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Column: 'The Scottish voting yes are doing so from an international, rather than just a nationalist mindset'

If Scotland has to consider anew its membership of the European Union, then the Irish Government should be there standing up for its application, writes Eamon Ryan.

Eamon Ryan TD and leader of the Green Party

IRISH PEOPLE KNOW how sensitive a referendum process can be. The last thing you want is comment from an outsider; someone who doesn’t know the country inside out. It’s like joining in someone else’s family conversation. The one thing you’ll do is unite both sides to agree you don’t know a bloody thing. Better off to mind your own business, not hitting the wrong note, offending people.

Perhaps that is why Irish politics has been so shy in commenting about this Scottish referendum.

Wary of offending our English neighbours

We know the delicacies that are involved. We are aware the result might mean a lot for Northern Ireland. We are wary too of offending our English neighbours, who may face their own referendum on whether they want to stay in our European Union. We have enough questions here on the nature of our own republic to be going on with. It would be rash for us to start giving advice to others about how to manage a new democratic state when our own institutions are in such need of reform.

At the same time, we are aware that staying completely silent might seem to border on being indifferent, which is not the case. It is not as if we have nothing to say. One hundred years on from our own fight for independence, and subsequent establishment of a constitutional democratic republic, we are a living example of what a yes vote might bring.

During the Celtic Tiger years the Scottish National Party were all too keen to use the Irish example to bolster their case. Our economic crash brought such comparisons to a slightly embarrassing halt. But just as so much about our boom years may have been over-hyped, the abandonment of the Irish example might have been a bit overdone on the downside.

The first article of our constitution states:

The Irish nation affirms its inalienable, indefeasible and sovereign right to choose its own form of Government, to determine its relations with other nations, and to develop its life, political, economic and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions.

Irish independence

That “genius” brought us at least three severe recessions since the 1950’s. It swept a lot of our social ills under the carpet. It saw a terrorist war last for the guts of a quarter century. But for all those failures, if you were to ask the Irish people did we do the right thing in gaining that independence, I believe the answer would be an overwhelming yes. Once you step over the line there is no going back. You would not want to. The mistakes you make are your own, which are easier to learn from than if you have to take what is served up from London.

An Irish perspective gives you some insight into the big issues that are coming up in the Scottish campaign. When it came to choosing currency, we took a meandering path that kept us pegged with Sterling for most of the last century. We then had the Punt for a brief period before climbing aboard the Euro, with all that that entailed. Take your pick from all three solutions, if George Osborne claims you can’t stay in the Sterling area, ask him why Ireland was allowed follow such a course.

European Union

Our entry to the European Union was not an easy or automatic transition, but we have made a real contribution and gained so much. We paid a high cost in the loss of our fish stocks, and it is not easy running an economy when monetary policy is set in Frankfurt and the local economy works on a different cycle. The issue of national sovereignty is complicated by the fact that international decisions are so often made at the G7 and G20 meetings, where we don’t even have a seat.

For all those disadvantages, we have been able to use our position to develop a trading economy that shows you can survive and sometime thrive in a global economic market.

If Scotland has to consider anew its membership of the European Union, then the Irish Government should be there standing up for its application. The Union benefits from having smaller countries forging all sorts of alliances that counter the undue influence and weight of the bigger states. On what basis could the Union say no to Scottish inclusion? Having succeeded in bringing so many eastern countries into the fold, we are hardly going to give up on the West.

When it comes to membership of NATO, we have shown that there is another way of protecting the peace. Why not work with the same sort of triple lock mechanism that has allowed us to play a positive role in international peacekeeping missions. You don’t need Trident. Better to use soft power in the world, rather than building a bigger war fleet.

All of these things are up for decision tomorrow and beyond. It will be up to the Scottish people to decide what they want to do. I’d be reluctant to tell anyone what way to vote, but we are proud of the role that the Scottish Green Party has played in the whole campaign. The way that their debate has been conducted shows that a different type of politics is possible. They know that even the longest journey begins with a single step.

They are voting yes from an international, rather than just nationalist mindset. It is important to have that perspective, especially at a time when there is a rise in popular nationalist sentiment in so many parts of Europe. The issue of Scottish Independence seems different to us. We wish our Scottish colleagues well as decision time draws near and we will be calling on our Government to support their Scottish counterparts whatever the outcome is on the day.

Eamon Ryan is the leader of the Green Party. You can follow him on twitter @EamonRyan​.

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About the author:

Eamon Ryan  / TD and leader of the Green Party

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