Iris, the magazine published by Cairde Na hEireann in Scotland, initiated a debate in asking: Can Scottish socialists and Irish republicans work together? Below are reprinted two contributions to the debate. The first, from Scot MacCreamhain, was first printed in Iris, Autumn 2005. This is followed by a reply from Allan Armstrong.

Questioning the logic

In May 2007 the next election will be held for the Scottish Parliament. The Irish community in Scotland have a long history of participating in politics here to better the conditions of the Irish immigrant community. James Connolly became secretary of the first Scottish Socialist Federation in Edinburgh in 1895 and through the generations many have gone on to help build the Scottish Labour Party, the traditional working man’s party.

However many republicans have questioned the logic of those through the ages who have campaigned for an Irish Republic over the water, whilst voting for a Unionist party in Scotland. John MacLean, the legendary Clydeside Scottish republican socialist spoke on such anomalies in the Gorbals in 1923. His address is worth repeating here:

My policy of a Workers’ Republic in Scotland debars me from going to John Bull’s Parliament. Last year I told you I would not go, as I could get nothing there. So you sent George Buchanan to get your rents back. Buchanan and his friends have spent a fruitless year and have returned home empty of hand. So, after all, I was right.

Had the Labour men stayed in Glasgow and started a Scottish Parliament, as did the genuine Irish in Dublin in 1918, England would have set up and made concessions to Scotland just to keep her ramshackle Empire intact to bluff other countries. The curious feature in the Gorbals was that the block Irish vote sent Buchanan into the Parliament of the ‘Hated English’ whilst the Irish chorus was being sung ‘Ireland a Nation Once Again’.

It is the Irish vote that prevents Scotland being a Nation once again and prevents us all as slaves getting our freedom. I appeal to Irish men not to be led any longer by the old Nationalist wirepullers, but to think out the situation clearly and calmly. Ireland will only get her Republic when Scotland gets hers.

Profound identity crisis

Since the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour, a viciously anti-working-class government, the need to end this contradiction has never been more urgent. With a form of PR in Holyrood many have taken the opportunity in the past to give their 1st vote to the SNP and 2nd vote to the SSP. This is a tactic that should again be applied in 2007. Whilst some in the SNP have taken a reactionary line on the Scottish Regiments and some in the leadership of the SSP have been hostile or lukewarm in their support of a united Ireland, I believe it remains the case that the rank and file in both parties are sympathetic. In any case regaining Scotland’s independence and ending the 300 year old Union of Parliaments on its tri-centenary would be a victory of historic proportions for the working class. From an Irish Republican viewpoint it would throw the Unionist parties in the six counties into a profound identity crisis with the United Kingdom dissolved.

Republican culture under attack from Glasgow City Council
Republican culture under attack from Glasgow City Council

Proportional Representation

Also in May 2007 the local elections will be held, this time under a new form of PR, the Single Transferable Vote. This concession was given to the Liberal Dems. for their support in the coalition of 2003 in Holyrood. It presents a new challenge to the Irish community and it is this debate I want to start now with less than two years to go til the election.

Cairde na hEireann are no strangers to Glasgow City Council. In the past couple of years the Licensing Board has been on an offensive against Irish pubs in Glasgow under the guise of anti-sectarianism, possibly masking a desire to redevelop and yuppify the Calton area of the city.

Photographs of James Connolly have been ordered down from behind public bars, Irish rebel songs have been removed from juke boxes and folk artists have been sacked by pubs following snooping missions by council officials armed with video phones. All this enforced by Strathclyde Police with the consent of the Labour Executive in Edinburgh.

At the same time we have had the spectacle of Glasgow City Council hosting banquets and civic receptions for the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland!

Facing the challenge

Clearly the Glasgow Labour Party with over 70 of the 79 councillors in the city have been in power way too long and perhaps with the introduction of PR the time has come for a concerted effort to change the face of Scottish Local Government. So the challenge is there for the Irish community. Do we wish to stand our own independent candidates to fight for equality for the ethnic Irish? Can we join with other progressive forces such as the SSP or the Independent Working Class Association? Let’s start building Republican culture under attack from Glasgow City Council now for May 2007. Even the most humble ploughman can aspire to the stars!

Rae Bridges
Rae Bridges