Everyday Ireland Shows the Opportunity Scotland Missed

fires-north-scotland-irelandMER_FRS_20110502_753_orBy Kevin Guyan

It was 11.45pm on the night of 18 September and my family had gathered round the kitchen table in their home in the outskirts of Aberdeen to hear the results of the independence referendum. Presenter Huw Edwards was questioning Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party and prominent figure of the No campaign, on what she made from early counts of postal ballots. Her smile gave away the result of the referendum long before the final votes were counted, Scotland had voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. The political carnival was over, the whisky was put back in the cupboard and my family headed to bed for a disappointedly early night.

Exactly two months later and I was on a ferry from Holyhead, Wales with four large suitcases containing my life’s belongings. Having left my student flat in London, I followed the path of 45 per cent of the Scottish electorate and said goodbye to the UK.

It was coincidental that my move from London to Dublin took place in the aftermath of the referendum result. Yet, living in Dublin for the past three months has brought into sharp focus the overlap between the referendum result and my own exit from the UK, and has made clear the opportunities that Scotland let pass.

Although an independent Scotland would bring great structural change and signal the end of the UK, for many in the middle classes the everyday nature of life may have changed very little. Should I wish to replicate my London life in Dublin, I could without much difficulty: waking up to BBC Radio 4’s Today, grabbing a morning coffee at Starbucks, researching in an internationally reputable university library, buying milk from Lidls on the way home (or Marks & Spencer, if I am feeling flush), then watching BBC One’s The Graham Norton Show before bed.

Even major differences, like shifting from pounds to euros or the Irish language on public transport, took only a few weeks of readjustment. I now look back in anger at the No campaign’s success in spreading fear about the disruptive nature of change as my life in Dublin has revealed that small nations are not wastelands of opportunity. In fact, Dublin offers more options than Scotland – as it brings together products and services from Ireland, the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. The dystopian horrors projected upon an independent Scotland are even harder to believe: differences exist and some aspects of life are better while some are worse, but the situation is certainly not nightmarish.

How I see Ireland is shaped by events in Scotland in 2014, and how close a nation came to following its own path to independence. I find myself frequently comparing Dublin to Glasgow and Edinburgh, as its population sits between the two. Ireland is also in the midst of its own referendum campaign over the legalisation of civil marriage for same-sex couples. Whenever I spot a lapel carrying a ‘Yes’ badge, or its rough Irish equivalent ‘Tá’, I feel hopeful for Ireland yet overwhelmed by the feeling – ‘we could have done it’.

Yet there is something different about the situation in Ireland.

Every weekend a gathering of protestors departs the Central Bank on the south side of the river Liffey to march towards the General Post Office, the scene of the 1916 Easter Rising, in opposition to the introduction of water charges. The city has also been brought to a standstill several times in recent months, as a mass movement of people filled the streets. Whether or not these protests will succeed in their goal, the target of their message is clear.

Although people continue to point the finger of blame at others (rather than Westminster, the ruling coalition of Fine Gael and Labour or troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund receive most criticism), resolutions to this anger seem more closely held in the hands of the Irish people.

Looking back on September 2014 from across the Irish Sea, I wonder what the independence referendum planted in the hearts and minds of all involved, particularly among young people. People were not only talking politics but – for the first time – many people shared their opinions on the form of a future society, evoking emotions and passions never previously experienced. I doubt these feelings will lie latent for long.

An independent Scotland would face a rocky road, just as Ireland’s past decade has been a story of highs and lows: the paw prints of the Celtic Tiger continue to haunt a country in which unemployment and housing loom problematically. But it has survived and no difficulties are yet to emerge that do not have answers. An independent Scotland was never going to be an overnight success story; it was always the start, rather than the end, of a long project. For those questioning whether they put their ‘x’ in the right box on September 18, a quick flight over the Irish Sea will show that independence for Scotland was an opportunity missed.


Kevin Guyan is a Dublin-based researcher, engager and PhD student in postwar British history at University College London. He tweets at @the_deluxe.

Categories: Commentary

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29 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.

  2. Na.It was an opportunity delayed.Our time is coming.Hope Over Fear!

  3. “anger at the No campaign’s success in spreading fear about the disruptive nature” – remind me what they spread fear about?
    You’re not referring to the extremely unlikely possibility of oil dropping below $100?

    • You really are stupid Skea!

    • At least it would have been Scotland’s oil…and not gone to remodel some kitchen in a country house!

      • Or even two kitchens in a house in suburban Primrose Hill.

      • Revenues from oil and gas production have helped to fund essential public services in Britain for decades now…

      • I can’t help noticing that the present First Minister’s wardrobe and hairstyles have gone quite a way upmarket as she has risen in political importance. Who knows about her housing/kitchen arrangements, or those of the ex-First Minister/MP-to-be? For what importance it has. Neither has a grouse-shooting estate in the Highlands, I presume? (And I was surprised, personally, at the modesty of the second kitchen the possible PM-to-be and his wife use privately, possibly keeping the big one for their public engagements?).

  4. Well I’m glad it’s going well for you in Ireland cause my Irish friends living in London and other cities in the UK left Ireland, just as in the historical past, as the country can’t pay it’s bills and jobs are scarce and they’re not willing to hang around waiting for successive governments to do the best for their citizens. You might think Ireland is doing well but they received a massive bail out and that bail out was then topped up by the UK. Thr Irish are hard working people and deserve better government. So, I see no inspiration the way you do.
    Socially Ireland has changed in the last 10 years but has a long long way to go: abortion is illegal, I think of the Indian women and her husband denied an abortion last year, even though the baby was dead – the woman was allowed to die because of Irish law on abortion; there are still issues around divorce and same sex marriage and many other social issues, it’s like the 1950s. I think of what Bob Geldof said during the referendum campaign on the side of Better Together – the UK saved his life, it gave him the freedom to do anything and everything. That’s how the Irish feel I know living here feel. That’s how I feel too – and I’m a proud London Scot.
    Good luck in Dublin, it’s a fine city although not sure why you’re not in Scotland – which is governed by the SNP.

    • You obviously have no conception of what Ireland was like prior to independence. Are you seriously saying Ireland would be better returning to colony status within Imperial Britain, like Scotland? The rugby result today tells another story.

      • Irish corruption would make a Labour councilor in Wishaw blush. Since independence Ireland has been ruled by a class of people that used it’s position to rob the country blind with the church playing ball by keeping the population superstitious,ignorant and supine.
        None of this is an argument for Scotland remaining in the UK. An independent Scotland, properly governed would show the Irish how things could have been and bring about much needed change.

    • And the UK is heading towards 1930s levels of public services. There aren’t many jobs here in the UK except low paid and zero hours contracts. The UK government is happily killing off the vulnerable and disabled, the UK has 1.5 trillion of debt – so your point is?

    • Alison, Ireland has its problems as does every other country in the World. However, it is doing far better than the UK on a number of factors. By far the most important being far more prosperity and far less poverty than the UK. Little else matters beyond that.

      It had a bail out but has paid that back and is progressing towards solvency more quickly than the UK. The UK on the other hand is arguably the most indebted country on the entire planet with that debt growing every year.

      Independence gives Ireland the power to follow its own path with policies designed specifically for Ireland’s problems. Scotland’s unfortunate “dependence” means we have to hope the decisions taken by others that affect us are not too detrimental, and that they will at least take a passing interest in our specific needs. I see no evidence of that ever having been the case.

      • And Eire’s ‘dependence’ on the EU, with the euro worth 72p just now (84p not long ago, over 90p not long before that)?

      • Frederick, the Irish Republic is no more dependent on the EU than the UK.

        As to the value of the Euro, it is irrelevant. It is not long ago that the worry was that the value of the Pound was less than that of the Euro. Now the Euro is less than the value of the Pound …. but still more than the value of the Dollar …. which is gaining ground against the Pound.

        The value of currencies fluctuates. The Euro is falling against the Pound right now because of Quantitive Easing within the Eurozone. That will stop. The value of the Euro may well start to rise again. Who knows? As I said earlier, it is irrelevant.

  5. Some current stats. might have been useful, Kevin. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with your impressions and the thrust of your argument. I lived in Dublin for eighteen years and enjoyed my time there immensely.
    Roll-on, May.

  6. Independence is priceless. Being a colony is worthless.

  7. >>>Although people continue to point the finger of blame at others (rather than Westminster, the ruling coalition of Fine Gael and Labour or troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund receive most criticism), resolutions to this anger seem more closely held in the hands of the Irish people.

    I think it was Brian Lenihan of Fianna Fail who made the fateful decision to make every Irish citizen pay for the excesses of its bankers. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2011/02/michael-lewis

  8. Our day is coming and we will succeed despite the naysayers

    • I agree our day is coming and not too far away.

      It doesn’t look like either Con or Lab will have enough seats even with Lib Dem, DU, or any other combination, to form a government without SNP support. And as SNP will never support the Tories, that means only Labour can form the government. However Miliband knows he would be commiting political suicide if he ever tried to do a deal with SNP. So another election would be called which would not go down too well in Scotland. Can you imagine Scottish Labour MPs trying to defend Miliband giving up the chance to form a government with SNP support and so giving the Tories another chance? Labour would lose even more MPs and neither Lab or Con would still have enough to form a government without doing a deal with an even stronger SNP. Now the only option left to the unionists would be to form a LabCon coalition, resulting in the 2016 scottish election being an SNP landslide on an Indy referendum 2 agenda. A quick referendum in 2016 and independence at last.

      • I didn’t think it was feasible until last year but a LabCon coalition looks likely given how far Labour have moved from their roots. It will mean the end of the Labour Party – anything the Tories touch is destroyed

  9. Kevin, you have really brought the points home here in this article. I have only visited Dublin twice, but despite Ireland’s recent economic troubles, I felt that the place was very different and had a very exciting dimension about it politically and culturally. Upon departure, I was really sad about leaving despite only being there for a break on both occassions.

    Dublin has a special European dynamism that really has allowed it to flourish and to make it an internationally attractive city for those who want to get on in life and with their careers. When I declared for Yes last September, I myself also told my readers on my blog that Scottish independence had it’s risks as well as it’s benefits, but that I felt that the benefits would outweigh the risks.

    As a media geek, I despair at the fact that UK viewers cannot view RTÉ on their televisions (but they can online I must admit) yet Irish viewers have the pleasure of watching either RTÉ or the BBC – diversity for you. Something that an independent Scotland would have benefited from. And when Fiona Hyslop MSP gave such an impression at a talk she gave at a Royal Television Society event last year, I felt that was vindicated by the evidence of what Irish viewers get to enjoy in terms of choice.

    I know this is only one example, but despite Ireland’s recent economic troubles, they have it a lot better than us in Scotland currently.

  10. Here’s the difference: I am an immigrant, moved to Glasgow for a post-grad degree, which I got. I am Scottish educated & the only jobs I could get there in the 3 years since graduating were low paid service jobs not related to my field. In the 11 months I’ve been in Dublin I’ve had 3 jobs (including 1 unpaid before I was allowed to officially work) all in my field, where I am actually expanding my skill set. These jobs are more decently paid than anything comparable in Scotland, even though the cost of living in Dublin is stupid.

    Ireland isn’t perfect, the water charges are egregious and the government definitely is like, dictatorship-levels of corrupt but I wouldn’t have had these opportunities in Scotland.

    Saor Alba

  11. Lived in Dub but had to leave due to the collapse. Back in Scotland (no comparison). This post irritated me by it’s glib dismissal of real tragedy currently in Ireland. As we speak, the country is haemoraging it’s young on a scale not seen since the famine/ mid 1800’s. The figures are indisputable and independently assessed by the UN/ World Bank/ IMF/ NGO’s. One of the saving graces has been the UK, as the Irish since Good Friday have full citizen rights and can at least remain within touching distance of family and friends and culture. Others however have gone further to Oz. New Zealand, the States and Canada. family have been torn apart, grandchildren grow up without ever seeing their grandparents.

    This was the model Salmond put forward for and Independent Scotland. Low corp tax, diverging fiscal policy from monetary policy, reliance for public spending on credit/ housing boom. If Scotland still wants to be independent, (if their really is such a thing) then needs to think more deeply about the implications and what the ‘real effects’ could be.

    • It does’nt realy require a lot of thought as we have been loosing aprox.30000 young educated people each year for over fourty years, hence the reason for a low wage economy and an ageing population.We are a rich country in resources populated by relatively poor people with the life expectancy of some areas in line with some countrys in Africa!I think i would rather wallow in my own shit than someone elses.

  12. EVERYDAY EVERY INDEPENDENT COUNTRY SHOWS THE OPPORTUNITY THAT SCOTLAND MISSED. I`m still trying to explain to friends in the USA how some us were daft enough to turn down our own independence. If England love Scotland so much then why are we now getting so much anti-Scottish bile in the English media about Jockistan? Do Scots really worship the ground that the English walk on, or are some us just plain thick, and masochists to boot? As I said before, logic I can deal with, Unionist stupidity defies belief.

  13. Models of independence. Panama for its currency. Now Ireland for its economic stability. Are these the best that can be offered as models for our country?

    There is some really good stuff on here which is why those of us who support the Union (for what we think are good and sound reasons – not the fear, ignorance and stupidity that others keep banging about) come and visit but I think this was a very sentimental article in which the core argument is very weak and too easily ridiculed.

  14. The best model for independence is the uk most of you just don’t see it. As you have your own agenda mixed with greed and self pity.

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