Those Pesky Irish

180928-green-brigade-detained-near-gallowgate-in-glasgow-ahead-of-celtic-match-with-aberdeen-on-march-16-20Like many of you, I found the last week or so of the independence referendum campaign totally enthralling. I became excited and energised by it in a way that I had not expected.

Although I had decided some time ago that I would be voting Yes, I had never publicly said so. Something held me back and that something was, in part, the uneasiness of siding with the SNP with their anti-civil liberties stance and their unleashing of Stephen House on the whole of Scotland.

More importantly though, it was about voting for a Scotland with anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic bigotry still running through all sections of society and all parts of the country (contrary to oft-repeated nonsense about it being a West of Scotland, football thing).

I know that many will say that a vote for independence was not a vote for the SNP – the position I eventually adopted – but those same people, using the same logic in the opposite direction, smeared decent Labour Party members with foul kinship with the Orange Order.

It was akin to saying that Tony Benn and UKIP were allies because both wanted/want the UK out of Europe. This is a contradictory, illogical, self-serving and unnecessarily offensive argument and it should never have been made.

Anyhow, as I say, I decided I would vote yes and by the end of the campaign I began to feel genuinely sorry that I had not bitten the bullet sooner and gone out to campaign for a yes vote. I was never going to vote no in any event but I felt that I should have supported those campaigners, especially the Radical Independence Movement, and not simply chatted about it among friends and family and on social media.

I could never have anticipated, however, just how totally devastated I was by the result and we (my family and I) spent Friday and Saturday in a very depressed and enervated state. On Saturday following a bit of chat on Twitter, I decided to give it a rest for a week and I posted a tweet saying the following:

Signing off for now – time for reflection. To the 45% (esp rebel areas of Dundee, N Lanarkshire, Glasgow and W Dunbartonshire) tiocfaidh ar la

Within the bounds of 140 characters, this seemed like very concise way to convey the message I wanted to convey. Now, I could have said the same thing in English ‘our day will come’; Italian ‘Il nostro giorno verra’ or the same words in any one of the 6500 spoken languages of the globe; I could have said ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again; I could have said ‘we’ll live to fight another day’ all of which would have done really.

I suspect that every one of those options would have passed without comment. However, I said it in Irish and that seemed to be a problem for a number of people who wasted no time in letting me know.

I don’t want to be disingenuous here. The phrase is, of course, a well known one and was used in his prison diaries by Bobby Sands, a man I hold in the highest regard. However, the Irish Republican connection was not relevant to how I was using it. That would have been ludicrous given that it was the issue of Scottish independence I was discussing.

With hindsight and given that the Irish I used is, as I understand it, rather inelegant, I might reasonably have expected to be reprimanded by a purist gaelgeoir. Scotland being as it is, I suppose I might also have expected to be abused by the bigoted knuckle draggers (although for me hope always triumphs over expectations).

What I did not expect was to be told, as one person did, that I was a…wait for it…disgrace to the Yes movement!

As it happens I was rounded on by all three – no, make that two the gaelgeoirí have remained tight-lipped over any linguistic transgression I may have committed.

The bigots’ response was too tedious to recount here but fell into the general category of racist, sectarian, filthy abuse with a healthy dose of misogyny to top it all off. This included a former Scottish professional football player who managed to use the word cunt twice in a 71 word tweet. Another outraged citizen allegedly reported me to the police and yet another decided to write to my employers and copy in a couple of red-tops…(pause while I yawn).

Then there were assorted sad wee messages from a variety of complete strangers. Two of these were women whose comments came across as though they had thought about them long and hard and felt mightily pleased at the product of their labours. One told me pompously that it was people like me who ‘caused all the trouble’. I can’t be causing all of it surely? The other one asked me if I was a ‘15-year old hooligan or an adult’.

I’m sure in her head that had some relevance to what I had actually said but judging by a very brief scan of her most recent tweets it would have had to fight its way past an awful lot of mince on the way out and it obviously got distorted in the process. Another pompous tweet intoned wearily (as though to a recalcitrant schoolboy):

dear oh dear. IRA slogans in IndyRef?! Please leave that nonsense well alone. Saw enough silliness on Fri from Unionists

Leaving all the above verbal detritus aside, what the rest of the responses to my innocuous tweet revealed was that the very notion of Irishness; the language, the politics, the culture, anything really, induces in a section of those in favour of Scottish independence, what I can only call the heeby jeebies!

The comment I mentioned earlier about my being a disgrace to the Yes movement (a movement I hadn’t consciously joined far less disgraced) and the one immediately above were joined by the following pieces of advice:

No wonder NO was the majority when people like you spout nonsense like that.

How dare you associate all our hard work and passion for our country with a horrible terrorist group. You are a disgrace to #YES

Please don’t us IRA slogans in connection with SCOTTISH indy. This is no better than Scotland’s shame at George Square. #the45plus

These were all retweeted and favourite to varying degrees by people with twitter names like True Scot and other such nonsense.

What jumps out of this for me is that there is a strand – I don’t know how big – in the SNP/Yes campaign who shudder at the thought of their pure, heroic, noble nationalism peopled by porridge-box men and sonsy, red-headed lassies being somehow sullied or tainted by any whiff of a connection to the struggle for democracy and independence in Ireland.

There is, of course, no real connection since Ireland was invaded and brutally colonised, whereas as far as I am aware, Scotland was sold down the river by its own ruling class and it comfortably took its place as the junior partner of British imperialism. However, those days are gone now, as the song goes, and very large numbers of people wanted independence for Scotland not because they are nationalist (or even Scottish) but because they thought, like me, that it offered the opportunity to build a just and more equal country.

The ‘our nationalism is better than your nationalism’ group apparently took their discomfort with all things Irish to the extent of attempting to suppress an ‘Irish for Yes’ group from leafleting in support of the Yes campaign in the final weeks of the election period, so I hear. So the support of the Irish community in Scotland (all with their very own vote unlike some of their pre-1969 forebears) was somehow not just less valuable but in fact positively damaging in their eyes.

I wonder then does this also help us to understand why it was the SNP, alone among all of the parties including the long-despised Tories and the more recently-despised Labour Party, who gave us the universally despised Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

This Act, and the police and justice system operation underpinning it, seems designed almost exclusively for outlawing Irish republican songs. Those of you who have perused the recently-released statistics for 2013-14 will know that over 72% of charges under the Act could quite easily have been replaced by charges using the suite of laws available before March 2012.

The remaining 28% of charges relate to ‘support for terrorist organisations’ which can be interpreted, at least for Celtic fans, as singing the Roll of Honour but more generally for singing songs about the past conflict in Ireland. I know of no one who has been charged under the Act for singing about Umkhonto we Sizwe, ETA, Hamas or any other group proclaimed as terrorist either now or in the past. This Act is about stopping any discussion or representation of Ireland and its long struggle to free itself from British imperialism.

Is this why the SNP decided to become the Hammer of the Irish or, more precisely, the hammer of the Irish community in Scotland? Were they just really worried that we would taint them, smear their heroic struggle with our dodgy past and not quite resolved and rather tricky present?

The hysterical over-reaction to the use of a simple and perfectly apposite phrase would seem to suggest that there is something of that fear out there among those who seek Scottish independence. Isn’t it ironic then that the four areas of Scotland which voted in the majority for independence were united by two things: they have the highest unemployment in Scotland (a proxy for class and/or deprivation) and they are the areas with the biggest Irish communities in the country.

So the communities which the Yes vote relied on to a great extent are those which house the communities whose history has been criminalised for two years by the architects of the independence referendum.

It is a funny old world is it not? So what to do? Well, as an individual, I could avoid the opprobrium detailed here by not using any Irish phrase ever again but that smacks to me of the ‘women shouldn’t wear short skirts’ line of argument. I will probably just block/ignore the cowards, the pompous gits and those who think I might contaminate them: it seems easier.

For the Yes campaign or whatever it evolves into as it goes forward – as it should – the problem is a bit less tractable than that. I want an independent Scotland now just as much as I did on the 18th of September and for the same reasons. If others want it for their own reasons they will have to work out whether what unites us is more important than what they think divides us.

What they cannot do is police what appears to be a wide, disparate and growing movement to exclude those who they think might taint the ‘purity’ of their cause with their troublesome Irishness.

Sin é

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30 comments on “Those Pesky Irish
  1. So sorry to here that. Any decent person shouldn’t have to always look behined them. It seems like there out to get you. Keep up the good work

  2. Very good article! It’s that offensive behaviour at football bill that’s part of the reason I chose to support the SSP rather than the SNP

  3. Who’s who on about? If you’re referring to me, check it out … I didn’t write the thing!

    You got an alternative view? Write it, we’ll publish it.

    Next time you use language like that in a post your ass is gone.

  4. A wonderfully written article, sad and funny in places.

    Thank you for that, especially paragraphs 4 and 5.

    If there is to be rebuilding along a shared concern for social welfare then we will need more voices like this.

  5. if a political party lost by a 55 to 45 majority they would not be saying that is it for a generation we should have a referendum every 4 year the snowball has only started rolling and our day will come

  6. good article that sums up my unease with the SNP. i to want an Independent Scotland but would never become a member of the SNP to achieve this. I to found it ironic that the areas who overwhelmingly voted Yes were the areas with the greatest numbers of people of Irish decent.

    One thing that needs to be dealt with in this country is whether it is still intitutionally sectarian. We know that most of our institutions were at one time sectarian but apart from the Church of Scotland no other institution has ever come out and admitted this. So are they still sectarian? If not when did it change and when did they recognise this as a problem.

  7. Excellent essay by Jeanette which correctly identifies a strand in Scottish nationalism that is uncomfortable with those of us that esteem our Irish identity. That the only areas in Scotland that voted for independence are regions marked by heavy Irish immigration in previous decades is instructive.

    Those places normally associated with Scottish nationalism voted No.

  8. Oh dear…what would they think of me?
    A really polite S. Irish guy asked me what I thought of the result and I replied that ‘Our day will come.’
    No-one else in our village local pub here in N. Kent understood the saying.
    For the record, I am an ex bomb disposal NCO who spent a considerable time in N. Ireland…and I am also a passionate YES supporter. 🙂

  9. These peepel cant help them selves ,it must be inbred but we can not be bossed by bigotry. I have reluctantly joined the SNP tactically for the next two years along with quite a few others hoping to shift the Labourite liars in the next two elections. My thanks for a great piece well written.

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