Wednesday 24 November 2021

Letting people determine their own future


The British Labour Party has long suffered from a blind spot when it comes to the idea of national liberation. They have been enthusiastic supporters of the concept across the whole of the former Empire, arguing that it is for the people of the former colonies and possessions to determine their own future. But when it comes to England’s earliest possessions and conquests, here within the UK itself, their position is rather different. They’ve never quite been able to make up their minds about where Ireland fits in all this, though. Whilst Corbyn was a committed supporter of a united Ireland, Starmer has made it clear that he takes a much more unionist position and would campaign for the continuation of partition in the event of a border poll.

Whether that it the position of everyone in his party is another question – his shadow Northern Ireland Secretary said yesterday that the British Government should remain neutral on the question if a poll were to be called. As she put it, “It is only for the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own constitutional future”. It’s a sound principle, and logically it has more general application. I never understood how Corbyn could be such a strong supporter of a free united Ireland and still be such a strong opponent of Scottish or Welsh independence, and by the same token, I don’t understand how Labour can argue that the future constitutional position of Northern Ireland is entirely a matter for the people there to determine without interference from London, but the future constitutional position of Wales and Scotland is very much a matter for the London parties and the UK government to take a view on.

It might be argued that the ‘situation’ (a euphemism for decades of violence) in Northern Ireland is different, but there’s a danger in taking that view of indicating that, in some sense, violence pays. Another difference is that the British Labour Party organises and contests elections in Wales and Scotland, whereas it does not do so in Northern Ireland; that  would make it reasonable for the branch offices in Wales and Scotland to take a view and campaign on one side or the other, but it’s not much of a justification for the UK government or the English Labour Party to get involved. Doing so goes directly against the sound principle that the Shadow Secretary outlined yesterday. Still, no one should really expect the thinking of the Labour and Unionist Party to be any more logical, or any less muddled, than that of the Conservative and Unionist Party. Unionism always somehow trumps logic.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunatelt, violence does pay. It is the only language the Brits understand.

John Dixon said...

That's a little sweeping. Whilst it's true that many countries have gained their independence from the British Empire by violent means - and that that Empire was itself steeped in blood - it's not universally true.