Why YES doesn’t need fascists marching under our banner
The Yes campaign/movement is one of the most remarkable organic movements in history. Opposed by the British government, the Crown, and all but one daily and Sunday newspaper (and increasingly, seemingly, by its own major political party), it seems to have lost little, if any, support in the four years since the first independence referendum. It retains its civic characteristic, having steadfastly refused to be racist or isolationist; violent or bigoted. This has disappointed a great many people on the British government side of the constitutional debate.
Yet we have a dirty little secret, and that secret needs to be outed, aired, and smashed.
We all have differing opinions on the value of marches and parades, and the participants therein (my own view of the latter coincides remarkably with my opinion on what sort of potatoes ought to be consumed on a Sunday). Let us concede that the independence march this month in Glasgow, at least, did no harm.
I was cheered to see a banner on the march bearing the legend TORY SCUM OUT. This annoyed precisely the right people. Staunch, florid-faced, tweed-wearing chaps who have spent their political careers defending rape clauses and poll taxes miraculously transformed into a bizarre cross between Maude Flanders and Kenneth Williams upon seeing it. Demands were made of Nicola Sturgeon – a First Minister who could never be accused of taking too close an interest in the wider Yes movement – to apologise for/immolate herself in a baby box in protest at/condemn the banner. Questions will be asked in Holyrood in the shrillest of fashions. Stephen Daisley was said to have collapsed in shock and was only induced back into consciousness by the wafting of a pie in front of several of his chins.
But here’s the thing. They were right.
Not about the content of the banner, nor that it was or is wrong to hate Tories. These people are worthy of our hatred and contempt. They force rape victims to undergo interrogations to prove they are worthy of state support. They pack black British citizens into aeroplanes and deport them to Jamaica. They drag disabled children into assessment centres to satisfy themselves that they’re “disabled enough” to deserve support. They are scum. And they do need ousted.
But what they don’t need to be ousted by is Siol nan Gaidheal, the makers of said banner. This is an ethnic nationalist grouping. A bona-fide blut und erde gang of fascists. They see our English neighbours not as partners in rebuilding our country, but as a fifth column; an enemy within.
It shames us to have such people marching in our demonstrations. And it needs to stop now. We pride ourselves on inclusiveness, but that inclusiveness can never and must never extend to those who would be exclusive. “Our” fascists are still fascists. And fascism must always be opposed.
What SnG is doing to us is exactly what Britain First is doing to Centrist Das. TORY SCUM OUT is our equivalent of “WANT TO STOP THIS PUPPY BEING TORTURED? LIKE THIS BRITAIN FIRST PAGE”. It’s not good enough. These people ought to be persona non grata-d from our campaign.
The problem with Unionism is that too many good people stood back and watched the far-Right take over on the ground. They normalised the far Right within Unionism. We don’t need that.
We need to exclude if we want to be inclusive. A nationalism which panders to fascism is not one of which I want any part.
The next time SnG turn up to a Yes march, imagine what you’d think of them if they carried a Union Jack instead of a Saltire.
The only thing a fascist needs is a boot to the face. He doesn’t need embraced by a campaign like ours.
I’d rather a break bread with a thousand Tories than a single Scottish fascist. Let’s nip it in the bud and nip it now.
The two major parties in contemporary Northern Ireland politics are the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. The DUP are now running England, and Sinn Féin are the main Opposition party in the Republic of Ireland.
Neither are in government in Northern Ireland.
In terms of introduction to the bizarre world of politics in the North, the four dozen words above would probably suffice on their own.
Casual observers of Northern Ireland politics would quite possibly come away with the belief that the DUP’s bitterest enemies in the game are Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin’s nemeses in politics are the DUP.
But they couldn’t be further from the truth. The great game in the North isn’t to try and convert Unionists into Nationalists or Republicans, or vice-versa, but to dominate one’s own community.
Thus, the hated rival of the DUP is the “weak and cowardly” Ulster Unionist Party, whilst Sinn Féin retain their most withering contempt for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (“west-Brits”, or the “Stoop Down Low party”).
The UUP – for generations the establishment, and government, in Northern Ireland -is now dead and buried. When Northern politics was a straight Nationalist/Unionist fight, Northern Unionists rallied to its flag – it was led by (relatively and by the standards of the place and day) liberal gentry and governed northern Ireland in a patrician – and openly sectarian – fashion. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster. Its relationship to the Tory party wasn’t entirely unlike the relationship Ruth Davidson envisages for her MPs. In the latter days of its influence in the early part of this century, it liberalised enough to elect a Catholic member of the Northern assembly, and severed its official links with the fascist Orange Order.
Crucially, the UUP backed every move towards a more peaceful and collegiate Northern Ireland. When the Northern Ireland parliament was abolished in the 1970s, it supported the Sunningdale Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly. In the 1990s, it supported the Belfast Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly (you may notice that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive).
Understanding the history of the UUP (and, let’s be frank, the entire party is now history) is crucial to understanding the emergence of the DUP. In 2010, the UUP and the Conservatives fought on a joint – and unsuccessul – ticket in the North, the catchily-monikered Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (Scottish readers may note a pang of recognition here). In 2011, the Conservative leadership proposed a merger of the Conservatives and UUP. The two parties have deep and longstanding links – links that run longer than Northern Ireland, in fact, has existed.
It is these links which has led to Theresa May’s crucial, and catastrophic, misunderstanding of the DUP.
The result of peace and powersharing in Northern Ireland was the entrenchment of the UUP as the moderate Unionist party, forever retaining a place in the heart of a grateful Unionist population.
No – wait. The other thing. They were unceremoniously dumped in favour of a party which would “stand up to Themmuns”
The DUP was formed during the Northern troubles, by Ian Paisley. Dr Paisley was not a politician who could thrive in any other part of Europe. A rabble-rousing religious extremist, he was far closer in terms of his Biblical fundamentalism to Islamic State than he was to mainstream Protestant teaching.
Paisley saw his job as opposing the Unionist government’s “wets”, representing the Protestant working class and conditioning them to see their fellow workers in the Catholic communities as their enemy, instead of the landowning, patrician Unionist leadership.
As late as 1981, Dr Paisley sought to create an Afrikaner Weerstanbeweging-style Loyalist militia to fight with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, British army, and British militias in northern Ireland against the Irish Republican Army. At one notorious rally, thousands of Loyalists gathered in front of the international media brandishing their firearm permits.
At every step of the way to peace in the North, Dr Paisley and his DUP – and it was his DUP undoubtedly, with no opposition to his leadership – opposed it. They opposed Sunningdale. They opposed Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Charles Haughey. They physically occupied the northern Ireland assembly, halting its deliberations, and the same month occupied an entire town in northern Ireland with a 4000-strong armed militia. The militia invaded the Republic of Ireland and fought pitched battles with An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Loyalist spies in a Northern Ireland armaments firm attempted to swap missile blueprints for arms from Apartheid South Africa as Nelson Mandela lay in prison.
In the 1990s, they called for ethnic cleansing in Northern Ireland, with the Catholic population to be expelled or interned to create a wholly Protestant Northern Ireland.
Almost inevitably, they opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that led to the permanent and irrevocable establishment of peace and powersharing for as long as northern Ireland remained. Although they participated in the Northern election, they came third and – in a surprise development – refused to participate in the powersharing Executive.
Even in 2001, they were a bit-part political player in grown-up politics. At that year’s election, the UUP won five times as many seats as them.
But just two years later, the DUP was the biggest party in Northern Ireland, winning thirty seats to the UUP’s 27. At the 2005 UK election, the realignment of northern Unionist politics completed, with the DUP winning nine Unionist seats to the UUP’s solitary effort – David Trimble, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Unionist leader lost his seat to David Simpson, a DUP man who believes dinosaurs are a hoax sent by God to test our faith.
The ratchet continued. 2007, the DUP won twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP. 2010, the UUP were wiped out at Westminster (between 2015 and 2017, they had two seats before being wiped out again last week). In 2011, the DUP again took twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP, and in 2015, completed their hat-trick. In the 2017 snap Assembly election, they lost ten seats, but finished on almost three times as many seats as the UUP.
The Democratic Unionist Party of 2017 is the undisputed master of the Unionist community in northern Ireland. They are the Protestant/Unionist community’s chosen representatives to face Britain and the world – just as the UUP were for so many generations.
But they are not a normal political party in the British sense of things.
While the UUP were effectively the northern Ireland wing of the Conservative party, with perhaps a soupcon of entrenched anti-Catholicism, the DUP are no such thing.
The DUP regard the Conservatives as dangerous, socially-radical dilletantes who are bringing the wrath of God down on the people of the United Kingdom with their wackily modern ideas like womens’ rights (that they have a woman leader neither obviates nor mitigates this fact in the way that having black friends does not constitute an immunity to being racist).
The DUP stand for ideas which, in Britain, ceased to exist as an effective political force in the 18th century, and are, in fact, closer to those of fundamentalist Islam than reformed Christianity, far less modern democratic politics.
They believe that women are inferior beings to men; teach that women should dress modestly; and demand that women not enjoy the little luxuries in life such as access to medical care. Abortion is prohibited in Northern Ireland, with several women awaiting trial in the Magistrates’ Court accused of “procuring an abortion”.
The DUP does not believe in gay rights. Iris Robinson has condemned gay people as being “[viler] than child abusers”, and believes in gay cure. (The rather aptly-named Mrs Robinson resigned from her position as an MLA, MP and councillor after being caught engaging in an enjoyable interlude with a 19-year-old to whom she had illegally funnelled public money). While there is a majority in the Northern assembly in favour of equal marriage, the DUP has repeatedly abused the Petition Of Concern mechanism designed as a veto to ensure neither community can damage the civil rights of the other to veto equal marriage legislation.
It appointed – as Northern environment minister – Sammy Wilson, who does not believe in climate change. Oh, or evolution. He believes that the Gaelic Athletic Association is the “sporting wing of the IRA”, and that breastfeeding in public is “voyeuristic”. As environment minister, he banned climate change advertisements from appearing on television in the North. Mr Wilson is MP for East Antrim.
You may remember David Simpson, who took David Trimble’s seat. Mr Simpson is a member of the Orange Order, which prohibits Catholics from joining. He does not believe in evolution, but does believe that God can heal the sick, rather than medicine. He is MP for Upper Bann.
The party has appointed as Northern culture minister one Gregory Campbell. Mr Campbell has called homosexuality “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”, and has denounced the television cartoon The Simpsons as an IRA front. He has also denounced the singer Dido as an IRA supporter. He put forward a motion in the House of Commons denouncing the car manufacturer Kia after it called one of its cars “Provo”, Italian for “test”. Mr Campbell is against the use of the Irish language, and for state executions. He is MP for East Derry.
Emma Little-Pengelly and Gavin Robinson are probably the most inoffensive of the DUP’s MPs. Made junior minister in the North just a month after being elected, Pengelly has managed not to disgrace herself. The daughter of convicted Loyalist terrorist Noel Little, she is MP for South Belfast. Gavin Robinson (no relation) is MP for East Belfast.
Jim Shannon, a member of the Orange Order, was once voted “least sexiest MP”, and is a former member of the UDR. In 2015, he claimed the highest expenses of any MP. He is MP for Iris Robinson’s old Strangford constituency.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is an Orangeman who, before entering politics, worked for the infamous racist MP Enoch Powell. A former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, Sir Jeffrey believes that Catholics are traitors who owe their allegiance to the Pope, rather than their country. He is MP for the Lagan Valley.
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nigel Dodds has served as finance minister in the Northern executive. A friend of Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist leader John Bingham, Mr Dodds waked Bingham at his funeral. Almost inevitably, Mr Dodds is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Flag Group. Mr Dodds wants to ban other EU nationals from claiming social security payments in the United Kingdom. He is MP for North Belfast.
Paul Girvan has called for scrap metal dealers to be armed with firearms to “protect themselves from gypsies”, and has supported burning the Irish national flag atop Loyalist bonfires during the summer Loyalist marching season. He is MP for South Antrim.
Ian Paisley is “pretty repulsed by gay [sic] and lesbianism”, and has called for Irish republicans to be “shot on sight”. The son of the late Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, Mr Paisley is MP for North Antrim (you must remind me never to go to Co. Antrim).
So, you’ve met the ten people who are now governing the United Kingom. A fairly motley crew of terrorists, psychopaths, fascists and bigots.
Theresa May has chosen to save her political skin by bringing these people into government. People who don’t believe in dinosaurs. People who would rather see a woman bleed to death rather than “defy God’s will” than provide her with medical care. Anti-Irish bigots; homophobic bigots; racist bigots. Sometimes all in the one person.
Mrs May is a scared, sick old woman. She is making the mistake of thinking that Northern Ireland’s Unionists are the gentleman Unionists of her youth. They are not. And the worst thing of all is this: how can a Northern Ireland minister who owes his position to the continued support of the DUP ever be seen as an honest broker between the North’s two polarised communities?
By bringing the DUP into government, Mrs May does not just plunge politics into reaction and bigotry, nor does she risk the Northern peace process – she risks alienating the government in Dublin, just one of 27 governments which can veto her Brexit deal.
Mrs May should put country before party, and forego an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Today, power-sharing collapsed in Northern Ireland.
And nobody noticed.
They’ll notice soon enough, though.
The British prime minister, Theresa May, has made a solitary visit to her westernmost outpost in her half-year in the job. Even then, she didn’t give the impression that she had much of a grasp on affairs in those six counties.
Campaigning – albeit half-heartedly – on the Remain side of Britain’s European Union referendum last year during her time as interior minister, she visited the North where she made plain that the immediate consequence of Brexit would be the inevitable return to a hard border between North and South. Now, returning as prime minister with the referendum lost, she U-turned and insisted there would be no return to the border of the past.
It’s not just Theresa May who doesn’t understand – or care about – Northern Ireland. This evening, as news filtered through of the end of devolution in the statelet, I flicked between RTÉ’s Six-One News programme and the BBC Six O’Clock News. The main item on the BBC’s programme was the beginning, in London, of an inquest into a terrorist attack in Africa last summer. RTÉ’s offering was to devote a full ten minutes at the start of the programme.
The cavalier contempt for the devolved institutions could not be clearer. It’s the opposite of what Gordon Brown promised as Unionists lashed out in fear at the climax of the independence referendum: far from being “the closest thing to federalism”, we are left with a Union in which the state broadcaster doesn’t consider the collapse of democracy in one of its constituent states to be important enough to lead its news programme.
They’ll stand up and take notice soon enough, though.
Whilst you can find far more in-depth analyses of what’s gone wrong in northern Ireland on news media websites, a Reader’s Digest version of it is this:
Since Ian Paisley was ousted by fundamentalists in his Democratic Unionist party, the relationship between Unionist and Nationalist parties has grown more brittle by the day. Unionist arrogance has grown, and the emergence of Arlene Foster as the leader of Unionism led to a deeper sectarianising of Unionism than has been seen since the days of the former Unionist state in the North.
The DUP has systematically refused to enact an Irish Language Act agreed to in the St Andrews Agreement (Unionists in northern Ireland have as much fear and hate of the Gaelic language as their counterparts in Scotland), and have stripped funding for Irish language schemes (including a scheme run by Líofa to send children from deprived areas on trips to the Gaeltacht) and projects viewed by them as being insufficiently Unionist – such as a planned peace centre on the site of the abandoned Maze prison camp – in order to funnel £1,9m (€2,2m) of taxpayer’s money to fund local Orange halls.
So far, so Unionist. And one ought to remember that the Orange Order is itself a minority sect within Unionism, and it is Unionist taxpayers’ cash too which is being misdirected to prop up these hate groups.
The final straw for Sinn Féin was the news that Arlene Forster, as environment minister, had catastrophically mishandled a scheme designed to financially incentivise people who availed of renewable heating.
Despite knowing that the scheme had been so badly misdesigned as to pay users £1.60 (€1.82) for every £1 (€1.14) of fuel purchased, Foster allowed the project to carry on for months, at a cost to the Northern Ireland taxpayer estimated at £490m (€557m). One farmer is set to receive £1m (€1.14m) for heating an empty barn.
So far, Foster has consistently refused to reveal whether there is any correlation between the (secret) list of those who availed of the scheme after the flaw was brought to the DUP’s attention, and the (equally secret) list of those who donate money to the DUP.
With Foster refusing to stand aside as co-First Minister pending the result of an inquiry into her actions, Sinn Féin withdrew from the power-sharing Executive, leading to the collapse of devolution this afternoon.
And so far, so northern Ireland.
But northern Ireland’s assembly no longer exists in isolation.
The British Supreme Court is likely to rule shortly that the May regime requires the consultation – and perhaps the assent – of the devolved administrations to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which is at present Mrs May’s preferred route of withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Union.
For their part, Sinn Féin have made it clear that there will be no return to the status quo.
There will be no administration if Arlene Foster is the Unionist selection as co-First Minister. And with no administration in place in Belfast, it would be rather difficult to consult it.
The British minister to the North has made it clear that he will not countenance assuming the powers of Acting First Minister as several of his predecessors did.
So there will be political deadlock in the North, blocking Brexit until it is sorted. And the May regime will not – cannot – over-ride it. Whilst they can do what they want to Scotland and Wales, and will have the enthusiastic support of the local Labour and Conservative parties to do so, the devolution they have extended to Northern Ireland is different.
Power-sharing in Northern Ireland is achieved not by an internal settlement as in Scotland and in Wales, but by dint of an international, legally-binding treaty. And, what’s more, a treaty with an EU member state which has power of veto over any deal the UK negotiates with the European Council.
Secondary to this, of course, is the fact that the Good Friday Agreement secures the right of anyone born in northern Ireland to choose whether to bear Irish – EU – citizenship, or to be a subject of the United Kingdom. They can also be both, simultaneously being a citizen of the European Union and not being a citizen of the European Union.
It will be interesting to see how the May regime copes with the dichotomy of one set of United Kingdom subjects having the right to live, work and settle in the European Union while the other 60-odd million of us don’t.
Not for the first time, one is left with the impression that the British government would much rather Northern Ireland quietly went away.
With a divided Unionist electorate, and a Sinn Féin in no mood to yield to either the Unionists or the British any further, a Border Poll might be necessary before Brexit happens.
The Tories, Ukip, and Scottish Labour may be bringing us a “red, white and blue Brexit”. But it’s looking less likely by the day that that Brexit will include Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Tommy Ball has been involved in progressive politics for over a decade. From Scottish National Party activist to Executive Committee member of the Scottish Socialist Party, he has pounded the streets and tenements of Glasgow and beyond delivering leaflets, speaking at pro-Independence events, and standing – generally unsuccessfully – for election in the Socialist interest. His writing has been featured in newspapers such as The National and periodicals like the Scottish Socialist Voice.
Educated at Portsmouth, which is not called the Sorbonne of the South Coast, he is an uncompromising Socialist. His main interest is in foreign affairs, and he has travelled widely in the former Eastern Bloc, including many of the post-Soviet republics and all of the former Yugoslav republics, where he hopes he has learned much about the right and wrong ways to do Socialism and the wrong way to do independence.
He does not understand why a border on a small island is a bad thing when it means Britain holding onto Scotland, but a good thing when it means Britain holding onto northern Ireland.
He has lived in Ireland, Scotland and England, is a biologist by training and a chemist to trade. He tweets at T_Socialist and blogs – angrily and infrequently – at www.tommyballgovan.blogspot.com.