevitably be boiled down to the Irish Republican movement and the actions of the Provisional IRA. What Kerr and Torrance were playing at was a game of weaponised propaganda. It was intended to stop us from making certain connections between what had happened – and is still happening – in Ireland and what is happening in Scotland, and to some extent this ploy has worked.
🏴🇮🇪 When I began campaigning for independence I felt I had to hide the fact I was living in Ireland. I tried… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) September 10, 2018
Living in Ireland, as I do, this fear of association with the blood-soaked politics of Ireland meant that I had to tread carefully. It was apparent from social media, even during the referendum campaign, there was a level of discomfort among Yes campaigners with the fact I was in Dublin. Thus, when I began campaigning after the referendum I felt it important to hide my location. I tried to keep Irish politics and Ireland’s historical experiences out of Scottish politics. But, as is always the way online, my identity and whereabouts were exposed. Naturally, this was quickly leapt upon by unionist trolls; I was not in Scotland and therefore Scottish politics didn’t concern me, and, of course, I had to be connected to Irish Republicanism.
As it turns out I am an Irish Republican, but no more than I am a Scottish Republican. Still, I felt it important the connection of these two republicanisms be avoided. Somehow, I had failed to make the connection between Ireland’s experience and what leads me to be a republican here and what makes me a republicanism at home. These are, after all, not different things.
It was not until the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on the August 1971 British Army massacre at Ballymurphy in Belfast was aired that the penny dropped. In early August 1971 the British Army in the North was not fighting an armed struggle. There was no “war” at that time. Britain’s puppet government in “Northern Ireland” had lost control of a situation it had created; loyalist mobs and paramilitaries were in the midst of a sectarian anti-Catholic pogrom – burning out innocent Catholic families from their homes in towns and cities all over the six counties. The IRA, before the Provisional IRA had fully broken away from it, was acting as a community defence force protecting Catholic communities – and, as we saw at Ballymurphy, it wasn’t too effective at that. Operation Banner, the British Army operation in the North, was implemented initially to restore order the was seen by Catholics, in the beginning, as a protection.
Bachelor's Walk 1914, North King St 1916, Croke Park 1920, Ballymurphy 1971, Bloody Sunday 1972, Springhill 1972, N… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Crimes of Britain (@crimesofbrits) September 08, 2018
Ballymurphy changed this, however. The British government wasn’t interested in sorting the mess in Northern Ireland. It was interested only in restoring the law and order of the loyalist status quo, the very sectarian and undemocratic political establishment against which the civil rights movement was mobilised. The attack on the Ballymurphy estate was an attack on the civil rights movement, and not the IRA. Again, the following year, the massacre in Derry – “Bloody Sunday” – was another murderous attack on the civil rights movement, and not the IRA. In fact, it was these events that created the more militant Provisional IRA. Yes, it had existed prior to this, but when the British government began murdering innocent people P-IRA recruitment vastly increased, giving the “Provos” the numbers to wage a war against Britain in Ireland and overseas.
Given the lies and the deliberate distortion of the narrative by the BBC and the rest of the British media throughout the Troubles; making the IRA, Sinn Féin (painted in the British press as the “political-wing” of the IRA), and the wider Irish Republican movement out to be the aggressors, it is understandable that the independence movement in Scotland would not want to be linked to this story. This is why the false narrative of Ulsterisation worked.
But, pretending it’s a valid description for a moment – which it is not, Ulsterisation in the north of Ireland was not caused by the Catholic population; nationalist or republican. Ulsterisation was, if anything, a mode of colonial administration and government foisted upon them. It was a social and political mechanism that meant Catholics were not adequately represented, were excluded from civic life and industrial employment, and were housed in only the worst housing areas. The entire apparatus of the state was used against them. They had no voice in the media, they were continually misrepresented, demonised, and criminalised, and forced to live in a state that was constitutionally over and against them and their human, social, and political rights.
Patrick Toland (@paddytoland) September 07, 2018
The name for this is not “Ulsterisation.” It is “British rule.” In Ireland in 1690 and the period of the anti-Catholic penal code the Irish Catholic population was seen by the English and the later British state as a hostile population. Between 1690 and 1962 there were no fewer than fifteen rebellions in Ireland against British rule, all of which were rooted in Ireland’s unique sense of nationhood – with those willing to fight rallying around the symbols of Irish Catholic nationalism and Irish Republicanism. In spite of the use of the term “Catholic,” these were not “religious wars.” Catholicism, in the Irish political context, was a cultural signifier and a mark of national difference between Ireland and England. The response of British rule was always the same; repression and violence.
While Ireland and Scotland are not the same, and while the processes that have brought these two nations to where they are now are completely different, the active ingredient is the same – British rule. The British state’s dominations of Ireland and Scotland are fundamentally the same, and so we cannot see the purposes and responses to 1745 in Scotland and 1798 in Ireland as essentially different. Both were a rejection of British rule with a subsequent defeat followed by repression and violence. Much the same may be said of the way in which Britain used the Irish Famine and the Clearances in Scotland – ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Returning to Scotland in the present, then, while we should reject the language of Ulsterisation as nothing more than a manipulative tool, we mustn’t be afraid to see in Scotland certain commonalities with the Irish experience. In both we see the same aggressor – the British state – and the same pattern of behaviour – British rule. We who are campaigning for independence, roughly half the population of Scotland, have become – almost with the same proportion of the population as in the six counties – a hostile population. The pro-British media is doing precisely the same to us as it was doing to the Catholics of Northern Ireland before and after Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday. Already we have seen how independence supporters have been threatened in their employment and refused promotion. Britain views us as a hostile population – a danger to British rule, and Britain will continue to use the Irish playbook against us until we are free.
What Is The Irish Republican Army (IRA)?