This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 






The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.


1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.

Toleration always had this double edge. In medieval western Europe, periodic outbursts of xenophobic attacks occurred, of which the pogroms against Jews became the most infamous. Much more recently, within the UK, particular black communities have also faced physical attacks. However, instead of pogroms, episodic eruptions of ‘race riots’ took place, such as those in “Liverpool, Glasgow, London, Cardiff, Manchester as well as Hull, Barry and Newport” [5] in 1919, and “in Nottingham…and Notting Hill” in 1958 [6].

Toleration, when applied to particular religions/denominations, has provided less security than constitutionally recognised secularism based on the idea of democratic rights. Similarly, toleration of ethnic (or sometimes ethno-religious) groups has provided less security than an acceptance of multi-culturalism based on democratic rights.

However, constitutional rights, in themselves, even when framed in a manner that address particular social groups, are not sufficient to overcome either oppression or exploitation, as the current situation in both the USA and France highlights. The dominant social relations found in these countries (as elsewhere) are based on capitalist exploitation, oppression and alienation [7]. These have to be countered through political organisation to make constitutional rights more effective. Only the transcendence of capitalist social relations altogether, by means of independent class organisation, could bring about genuine emancipation, liberation and self-determination (in its widest sense).

Yet, even constitutionally recognised democratic rights are alien to the UK set-up. The fundamental features of the UK’s constitutional monarchist, unionist and imperialist state were established before the social base of the British ruling class had been extended in the nineteenth century to incorporate the owners of industrial capital. The necessary reforms needed to achieve this incorporation still did not recognise popular sovereignty, but instead continued to rely on the notion of the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament. Faced first with plebian resistance and later the challenges from a new working class, the rising industrial capitalist class struck a deal with the old mercantile and landed class. They agreed to maintain many of the features of the old UK’s monarchist, unionist and imperialist state the better to defend all forms of property, especially land and capital.

Thus, the particularly reactionary nature of this UK state has contributed, even to this day, to it dealing with ‘outsiders’ in terms of toleration rather than through any guaranteed recognition of democratic rights. This is related to the absence of a written constitution and the significant role of the anti-democratic Crown Powers in the running of the UK state.

Laws, beginning with 1905 Aliens Act, the 1914 British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, to the more recent Commonwealth Immigrants Acts of 1962 and 1968, the Immigration Act of 1971, the British Nationality Act of 1981 and the Immigration Act of 2014 have been introduced. These have all had the effect of legally reducing toleration for those whose origins lay outside the UK.

For a long period of British imperial history there were no laws preventing colonial subjects from entering the UK. However, the main purpose in having free movement within the Empire was to give British merchants, colonial officials and white settlers access to the colonies. Nevertheless, black people arrived in the UK, as servants and as seamen, whilst others came to the UK during the two world wars. Official toleration was the best that such black people could expect. To the degree they were recognised as being officially British, it was as British colonial subjects, whose presence in the UK was tolerated in as far as they met certain economic and military needs. Otherwise they remained ‘racialised outsiders’.

Until the post-Second World War period, black inward migration to the UK had been relatively limited. In 1948, the arrival of Windrush, with its West Indian passengers, heralded a new wave of black immigration, as employers sought outside labour to do the least desirable jobs now left vacant by white workers in the post-war economic boom. Both the Labour Party and trade union leaders fought to ensure that employment opportunities for black workers were restricted to these particular jobs. Thus, they accentuated their ‘racialised outsider’ status.

This racist aspect of mainstream Labour politics has often been disguised by the central role Labour claimed as part of Winston Churchill’s Second World War coalition against Nazi Germany. Yet the British ruling class and UK state became involved in this war, not for any anti-racist reasons, nor for any principled anti-fascist reasons for that matter. Churchill always prioritised the defence of British imperial interests in the world. Labour Party leaders, either in Churchill’s war-time coalition, or in Clement Attlee’s post-war government, did not challenge this.

Labour supported the British ruling class in its post-war attempts to hold on to as much of the Empire as they possibly could. In the process, a Labour-governed UK state was not only involved in direct repression of campaigns for self-determination in several colonies, but actively used the Nazi collaborationist Right to crush the Greek Resistance, and Japanese forces to crush anti-colonial resistance in Vietnam. Labour’s pro-imperialist exploits abroad were linked to their attempts to uphold a particular type of Britishness within the UK.

Furthermore, it was not only black migrants who were excluded from large sectors of employment and the full benefits of Labour’s post-war Welfare State. Mary Davis shows how women, who had been drawn into war-time employment, were driven out of jobs at the end of the war, to make way for men. The new Welfare State was designed to reinforce women’s role as mothers and homemakers dependent upon their husbands’ incomes. The Labour government, with the backing of the TUC, moved to end the provision of day nurseries, which had been set-up during the war [8]. However, women were still needed in the buoyant post-war economy, but they were now directed to lower paid and part-time employment. This was characterised as working for ‘pin money’.

In effect, Labour’s new more inclusive post-war version of Britishness, for the white working class, was only extended to women indirectly. Therefore, in relation to women, perhaps the concept of the gendered outsider could be used to complement the notion of the ‘racialised outsider’ for black residents. Now, the experience of Britishness has certainly been different for these two groups; but in both cases they have been provided with less rights than those of the white male working class. Women became more fully ‘insiders’ [9] as a consequence of their membership of existing white British families headed by their fathers or husbands. However, this meant they had to accept their expected gender roles. If women tried to press for their own independent rights they were disapproved of and, to the extent they tried to do this, they were considered ‘outsiders’, acting beyond the pale of social acceptability.


2) The post-war domination of white male versions of Britishness, and the struggle to give ‘insider’ status to black residents and women as women

In  1945 the Labour government set up of the Welfare State (building on war-time coalition government’s precedents) giving the notion of Britishness  its widest and most popular basis of support up to that time. The National Health Service was the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the UK’s new social monarchist and imperial order [10]. Here the word ‘National’ was designed to give the notion of Britishness a popular dimension missing in its traditional associations with the Empire, Crown and Westminster (with its House of Lords).

Whilst discrimination against, black people, women and Catholic Irish in Northern Ireland continued, some of the benefits of an expanding economy and the Welfare State still trickled down to these groups. Although those women who accepted their primary role as being in the home were more likely to vote Conservative; black and Irish immigrants, usually working in less desirable and lower paid jobs, were more likely to vote Labour.

When the Conservatives retook office, under Churchill in 1951, they continued with many Keynesian economic policies and with the Welfare State inherited from the wartime administration and the two post-war Labour governments. This was a period of an expanding economy, rising living standards and strong trade unions. It led to the emergence of the term ‘Butskellism’, based on an amalgam of the names of Rab Butler, the prominent and influential Conservative, and of Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour leader after Attlee. Although ‘Butskellism’ is still used to describe the shared economic and social politics of that period, what is usually less recognised is the Conservatives’ and Labour’s shared commitment to a continued imperial world order (even if the UK was now subordinate to the US within NATO), and to a racially exclusive notion of Britishness.

Churchill’s own desire to ‘Keep Britain White’ [11] was a more candid admission of a view that would have been tacitly accepted by many Labour figures at the time. However, as struggles for colonial self-determination grew, far right organisations began to attack black people. The official policy of tolerating the ‘racialised outsider’ came under strain. The “rising wave of racist reaction was fundamentally about ‘how the end of empire impacted on English {read British} life’” [12]. Labour had given very little support to colonial struggles, despite the extreme brutality of the British forces in Malaya and Kenya. Consequently, Labour only provided a half-hearted challenge to the rising tide of anti-black racism in Britain.

The Conservative government bowed to this racism with their Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962. Furthermore, during the 1964 General Election (which Labour had won), the Tory candidate in Smethwick successfully campaigned against the Labour incumbent MP, using the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” The incoming Labour government response to this was to ditch their recent opposition to the Conservatives’ racist legislation.

When Tory Right-winger, Enoch Powell, made his infamous “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, directed against black Commonwealth immigration, London dockers marched in his support. This showed that considerable numbers of workers were prepared to be more open in their support for the exclusion of the ‘racialised outsider’ in relation to Britishness. Most post-war Labour leaders had accepted this view without any fundamental adjustment in their thinking brought about by the emergence of a more racially mixed society and also new black Labour party members in the inner cities.

In 1967, the (British) National Front (NF) emerged as the first serious post-war fascist organisation in Britain [13]. It was an amalgam of the Racial Protection Society, the League of Empire Loyalists and an earlier version of the British National Party. It   also attempted to form organisations in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa and to make links with the Ulster loyalists. The NF’s support for the linked defence of a White British Empire and Union was clear. It  began to make some headway in working class communities.

Far from representing the antithesis of some inherent Labour ‘anti-racism’, the NF were just making explicit what was always implicit in the post-1945 concept of Britishness. This had been designed primarily for a white (and male) working class. Immigration from the colonies had only been accepted to fill jobs that others would not do. Whenever and wherever the job market tightened and these migrants seemed ‘superfluous’ to the economy’s needs, the racism inherent in the British Labour Party’s understanding of Britishness re-emerged, but was now openly expressed by the Tory Right and the NF. The extent of official toleration receded and the UK state adopted new immigration and nationality laws accordingly to register this, reinforcing the position of black people as ‘racialised outsiders’.

However, during the 1970s, Virdee shows that new independent migrant workers’ organisations emerged alongside socialists who opposed the fascists and the UK state’s racist policies. This had a positive influence on greater numbers of trade unionists and Labour Party members [14]. The effect of this pressure was Labour’s 1976 Race Relations Act, which extended the notion of Britishness and official ‘insider’ status to UK state-recognised black subjects, particularly the now quite sizeable numbers from former British Asian and West Indian colonies. The new Act was based less on the older notion of ‘toleration’, but more on the modern principle of equal rights, although, of course, without any constitutional guarantees.

And, as in the case of the advances made by those now legally accepted as black British, gains were made by women, as a product of greater independent self-organisation by feminists, and support from socialists and from increasing numbers of trade unionists and members of the Labour Party. The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975.

Labour had moved quite considerably beyond ‘racialised’ and ‘gendered outsiders’. Their struggles were given recognition through Black and Women’s Sections in the Labour Party and trade unions, in an analogous manner to which the trade unions themselves had been able to organise autonomously within the Labour Party from its birth.


3)         The switch from biological racial to cultural ethnic views of Britishness in the face of new challenges to the UK state

However, there were to be further significant changes in the ideas underpinning Britishness; and who was to be considered ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’. The new terms of toleration began to shift too.

Since the 1960s, many new migrants had come to the UK. Successive governments have tried to limit the possibility of extending Britishness to cover these people. In 1971 the Conservative government had already begun the process of trying to limit migration from the non-white Commonwealth through its Immigration Act.

Virdee shows that by the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s there was a growing “bifurcation” with “an increasingly virulent strand of working class…racism… one signifier of the breakdown of the {post-war} welfare settlement” [15]. In the aftermath of the Callaghan Labour government capitulation to the IMF in 1976, this bifurcation came to the fore. The growing economic insecurity faced by sections of the working class contributed to the conditions that allowed racists to make a comeback. The  fascist NF pushed the idea of Britishness, and its hoped for rewards, being confined to Whites. The NF began to make greater electoral inroads amongst the white working class, claiming, “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”.

The upsurge of the National Front in the late 1970s, and Thatcher’s preparedness ‘to do an Enoch Powell’ with her anti-black “swamping” Britain speech in 1978, contributed to her electoral victory over a Labour government already on the ropes, and unwilling, as earlier, to face down such racism. When Thatcher’s Tories took office in 1979, as in 1962 and 1971, they bowed to racist and fascist pressure. They brought in discriminatory laws. In 1981, it was their British Nationality Act, designed to push more black people into ‘outsider’ status, and to reduce toleration.

The new Tory government’s attitude encouraged racism within the state’s forces, particularly amongst the police. This provoked riots, first in St. Pauls in Bristol in 1980, then the next year in Brixton and Southall in London, Handsworth in Birmingham and Toxteth in Liverpool. Lord Scarman was appointed to head an enquiry, which provided the basis for the British government attempt to deny the basis for institutional racism [16]. After the shock of the riots, however, “Thatcher’s hopes {of continuing her racist offensive} made no sense to other Conservative members. Hence, by 1982 and in fear of another riot, Conservative party members pursued… the promotion of ‘equal opportunities’, by putting black people in bureaucratic positions of power” [17].

In the 1970s, there had been widespread, more united, independent black resistance, actively prepared to link up with anti-fascist and socialist groups. After the Brixton Riots this was undermined by the Tories’ (and locally by Labour’s) active promotion of selected and usually conservative figures (often religious) from many ethnic groups to be their official ‘representatives’ [18].

These events also contributed to a significant change in the ideology underpinning Britishness. The ‘racialised outsider’ had previously been central to mainstream constructions of Britishness. The creation of ‘outsiders’ was now to be achieved, not by biological racial, but through cultural ethnic categorisation. Such thinking developed over time and has been taken up by mainstream right wing thinkers in many countries, among them the influential Samuel Huntington from the USA in his Clash of Civilisations.

Many on the far right also began to began disown open racism, and to opt instead for ethnicism and the defence and promotion of ‘national cultures’ on this basis. This was a major factor behind the move from fascism to neo-fascism. In practice, this meant that neo-fascists were now prepared to accept the Britishness of those migrants from the former Empire who had been legally recognised by the state, provided they were first prepared to accept ‘British values’ and fully assimilate into ‘British society’.

A British chauvinism more based on ‘shared’ cultural values began to replace British racism, which had been primarily based on physical features, as the main means of creating ‘outsiders’. In effect, the ‘racialised outsider’ became the ‘ethnicised outsider’ [19]. Although further to the right, this distinction became blurred. The NF, which grew out of the old racist fascism, began to find itself more isolated, when both Labour and Conservatives officially abandoned their earlier racial basis for Britishness. The British National Party (BNP) (despite retaining some old-style fascists) made moves towards this ethno-cultural neo-fascism, and this helped them jettison the German Nazi image [20]. In contrast to the NF, the BNP have accepted the state’s legal requirement that they accept black members [21].

The move away from the previous overt racist basis for Britishness did much to encourage a wider acceptance of multiculturalism. Many black people have achieved greater access to a wider range of jobs, promoted posts, better housing, higher education and social facilities. There has also been more intermarriage and other mixed relationships. Yet, despite these developments opening up the possibility of a further extension of Britishness, significant social and political counter-currents have threatened to undermine this. And, even when official multi-culturalism was being most strongly promoted, it was always on the understanding that the number of new migrants from the British Commonwealth (the link which justified their newly acknowledged ‘insider Britishness’) would be severely curtailed.

A new situation has arisen though, mainly  because US and British ruling classes decided to ‘resolve’ the growing global economic crisis, which marked the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, through the global enforcement of neo-liberal economic policies, and diplomatic, security and military backing for brutal dictatorships. This had the unforeseen effect of increasing the movement of migrants throughout the world, including their arrival in the very countries imposing these policies. Structural Adjustment Programmes, enforced by the IMF in many parts of Asia, Africa and South America from the 1980s, led to the seizure of land and other resources, and to the rapid deterioration of living standards for many. This has contributed to civil unrest and brutal imperial wars and produced more migrants.

In the process, those migrants who fled to the UK, mainly for what are termed economic reasons, have been given no official recognition by British governments and, at best, have been ‘tolerated’. This has occurred, despite the UK state giving its political backing to the economic policies, promoted particularly by the City of London. These contributed to this new flow of migrants through dispossession of their land, eviction from their homes, and reduced government subsidies on basic foodstuffs. Such migrants have mostly been deemed ‘illegals’. Many of these migrants have taken the lowest paid service jobs with the worst conditions. A key reason behind the state imposing illegal status has been to ensure these workers can be super-exploited and not have any legal redress.

Some fleeing persecution or wars have attempted to claim political status in the face of constantly tightened-up asylum laws and state immigration practices, with growing numbers of detention centres, dawn raids and deportations (with some being imprisoned or ‘disappeared’ on their forced return). However, successive governments have tried to minimise the possibilities for such new migrants to become British subjects. The degree to which this been allowed to happen has been in line with the UK state’s move from race to ethnicity to create ‘outsiders’. Gordon Brown for New Labour introduced state-imposed ‘citizenship tests’ before applicants could successfully attain officially recognised Britishness. Michael Gove for the Tories wanted to go even further, and ensure that becoming a British subject depends upon a full acceptance of ‘British values’.

Of course, these ‘British values’ will not admit to any recognition of the UK state’s and British companies’ long-standing historic propensity to seize others’ land, resources and people; the callous disregard for the victims of major famines in lands under British control; the turning of the back towards those seeking asylum; the promotion of frequent British imperial wars; and the UK’s failure to become a democracy with a constitution based on the sovereignty of the people recognising their rights.  ‘Citizenship’ laws not withstanding, we remain British subjects of the Crown. And for those, who fail to achieve even this lowly status, an uncertain toleration is the best they can expect.


 4)        The impact of the ‘War Against Terror’, and the rise of Islamophobia undermine post-1976 notion of Britishness

In 2002, the New Labour government did pass the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. This extended the possibility of attaining Britishness to some limited groups from former British overseas territories. However, this has been more than offset by the impact of their state-sponsored ‘War Against Terrorism’, launched by Tony Blair in support of George Bush’s US imperialist offensive..

British government spokespersons do not link the existence of reactionary Islamic forces, both globally and domestically, to the UK and its allied states’ (especially the USA) considerably greater state-promoted terror and death-dealing throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. Instead the UK state, its officials, the tabloid press and right wing and centre parties prefer to promote Islamophobia to obscure this.

The old NF found it could make inroads into Labour support, because of Labour’s earlier acceptance of a racist approach to the creation of Britishness. By accepting the new ethnic version of Britishness, reactionary traditionalists (on the Tory Right), right populists (UKIP) and the hybrid right populist/neo fascist BNP all made inroads into New Labour and Conservative support, by making more explicit their opposition to Muslims as not being upholders of the ‘values’ of ‘British’ culture.

The neo-fascist English, Scottish and Welsh Defence Leagues (EDL, SDL, WDL), as well as the Ulster loyalists, have also developed a cultural/ethnic chauvinist politics, which promotes Islamophobia. Ulster and Scottish loyalists have become more ecumenical in their prejudices, extending their longstanding hatred for Catholic Irish to Muslims. They object, in particular, to the building of new mosques. Far right groups have been able to profit from the wider occurrence of state encouraged prejudice and discrimination.

All Muslims, including those who had already been legally accepted as ‘British subjects’, are having their Britishness increasingly questioned. This flows from the attempts made by New Labour, the Tories and ‘One Nation’ Labour’ to redefine many of those previously designated as British Commonwealth Asians, or later Pakistanis and Bangla Deshis, as now being Muslims, and somehow less British. They are being made increasingly indistinguishable from those Muslims who have come from non-Commonwealth countries, many as asylum seekers, and who have never attained UK state approved Britishness.

One indication of the rolling back of the acceptance of Britishness, even for well-established Muslims in the UK, has been the growing political marginalisation of Baroness Warsi, Pakistani-British lawyer and former co-chair of the Conservative Party. For many other less well-connected people of Pakistani or Bangla Deshi origin, who took on a British identity when they settled in the UK, questions have arisen about what their Britishness now means.

The importance of Muslimhood in pushing people once designated as British Asians to ‘outsider’ status, is highlighted by the continued acceptability of well-established non-Muslim British Asian business people such as Priti Patel within the Conservative Party [22].

Furthermore, there has been another political development, going along with the move from physically-based ‘racialised’ to culturally-based ‘ethnicised outsidering’. The traditional Right and the Far Right usually adhered to social conservative values, particularly in relationship to women’s (especially abortion) and gay rights. Indeed, in this regard, for many on the Right, the revival of traditional values has been so central to their politics that it has been termed neo-conservatism. Thatcher and Reagan were both upholders of this and, for example, strongly opposed gay rights.

Now, however, some on the Populist Right and Far Right have been prepared to uphold social liberal values, and accept women and gays as ‘insiders’, if this can be used to demonise Muslims as ‘outsiders’. The late right populist Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands and the far right Swedish Democrats have perhaps gone furthest in this, equating social liberalism with what it means to be Dutch or Swedish. Although present, this trend is weaker in relationship to the new Britishness, and virtually non-existent amongst the Populist Right and Far Right in Northern Ireland. Here reactionary unionists are already the dominant force in official politics. DUP leader, Peter Robinson and others in the party have conducted their own public anti-Muslim offensive, so the far right loyalists don’t need to find new excuses to demonise Muslims [23], and certainly support for gays forms no part of their politics.

Another political consequence of the emphasis on the cultural ethnic basis of Britishness has been to undermine those official community ‘representatives’, actively sponsored by the Tories after 1981, or those the Labour Party promoted at local level seeking a wider base of electoral support. These ‘representatives’ are now being called upon to police their state-allocated clients’ thinking and behaviour, and if they fail to deliver, they are more likely to have their own Britishness questioned too.

Therefore, the move from racial to ethnic Britishness, far from leading to greater inclusion or integration, which was earlier promoted by the UK state as multiculturalism, has led instead to an increasing questioning of those people who had become officially recognised as being British. This has been very much accentuated in the scapegoating politics that has been central to the British ruling class and mainstream parties attempts to divert attention from their role in supporting imperial wars and in the post-2008 economic crisis. In the process, official toleration is being further diluted.


5)         The EU represents a new challenge to Britishness and contributes to the rise of the Tory Right, UKIP and right populist and neo-fascist forces

The creation of new ‘outsiders’ has been accentuated by another major development. From the 1970s there has been an increased flow of migrants into the UK from the EEC/EU. This has led to new pressures on the extended notion of Britishness. When the UK joined the EEC in 1973, this initially led only to a limited number of migrants seeking jobs here. This was offset by those British workers seeking jobs, especially in Germany during the lean Thatcher years [23], as well as by people retiring especially to Spain.

However, once the post-Warsaw Pact East European states joined the EU (ironically very much encouraged by Thatcher), and became subjected to neo-liberal shock treatment, there has been an increased flow of migrants seeking work in the UK [24]. Then, following the 2008 Financial Crash, the effects of which particularly devastated the Mediterranean member countries and Ireland, the UK received another new stream of migrants also looking for work. This large-scale inflow of migrants has led to increased right wing opposition to the extension of Britishness to cover these people. Much to the chagrin of the champions of a restricted notion of Britishness, though, these migrants are entitled to most of the benefits given to recognised British subjects under the EU’s treaties and laws covering freedom of movement, employment rights and reciprocal welfare provision [25].

The anti-EU UKIP was founded in 1991 [26]. After a succession of leadership changes, UKIP increasingly concentrated its attention on playing the anti-immigrant card to widen its basis of support. If UK residency provides EU migrants with nearly all the privileges of Britishness, then only taking the UK out of the EU can end this situation. Once this has been achieved then, after excluding those no longer wanted, those rich and powerful immigrants left, along with a number working in categories of labour needed to fill gaps in the British labour market, might get the privileges of Britishness extended to them. The draconian 2014 Immigration Act would be extended to cover EU migrants, making the position of many much more precarious, open to either super-exploitation or removal. This would represent a retreat once more to dealing with ‘outsiders’ on the basis of the state deciding upon the degree of toleration, whilst also providing increased opportunities for British chauvinists and racists to organise to limit this.

UKIP’s politics are based on the newer ethnic form of nationalism. This does not stop the embarrassing regular exposure of old-style racists in the party though. This is not surprising, since unreconstructed fascists have joined their ranks. Furthermore, UKIP have been quick to take up some Islamophobic themes and attract voters from the BNP, EDL, SDL, WDL, NF and Ulster loyalists.

However, many in UKIP and  the Tory Right (aided and abetted by the right populist BNP, the neo-fascist EDL, SDL and WSL, the Ulster loyalists and the fascist NF) are unlikely to confine their undermining of the post-1970s Britishness to Muslims. Non-Muslims, who still want to defend their hard-won Black Britishness, may also find their position attacked should reactionary unionism triumph in the EU referendum, which UKIP and the Tory Right forced Cameron’s Conservative government to concede.

The Tories, with no real Labour opposition, have drawn up an electorate for the forthcoming EU referendum, which excludes non-British EU residents in the UK, but includes British subjects living abroad. The exclusion of EU migrants from the electorate in the EU referendum anticipates, either the lessening of their rights as a result of the Conservatives’ negotiations with the EU, or their intended greater marginalisation or expulsion from the UK, if there is a ‘Brexit’ vote and British politics take a sharp turn even further right.

Although a key target for reactionary unionism in this referendum is non-British EU residents, this is merely a harbinger of the much greater number of ‘outsiders’ that UKIP and the Far Right want to create to protect their version of Britishness. Barely tolerated asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa are even more immediately threatened by a ‘Brexit’ vote. Even the EU Schengen Agreement’s free movement within Fortress Europe is too much for the British Right. The UK government has not signed up to Schengen, but UKIP and the Tory Right want to erect even higher walls in their post-‘Brexit’ Britain. Furthermore, the Far Right will not necessarily distinguish between the new EU  ‘outsiders’ and officially recognised black British ‘insiders’ when they mount their physical attacks to drive people out (and retreats to the older ‘racialised outsider’ thinking can be expected).

When Mussolini came to power, many Jews thought that they had already secured their place in an Italy, which had long been more tolerant of their presence than many other European countries. Therefore, they thought that there was little to fear when Italian fascists began targeting Communists, Socialists and Dalmatian Slavs. However, over time, these victims proved not to be the only targets of reaction, as many Italian Jews later found to their cost.

This is one reason why, along with the de-Britishing offensive directed against Muslim British, those who feel their own particular hybrid-British identity (e.g. Black Britishness) is secure under existing legislation need to appreciate how this position could be yet undermined in the future. Britishness offers no more than toleration, which always has always had a shifting quality to it.

Furthermore, the specifically unionist feature of the UK state, with its recognition of hybrid-British identities for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and before 1922 for Ireland), also has considerable bearing upon who is an ‘outsider’ and who is an ‘outsider’ in relation to ‘Britishness’.  At present, it is the reactionary right, currently led by UKIP, which sees the need for an all-UK response to the national democratic challenges faced by the UK state. UKIP links its defence of the all the reactionary features of the UK’s monarchist, unionist and imperialist state, with its opposition to immigration and the EU.

The Left, whether it is pro-Britain (Left unionist) or pro-Scotland, Wales or Ireland (Left nationalist), or pro or anti-EU (with Left unionists and Left nationalists in both camps) has yet to adopt an all-islands, socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’ politics that could effectively challenge this very real threat. Part of this failing stems form the Left’s inability to understand the particular nature of the UK as an imperialist, unionist and constitutional monarchist state. This allows the British ruling class to resort to extensive anti-democratic and oppressive measures under the UK state’s Crown Powers whenever it feels sufficiently challenged. The significance of the unionist form of  the UK state, and its impact on the creation of ‘outsiders’ will be developed in parts 2 and 3 of this article.





1]         A review of Satnam Virdee’s book, Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider (RCatRO), written by Colin Barker, first published in the Spring 2015 issue of RS21, can be found at:-

[2]       Virdee does not view racism as simply a “colour-coded phenomenon” (p.3). This is important for any assessment of how groups such as the Gaelic speaking Scots) and Jewish people have been treated historically within the UK state. Racism has to be broadened from colour-coding to coding on the basis of other physical features. The cartoon portrayal of Irish and Jews as sub-human with other exaggerated physical features, but without necessarily resorting to darker skins colouring, shows this.

However, another problem has arisen, with the move from ‘outsidering’ based on physical features, to ‘outsidering’ based on cultural (ethnic or ethno-religious) features. One way of maintaining the term racism would be to describe the new forms of ‘outsidering’ as neo-racism, but this article will make a distinction between ‘racialised outsiders’ and ethnic or ‘ethno-religious outsiders’, whilst recognising, in day-to-day ‘outsidering’ there can be an overlap between the two.

[3]       Mary Davis, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (CoB-AHoftBLM)

[4]       The word ‘ghetto’ is an Italian word from the days of Venice’s tolerant policy towards Jews. They were allowed to settle in special areas of the city. This was in marked contrast to say the position of Muslims and Jews in Spain, who were viciously persecuted and expelled.

[5]       Virdee, RCatRO, p. 108

[6]       Virdee, RCatRO, p. 108


[8]       Mary Davis, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement, p. 265.

[9]       There had of course been an earlier stage in getting recognition for their state recognised political Britishness in the women’s suffrage campaigns. Women achieved the same electoral status as men in 1928.

[10]     The British Labour Party represented a particular British response to the wider political retreat of social democracy. Between 1789 and 1849, revolutionary democrats had fought for democratic republics. Social democrats went further and claimed that genuine democracy could not coexist alongside class divisions, so democratic republicanism needed to be supplemented by social republicanism.

Later however, as Engels highlighted in the case of Prussia-Germany, many social democrats retreated even from democratic republicanism, and increasingly accepted the debased forms of liberal democracy, and the more limited parliaments found for example in Prussia-Germany and also the UK. By 1945, British Labour saw the UK state as being an adequate vehicle for its social programme, and hence initiated the post-war, social monarchist and imperialist British Welfare State settlement.

[11]     Virdee, RCatRO, pp.102

[12]     B. Schwarz, The Only White Man in There, quoted in Virdee, RCatRO, p. 108

[13]     Fedi Adeyemo, Thatcher and Institutional Racism (TaIR) (

[14]     Virdee, RCatRO, pp. 151-161

[15]     Virdee, RCatRO, p.124

[16]     The appointment of establishment figures to produce either ‘whitewashes’ or to kick controversial issues ‘into the long grass’ has a long historical pedigree, e.g. Lord Widgery’s report into Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972; Lord Taylor’s report into the Hillingsborough disaster in 1989; Lord Hutton’s enquiry into the conduct of the BBC in reporting the Iraq war in 2003; Sir John Chilcott’s enquiry into Blair’s responsibility for the Iraq war (not so much in the long grass, more in the depths of the furthest and darkest forest!) and Lord Crowther’s and Lord Kilbrandon’s Commission into the UK’s constitution, from 1968-73 (Crowther the original convenor died, it took so long!).

[17]     Adeyemo, (TaIR) op.cit.

[18]     In Labour’s case, this was marked by the development of clientelist communalist politics as approved religious figures, particularly Muslims, became an established part of the party’s local machines. This was an update of an earlier Labour politics, that had developed, particularly in Scotland’s Central Belt, to win over Catholics of Irish descent.

[19]     But see footnote 2.

[20]     This pro-German Nazi image was always overplayed on the British Left. The fact that the BNP made its first significant electoral breakthrough in Millwall, heavily bombed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, shows that they had successfully broken from such politics. The BNP claimed, with some justification, to represent a continuation of Churchill’s politics. In some ways, the position of the admirers of Nazi Germany within the BNP could be considered analogous to the continuation of the decreasing number of Stalin admirers in the post-1956, and post-1968 Communist Parties. These parties were now overwhelmingly pursuing their own national ‘roads to socialism’, without any wish for Red Army assistance!

[21]     This is one ‘equal rights’ piece of legislation that is hardly likely to lead to black people joining the BNP! So far, one Sikh has joined motivated by Islamophobia. In this he will indeed find much support in the BNP.

[22]     A seeming exception would appear to be Safid Javid, from a Pakistani Muslim background. He has still been able to maintain his strong position within the Conservative Party. However he has hinted at his lack of any strong Muslim beliefs, emphasised his wife’s Christianity and his support for Israel, suggesting a need to distance himself from what many would perceive as Muslim beliefs, to maintain his continued acceptability within the Conservative Party.


[24]     This phenomenon was striking enough to lead to the production of the humorous and poignant TV series, Auf Wiedersehen Pet. It followed the exploits of English construction workers in Germany, taking advantage of the country’s ‘gastarbeiter’ contract system.

[25]     Perhaps an investigation should be undertaken into the extent to which large scale emigration from these Eastern European states to the dominant EU states provided a safety valve, when extreme neo-liberal measures were being imposed upon their economies, in an analogous manner to that by which Thatcher used the proceeds of North Sea Oil to finance the transition from an industrial to a finance and services based economy in the UK.

[26]     Certain groups of legal migrants or even long-term residents can still be made to feel uncomfortable, e.g. Romanians and Bulgarians, and in particular Gypsies/Travellers. The mass eviction of Travellers from Dale Farm in 2011 through the combined action of Tory Basildon Council, the Tory Home Office and Essex police, highlights the discrimination Gypsies and Travellers still face. This is despite the fact that the Irish Travellers at Dale Farm had tried to become more ‘British’ by adopting private property values and buying the land they occupied. Gypsies and Travellers have long existed within the UK, although their way of life has become less and less acceptable in many official circles.

[27]     UKIP has undergone a number of changes in political direction since then, whilst remaining within the right populist fold.





Loyalist mural in Belfast celebrating 'Ulster' - the UDR and UVF
Loyalist mural in Belfast celebrating ‘Ulster’ – the UDR and UVF
Republican mural in Belfast celebrating the 1916 Irish Rising
Republican mural in Belfast celebrating the 1916 Irish Rising










1)         The clash amongst British unionists over ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ and the promotion of different forms of hybrid Britishness

A strong point in Virdee’s book is its recognition of the history of the Irish as ‘racialised outsiders’ within the UK. This preceded the treatment meted out to Jewish and black immigrants [1]. Virdee explains how this occurred. The “earlier association of the English {to which he could have added the Scottish} with Protestantism was over-determined by an increasingly influential understanding of themselves as members of the Anglo-Saxon race. Irish Catholics – long excluded from the nation as a result of their Catholic faith – now found themselves doubly disadvantaged as a result of their alleged membership of the Celtic race” [2].

Yet this needs to be put into a longer historical context, which considers the nature of the UK state – not only imperialist and monarchist (with its Church of England establishment), but specifically  unionist. The changing relationship of the UK state with its constituent units – England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and Northern Ireland after 1922 – is vital when it comes to understanding different forms of ‘outsidering’.

One of the distinctive features of the UK’s unionist set-up is that it has acknowledged the existence of subordinate hyphenated ‘national insider’ identities [3]. Britishness has encompassed the Scottish-British, the former Irish-British, Welsh-British [4] and the ‘Ulster’-British [5]. It also covers those English, who either see Britishness as a form of Greater Englishness, or who recognise England’s position within a wider UK made up of other nations (or part nation in the case of Northern Ireland – ‘Six Counties’ Ireland) [6]. There are also some who consider themselves just to be British. Britishness still has some pull in the former white British colonies.

These forms of Britishness are a product of the unionist and imperialist nature of the UK state, established by the Scottish 1707 and Irish 1801 Acts of Union. These acts were put in place to protect the interests of particular nationally based ruling classes, who sought a wider alliance to maintain their power domestically, whilst also being able to profit jointly from commerce, land and manufacturing within the UK and British Empire.

Some on the Left reject national and other identities on the grounds that these are merely ‘imagined’. Others, particularly those adopting ‘post-marxist’ politics, celebrate identity as representing the politics of personal choice. Those adhering to the first of these viewpoints largely ignore the role of the state in creating and maintaining national identities in a world hierarchically structured by global capital. Those adhering to the second viewpoint, by adopting an individualist framework, fail to see that identity is not just a matter of personal choice, but the outcome of wider social and political factors, including once again the role of the state.

These two views are often linked to their attitude to the transformation of society. The first worries that any emphasis on democratic demands, focusing on the ‘National Question’, will divert the working class from its role as the leader of their ideal socialist revolution. There is a strong element of economism and abstract propagandism involved in this. The second denies the need for a revolutionary transformation altogether, preferring to see identity politics as providing different bases for more limited social reforms in a new post-modernist world.

National identities can not be separated from particular states, nor the competitive capitalist imperial system in which they are embedded. They are always class contested. They are subject to change. Thus there is no single form of Britishness, nor of the various types of hybrid Britishness. The differences are expressed in support for different parties, and in alternative versions of history and culture.

Nevertheless, there is still an over-arching politics, which covers these – unionism. This stretches from the left unionism upheld by some Marxist-Leninist organisations [7] through to the far right unionism of loyalism and British neo-fascist organisations. Unionism represents the politics that promotes the Britishness needed to maintain a state extending to the boundaries of the current UK, or sometimes, particularly on the Left, just to Great Britain.

In its attitudes towards the UK constitutional set-up, political unionism has adopted three main strategies. Historically, conservative unionism has been the most powerful. It has tried to balance the two poles of the various hybrid British identities by supporting administrative devolution for the constituent parts of the UK – Scotland, Ireland and later Wales [8] and Northern Ireland. The conservative unionist approach to the UK constitution has been most associated with the Conservative (and Unionist) Party, and, after the first Irish Home Rule Bill, with the breakaway Liberal Unionist Party. But it has also commanded significant support in both the Liberal and Labour parties.

However, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century another significant strand of unionism emerged in the UK – liberal unionism [9]. Liberal unionists have been prepared to reform the constitution by supporting political devolution for the constituent units of the UK state. This was once called Home Rule. This form of unionism was developed first in the Liberal Party [10], initially in response to the demand for greater Irish self-determination in the 1880s. The Independent Labour Party and sections of the Labour Party later took this up.

Sometimes individual members of the Conservative Party have also supported constitutional reform. In addition, a greater number of Conservatives have accepted constitutional reforms, which they once opposed, after they have been implemented – such as (reactionary unionist) Home Rule for Northern Ireland in 1922 and, more recently, (liberal unionist) Devolution for Scotland and Wales after the 1998 referenda. In the process, these arrangements become the new conservative unionism, to be maintained against further liberal unionist or more radical pressures.

The last significant strand of unionism, reactionary unionism, originally developed in Ireland. It now has its strongest base in Northern Ireland amongst the Ulster unionists and loyalists, including the Orange Order. Reactionary unionists are also to be found in UKIP and the Tory Right. They have been prepared to attack and undermine existing liberal constitutional institutions and practices.

Despite these political differences, conservative, liberal and reactionary unionists have supported the continuation of Westminster supremacy, the Crown and Empire. The greater the acceptance of the British pole of the hybrid Scottish-British, Welsh-British, Irish-British and later ‘Ulster’-British backgrounds, the more willingly have these people taken part in the maintenance of the British Empire. They could do this in the armed forces and colonial administration, or as businessmen, missionaries, settlers, or political and cultural ideologues.

However, so deeply has the imperial notion of Britishness penetrated that, even amongst many nationalists wishing to weaken their links with the existing UK state, imperial attitudes have remained. Hence the Irish Parliamentary Party’s support for the First World War; early Sinn Fein leader, Arthur Griffith’s support for a Dual Monarchy Empire (British and Irish); and today the SNP’s official support for Scottish regiments and the British High Command.

Another revealing indication of the strength of unionism has been the absence of any major political force advocating the abolition of the Union and the creation of a unitary Britain [11].


2)         The struggle between conservative and liberal unionists and constitutional nationalists in Ireland

Following the 1801 Act of Union, the UK state took significant steps to reform its earlier colonial relationship with Ireland. This led to attempts to create new ‘insiders’ by encouraging a hybrid Irish-Britishness, which could reach out to Presbyterian and Catholic Irish, beyond the old Anglo-Irish, Church of Ireland Ascendancy. Prior to 1801, Ireland had only been united to the UK under the Crown which, despite having its own Parliament, was class and creed restricted and did little to disguise Ireland’s  essentially colonial relationship to Great Britain. However, the 1801 Act of Union, following the precedent of the 1707 Act of Union for Scotland, opened up a different relationship between Ireland and Great Britian, especially once Catholic Emancipation and later extensions to the franchise made their political impact.

The initial possibility for a broader acceptance of Irish-Britishness was highlighted when the leading Irish Catholic politician, Daniel O’Connell, offered this advice to the British ruling class in 1832, following the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. “The people of Ireland are ready to become a portion of the Empire, provided they be made so in reality and not in name alone; they are ready to become a kind of West Briton if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again” [12].

However, the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy remained determined to maintain the earlier economic, social and political ‘outsider’ status of the ‘mere Irish’ [13]. The Ascendancy had allies amongst conservative sections of the British ruling class eager to preserve their privileges. They maintained contact with the reactionary Orange Order; clandestinely when it was proscribed between 1838-45 and again after 1849 [14]. Following the 1801 Act of Union, the Orange Order had made deliberate appeals beyond its initial Church of Ireland (CoI) membership to bring in Presbyterians. As industrialisation proceeded apace, non-CoI Protestant members of the new working class, insecure in the face of competition from many Catholics also looking for employment, were  encouraged to join various loyalist organisations.

Therefore, the combination of the prolonged Ascendancy rearguard action, along with the impact of the British government’s laissez-faire response to the 1845-49 ‘Great Hunger’ [15] severely curtailed the possibility of cementing O’Connell’s notion of the “West Briton”, or of a broader Irish-Britishness. From the Anglo-Irish point of view Catholic Irishmen were to remain the ‘mere Irish’, although more concerted moves continued to be made to encourage the formation of a pan-Protestant Irish-Britishness. In the process, serious attempts were made to create an alternative Protestant Irish culture and historiography to counter both the Catholic nationalist and republican versions [16].

Despite the still restricted basis of Irish-Britishness, considerably more Catholic Irish came to participate in the UK state, whether at Westminster, in local government, or the Irish administration, including the RIC. This followed the extensions to the Westminster franchise in 1867 and 1884. A few Catholic Irish even made it to the upper levels of society and the UK state’s institutions, e.g. the Earl of Fingall.

Yet the inability of the British ruling class to democratise the relationship of its unionist-ordered state with Ireland, by conceding Home Rule in the 1880s, continued to undermine the creation of a wider Irish-Britishness. This failure was once more largely the responsibility of the Irish landlords, this time in alliance with many from the now economically powerful British industrial capitalist class, increasingly aware of its economic dependence upon the ‘New Empire’.

The anti-Home Rule alliance had it strongest support at the four points of the quadrilateral around the Irish Sea formed by Laganside (Greater Belfast) Clydeside (Greater Glasgow) Merseyside (Liverpool) and South Wales – the industrial powerhouse of the British Empire. The conservative unionist opposition to Irish Home Rule was not prepared to countenance any liberal constitutional experiments, especially in a situation of mounting inter-imperial competition. This rivalry was beginning to undermine the British ruling class confidence, which had been buttressed by the UK’s until recently largely uncontested dominant position in the Victorian world order.

The Orange Order was revived and openly embraced by the landlords, Belfast, Glasgow and Liverpool businessmen, bigoted Presbyterian street corner preachers and leading Tory, Lord Randolph Churchill. They were able to recruit strongly amongst Protestant sections of the working class. This precipitated the Belfast Riots of 1886, when loyalists protested against the First Home Rule Bill. This led to 30 deaths, mainly of Catholic Irish.

Denigration of the ‘racialised outsider’ was resorted to within Britain itself, whenever the UK authorities faced concerted opposition. This followed the increased immigration caused by the ‘Great Hunger’ and the evictions from the land. Opposition came from the Fenians in the 1860s and the Irish Land League from 1879. This led to the portrayal of the Irish as ‘racialised outsiders’ in cartoons in magazines such as Punch [17].

Nevertheless, the ability of Irish nationalists to win a majority of Irish MPs at Westminster from 1874 [18], and of local councillors in Ireland following the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898, up to Sinn Fein winning the majority of Westminster Irish MPs in 1918, highlights the fact that the UK state was no longer based on a traditional colonial relationship with Ireland. That would have meant the majority of the population in Ireland being still excluded as permanent ‘racialised outsiders’, as they had been under Anglo-Irish Penal Laws before 1778, and as others continued to be in the non-white colonies. The colonies had no direct representation at Westminster. It was the new post-1801 unionist form of the UK state that framed politics and the creation of ‘outsiders’. Catholic Emancipation and successive extensions of the franchise provided increasing access to Westminster and the UK state machinery in Ireland.

Thus, the attempt by leading sections of the British ruling class, during the nineteenth century, to open up the possibilities of Irish-British ‘insider’ status had real political, social and economic consequences. Perhaps the most significant of these was the setting up of a number of Irish nationalist organisations, which, particularly after the death of the more politically ambiguous Charles Parnell (with his continued Fenian flirtations), lowered their sights to gaining Irish Home Rule within the UK and British Empire – a tacit acceptance of Britishness.

However, the achievement of Irish Home Rule was essential if Irish-Britishness was to be given a more secure basis. Yet, the liberal sections of the British ruling class continued to face real problems when they tried to achieve this, in the face of conservative and reactionary unionist opposition. This quandary was confronted by Gladstone’s Liberal government, when he failed to get the First Home Rule Bill passed in 1886 through defections to the Liberal Unionists. It also faced his next Liberal government which failed to get its Second Home Rule Bill passed in 1893, due to this being vetoed by the House of Lords. In 1912, when Asquith’s Liberal government introduced the Third Home Rule Bill, this was challenged by concerted right wing unionist pressure.

Sir Edward Carson, the prominent Dublin-based Irish Unionist, led the opposition to Irish Home Rule. He gave his support to the Ulster Covenant, backed by the Orange Order, and the paramiltary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) force. The UVF resorted to German state-backed gun-running to Larne to arm themselves. These activities anticipated those of the immediate post-war fascist and military forces (e.g. in Germany and Russia), also undertaken to uphold the existing constitutional order [19]. Bonar Law, as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Westminster opposition, with majority support in the House of Lords, backed extra-constitutional action. He supported the British Army officers’ mutiny at The Curragh in March 1914.

Bowing to this political pressure, the Liberal government included an amendment to the Third Irish Home Rule Bill. This excluded Ulster from its provisions, the area still to be decided – 4, 6 or 9 counties. However, Carson tried to use this as a wrecking amendment to block the implementation of Home Rule throughout the whole of Ireland.

Once the First World War had been declared, the leaders of the UVF quickly abandoned their recent German state flirtations and had the UVF reconstituted as the 36th Ulster Division of the British Army. This was done to build up pressure on the UK government to abandon Irish Home Rule after the First World War. The brutal logic of the imperial war worked in Carson’s favour. The Liberal government’s pre-war commitment to liberal reform gave way first to conservative caution then to reactionary jingoism.

After August 1914, the Defence of the Realm Act outlawed democratic opposition to the war. Furthermore, loyalist forces, particularly strong in the Belfast area, could be depended upon to ensure that any anti-war challenges were suppressed. In 1915, the ultra-unionist Conservatives joined the increasingly jingoistic Liberals to form a war-time Coalition government. Lloyd George, one of the most bellicose Liberals, was appointed Minister for War [20]. The Conservatives’ anti-Irish Home Rule leader, Bonar Law, became Colonial Secretary. The Irish Unionist, Sir Edward Carson, was appointed Attorney General. In the context of the ongoing and ever lengthening war, there was no electoral endorsement for this new Liberal/Conservative/Labour [21] coalition. It remained in place when the Liberal government’s official term of office expired in December 1915.

Unlike the Unionists who joined the new war-time administration, the Irish nationalist United Irish League (UIL), led by John Redmond, remained outside, despite being keen supporters of the war. The UIL still opposed conscription yet campaigned vigorously for war volunteers amongst its supporters.   Unlike the UVF though, the IVF was not permitted to form an official British regiment. Its members volunteered as individuals for existing Irish-British regiments with their long record in upholding British imperial interests. Increasing numbers of these Irish soldiers were to die on the Western Front and at Gallipoli. A ghoulish ‘blood sacrifice’ rivalry took place between the UVF and the UIL-led majority section of the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) [22], as they competed for the political favours of the British government once the war was over.

However, the presence of the anti-Home Rule Conservatives and Irish Unionists in the war-time coalition government and administration showed that the prospect for the implementation of the suspended Third Irish Home Act was receding. There was a growing possibility that a jingoist, triumphalist post-war government, which included the anti-Home Rule Conservatives, would jettison Irish Home Rule altogether.


3)         Revolutionary nationalist republicanism and socialist republicanism in Ireland, the struggle for independence, and the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Partition deal’s effect in establishing Irishness in the Irish Free state and ‘Ulster’ Britishness in Northern Ireland

The event that was to reverse this drift to a post-war British government reneging on some form of limited Irish self-determination was the 1916 Easter Rising and its political aftermath. The Rising was organised jointly by the revolutionary nationalist, Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)-led section of the IVF, which opposed Redmond and the UIL; and by the socialist republican, James Connolly-led Irish Citizen Army (ICA), which after the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out had its own deeply felt reasons for opposing the UIL. The Easter Rising was militarily suppressed after six days. 15 people were executed, including Connolly and the other 6 signatories to the Proclamation of the Republic.

The UK state and its unionist apologists dismissed the Rising as the work of a few fanatics with no support, or claimed that the Rising had no democratic mandate (overlooking the dubious methods by which a section of the Liberal government had brought about the war, and its own expiry of any democratic mandate by December 1915). In 1918, once the war had ended though, a Westminster General Election was held. The Irish people were now given a chance to show their support for whichever form of self-determination they desired [23].

The 1918 electoral victory of Sinn Fein, which included several surviving Easter Rising combatants as candidates, provided the answer to British and Irish unionist and UIL criticisms. 73 Sinn Fein MPs were elected out of an Irish total of 105 (along with 26 Irish Unionists and 6 UIL). The majority of Irish no longer looked to the UIL, even in the central area of Dublin worst affected by the Rising. The UIL had supported the war, but to no obvious longer term benefit for the people of Ireland. The newly elected Sinn Fein MPs supported the Irish Declaration of Independence and declined to take their seats at Westminster.

Sinn Fein’s electoral triumph occurred despite the rampant post-war British jingoism, demonstrated in the crushing victory of the pro-War Coalition elsewhere in the UK, and by the continued suppression of democratic rights in Ireland during the election campaign period. 35 of Sinn Fein’s elected MPs were in British prisons and 4 had been deported. A new much depleted Irish Dail met at Mansion House, in Dublin on January 21st, 1919, declaring the First Republic, in defiance of the UK state. On the same day the IRB-led IVF launched an armed attack at Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary, killing 2 members of the RIC.

Thus began the Irish War of Independence. The longer term consequences of Unionist intransigence and the impact of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave were to finally kill off any chance of all-Ireland Home Rule, and any long term future for Irish-Britishness. Furthermore, such was the strength of Irish opposition to the UK government, that even Carson now had to give his critical support to the UK government’s plans for Ireland, including a version of the pre-war Liberal government’s retreat option – the separation of Ulster – in this case 6 out of 9 counties. That meant not only abandoning the Irish Unionists in the south, but the Irish Unionists in 3 counties of Ulster.

The new British deal also envisaged Home Rule for Northern Ireland, something all Irish Unionists, Ulster Unionists included, had previously opposed. At the time, the retention of the existing conservative unionist Direct Rule relationship with the UK state would probably have satisfied most supporters of ‘Ulster’ unionism [24] (Scotland provided the continuing precedent for this). In the longer-term this arrangement could possibly have won over many of the Catholic population.

However, the British ruling class wanted to exert continued political influence over the rest of Ireland. Therefore maintaining an arms-length devolved Northern Ireland statelet was the best way to achieve this [25]. Thus ‘Six Counties’ Ireland wasn’t to be given the ‘Ulster’ epithet preferred by the Ulster unionists and loyalists but was named Northern Ireland. For the UK state was still determined to maintain its influence in ‘Southern Ireland’, even if it couldn’t enforce that name, having to accept the official Irish Free State/Eire title of ’26 Counties’ Ireland.

The UK state continued to exert its power though to secure its position on both sides of the Border under the new Partition. In the north, the UK government turned a blind eye to the violent suppression of Irish nationalists by loyalist paramiltaries. This followed the revival of the UVF by the Ulster Unionist Council as “gunmen operat{ing} almost exclusively as ethnic cleansers and revengers” [26], leading to pogroms in Belfast in 1921 and 1922.

The new Ulster Unionist regime implemented the draconian Special Powers Act; developed a sectarianised RUC, formed overwhelmingly of Protestants from the old RIC; created the A, B and C Specials, mostly recruited from Orange and loyalist organisations; abolished proportional representation for Northern Ireland (originally put in place by the UK government for the whole of Ireland to undermine Sinn Fein and continued in Northern Ireland to offer some degree of toleration for the Catholic Irish minority ); set up gerrymandered local councils, most infamously in Londonderry/Derry; and of course, policed the Border and its customs posts, with their economically regressive impact upon its adjacent areas, which were mainly Irish nationalist in their political complexion [27]. This new regime went on to enjoy the support of successive British governments, whilst the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) (backed by the Orange Order), which now controlled Northern Ireland, remained part of the wider British Conservative and Unionist Party.

The 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty led to the creation of the new ’26 Counties’ Irish Free State. The UK government acted behind the scenes to ensure the establishment of a state and government more supportive of British unionist and imperial interests. It insisted on the de facto Irish government launching the 1922-3 Civil War against the Republicans, and provided the armaments and other support to suppress the First Irish Republic.

The UK government wooed Irish nationalists by setting up the Irish Boundary Commission (IBC) [28]. This raised the possibility that the new Partition arrangements weren’t permanent. Some Irish nationalists, such as Eoin McNeill, in giving their support to the IBC, probably did so for similar reasons to the Irish Unionist Carson’s support for the Ulster Home Rule opt-out before the First World War. They were both hoping to make Partition untenable. They thought they had a chance of preserving Irish unity, albeit on very different terms – Carson within the UK, O’Neill within a united independent Ireland. Both found, however, that it was the British government that called the shots and was able to impose its own ‘solutions’ rather than theirs. The IBC dallied in its deliberations until 1925. It was then leaked that the report wanted more territory to be transferred to Northern Ireland than to the Irish Free State. By then it had served the UK government’s immediate purpose and was quietly dropped.

When the Irish Civil War victors, the conservative Cumann na nGaedheal [29], took office after the 1923 Irish General Election, they adopted a subservient neo-colonial relationship with the UK state, the British economy and British Empire. The Irish Free State retained a Governor General (until 1936) and British naval bases (until 1938) and the British monarchy (until 1948). The Irish punt was tied to British sterling until 1979.

Once Irish independence had been declared, and the UK state had given up on direct state control over the whole of Ireland, there was no longer any institutional support for Irish Britishness. The ‘mere Irish’ became officially Irish. The Irish government gave official recognition to Ireland’s Celtic past and to the Irish language once spoken by the majority [30]. The official name of the state became the Irish Free State/Eire. The remaining southern Irish-British living in the Irish Free State lingered on for a generation, before their descendants too became Irish.

In Northern Ireland the option for people to become just British was undermined by the creation of political devolution. Consequently, the first decade of Northern Ireland’s existence saw the beginnings of the formation of a new hybrid-Britishness – the ‘Ulster’-British. The Ulster Unionists, who championed this, fell-back upon the old reactionary British unionist view of seeing the Irish, now considered a permanent threat, as ‘outsiders’ living in ‘their’ state.

Throughout the nineteenth century both Unionists and Nationalists living in Ireland had thought of themselves as Irish. Thus, there had been some restraint placed upon any idea they were racially distinct (although this restraint was not something that ‘mainland’ British unionists felt any need to observe). This was because, after Ireland’s reconquest under Elizabeth and James I, the option had existed for Catholic Irish chieftains to become ‘insiders’, if they adopted the state established religion by becoming members of the Church of Ireland. In taking this course of action to protect their property, either directly or through marriage, some from a previously Catholic Irish background could become part of the new ruling elite. At a lower level of the social hierarchy, others had also transferred their allegiance to improve their social standing, as shown by the Celtic Irish surnames of some Protestants [31].

However, when the ‘Ulster’-British dropped any Irish component to their Britishness, the earlier unionist attempts to create and defend their own versions of Irish history and culture became unnecessary. Instead, the sectarian religious divide over what constituted ‘Ulster’-Britishness was reinforced. Britishness became even more tied up with support for the Protestant establishment guaranteed under the UK constitution. As a consequence, Catholicism became even more associated with Irishness. There were still unionist families in Northern Ireland of now distant Celtic Irish background shown by their surnames. So, rather than emphasise the ‘racialised outsider’ status of the Irish, it was their cultural ‘ethno-religious outsider’ status that was highlighted.

However, the size of the Irish Catholic nationalist minority in Northern Ireland was such that generalised ethnic cleansing was never really an option. As the new order took deeper root, some degree of toleration was reluctantly conceded to manage this subordinate minority. Certainly, in the process of ensuring Stormont became a ‘Protestant Parliament for Protestant People’, or for the ‘Ulster’-British, a whole host of laws, which very much limited the extent of this toleration, were passed. However, recognising that the Catholic Irish were not going to go away, official measures of toleration were implemented, e.g. the recognition of state-funded Catholic schooling [32].


4.  Divisions amongst the working class in the UK and Ireland with regard to the ‘raciaised outsider ‘

It was not only the activities of competing sections of the British ruling class, within the context of their shared unionist, imperialist and monarchist state, which determined the extent of ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ status in the UK. National identities have always been class contested. Furthermore, there can be radical shifts between these. Virdee shows how ‘racialised outsidering’ or “anti-Irish sentiment appears to gain some traction within parts of the working class…at the moment of {the Chartists’} defeat” [33]. Much of this was directed at Irish migrants fleeing to Britain in the aftermath of the ‘Great Hunger’.

There has been a prolonged historical struggle within the working class living in these islands over who is to be recognised as ‘insiders’. Following his examination of the Irish, Virdee outlines the development of working class racism towards Jews [34] from the 1880s and later towards others. As a consequence of this division in the working class over differing attitudes to ‘outsiders’, its members have also adopted different attitudes towards the British ruling class. They have shown either enthusiastic or grudging acceptance (particularly at times of crisis such as war); or have opposed attempts by the UK state to create ‘racialised (or ‘ethnicised’ and ethno-religious) outsiders’, particularly at times of greater class confidence.

This split in the working class attitude towards the ‘outsider’ and its political consequences proved to be particularly stark in Ireland. Before the First World War, some Protestant Irish-British workers, particularly in Belfast, held to British Labourist politics. They joined the Independent Labour Party from 1893, and the British Labour Party from 1900. William Walker of the Amalgamated Society of Joiners and carpenters (a long established craft union) and Belfast Trades Council delegate, was prominent amongst them.

They formed the Belfast Labour Party in 1913, after they declined to join the newly formed Irish Labour Party. Their politics involved either support for the Union, Empire and the First World War, or hopes that such issues could just be ignored. The leaders of British-based trade unions with members in north-east Ulster also held to this way of thinking. James Sexton, the General Secretary of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL), received a CBE for his pro-war campaigning during the First World War.

In contrast, key Irish Socialist and Labour figures, especially James Connolly and Jim Larkin, with the backing of others, were republican, anti-unionist and anti-British imperialist. They supported a socialist republican ‘internationalism from below’ strategy. They developed the earlier social republicanism of Michael Davitt, the Irish land and labour leader. They looked to ‘a break-up of the UK and British Empire road to socialism’ [35], and not to ‘the British road to socialism’ of Henry Hyndman’s SDF and the leaders of the ILP.

In the face of the fierce divisions fostered by the UK state, the Irish Unionists and Orange Order on one hand, and the UIL and Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) on the other, Connolly and Larkin consciously attempted to organise across ethnic/sectarian divides by promoting an inclusive version of Irishness. In 1902, when standing as a Dublin council candidate for the Irish Socialist Republican Party, Connolly had an election leaflet published in Yiddish. Jews were being subjected to racist vituperation throughout the UK at the time [36].

Larkin organised the 1907 Belfast Dockers Strike, winning the support not only of Catholic and Protestant dockers but also, at one point, of the RIC and Independent Orange Order! Expelled from the NUDL by Sexton for his militancy, Larkin went on to form the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in 1908. James Connolly returned to Ireland in 1910 and became the Belfast ITGWU organiser. He proceeded to assist the affiliated Irish Textile Workers Union in the city, once again challenging the sectarian/national divide. He also recognised the need for autonomous women’s organisation. Delia Larkin [37] and Winifred Carney [38] provided this in the ITGWU.

Larkin and Connolly were to become the leaders of the ITGWU’s heroic struggle against the employers in the 1913 Dublin Lockout [39]. In the process, the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a workers’ militia, was formed. Jack White, a former Ulster Protestant British Army officer, provided the training, once again highlighting the ability of socialist republicans to draw support from across the sectarian/national divide.

In the same year, Connolly successfully pushed for the formation of an all-Ireland Irish Labour Party (ILP) at the Irish TUC congress held in Clonmel, albeit with opposition from Irish-British trade union leaders mainly from Belfast led by William Walker [40]. However, Connolly was also able to win William McMullen [41] a significant Protestant trade union ally in Belfast to the ILP, again showing his political appeal across any sectarian/national lines. The ITGWU delegates were the major influence behind the move to form the all-Ireland party. Despite the setback following the Dublin Lockout, the ITGWU survived and continued to provide some support for the ICA.

Not only did the leading wing of the Irish (as opposed to Irish-British) Labour movement oppose the First World War but, with Connolly’s guidance, the ICA joined with the IRB to launch the 1916 Easter Rising. This represented a challenge to the ongoing carnage of the First World War, and to the UIL’s complicity in upholding British imperialism in return for the retreating promise of Irish Home Rule after the war.

Nevertheless, the First World War still had the effect of marginalising Labour and Socialist supporters of greater Irish self-determination in north east Ulster. Here the war-time hysteria, promoted by the Irish and Ulster Unionists, aided and abetted by Joe Devlin, UIL MP and AOH leader, undermined the scope for open oppositional political activity. Thus, in contrast to the pre-war situation, where some headway had been made on occasions in challenging Unionism, the Easter Rising, even in its initially planned wider form, did not extend to Belfast, nor make any significant breach in the sectarian/national divide in Ulster. Nevertheless, Protestant republicans from Ulster did take part in the rising in Dublin [42].

When it came to the 1918 General Election, the Irish Labour Party made no attempt to stand its own candidates [43]. They left the electoral field to Sinn Fein [44], in return for an agreement over the Democratic Programme. This was jointly written by Sean T. Kelly of Sinn Fein and Thomas Johnson, the new more centrist Labour Party leader, appointed after Connolly’s execution. Sinn Fein President, Eamon De Valera, had warned that, “Labour must wait” and not pursue its class aims, which meant in reality bowing to those of the new Irish ruling class in-the-making. And, as Bernadette McAliskey recently pointed out, “2013 and the labouring classes are still waiting for a republic fit for working people to live in”! [45]

Now certainly the working class very much contributed to the wider struggle for Irish self-determination after the 1918 General Election. Furthermore, the first self-declared soviet occurred as early as February 1919 in Monaghan Asylum, led by socialist republican Peadar O’Donnell [46]. Workers in Limerick, striking against British militarism, took over the city and formed a soviet in April 1919. This was followed by the 100,000 strong May Day march in Dublin. There was also a massive expansion of ITGWU membership amongst farm labourers up until 1920 [47], opening up the possibility of a wider labour challenge even in rural Ireland. Between 1921-22, soviets appeared in the Arigna coalmines in County Roscommon and in dozens of creameries in County Tipperary [48].

However, under Johnson, the independent working class political strategy promoted by Connolly gave way to attempts to find Labour’s place within a new Irish political order, the nature of which was left to the developing Irish ruling class. This retreat happened first under the First Republic, and then within the Irish Free State imposed by the pro-Anglo-Irish Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War from 1922-23. Those workers dissatisfied with Labour’s inaction with regard to the Irish Republic joined the renewed IVF as individuals. The IVF soon became the new state’s Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Without any real independent Socialist or Labour political alternative, the republican and social features of the First Republic and Democratic Programme were largely eliminated during the ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’, as it gathered momentum, finally triumphing at the end of the Civil War. The ending of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave reinforced this political trajectory and led to retreat everywhere. In the post Civil War 1923 General Election, the Irish Labour Party was the main loser, after its earlier success in the 1922 election. Under the new Cumman na Gaedheal government, workers were subjected to stepped-up attacks over pay and conditions, and mass emigration became the government approved safety valve, just as it had been under direct UK rule.

Furthermore, almost alone in Europe, communist politics in Ireland failed to survive in a party form. The socialist propaganda group, the Socialist Party of Ireland [49], which Connolly had been a member of, renamed itself the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI), and affiliated to the Third International (the Comintern). The CPI sided with the Republican Anti-Treaty forces, but after their defeat and the final ebbing of the International Revolutionary Wave, the Comintern dissolved the party in 1924 [50].

Various attempts were made to form some new communist organisation, with Jim Larkin, who returned from the USA in 1923, figuring prominently in these. Despite being courted by the Comintern, his Irish Workers League soon floundered. Larkin had more success with his breakaway union, the Workers Union of Ireland, which affiliated to the Red International of Labour Unions [51]. However, Larkin tended to promote Left populist politics focused upon loyalty to himself. His political activities continued to disrupt effective communist organisation. By the early 1930s he abandoned communist politics and by 1941 had accommodated himself both to the Irish Labour Party and the Catholic Church.

In the meantime, the communist inspired Republican Workers Groups were set up in 1930 [52]. The RWGs were initially banned by the Cumann na nGaedheal government. However, even when legalised in 1932, by the incoming Fianna Fail government, they still faced heavy Catholic Church promoted attacks, including physical assaults on members and party premises and the enforced exile of James Gralton [53]. A new CPI was finally established though in 1933, but made little headway. Previous leading communist figures, Roddy Connolly and Norah Connolly (briefly), James Larkin and James Larkin Junior all ended up in the Labour Party, abandoning any organised communist commitment.

The organisation with the greatest potential in the inter-war period was the Republican Congress [54]. The socialist republicans, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore [55] and Frank Ryan [56], were central to this initiative. It gained support not only amongst those from an Irish Catholic background, but also amongst those from a Protestant background in Belfast. The founding conference drew in socialist republicans, communists, socialists, labourists, social republicans, trade unionists and tenant leaguers. However, a combination of external pressure from right wing Irish nationalists, including Republicans, and internal pressure from politically sectarian Irish communists, killed off this promising initiative.

During the Irish Civil War, Labour had tacitly supported the pro-Treaty camp. Later, in 1933, under new leader, William Norton, Labour gave support to De Valera’s Fianna Fail, in return for some new social legislation. Labour did oppose De Valera’s 1937 Irish constitution, which gave the Catholic Church an officially privileged position within the ’26 Counties’ state. However, William Norton was a member of the Catholic Knights of St. Columbanus. So, whenever the Catholic hierarchy put pressure on the Labour Party he usually caved in. During the Spanish Civil War, some Labour branches even supported Franco, whilst Michael Keyes, Labour TD and future President of the ICTU, appeared on a pro-Franco Christian Front platform! [57]

In the process, Labour, like Fianna Fail, was unable to uphold an older republican non-sectarian view of Irishness. Instead, Labour’s actions or inaction reinforced the long-held view of conservative Irish nationalists that to be fully Irish meant being Catholic. This view was of course also that of the ‘Ulster’-British’ unionists, no longer wishing to defend an earlier unionist Irish-Britishness. Along with this came their view that to be fully British, and especially ‘Ulster’-British, meant being Protestant.

The best that could be hoped from those adhering to such views were degrees of toleration. In times of crisis, however, the dominant political representatives of either group – Protestant ‘Ulster’-British or Catholic Irish – tried to find scapegoats to maintain their power. Existing levels of toleration could fall away dramatically.

The lack of any guarantees, under the UK’s unwritten constitution [58], has encouraged the treatment of the Irish nationalist/Catholic minority as ‘ethno-religious outsiders’ in Northern Ireland. This was to be brutally highlighted in the Ulster Unionist and Orange Order provoked Belfast riots of 1935. 11 people were killed; hundreds, overwhelmingly Catholics, were injured; 2000, again mainly Catholics, were evicted from their homes; and hundreds of Catholics lost their jobs [59].

Under the 1937 Irish Constitution there was an official hierarchy in Irish national status. It recognised the position of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church and Jewish congregations in Ireland, but the Roman Catholic Church was awarded a “special position”. Although, there were occasional sectarian attacks upon Protestants [60], encouraged by the Catholic hierarchy, it was those with no religion, particularly communists, who were treated as complete ‘outsiders’. Communists continued to face most of the attacks, from the pulpits, in the press and physically. There was no clear secular separation of the state from religion in the Irish Constitution.

When written constitutions do not provide specific and equal rights for particular social groups, leading to the non-recognition of women, ethnic or religious groups, or when they create a hierarchy of rights, then these groups tend to be treated in terms of ‘toleration’ [61], and are prone to become victimised ‘outsiders’ in times of crisis.

James Connolly had predicted the likely impact of Partition as long ago as 1914. He wrote that, “It would mean a carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish Labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements whilst it endured” [62]. His prediction proved only too accurate.


5)         The effect of the carnival of reaction upon Labour politics in Northern Ireland, and the limited national challenges in Ireland and Scotland to the post-war Labour government and its conservative unionist response

One consequence of Partition was the formation of the Northern Irish Labour Party (NILP) in 1924. Like some Labour supporters in Belfast, who had tried to avoid taking a stance over the Irish Home Rule challenge before the First World War, NILP tried to avoid taking a stance over Partition. At times when the ‘National Question’ was not to the fore, NILP was able to gain some working class support from those who considered themselves to be ‘Ulster’-British, those who considered themselves to be Irish, and those who, despite the pressures, tried to avoid either label.

In the 1925 Stormont election, the last one held under proportional representation, NILP won three seats in Belfast. Despite all the candidates being Protestant, they actively worked alongside the Nationalist Party (former UIL) Joe Devlin and some independent Protestant unionists. These candidates were supporters of a united Ireland and their anti-sectarianism was genuine.

However, there were tensions within the NILP. They were best shown in the person of Harry Midgley [63]. Like William Walker before him, he was amenable to UUP and loyalist pressure. He was a strong advocate of the Union and British Empire. During the Second World War, he was not happy with NILP’s neutrality over Partition. He thought this undermined the UK. He resigned to form the strongly unionist Commonwealth Labour Party (CLP). The new UUP Prime Minister, Sir Basil Brooke [64] appointed Midgley as the Minister of Public Security in the Northern Ireland government.

Taking office in Stormont, Midgley mirrored the stance of British Labour Party in the war-time coalition with the Conservatives at Westminster. However, the British Labour Party rebuffed Midgley, when he asked them to establish formal links with the CLP [65]. The Labour leadership probably  thought that greater electoral support from the Irish living in Britain would best be secured by backing the NILP, rather than the CLP.

The Communist Party of Northern Ireland (CPNI) [66], however, backed the openly pro-Union CLP against the NILP in the 1945 Stormont elections. The CPNI, prompted by Stalin, hoped to continue the war-time Labour/Conservative/Ulster Unionist alliances at Westminster and Stormont [67]. However, even Midgely had resigned from the Stormont coalition once the war was over. The creation of a de facto partitionist CPNI had led it, much more rapidly than the NILP, to a pro-Union stance. The CPNI, though, was able to back pedal from this when the Cominform (established as a successor to the Comintern in 1947) reassessed USSR’s best interests under Stalin’s direction, during the developing Cold War.

In 1945 the British Labour Party, under Clement Attlee formed the UK government. Labour had inherited a pre- and post-First World War position of support for Irish unity [68]. However, by the Second World War, as with the liberal unionist Scottish Home Rule policy, which Labour had also inherited, such thinking had largely given way to indifference for most members, and to conservative unionist support for the constitutional status quo by the leadership.

Nevertheless, immediately after the Second World War, just as there were people in Scotland who wished to remind the incoming Labour government of the party’s earlier support for  Scottish Home Rule; similarly there were people in Northern Ireland, and amongst the Irish in Britain, who wished to remind the Labour government of their earlier support for some version of a united Ireland. This led to the formation of the Scottish Covenant Association in Scotland [69] and the Anti-Partition League (APL) in Ireland [70]. And just as some Scottish Labour bodies supported the SCA, so the Labour Friends of Ireland was formed to support the APL [71].

The Labour government faced down these campaigns for Scottish Home Rule and for the ending of Irish Partition. It took a strong conservative unionist stance over constitutional reform. The SCA petered out after 1950. The Labour government took an even harder unionist stance over Northern Ireland. Its response to the Irish coalition government’s [72] 1948 Republic of Ireland Act was to pass the 1949 Ireland Act, which copper-fastened Partition.

Neither the SCA nor the APL was based on anti-imperial or republican principles. Scottish Home Rule under the monarchy, within the Union and the British Empire/Commonwealth was the SCA’s policy. The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) had quietly dropped its pre-war popular front Scottish Home Rule policy, the better to adapt to the new British Labour government. They saw a centralised UK state as the best vehicle for implementing Labour’s post-war reforms. Therefore, in the CPGB’s absence, the SCA did not have to make any ruling about their involvement. Furthermore, by adopting the label ‘Scottish Covenant’, with its decidedly Presbyterian antecedents, it was quite clear that there was little thought about making any appeal to the Irish Catholic and mainly working class community living in Scotland!

The APL on the other hand did have an attitude towards communist parties, whether the CPGB, or the still partitionist CPNI (the CPI had abandoned independent activity in 1941). The APL was strongly opposed to allowing members from these organisations to join. One of the APL’s main arguments against Partition was that if Ireland was to become united, then the Irish state could drop its policy of Neutrality and join the US and Vatican in an anti-Communist crusade! As with the Presbyterian associated ‘Covenant’ label found in the name of the SCA in Scotland, the APL’s emphasis on Catholic Irish nationalism was hardly likely to win much support across the national/sectarian divide.

The positive impact of the new Welfare State in maintaining working class support across Scotland, Wales and even parts of Northern Ireland underpinned the British Labour government’s hardline conservative unionist approach to the Union. However, it was also assisted by the inability of the national democratic movements to link up on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. The politics to allow this just did not exist at the time, not even amongst dissident communists [73].

As a consequence of the change in British Labour’s position to support Partition, NILP also switched to official support for the Union at its 1949 conference. NILP was stepping into the political vacancy left by Midgley’s now defunct CLP. This time it was the minority of NILP members, still holding on to their support for a united Ireland, who left the party. Jack Beattie [74] (one of the three Protestant NILP members, who had won Belfast seats in the 1925 Stormont election), had also won the West Belfast Westminster constituency in 1945 as a dissident NILP, anti-Partition, Federation of Labour (Ireland) candidate. Like Midgely of the CLP before him, he was refused British Labour Party membership. In 1949, he joined joined the Irish Labour Party (ILP) and won the West Belfast seat in 1950. Of the other two Protestant, Irish unity-supporting MPs, Sam Kyle [75] also joined the ILP [76].

Partition continued to have its baleful affect upon Labour politics. The impact of the temporarily reconstituted Irish Labour Party in Northern Ireland (formed in response to NILP’s official support for Partition), like the post-1949 NILP, was largely confined to one particular community. Whereas the post-1949 pro-Union NILP became a party which could only win seats in Protestant ‘Ulster’-British Belfast constituencies, the ILP was largely confined to the increasingly Catholic Irish West Belfast constituency.

Over time, various Left Nationalist and nationalist Labour parties contested West Belfast. Harry Diamond [77], a former Irish Nationalist, won the Stormont seat in the 1945 general election, as a Socialist Republican Party member. He became involved in the ILP, but later identified himself as an independent Republican Labour MP. Even before the ILP presence in Northern Ireland petered out, Diamond had resigned from the party in protest against the party’s decision to oppose the Catholic Church over the Irish coalition government’s Mother and Child Scheme in 1950. He accused the ILP of being in the “grip of communism”. Clearly his ‘Republican Socialist’ label was rather lightly worn, and he had not abandoned his earlier Catholic Irish nationalism.

In Irish nationalist West Belfast though, as in some ‘Ulster’-British unionist Belfast seats, a hyphenated Labour label helped someone to get elected in largely working class constituencies. NILP had found its unionist market niche, but it took a little longer for Republican Labour to become the label to fill the nationalist niche in West Belfast. NILP and Republican Labour candidates were to enjoy some limited electoral success until the impact of the Civil Rights Movement brought about a very changed political situation.


6)         The Civil Rights Movement challenge, the move to Republicanism, British Labour and the failure of liberal unionist constitutional reform from the 1966 to 1979

With Stormont acting as a ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People’, the position of the Irish Catholic minority had been undermined in the ‘Six Counties’, even compared to their situation before the First World War [78]. Their ‘outsider’ status became more striking. This was inevitable under the system of Partition that was introduced specifically to privilege those who soon became ‘Ulster’-British, and who prioritised their Protestant identity.

Therefore, the relationship between the Stormont regime and the ‘ethno-religious outsider’ became particularly fraught. There was a strong clash between the Irish and the ‘Ulster’-British, expressed through the politics of Irish nationalism versus British unionism. The latter had no desire to open up ‘Ulster’-Britishness to those who considered themselves to be Irish, since this would have undermined privileged access to political careers and to the jobs and houses disbursed by Orange dominated Stormont, its administrative apparatus and the local councils.

Ulster unionists were still very keen to be seen as loyal supporters of the UK, although they exercised their own control through an arms-length Orange regime, backed by financial subventions from the UK state. Indeed, the ‘Ulster’-British thought (with some justification) they were the most British of all the people living within the UK!

In 1967, the Northern Irish Civil Rights Association (NICRA), inspired by that in the USA, was formed to challenge this situation [79]. This followed the election of Wilson’s second Labour government the previous year. A key feature of NICRA’s principal demands was winning the same rights for the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland as those existing for Catholics elsewhere in the UK. This demand also enjoyed some liberal Protestant support, particularly amongst the then CPNI (they also influenced the Republican Movement at the time after it moved leftwards following the IRA’s failed 1956-62 Border Campaign), and the Northern Committee of the ICTU.

The Civil Rights Movement (CRM) soon had a dramatic affect upon Northern Irish, British and Irish politics. A more radical wing, Peoples Democracy [80], emerged, which was very much influenced by the ‘Spirit of 68’. One of its leaders, Bernadette Devlin (later McAliskey) [81] was elected as the Mid Ulster MP in a Westminster by-election in 1969, and was re-elected in the General Election in 1970. Both wings of the CRM took to the streets, although there were tensions between them. The RUC and B Specials (sometimes out of uniform) as well as other loyalists attacked the CRM. A pogrom was launched in Belfast’s Lower Falls in 1969, burning out many Catholic residents [82]. However, after an RUC incursion into the Bogside, Free Derry was set up in the same year [83].

Wilson’s Labour government brought in the British Army in 1969. However, behind the scenes, British security forces were providing clandestine backing to loyalists. When the Conservatives took office in 1970, under Edward Heath, the British Army became much more publicly engaged in its military support for the Stormont regime. General Sir Frank Kitson Clarke OBE [84], using his colonial experience, helped to organise a coordinated military and security forces counter-offensive. The British Army, the RUC, the UDR (largely formed from the now disbanded B Specials) and loyalist paramilitaries (especially the Ulster Defence Association, which remained legal until 1992) were all used.

1969 had also seen the emergence of the Provisional IRA (PIRA) [85]. Although still tied ideologically to old style apolitical military republicanism, PIRA located itself within the mass Irish nationalist popular upsurge [86]. The British army stepped up its offensive against Irish nationalist communities. This began with the Falls Curfew in 1970 (4 killed), the mass arrest and internment of Irish republicans, nationalists, and other activists (but no loyalists) and the Ballymurphy Massacre (11 killed) in 1971, leading to the Bloody Sunday in Derry (14 killed) in 1972 and Operation Motorman later that year to close down Free Derry (4 killed) [87]. Meanwhile the British Army’s clandestine Military Reaction Force was involved in a number of drive-by shootings of unarmed Catholic civilians. Through UK state and loyalist collusion more Catholic civilians were killed [88].

Bloody Sunday effectively killed off the Civil Rights Movement. Its leaders had underestimated the degree of support the UK state would openly give to the Stormont regime, and clandestinely to the loyalist paramilitaries. This collapse provided a real boost for PIRA. The combination of the inherently unionist nature of the UK state and its anti-democratic and coercive Crown Powers now made Irish self-determination and republicanism seem very relevant to a wider range of Irish nationalists and many socialists.

The 1970-74 Conservative government soon realised that it had not killed off Irish resistance. Therefore, it pursued a two-prong attack. It brought PIRA into secret negotiations, ostensibly for talks about Northern Ireland’s future, but with the real aim of obtaining a ceasefire, so that the British Army could reorganise its forces and British security forces could penetrate PIRA. However, in order to politically isolate the Republicans, the Sunningdale Talks were initiated in 1973 to bring about an alliance of moderate unionists and nationalists, with the backing of the Irish government [89].

In 1974, Wilson’s new Labour government inherited the Conservative government’s Sunningdale Agreement. However, an alliance of anti-Agreement unionists, made up of the UUP, the DUP and semi-fascist Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party, had already taken 11 out of 12 of Westminster’s Northern Ireland seats. Loyalists, including the UDA and UVF, were involved in intimidation and strike action at the major power station supplying Belfast and the surrounding area. By May of 1974, the Labour government capitulated.

Mervyn Rees was replaced as Northern Ireland Secretary in 1976 by the hard line unionist Roy Mason. He abandoned any meaningful political initiatives and concentrated on repression. This involved the criminalisation of Republicans, and the use of the SAS in shoot-to-kill operations. Of all the Northern Ireland Secretaries, he was the one most liked by the unionists in Northern Ireland, earning the nickname ‘Stone Mason’ for his stance. The Ulster Unionists helped to prop up Callaghan’s minority Labour government [90].

Did the Labour government miss out on the opportunity to create a more inclusive non-hybrid British political identity acceptable to Catholics in Northern Ireland? To pursue such a policy would have necessitated the UK government’s rapid abolition of Stormont back in 1969 and a commitment by the Labour Party to extend its organisation to Northern Ireland. Moves to this effect could have left the Ulster Unionists split over whether to remain in the UK on British government terms; or whether to declare Rhodesia-style unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) for ‘Ulster’, a prospect which would have very much split their ranks [91].

The precedent for this approach existed in Scotland and Wales, where there was still Direct Rule and only administrative devolution. Catholics of Irish descent in Scotland were those most opposed to a political Scottish-British identity and, in particular, to Scottish political devolution. They equated this with the creation of a second Stormont. Scottish Catholics took comfort in the more tolerant nature of a UK state-promoted British identity, compared to the sectarian Presbyterian legacy still found in Scotland. Any official toleration that existed in Scotland appeared to be a product of UK Direct Rule and the organisation of Catholics within the Scottish Labour Party [92]. Catholics from an Irish background overwhelmingly gave their support to Labour.

Yet, when it came to Northern Ireland, the Labour leadership still maintained its conservative unionist approach, which, in effect, offered only limited official toleration for Catholics. It denied Catholics any effective participation in the local political set-up. In response to the challenge of the Civil Rights Movement, Labour Home Minister, James Callaghan, later revealed that his advice to the Cabinet had been to “Talk Green, act Orange” [93].

Thus, from the late 1960s, successive Labour and Conservative governments fell back upon upholding the constitutional status quo. They continued to underwrite Northern Ireland’s special relationship within the UK. After being forced to abolish Stormont in 1973, they promised to reinstate it as soon as possible. Thus. they remained pledged both to maintaining the Union and some form of Stormont. Labour and Conservative leaders also opposed the extension of their parties’ organisations to cover Northern Ireland  [94].

Therefore the Ulster Unionist Right [95] felt confidant enough to obstruct any meaningful reform and to reinforce their own non-inclusive, ethno-religious ‘Ulster’-British identity – “No Surrender” and “Not an Inch”. Far right loyalists and reactionary unionists understood that however they behaved, the ‘mainland’ unionist parties would continue to underwrite Northern Ireland as part of the UK.

Harold Wilson’s 1974 Labour government only gave its half-hearted backing to the attempted Sunningdale reforms of Stormont, which still accepted the continued sectarian/national, Protestant unionist/Catholic nationalist divide [96]. In effect, by looking no further than a reformed Stormont, the Labour government was seeking to extend the somewhat limited notion of toleration that formed Northern Ireland’s basis, rather than provide a solution based upon guaranteed democratic rights. But a key objective of Partition had been to eliminate such a prospect.

Furthermore, as on previous occasions, when the UK government faced political challenges from Ireland, the response was to treat the Irish as ‘racialised outsiders’. Labour’s 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act contributed to the ‘outsidering’ of the Irish living in Britain [97]. Right wing populist newspapers like the Daily Express and the London Evening Standard returned to the type of anti-Irish cartoons that had appeared in Victorian Britain [98].

With hard-line unionism already part of the Labour’s political tool-kit, it was perhaps not so surprising that a conservative unionist approach should reappear in Labour’s dealings with Scotland and Wales, as the growing economic and political crisis engulfed the government. This derailed the Callaghan’s liberal unionist Scottish and Welsh Devolution proposals in the 1979 referenda. This, along with the growing disillusionment of Irish nationalists, led directly to the fall of Labour and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, an even more hard line unionist.

Therefore, the net result of Labour’s growing conservative unionism was that, in contrast to Labour’s ability to legally extend a fuller Britishness directly to women in 1975, and also to bring in black residents from a Commonwealth background to a fuller Britishness in 1976 [99], Labour failed to broaden out the notion of Britishness in a manner which could bring Irish residents in Northern Ireland to accept the UK, or to maintain the existing basis for continued hybrid Scottish-British support for the UK constitutional status quo.


7)         The national democratic challenge of the 1980s and early 1990s, the development of ‘New Unionism’ and the constitutional guarantees given to the new Partition in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement

Thatcher formed a hardline unionist government in 1979, with the enthusiastic backing of the Ulster Unionists, significant sections of the military and security top brass, the City of London and many business leaders wanting to mount a neo-liberal economic and anti-trade union political offensive. She was also supported by reactionaries wanting to pursue a neo-conservative social agenda, in order to restore the power, deference and social order they felt they had lost over the previous decade. This followed the continued decline of the British Empire and the challenge the British ruling class had faced from the working class and the oppressed, particularly those influenced by the ‘Spirit of 68’. From 1980, Thatcher gained a close ally in President Regan. He was also determined to restore imperial power after the major US setback in Vietnam, and to pursue neo-liberal, anti-trade union and neo-conservative policies.

To win over wider right wing support, during and after the 1979 Scottish and Welsh devolution referenda, Thatcher had dismissed any liberal constitutional experimentation. In office she promoted her ‘Iron Lady’ image by taking on the trade unions and by facing down the Irish Republican Hunger Strikers. The Tory government’s defeat of the Miners’ Strike in 1985 severely dented any working class capacity to fight back. However, her ‘defeat’ of the Hunger Strikers in 1981 did not go to plan.

The revolutionary nationalist Sinn Fein and IRA took up the strategy of the ‘ballot and the bomb’ to oppose British rule. Sinn Fein started to make electoral gains in Northern Ireland’s local government and Westminster elections (as well as in Irish local government and the Dail elections). In 1984, the IRA came close to assassinating Thatcher, mocking her claim that “Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley”, instead making it seem that Brighton was nearly as Irish as Belfast!

These setbacks in Ireland, and the rising British ruling class concern, forced Thatcher into making an uncharacteristic U-turn. The 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement [100] was put in place. It received the backing of the small liberal unionist Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APoNI). However its most significant backing came from the Irish government and the moderate nationalist SDLP. Thatcher had previously sidelined these two bodies, especially after her “Out, out, out” rejection of the moderate Irish nationalist New Ireland Forum proposals the previous year [101]. The Irish government, SDLP and APoNI had also been the key forces behind the failed Sunningdale Agreement, which had killed off any significant liberal unionist tendencies in the UUP a decade earlier.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement thoroughly alienated Ulster unionists (both in the UUP and DUP), as well as some right wing Conservatives. They opposed this deal partly on the grounds that the Irish government was to be provided with a consultative office in Mayfield, Belfast. Ulster unionists thought that Irish nationalists of any hue should be denied additional political representation. They should meekly accept whatever degree of toleration they were offered under the existing set-up. At that time, loyalist intimidation and UDA/UFF and UVF death squads ensured that this toleration was decidedly limited. Furthermore, as on earlier occasions, the loyalist paramilitary forces enjoyed behind-the-scenes support from the UK state. Meanwhile the UK state security forces were involved in shoot-to-kill operations. The Crown Powers ensured that these activities lay beyond any democratic scrutiny.

The Republican Movement also rejected the Agreement, seeing it as an attempt to bolster and prolong British rule. Sinn Fein, after some initial drop in electoral support, began to make increasing gains at the expense of the SDLP. This situation eventually led to a major British ruling class and unionist rethink. In 1994, John Major’s Conservative government came up with the Downing Street Agreement [102]. The essence of this ‘New Unionist’ project was the UK state’s decision to move beyond its earlier near total reliance on Ulster unionists to maintain British interests in Ireland. Now Irish nationalists were to be brought into the administration of the Northern Ireland statelet.

The Republican Movement was to be offered the prospect of a revived but reformed Stormont, provided they pursued a purely constitutional politics. The British Army presence would be reduced. The frontline defence of the new order fell upon the intelligence services, which had built up considerable experience in enforcing state control, with their activities hidden under the Crown Powers. A new MI5 office was later to be opened at the Palace Barracks in Belfast [103].

The UK state would exert its political power and influence by acting as the broker between Ulster unionists and Irish nationalists, and arbitrating between their claims. The associated Peace Process would be oiled with funding for Republican and Loyalist ex-paramilitaries (although the latter have still found ways to intimidate Irish nationalists, e.g. the Drumcree Riots, 1995-2001 [104], Holy Cross Primary School, 2001-2002  [105], the Belfast Flag Riots and unwanted Orange and Loyalist marches through nationalist areas). The new reformed Stormont was meant to provide a purely constitutional focus and ‘take the gun out of politics’.

It took the Tony Blair’s government, elected in 1997, to implement the Peace Process under the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) the following year [106]. New Labour had won the support of the majority of the British ruling class for the implementation of revised ‘New Unionist’ constitutional reforms. Unlike the less ambitious post-Thatcher Conservative proposals, aimed only at Northern Ireland, Blair’s proposals covered the whole of these islands.

For Scotland had seen a rising demand for political devolution in response to the Tories’ post-1979 de-industrialisation drive, and Thatcher’s propensity to resort to her own style of devolution – testing out reactionary legislation first in Scotland. Her attempt to introduce the Poll Tax in 1989, a year earlier than the rest of Britain, proved to be a major miscalculation. The Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation (SAPTF) launched a mass campaign of non-payment, and defied those trying to implement the tax (including Labour councils) [107]. Furthermore, SAPTF adopted an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy by taking the campaign into England and Wales (the Tories were not so stupid as to try and bring the Poll Tax to Northern Ireland at the time!). The hated tax was finally defeated following the police-provoked riots in Trafalgar Square in 1990.

The Tories, who had won 22 Westminster seats in Scotland in 1979, could only hold on to 11 by 1992. Wales was slower to follow, but Tory promoted de-industrialisation, particularly the closure of South Wales coalmines, produced a similar effect. They held 14 Westminster seats in 1979, but only 6 in 1992.

In 1997 the Tories were wiped out in both Scotland and Wales during the General Election. The New Labour government reinvigorated the Peace Process with the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) designed for Ireland, north and south. However, this was supplemented by ‘Devolution-all-round’ for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The main purpose behind these latest ‘New Unionist’ constitutional reforms was to create the optimal political conditions needed to maximise corporate profits throughout these islands – ’26 Counties’ Ireland included. The new devolved assemblies soon became the focus for corporate lobbying.


  1. The creation of new ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ since the Good Friday Agreement

An important feature of ‘New Unionist’ politics has been its redefinition of ‘insider’/’outsider’ status in relation to the UK state. During the late 1970s and the 1980s there had been a transformation in what Britishness officially meant. The earlier notion of Britishness being opposed to the ‘racialised outsider’ has given way to a new notion that ‘outsiders’ are ‘ethnicised’ or culturally determined. This has had political consequences for the mainstream and other unionist parties [108].

It has already been shown that, in Northern Ireland, both Ulster unionists and Irish nationalists had largely viewed each other in cultural or ethno-religious terms, rather than racial terms. What was new about the UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ thinking was the notion of “parity of esteem” between the ethno-religious communities. It was this, rather than ethno-religious categorisation, that upset conservative and reactionary unionists and loyalists.

For a long time, ‘Ulster’-Britishness had been seen by Ulster unionists and loyalists to be almost identical with support for Protestantism. This attitude has been buttressed by the UK constitution. However, the dominant unionist party, the Ulster Unionists, despite their support for the Protestant establishment and official representation within the party from the Orange Order, did not have the word ‘Protestant’ in its name. This provided an opening for even further right unionist parties. During the 1930s, the Ulster Protestant League [109] provided an example of one such reactionary Ulster unionist organisation, with John William Nixon, as a Stormont MP. In 1953, Norman Porter was leader of another, the National Union of Protestants. He went on to become an independent unionist Stormont MP.

Then a new face appeared on the block, that of Ian Paisley [110]. To the wider world, Paisley seemed to be just another fundamentalist Protestant sectarian agitator, causing localised strife in that long benighted province. He founded the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster to combat Catholicism and ecumenicism. A good deal of his activity was focused upon opposing Catholicism as a religion. He took the difference between Protestant Calvinist and Roman Catholic doctrine seriously.

When Paisley became involved in political activity it was as a Protestant Unionist Party candidate in 1970. However, the ‘Protestant’ label was dropped the next year, when the party merged into the new Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The longer term political consequences of this name change may have been fortuitous at the time. However, unlike earlier independent Protestant Ulster unionists, Paisley went on to appreciate the importance of regularly intervening in the wider politics of Westminster and even the EU Parliament. When trying to get support in these institutions having an embarrassing openly declared ‘Protestant’ label could be a barrier.

Amongst the fascist loyalist paramilitaries (e.g. UVF, UDA) Orange Order membership often satisfied any religious Protestant inclinations [111]. The word ‘Ulster’ was more important than the word ‘Protestant’ in their titles. Billy Hutchinson, UVF (later PUP MLA) [112] declared his own atheism, stating that his support for the Union and Partition is down to his Britishness.

Although Ulster loyalists would continue to defend the UK state’s Protestant monarchy and establishment, few would be doing this out of any public desire (or knowledge of how) to uphold Protestant against Catholic doctrine. It would be in recognition of the privileged position officially backed state Protestantism gives to the ‘Ulster’-British.

The period of negotiations between the Downing Street and Good Friday Agreements provided an opportunity for the UK state to take action on the basis of what up until then had been a largely academic debate over ‘cultural traditions’ in Northern Ireland. This had largely taken place amongst the new school of ‘Revisionist’ or neo-unionist historians, often from an Irish background [113]. A series of academic conferences, organised by the Cultural Traditions Group (CTG), had been held, entitled ‘Varieties of Irishness’ (1989), ‘Varieties of Britishness’ (1990) and ‘All Europeans Now’ (1991).

Behind such thinking was the attempt to separate particular ‘cultural traditions’ from the unionist nature of the UK state; and from the nature of the political organisations that this had led to in Northern Ireland. These had produced ‘Ulster’-British unionist ‘insiders’ and Irish nationalist ‘outsiders’. In effect, they argued that if people could just ignore the nature of the UK and the partial breakaway Irish states, the British unionist and Irish nationalist politics that sustains them, and redefine difference in terms of culture, then a new toleration might emerge.

For the advocates of ‘cultural traditions’, one indication of success lay in extending ‘parity of esteem’, not only to those who considered themselves British or Irish, but to women, ethnic minorities and other political traditions too. In the run-up to a ‘New Unionist’ deal, the Northern Ireland Forum (NIF) [114] was established. The d’Hondt electoral mechanism was used for the NIF elections. This was to ensure that, not only all the major varieties of Ulster unionism and loyalism, and of Irish nationalism and republicanism, which chose to be, gained representation within the NIF, but also those from other ‘cultural traditions’ too. In this way the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) and the Labour Coalition [115] were able to win two top-up seats each, as the 9th and 10th groups contesting the election.

However, any notion that the ‘New Unionist’ settlement was going to provide an opportunity to move to post-nationalist politics was soon undermined. The Good Friday Agreement had constitutional partition as its very basis. It only recognised Unionists and Nationalists for crucial votes. Two members of the non-sectarian NIWC, the Protestant Pearl Sagar and the Catholic Monica Williams, had to be allocated to the Unionist and Nationalist blocs to have their votes counted over a key decision in 2001 [116]. The liberal NIWC, squeezed by the parties of the two constitutionally recognised communities, only survived one term in the post-GFA Stormont. The UK state continued to uphold an established Protestantism (Church of England), which underwrote the privileged political position the unionists and loyalists continued to claim for themselves.

The now constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein became a central player in the new set-up. It tries to present itself as being in the Republican tradition of uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. Indeed, it has had a non-Catholic MLA and local councillors. However, the effect of the pressure placed on parties, under the GFA constitutional arrangements, was highlighted during the 2015 Westminster election. North Belfast Sinn Fein candidate, Gerry Kelly, produced an election leaflet quoting the 2011 census figures – Catholics 46.9%, Protestants – 45.6%! [117] Sinn Fein was trying to create a pan-Catholic nationalist bloc to win-over SDLP voters to counter the pan-Protestant unionist bloc, which successfully backed a single DUP candidate. Sinn Fein had turned its back on secular republicanism to play by Stormont’s partitionist rules established by the UK state.

However, there has also been an attempt to promote another identity in ‘Ulster’ – Ulster-Scottishness. Politically this has had reactionary and conservative unionist components. Most Ulster Unionists had long ditched the Celtic cultural and Irish language links claimed by some Irish Unionists in the past. However, Ian Adamson, UUP and one time Lord Mayor of Belfast, made an attempt instead to claim that the original people living in the Ulster/Uladh had not been Gaelic Irish but Cruithin (Picts). They had been expelled by Irish Gaelic invaders and forced to move to Scotland in the Dark Ages, settling in Galloway (although strangely as Gaelic speakers!) In his view the sixteenth and seventeenth century Scottish Protestant plantations just represented the return of the ‘Cruithin’ to Ulster, the land of their ancestors [118]. Loyalist paramilitaries have a painting of Cuchulain, as a “defender of Ulster from Irish attacks” on a Newtonards Road mural in East Belfast [119].

With the Good Friday Agreement, and the ending of the Irish state’s claim over Northern Ireland under Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution [120], a concerted move was made to gain ‘insider’ status for the Ulster-Scots. The Ulster Scots Language Society and associated Ulster Scots Academy had been formed in 1992 to promote Ullans [121]. Ian Paisley, who was from a Scottish family background, supported this [122]. These developments registered with Cultural Traditions Group, leading to further conference entitled, ‘Varieties of Scottishness – Exploring the Ulster Scottish Connection’ in 1996.

The Good Friday Agreement recognised the Ulster Scots Agency/The Boord o’ Ulster-Scotch [123]. This was seen by many Irish nationalists as an attempt to counter the recognition given to the Irish language body, Foras na Gaeilge [124]. Baron Artigarvan, chair of the new Agency and UUP member, tried to mobilise it for politically reactionary purposes. However, in an unrelated case, he had to resign after being found guilty of breaking parliamentary rules at Stormont. Any reactionary potential of the agency is likely to be limited, though, by its official Irish government sponsorship, with an office in Raphoe, County Donegal.

In the larger scheme of things, promoting Ulster-Scottishness is likely to remain a subordinate component of ‘Ulster’-Britishness [125]. The predilection of leading Ulster-Scots for British titles and imperial gongs shows the limitations of any challenge they will make to Britishness (and, of course, to the UK state), e.g. the late Ian Paisley, or Baron Bannside; John Laird or Baron Artigarvan, former chairman of the Ulster Scots Agency; and Michael Hume OBE, Orange Order historian of the Ulster-Scots [126].

A significant consequence of Blair and New Labour’s 1998 ‘New Unionist’ settlements had been the redefinition of the relationship between the UK and its constituent units. Scotland had been a kingdom (in union since 1603), Wales a principality (fully absorbed into the state since 1536) and Northern Ireland the rump of the old Irish kingdom (in union since 1542). In 1998 the official status of Scotland and Wales was changed to being constituent nations of the UK state. This was needed to provide a stronger base of support for Scottish and Welsh hybrid Britishness recognised by the setting up of the new devolved assemblies.

However, the continued partitionist nature of the reformed Stormont highlighted the fact that no united ‘Ulster’ nation had been formed. So, liberal unionists in Northern Ireland wanted to change that by promoting, in effect, a non-sectarian Northern Irish Britishness. They have tried to reject the ‘Ulster’ political label – ‘Ulster’-British or Ulster Scots – and to advance the notion of Northern Ireland as a nation instead.

The very names of the Northern Ireland Womens Coalition (NIWC) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APoNI) point to this approach. They have opposed ‘Ulster’-British unionist and Irish nationalist politics and the Protestant/Catholic sectarianism that undermines the possibility of creating a new Northern Ireland nation. However, as the fate of the NIWC demonstrated, this transformation cannot happen without challenging the post-GFA constitutional settlement; or the privileged position the UK constitution gives to Protestantism, which has greater relevance in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK. Partition is not just a question of the Border, or something that can be sidestepped by recognition of different cultural traditions and pretending Northern Ireland is a nation-in-the-making.

None of the conservative or reactionary unionist parties want open up ‘Ulster’ in any meaningful way to the Catholic Irish; so holding on to that ‘Ulster’ label is important for them. Becoming Northern Irish conjures up an unwelcome greater closeness to Ireland and the loss of privilege and emotional security based on the ‘outsidering’ of the Catholic Irish. The current conditions of economic crisis make them feel even more uneasy.

There have been no serious attempts by either of the two mainstream Ulster unionist parties, DUP or UUP, to win over Catholics. The main party in the old Apartheid South Africa was the National Party [NP]. After the ending of Apartheid, the Afrikaaner speaker-based NP joined the English speaker-based Democratic Party, and also opened up its membership to conservative Blacks. However, neither the UUP nor the DUP, the pre-GFA supremacist analogues of the NP, have made any serious overtures to liberal unionists, or fielded a single Catholic election candidate, after nearly two decades of the GFA.

Far from trying to bring on board the APoNI (the main liberal unionist party), both the UUP and DUP have conducted a virulent campaign to try and eliminate any prospect of liberal unionism whatsoever. The UVF (with its continued PUP links) initiated the Belfast Flag Riots in 2012 [127]. This followed the APoNI voting with the nationalists on Belfast City Council to limit the number of days the union jack was flown over the City Chambers. Loyalists proceeded to burn out the offices of Naomi Long, APoNI MP for East Belfast.

How did the DUP and UUP react to this extra-constitutional loyalist violence? In the 2015 Westminster General Election a five-way conservative/reactionary unionist and loyalist electoral pact was made, linking the DUP, UUP, TUV, PUP and significantly UKIP. They managed to oust Long from her parliamentary seat. Loyalists have also conducted a prolonged racist offensive to drive Hong Kong born, Anna Lo, Alliance MLA and EU candidate from office, without much protest from the apparently ‘slightly constitutional’ unionist DUP or UUP.

Although, the ‘New Unionist’ devolutionary arrangements at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay have been formed with the intention of buttressing the position of the Scottish-British and Welsh-British, Stormont still recognises two quite different nationalities – ‘Ulster-British’ and the Irish, giving them both a constitutionally protected political voice as Unionists and Nationalists.

So, ironically those liberal unionists wanting to establish Northern Irishness are treated by reactionary and conservative unionists there as ‘national outsiders’, providing succour to those other long recognised ‘national outsiders’ – the Irish. Thus, liberal unionists in Northern Ireland are treated more harshly by Ulster unionists than the two main constitutional parties in Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, are treated by the ‘mainland’ unionist parties.  Attempts have been made in Scotland and Wales to draw these parties, once elected, into the management of the local components of the UK state. It is only to the degree they resist this confinement to a more limited role that they become ‘national outsiders’.

Under GFA and its successor St. Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements, there has been an extension of official toleration towards Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland, encouraged by the UK state. Irish nationalists have gained considerably greater status. As a result, both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have accepted a role as guarantors for the new settlement. A considerable Catholic middle class has grown, which has a strong vested interest in maintaining the new institutions of toleration. However, the new Stormont order still underwrites the national divide within Northern Ireland. The maintenance of the ‘Peace Walls’, mainly in working class areas, provides very visual evidence of this. New agencies and practices have had to be created to manage this updated partition and to police the degree of local state-sanctioned toleration.

For the Ulster unionists and loyalists, the GFA and its successor agreements have been too tolerant. This is why the liberal unionists of the APoNI need to be removed so that the Irish constitutional nationalists have no domestic allies. Ulster unionists have often threatened to de-recognise Sinn Fein in government. Both the DUP and UUP are always pushing to marginalise Sinn Fein’s influence within the new set-up. They want to abolish the Parades Commission in order to allow Orange supremacist marches to proceed through Irish nationalist areas unimpeded. They are doing this in an attempt to restore Unionist and Orange supremacy, and to ensure that nationalists remain at best tolerated ‘outsiders’ [128].

For the majority of Ulster unionists and loyalists, ‘Ulster’-Britishness is still based on a combined (or over-determined) ethno-religious view of the UK. However, a public assertion of strident Protestantism does not go down well even with most conservative British unionists – ‘It’s just not cricket’! Nevertheless, ‘Ulster’-Britishness is still able to draw some sustenance from the UK having an established Protestant religion.

‘Ulster’-Britishness has been tied up with a defence of all that is reactionary about the UK state. Therefore it is not surprising that any attempt to develop a liberal Northern Irish unionism, making its peace with constitutional Irish nationalism, soon finds itself confronted by vitriolic attacks from conservative and reactionary Ulster unionists and right populist and far right loyalists, often working together, openly or behind-the-scenes.

Furthermore, the UK state remains more concerned to manage conservative and reactionary unionism and right populist and far right loyalism than to encourage liberal unionism. When it comes to the crunch, the former can be depended upon to provide forces in the ground to defend the existing order. The latter do not have the social weight amongst unionists to perform this role when needed.

But there is another reason why liberal unionists, in alliance with constitutional nationalists, can not be left to run their idea of a reformed Northern Ireland. Partition still provides the UK state with political leverage over ’26 Counties’ Ireland. The negotiations, treaties and agreements, which formed part of the ‘Peace Process’, have reinforced the role of the UK in the south. The result of this has been to further increase UK political and British corporate economic influence over the whole of Ireland.

The 2008 Financial Crash provided the City of London, aided and abetted by Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling, with the opportunity to exert its control more fully over the financial sector of the Irish economy too. As a consequence, British banks (mainly the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS) have been responsible for the evictions of house ‘owners’ no longer able to pay their mortgages, victims of the Financial Crash that these two banks so mightily contributed to. The Irish government has given the British banks full backing in these activities, despite having ensured they were already fully compensated.

The Irish government has tried to start the process of water privatisation, beginning with charging, although this has faced massive protests. The Northern Irish government has denied any intention to privatise water, but new houses are having water meters installed! Despite the different government approaches north and south, as in the case of the banks, private water companies are no doubt looking for profitable opportunities on both sides of the Border.

There has been a constant toing and froing between Ireland and the UK, not just by business leaders, prominent Irish politicians and the British royal family, but also by a domesticated and now constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein.

However, the recent referendum to make gay marriage legal in the 26 counties [129] has brought about a new broadening of what it means to be Irish. This reconnects with the original Irish republican view of widening the popular basis of Irish nation by uniting ‘Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter’. The impact of this spilled over the Border, leading to a demonstration of 10,000 in Belfast supporting gay marriage in the ‘6 Counties’ [130]. This provides an opposition to the very restricted concept of Britishness defended by the reactionary and conservative ‘Ulster’-British.

The challenge to the British ruling class and its subordinate Irish allies needs to be seen in all-islands context. This is one thing the UK state has always tried to obscure or suppress. One of the biggest successes Partition has brought about is the continued acceptance of partitionist politics by many on the Left in Ireland and in the rest of these islands too.


9)         The rise of reactionary unionism throughout the UK, and its challenge to the post-1998 ‘New Unionist’ settlements

Between 1969 and 1998, opposition to the Stormont regime and the British military presence in Northern Ireland was at the frontline of the challenge to the UK state, and in particular to its constitutional set-up. By the last decade of this period, a less serious challenge coming from Scotland and Wales, first thwarted back in 1979, had also re-emerged.

Blair’s ‘New Unionist’ settlement was meant to see off all these challenges. However, as the UK’s economic and military standing in the world continues to decline, and with the post-war social monarchist Welfare State settlement being dismantled under New Labour, opposition to the new political settlement soon developed.

In Northern Ireland, the GFA and is successor agreements have been essentially conservative unionist proposals, designed to better manage the Unionist/Nationalist divide through a recalibration of UK support for these two political forces in a reformed Stormont. Under the post-1998 ‘New Unionist’ settlement, constitutional nationalists and liberal unionists have looked for either ‘parity of esteem’, or much greater toleration.

The political initiative, though, has passed to reactionary and right populist unionists and loyalists. They are determined to undermine the new constitutional arrangements and state practices, which have increased toleration for Irish nationalists. Although the UK state remains in overall control, it has been involved in frequent fire-fighting exercises to try and limit further right challenges. The British government even called for US backing in the form of Richard Haas, but to no avail [131].

However, in Scotland and Wales the liberal unionist momentum remained in place after 1998.  In 2011, the Conservative/Lib-Dem government granted further powers to the Welsh Assembly, after a more convincing referendum result than that obtained for Welsh Devolution in 1998. The three mainstream British unionist parties, and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh constitutional nationalist party, all backed this.

As long as the political initiative still lay with successive British unionist parties, the constitutional nationalist challenges of the Plaid Cymru and the SNP in Scotland could be contained. But, as New Labour moved even further to the right, the SNP was able to make an unforeseen electoral breakthrough in the 2011 Holyrood elections, following its emergence as the largest party at Holyrood in 2007. It won an outright majority, forming a Scottish government committed to holding an independence referendum. The rising demand for greater Scottish self-determination had far outstripped the constraints of UK state liberal unionism. Furthermore, support extended considerably beyond the ranks of the SNP.

Since the days of the Scottish Socialist Party’s (SSP) electoral breakthrough in 2003 the demand for Scottish independence had become hegemonic on the Scottish Left, despite the SSP’s subsequent decline [132]. Thus, despite the SNP launching its own independence campaign ‘Scotland Yes’ in June 2012, the Scottish Left initiated Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), was able to organise independently, with conferences of 800 (2102), 1100 (2012) and 3000 (2014) respectively. RIC very much contributed to the massive registration campaign, particularly on the housing schemes of the big cities.

Furthermore RIC rejects the unionist idea of the sovereignty of the Crown-in-parliament (which the SNP government bows to) and is committed to the republican principle of popular sovereignty. RIC fought not as Scottish nationalists but as Scottish internationalists, taking its campaign to England, Wales, both parts of Ireland and to Catalunya, Euskadi and to other countries in the EU. Bernadette McAliskey addressed two of the RIC conferences, as well as a ‘London Says Yes’ rally. Tommy McKearney, ex-hunger striker, shared a platform with RIC in West Belfast. RIC fought on an explicitly anti-imperialist basis, particularly challenging UK membership and SNP government support for NATO.

With support for Scottish independence lying around 30% in the opinion polls in early 2012, both the Conservatives in government and Labour in opposition were eager to proceed with a referendum, in order to see off Scottish independence and the SNP for a generation at least. It was this, and not any recognition of the right to national self-determination, that led David Cameron and Michael Moore (Lib-Dem Scottish Secretary) to sign the Edinburgh Agreement in October 2012. Better Together (or ‘Project Fear’), fronted by Labour’s Alistair Darling, had already been formed by the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems to fight an essentially conservative unionist ‘No’ campaign.

For these parties, liberal unionism was no longer a serious option, highlighted by their refusal to have ‘Devo-Max’ as an option in the referendum. This underscored the point about the recent liberal unionist politics of Labour, Lib-Dems and the Conservatives. Unless a political initiative remained securely under their control it should be opposed.

The eventual ‘No’ victory on September 18th, 2014 disguised the huge surge of support for independence (up to 45%); the massive politicising effect of the ‘Yes’ campaign; its ability to counter the media’s pro-unionist bias through an alternative online media; political meetings the length and breadth of Scotland; and several autonomous pro-‘Yes’ campaigns (including RIC). The net result was a ‘democratic revolution’ where 97% registered and 85% voted.

Despite their ‘No’ victory, when it came to the June 2015 Westminster election, the Scottish Labour and Lib-Dem parties lost all but one each of their seats, whilst the Scottish Conservatives just held on to their only seat. The SNP won 56 out of 59 Westminster seats, up a staggering 50!

What this means is that in Scotland, constitutional nationalists now hold the political initiative. They had looked hopefully for potential liberal unionist allies, first in David Miliband’s ‘One Nation Labour’ in the run-up to the 2015 general election (but he preferred to give succour to the ‘one state’ Conservatives) and then to Jeremy Corbyn after his Labour leadership victory (although both he and his main ally, John McDonnell, seem bemused by the situation in Scotland). New SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has looked with more hope to Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru and Carolyn Lucas of the Greens.

However, south of the border, the last pretense of liberal unionism (only ever resorted to rhetorically during the campaign when pressed) died minutes after the ‘No’ vote announcement on September 19th. Cameron started to woo the reactionary right in his own party and in UKIP. He talked of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL). He played the anti-Scottish and anti-Irish card in the run-up to the general election. If there had been a collapse of the SNP vote, after the ‘defeat’ in the referendum, the ‘commitment’ to any further devolution, which led to the already watered down Smith Commission ‘Devo-Plus’ proposals, would have soon died a death too.

Outside of Scotland, the terms of the constitutional debate have changed dramatically. In England, with Cameron the clear election winner, the Conservatives have placed themselves firmly in the conservative unionist camp over political reform, both in relation to the UK’s current constitution and its relationship to the EU. The Conservatives have been prepared to shift ground, but to the Right. They are making concessions to the reactionary unionists of the Tory Right and in UKIP. In Wales, the constitutional nationalism of Plaid Cymru made no headway in the 2015 Westminster elections, whilst liberal unionism has been further undermined by Conservative gains there at the expense of the Lib-Dems and Labour in the last election.

In both England and Wales the full extent of reactionary unionism is disguised by the first-past-the-post nature of Westminster elections. In the 2014 Euro-elections, though, UKIP came first in England, and just narrowly failed to beat Labour in Wales. In Wales UKIP are almost certain to make gains in the forthcoming Cardiff Bay Assembly elections [133]. In the process they could further undermine the prospects for the constitutional nationalists (Plaid Cymru) and liberal unionists (Welsh Lib-Dems and Labour). They could also pressure the currently rising forces of conservative unionism (mainly Welsh Conservatives, but always including some old-style Labour supporters in South Wales) to make new accommodations to the Right.

However, the place where reactionary and right populist unionism is already the dominant force is Northern Ireland. The DUP, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and UKIP hold to these politics, whilst the UUP’s conservative unionism is often pulled further right. Furthermore, it has already been shown that conservative, reactionary and right populist unionist politicians are quite prepared to form alliances on the street with the PUP and other loyalist forces to physically intimidate liberal unionists and constitutional nationalists.

Yet, the most disturbing thing is that it is amongst reactionary and right populist unionists that the most coherent political strategy in relation to the future of the UK state is emerging. They are moving to a reactionary ‘internationalism from above’ alliance across the whole of the UK.

Alone amongst the unionists campaigning in the Scottish independence referendum, reactionary unionists and their loyalist allies took their campaign to the streets of Scotland. 15,000 in the Orange Order, from Scotland and Northern Ireland, marched in Edinburgh on the weekend before the Scottish independence referendum. The day after the ‘No’ referendum ‘victory’ there was a loyalist and neo-fascist rampage in Glasgow. Better Together, keen before the referendum to put on a liberal unionist face in Scotland, gave no backing to this. However, since then Labour controlled Glasgow City Council have given a civic reception to the Orange Order in the City Chambers and officially backed the Orangefest in George Square on June 6th, 2015. This was led by a Northern Irish flute band and addressed by born-again southern Irish unionist, Ruth Dudley Edwards [134].

In the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement, Robert McCartney had formed the UK Unionist Party (UKUP). He supported the full integration of Northern Ireland into the UK. He won and held on to the largely middle class North Down unionist seat at Westminster from 1995 to 2001. UKUP also won 5 seats in the new Stormont in 1998. UKUP represented a return to the old Irish Unionist position, originally championed by Sir Edward Carson, which rejected Home Rule/Devolution and preferred Westminster Direct Rule.

However, it has already been shown that, neither successive British unionist governments, nor any of the mainstream unionist parties, have any interest in furthering this approach. They support a British unionist not a British unitary state. Furthermore, they wish to keep Northern Ireland as a distinctive political subordinate unit, in order to increase UK state leverage in the south. Failing to make any further progress in the face of these realities, UKUP broke up in acrimony.

Instead UKIP, previously largely seen as a ‘Little Englander’ party, has begun to develop a reactionary unionist strategy for the whole of the UK, where the much more limited UKUP had failed. UKIP is the only party that covers the full extent of the UK state [135]. Whereas conservative unionism largely accepts the existing policies and institutions that maintain the UK state, including those they might once have opposed; reactionary unionism is quite prepared to attack and undermine these from the Right.

Thus UKIP has extended its politics beyond its earlier right wing English chauvinism, in order to play to the reactionary features still found in the various forms of hybrid Britishness in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Orangeism, Protestant supremacy and hostility to state recognition of the Celtic languages all figure in this [136].

UKIP has also opposed socially liberal laws on sexuality still supported by David Cameron. The Tory Right and other reactionaries do not like Cameron’s social liberalism. Thatcher opposed such measures, so she remains an icon for the reactionary right. However, UKIP, like some other right wing parties in Europe, can be pragmatic in its opposition to social liberalism, adjusting its message according to local circumstances. Opposition is most marked in Northern Ireland in order to meet local Presbyterian fundamentalist prejudices [137].

UKIP is now at the centre of a wider Tory Right, DUP, TUV and loyalist alliance for the forthcoming EU referendum. Although the UUP (speaking on behalf of Northern Irish business interests) officially backs Cameron’s ‘Remain’ stance, its supporters are much more evenly divided. UKIP holds the largest number of MEPs in England, and has an MEP each in Wales and Scotland. UKIP has an English MP at Westminster, and an MLA in Northern Ireland, 300 local councilors in England, 1 local councillor in Wales and 3 or 4 local councillors, with strong Orange Order connections, in Northern Ireland. They have made overtures to other right populist (DUP) and reactionary (TUV) unionists and loyalists (PUP), both in trying to eliminate liberal unionism and seeking vote transfers [138].

Unlike such supporters of a unitary Britain found in Robert McCartney’s now defunct UKUP, or those trying to organise the Conservative and Labour Party in Northern Ireland in the face of party HQ lack of interest, UKIP has arrived at strategy that acknowledges the unionist nature of the UK state. It now accepts the devolved assemblies at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay. This represents a recent conversion, because UKIP originally saw these bodies as irreformable bases for liberal unionism and/or constitutional nationalism. Stormont provides UKIP with an example of how  reactionary unionist politics can be advanced.

Northern Ireland is key to UKIP’s broader unionist strategy because the reactionary and right populist unionists and the far right loyalists have already shown how to force liberal unionism and constitutional nationalism on to the retreat. In the 2015 Westminster election, the DUP and UUP each gained a seat respectively at the expense of the liberal unionist Alliance Party and the now constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein.

With Cameron forced to concede an EU referendum in the face of UKIP and Tory Right pressure, UKIP is offering the reactionary and right populist unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland a campaign to leave the EU. ‘Brexit’ could undermine another legacy of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) – the removal of border posts, set up after the 1922 Partition, but closed down as part of the Peace Process. The re-establishment of a policed and defended border would represent another step backwards towards the reassertion of Ulster unionist supremacy. Over 40% of the population in the ‘Six Counties’ would become official ‘outsiders’.

Furthermore, UKIP want to renegotiate the terms of toleration towards those who they do not deem to be British, but who still live in the UK. UKIP (and the far right populist BNP and neo-fascist EDL, SDL, WDL and various loyalist organisations) will target the 2.3 million EU residents, 1.5 million of whom (those over 18) Cameron has already excluded from voting in the forthcoming EU referendum. Although a significant target of reactionary unionism in this referendum is non-British EU residents, this is merely a harbinger of the much greater number of ‘outsiders’ that UKIP and the far right want to create to protect their version of Britishness. Those asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa are even more hated by the Right. ‘Brexit’ could lead to ‘a carnival of reaction’ throughout these islands.

UKIP plans to create a pan-UK reactionary alliance, which draws upon the epicentre of unionist reaction found in Northern Ireland. In the political crisis engulfing the UK state, UKIP has clearly understood the need to resolve this at an all-UK level. Their British ‘internationalism from above’ is designed to maintain the unity of the constituent units of the UK state – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – through the defence and use of all its most reactionary features. Their very restricted idea of Britishness is based on marginalising the ‘national outsider’ in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and the ‘ethnicised outsider’ throughout the UK. ‘Brexit’ is the next part of their campaign to achieve this.

The best way to counter reactionary unionism is to promote the break-up of the UK and its alliance with US imperialism. This involves the promotion of an ‘internationalism from below’ coalition, but which also extends beyond the UK. It needs to cover the whole of Ireland, on an all-islands republican and socialist basis, as well as Scotland, Wales and England. The Water Charges struggle (so reminiscent of the Anti-Poll Tax struggle) and the Gay Marriage victory provide a basis of for this wider unity.

Such a strategy can challenge that fount of reaction, the current Northern Ireland set-up, from which reactionary unionists currently draw much of their sustenance. Similarly, we need to unite with those EU migrants being pushed into ‘outsider’ status, and those now barely tolerated non-EU migrants, both threatened by ‘Brexit’; and those elsewhere in the EU opposing the Troika: and those advocating national self-determination on a civic national basis in Spain, e.g. Catalunya. In the process, Britishness and ‘outsider’ status needs to be brought to an end. Toleration is not only inadequate, but is in retreat. The UK state needs to be broken up so that the road to real democratic rights and genuine internationalism can be opened up.




[1]       See footnote 1, in the first part of this article, The UK State, The ‘Racialised Outsider’,Toleration and Britishness.

[2]       Virdee, RCatRO, p.162

[3]       For an extended history of the rise and fall of the UK state and the notion of’ Britishness’ see my article at:-

[4]       The unionist form of state actually encouraged the emergence of a belated Welsh-Britishness from the late nineteenth century, as the franchise was extended to more sections of the population. Unlike Scotland and Ireland, which had been absorbed into the UK on unionist terms, the Tudor acts originally led Wales to being incorporated into England as part of a unitary state.

[5]       The partition of 32 counties Ireland in 1922, also led to the partition of 9 counties Ulster, with 3 counties awarded to the Irish Free State, and 6 counties to the new Northern Ireland statelet; hence the inverted commas around ‘Ulster’.

[6]       It is only more recently that the notion of a distinct English-British identity has emerged. Previously many people in England tended to view Britain as a ‘Greater England’. This is changing and the political consequences of this still need to be properly addressed.

[7]       These have included the old CPGB, CPB, Militant (until the 1990s, when it began to support Scottish independence, but remained Left unionist in relation to the Six Counties and Wales), the SWP, until 2012 (when it switched to supporting Scottish independence), the CPGB-Weekly Worker and the Alliance for Workers Liberty. In contrast to the Socialist Party (ex-Militant), Socialist Democracy (Ireland), is anti-unionist in the Six Counties, but Left unionist for Scotland.

[8]       Such administrative devolution was part of the original unionist state set-up (e.g. the recognition of the educational and social disciplinary role of the Church of Scotland under the 1707 Act and the policing role of the Irish Yeomanry under the 1801 Act). Administrative devolution was later extended to Wales, when the extension of the franchise in 1867 and particularly 1884 necessitated the UK state’s recognition of the Welsh-British and not just the Anglo-Welsh.

[9]       Liberal unionism as an political approach to the UK state is not to be confused with the conservative unionist Liberal Unionists of that period).

[10]     There were variations within liberal unionism with, for example, some reluctantly conceding Home Rule only for Ireland, some wanting ‘Home Rule-all-round’ for Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and others looking to reform Westminster as a parliament for the whole Empire, with direct representation from the White colonies.

[11]     One organisation, which came close to this, was the CPML. It produced a pamphlet entitled Unity Not Devolution. The political inspiration for the CPML came from Mao’s China, which has always been a unitary state, unlike the USSR, which has shared a unionist character with the UK. The Campaign for Labour Representation in Northern Ireland argued for an all-UK Labour Party, at a time when there was no political devolution in Scotland and Wales and the logic of this pointed in the direction of a unitary British state. The logic of the existence of the Northern Ireland Conservatives points in the same direction. However, the official Labour and Conservative parties have remained unionist, which is why these initiatives have made little headway.


[13]     When Ireland was conquered a colonial relationship was established. This was marked by the imposition of a non-Irish regime of Anglo-Normans and Anglo-French from 1177. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was further colonial settlement – or Plantations – by English and Scots. The earlier ‘Old English’ settlers remained overwhelmingly Catholic, and opposed the ‘New English’ of the Plantations, who were overwhelmingly Protestant. Similarly, Gaels from Scottish Highlands and Islands, who had earlier settled in Ireland, particularly Antrim, remained overwhelmingly Catholic. They opposed the largely Protestant Ulster Scots of the Plantation. Both Old English the Gaels became the Irish, or the ‘mere Irish’ to the colonial regime. This situation continued up to the abolition of most of the Penal Laws in the late eighteenth century.

[14]     The first ban occurred after the exposure of an Orange plot to dethrone Queen Victoria and install her uncle, the reactionary Duke of Cumberland. The Liberal government rehabilitated the Orange Order to be kept in reserve to quell the campaign to repeal the Union. The second ban occurred after the killing of 80 Catholics at Dolly’s Brae in County Down in 1849.

[15]     The responsibility for the ‘Great Famine’ with its massive deaths and emigration, lay in the victory of the new industrial capitalists and their ‘free market/free trade/’free’ labour economy, soon to be cemented by repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Meaningful state intervention to aid the victims was ruled out. This view very much clashed with the older moral economy of the Irish peasantry.

[16]     Key figures in this Protestant Irish unionist tradition include the antiquarian and poet, Sir Samuel Ferguson, the novelist William Carleton, and the journalist, Standish James O’ Grady. The Church of Ireland argued that St. Columba upheld a Celtic Christianity that was a proto-Protestant.

[17]     L.P. Curtis, Apes and Angels: The Irishman in Victorian Caricature

[18]     There was even one Irish nationalist MP in Liverpool – T.P. O’Connor.

[19]     See section 1,

[20]     The original aims of the Liberal pro-war party, led by Viscount Grey in the lead up to the First World War, were to severely curtail German naval and imperial ambitions. As the war developed a policy of starving Germany through a naval blockade (which continued after the War ended), annexing large chunks of German imperial and Ottoman territories, and reducing Germany’s own territory came to the fore. The rise of Lloyd George and his Conservative allies marked this shift in gear.

[21]     Nor did Labour joining the coalition slow down a further drift to the Right. 5 Labour candidates were to stand as continued war-time Coalition candidates (4 of whom were elected), whilst the National Socialist Party (a right wing split from the British Socialist Party originally led by Henry Hyndman) stood 5 candidates (3 NSP MPs were elected). The even further Right National Democratic and Labour Party (10 also on the Coalition ticket) stood 28 candidates (10 of whom were elected). Its MPs ended up Lloyd George’s National Liberal Party, whilst the organisation became part of the Empire Citizen League. Thus ended the first phase of the ‘British Road to Socialism’, following the pro-monarchist, unionist, imperialist and jingoistic logic of many earlier ‘British Road to Progress’ Liberals and some Radical Liberals from the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

[22]     The IVF had been formed by the UIL in 1913 in response to the UVF, founded the previous year. It split over the First World War, with the majority supporting the UIL’s pro-war stance, whilst a minority, led by Gaelic Leaguer, Eoin MacNeill opposed the war. The Irish Republican Brotherhood worked within this section of the IVF.

[23]     In by-elections, Sinn Fein began to win Westminster seats as early as January 1917.

[24]     This would probably have included the continuation of the devolved administrative measures, albeit now on a Northern Irish basis that were part of the UK’s make-up.

[25]     This is best explained in Pat Walsh, Catastrophe And Resurgence: The Catholic Predicament In ‘Northern Ireland’, Volume One, Catastrophe, 1914-1968

[26]     Peter Hart in The Irish Revolution, edited by Joost Augusteijn, p.25

[27]     This process is well described in Michael Farrell, Northern Ireland: the Orange State (NI:TOS)


[29]     Non- and anti-republicans had joined Sinn Fein (which had itself only recently switched from being ‘dual monarchist’ to republican) when it became clearer that this was where political careers were to be made. Many previously pro-Home Rule or even Unionist supporting businessmen, made similar moves to advance their immediate economic interests. The Catholic hierarchy could also see which we the wind was blowing, and transferred its political allegiances accordingly. Cumann na nGaedheal found much of its support in these quarters.

[30]     In the nineteenth century leading Irish Protestants, including Unionists, had been prepared to consider Ireland’s Celtic tradition and the Irish Language as part of their legacy. Douglas Hyde became President of the Gaelic League/Conradh naGaeilge. There was a welcoming sign at the entrance to the Ulster Unionist Convention of 1892, which read ‘Erin Go Bragh’ – see Gordon Lucy, The Great Convention, The Ulster Unionist Convention of 1892, photo section in middle of his book.

[31]     One Ulster Unionist leader, Terence O’Neill, although of English Chichester family origin on the male side, had inherited the name of the Celtic Catholic O’Neill chieftains, as a result of an early marriage between the Chichesters and O’Neills. Despite its maternal lineage, the Chichesters opted to switch to the O’Neill name and took titles reflecting their once extensive power – Marquess of Donegall, Earl of Belfast, Baron Ennishowen and Carrickfergus.

There are many Unionist, Nationalist and Republican politicians with surnames revealing their origin in other communities, e.g. Ken Maginnis (UUP), John Hume, Adrian McQuillan (DUP), John Hume (SDLP), Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein). One of the most notorious loyalist killers bore the name Len Murphy.

[32]     Despite the virulent anti-Catholicism of the Loyalists and majority of Ulster Unionists (to which the Orange Order was affiliated), the new Stromont regime established a relationship with the conservative Catholic hierarchy, which was preferable to working directly with Irish nationalists.

[33]     Virdee, RCatRO, p.26

[34]     Virdee, RCatRO, pp. 48-55.

[35]     Allan Armstrong, From Davitt to Connolly – ‘Internationalism from Below’ and the challenge to the UK state and British Empire from 1879-1895

[36]     This wider context included the 1904 Limerick Boycott directed against Jews living in that city, initiated by Father John Creagh, supported by Arthur Griffith, who went on to become the first Sinn Fein leader. This was strongly opposed by Michael Davitt. In 1905, the UK Conservative government passed the Aliens Act, directed against Jewish asylum seekers and migrant workers. This Act had the backing of the British TUC.



[39]     The IPP sided with the employers, whilst Arthur Griffith, Sinn Fein leader attacked the ITGWU and Irish Socialists. However, two IRB members, Padraig Pearse and Eamon Ceannt, who went on to sign the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic, supported the ITGWU’s right to organise. It was possibly their openly supportive stance in relation to Irish Labour, which led Connolly to consider an alliance between the ICA and IRB for the 1916 Rising. Although Connolly had recognised two contradictory trends in his 1909 Sinn Fein, Socialism and the Nation (, he had not seen the possibility of these two trends taking separate organisational form. The ‘socialist’ tendency would remain subordinate to the dominant capitalist tendency.

[40]     The Connolly/Walker controversy, first published in the Scottish socialist journal Forward can be seen at:-


[42]     They included George Irvine and William Scott from County Fermanagh – see Fermanagh 1916 Centenary Association, Fearless but Few, Fermanagh and the Easter Rising. There were others.

[43]     Ironically it was only in Belfast that Labour put up an electoral challenge to the UIL/Sinn Fein and UUP (including its Labour Unionists) when the pro-British Labour, Belfast Labour Party stood in 3 seats, albeit with no success.

[44]     Sinn Fein was able to win 2 seats in ‘6 Counties’ Ulster – Londonderry City and Tyrone North West, although perhaps significantly not with candidates associated with the 1916 Rising. However, another 4 seats were won by the UIL, as a result of an electoral deal with Sinn Fein. This highlighted the sectarian/national nature of the electoral contest in ‘6 Counties’ Ulster, where the Irish/Ulster Unionists won 20 seats and Labour Unionists (a subordinate section of the UUP) won 3. In the other 26 counties of Ireland, the sharpest electoral struggle was between Sinn Fein and the UIL, highlighting the political battle between the Irish (where the Sinn Fein leader, Arthur Griffiths was a Protestant) and the British-Irish of the UIL.

[45]     Bernadette McAlsiskey made this statement at the second Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow in November, 2013, see

A comparison can be made between the Radical Independence Campaign’s relationship to the ‘Yes’ campaign, and People Democracy’s relationship to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). Bernadette’s active participation at the 2nd and 3rd RIC Conferences highlights the connection between the campaign for Irish Civil Rights and the Scottish independence referendum. Thus, in some ways RIC’s relationship with the official ‘Yes’ campaign can be compared with Peoples Democracy’s relationship with the NICRA.


[47]     Dan Bradley, Farm Labourers – Irish Struggle, 1900-1976, pp. 43-55


[49]     Mike Milotte. Communism in Modern Ireland: The Pursuit of the Workers Republic since 1916, (CiMI) pp. 37-48

[50]     Milotte, CiMI, op. cit. p. 69.

[51]       Milotte, CiMI, op. cit. pp. 70-95.

[52]     Milotte, CiMI, op. cit. pp. 96-121.

[53] (also the sunject of Ken Loach’s film, Jimmy’s Hall)

[54]     Milotte, CiMI, op. cit. pp. 150-157.




[58]     The first written constitution, that of the USA, specifically defined black slaves as less than fully human. Following this, black slaves lay beyond the rights guaranteed by the constitution. This underscores the fact that for constitutions to provide equal democratic rights there has to be some constitutional recognition of particular social group’s existence.

[59]     Farrell (NI:TOS), op.cit, pp. 137-142

[60]     The most significant was the Fethard-on-Sea Boycott in 1957, see

[61]     see section i) The clash amongst British unionists over ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ and the promotion of different forms of hybrid Britishness.

[62]     James Connolly, Irish Worker, 14.3.1914 at:-


[64]     Soon after being elected himself to Stormont in 1933, Brooke had addressed an Orange rally saying, “Catholics are out to destroy Ulster…If we in Ulster allow Roman Catholics to work on our farms we are traitors to Ulster… I would appeal to loyalists, therefore, wherever possible, to employ good Protestant lads and lassies”! (,_1st_Viscount_Brookeborough)

[65]     After the war, the CLP gained a Stormont seat and some local councillors, all in unionist dominated constituencies. In 1947 Midgely resigned from the CLP and joined the UUP, soon being reappointed as a Stormont Minister. The CLP disbanded in 1947, although its openly unionist mantle was soon to be adopted by NILP.

[66]     The CPNI was formed during the war in 1942, after Stalin’s switch from his alliance with Hitler to support for the war, when Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941.

[67]     Farrell, NI:TOS, op. cit. p.190

[68]     However, like Labour’s support for Irish, Scottish and Welsh Home Rule, “the maximum of self government {should be} compatible with the unity of the Empire and the safety of the UK at the time of war” – J.R.Clynes, British Labour Party leader, quoted in Geoffrey Bell, The Labour Party and the Irish Question – Troublesome Business, p. 48

[69]     see Part 3 of this article, Britishness, the UK State, Unionism. Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’, section 2, The clash between liberal and conservative unionism in the Labour Party in Scotland.


[71]     Bob Purdie, The Friends of Ireland. British Labour and Irish nationalism, 1945-49 in Contemporary Irish Studies, edited by Tom Gallagher and James O’ Connell, pp. 81-94.

[72]     The 1948-51 Irish government coalition was headed by Fine Gael, but had a Labour deputy, William Norton, and also included National Labour (perhaps best considered as an analogue of the right wing CLP breakaway in Northern Ireland), as well as the semi-republican Clann na Poblachta and small farmer Clann na Talmhan.

[73]     It is perhaps significant that one of the most independent-minded socialist republicans in Ireland, Peadar O’Donnell, confined his activities mainly to the cultural sphere at this time, becoming editor of The Bell in 1946. Meanwhile in Scotland, Hamish Henderson, another socialist republican, strongly influenced during his war service in Italy by the work of Antonio Gramsci, also concentrated on cultural work. O’ Donnell and Henderson met in Dublin in 1951(see Eberhard Bort, The Shamrock and the Thistle in Anent Hamish Henderson, Essays, Poems and Interviews, edited by Eberhrd Bort, p. 190) After periods of political set-back, it is often in the cultural arena that the initial work for future political advances are made.



[76]     The other former , William McMullen (see note 41), Connolly’s close associate, had joined the Republican Congress, and later became President of the ITGWU.


[78]     One example of this was the curtailment of job opportunities for Catholics, which had previously existed in the RIC. The RUC became an increasingly an alien environment for Catholics.






[84]     Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations; Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping.


[86]     This was very different from earlier abortive attempts by the IRA and other republican forces to launch armed attacks on the Stormont regime, e.g. the failed Border Campaign from 1956-62.

[87] with the Catholic community

[88] with loyalist paramilitaries


[90]     Ironically, the Irish nationalist, Social and Democratic Unionist Party’s MP Gerry Fitt, and the united Irish nationalist independent MP, Frank Maguire, also helped to prop up Labour, demonstrating the continuing divide-and-rule potential of Partition for the UK state and unionist parties.

[91]     There was a small minority, organised in the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, who at various times did contemplate the possibility of either the existing ‘Ulster’, or of a further repartitioned ‘Ulster’, becoming independent, in a similar manner to Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of White Rhodesia in 1969. Whilst a White Rhodesia was always going to have to accept the majority of the population would remain black, although excluded from the franchise; the UDA contemplated the ethnic cleansing of most Catholics from their new ‘Ulster’ through a process they called ‘nullification’.

[92]     Despite this greater toleration, the UK state still retained an established church, the Church of England (CoE), and a ban on Catholics ever becoming monarchs. The latter was not an immediate pressing concern for most Catholics, and the greater secularisation of England, particularly London, ensured that anti-Catholic discrimination in employment was not the issue it was in Northern Ireland and Scotland at the time. Despite the established CoE not being Presbyterian, for many of the latter’s actual and nominal adherents in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the fact that it was Protestant, providing scope for anti-Catholic bigotry and discrimination.

[93]     History Ireland, July/Aug, 2009.

[94]     There were attempts, in both the Labour and Conservative parties, to extend their organisation to Northern Ireland, but their leaderships sidelined these suggestions. They preferred to conduct politics in alliance respectively with the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party (which, although enjoying full autonomy, broke with the Conservative Party in two stages, first in 1974 in protest against Heath’s Sunningdale Agreement, and secondly in 1985, against Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement).

[95]     And in the Northern Ireland context that Right was very Right. William Craig’s semi-fascist Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party won 3 seats in both 1974 Westminster elections.

[96]     However, even the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists knew they would have to accept some minimal reforms of Stormont, and not even the most reactionary unionists have argued for the restoration of the old business vote.


[98]     Liz Curtis, Nothing But The Same Old Story, The Roots of Anti-Irish Racism

[99]     Allan Armstrong, part A of this article, ,The UK State, the ‘Racialised Outsider’, Toleration and ‘Britishness’, section 2) The post-war domination of white male versions of ‘Britishness’, and the struggle to give ‘insider’ status to black residents and women as women.

[100] The very name of this agreement was revealing. It shows no indication of being an agreement between the UK and Irish governments. Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit held to ‘a Little Englander’ view of what it meant be British. Behind-the-scenes, there were senior state officials and traditional unionists with personal interests spanning more than one part of the UK. They were more conscious of living in a union state. After the accumulative failures of Thatcher’s policies in Northern Ireland and Scotland (the testing out of the poll tax) she was finally given the heave.



[103]   This has even worried the SDLP, whose PSNI Police Board member, Dolores Kelly, thought that ex-RUC Special Branch (with their notorious record) would be employed in a consultative role! (





[108]   see Part 1, section 3) The switch from biological racial to cultural ethnic views of ‘Britishness’ in the face of new challenges to the UK state.



[111]         There are two main Orders, the Orange Order itself and the much smaller Independent Orange Order. The latter’s rallies were sometimes addressed by Ian Paisley.




[115]   It is perhaps significant that one of the Labour Coalition’s two representatives in the NIF was Hugh Casey, who had been awarded an MBE and Malachi Curran who resigned from the SDLP to become a member of the Labour Party of Northern Ireland (despite the fact that the British Labour Party still preferred the SDLP as its associated party in Northern Ireland). The Labour Coalition also enjoyed the support of Militant in the North. The Labour Coalition broke up soon after its two representatives got elected, although Curran was able to go on and get the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award, the year before Hilary Clinton, whilst Casey became a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

[116]   There is a sympathetic account of the NIWC attempt to get over this problem in Beatrix Campbell, Agreement, The State, Conflict and Change in Northern Ireland, p.79-80


[118]   Ian Adamson, The Ulster-Scottish Connection in Scotland and Ulster, edited by Ian Wood



[121]   The term Ullans is inspired by the term Lallans (Lowlands), the name given to the Scots language in Scotland. Ironically Lallans does not enjoy the same official status in Scotland as Ullans in Northern Ireland and Ireland!



[124]   Irish Gaelic had been a receding language, and Ulster-Scots/Ullans a receding dialect, which by the end of the nineteenth century were both confined to rural Ulster. Both were likely to have died out in the face of continued rural depopulation and urbanisation. Irish Gaelic, however, enjoyed a resurgence as it became a language of resistance during the Troubles, with the internment camps earning the name the Jailtacht. (see Diarmait Mac Giolla Chriost, Jailtacht: The Irish Language, Symbolic Power and Political Violence in Northern Ireland, 1972-2008). Belfast now has a Gaeltacht Quarter centred on the Culturlann Centre on the Falls Road.

[125]   The Ulster-Scots are very much linked with Presbyterianism. Back in the days of the United Irishmen, they contributed to revolutionary Irish republicanism. However, this was crushed after the 1798 Rising. From then on, considerable efforts were made to bring Presbyterianism into the Irish-British and unionist fold. A liberal Presbyterian tradition remained associated with the Liberal Party in Ireland. However, it was the growing conservative and reactionary Presbyterian tradition led by Henry Cooke [], which made its accommodation to the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy and the Orange Order that triumphed. Roaring Hugh Hanna [] started the tradition of bigoted Presbyterian street corner demagogy, which contributed to the deaths of many Catholic Irish in the ensuing 1886 Belfast Riots. After that Liberalism virtually died in Ireland, as Presbyterians joined the Liberal Unionist Party. In the process, they were to become even more subordinated to the landed and business elite in north east, before finally joining the Conservative and Unionist Party.

[126]   Nevertheless, it is interesting to see Linda Ervine (wife of the late PUP leader, David Ervine) leading Irish language classes in East Belfast. Instead of dismissing Ulster-Scots perhaps Irish republicans in West Belfast should begin classes in Culturlann, or the Cardinal O’ Fiach Centre, an old Presbyterian church on the Falls Road, reminding people when Ulster Presbyterians in Belfast, were leading figures in amongst the United Irishmen, and the radical Ulster weaver poets, influenced by Robert Burns were writing in Scots!


[128]   A good analysis of this reactionary campaign to roll back the GFA arrangements is given by Robbie McVeigh in Living the peace process in reverse: racist violence and British nationalism in Northern Ireland, Race & Class (Volume 56, April-June 2015, no. 4).




[132]   Although the SSP had gone into decline after ‘Tommygate’, Left support for Scottish independence continued to widen, eventually even stretching to the SWP in 2011, which had opposed Scottish Devolution back in 1979.



[135]   The Ulster Unionists made their final break with the Conservatives in 1985, in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, in 2009 an alliance was formed between the Conservative Party and Ulster Unionists, the Ulster Conservative and Unionists – New Force, primarily for the EU election of that year and the 2010 General Election. It proved to be a dismal failure and was quietly abandoned in 2012.

[136]   For one example of this see However, opposition to official support for minority languages extends to other unionists too, with Scottish Conservative Depute leader, Jackson Carlaw against spending on Gaelic language road signs (see and Left populist British unionist, George Galloway, against spending on the Welsh language.

[137]   Scotland provides an interesting example of this political balancing act. UKIP’s Scottish organiser, Arthur ‘Misty’ Thackeray claims that Glasgow City Council is run for “Gays, Catholics and Communists”. This gives a strong indication of his politics. He shares these strong prejudices with other Scottish loyalists. However, the UK party leadership imposed the London-based and openly gay Scottish-born David Cockburn as their carpetbagger candidate in Scotland for the EU elections. This move worked. Cockburn was elected MEP, but his greatest support still came from areas with an Orange Order presence, and also from the socially conservative Western Isles, where more fundamentalist Presbyterian churches still have an influence. He was able to extend his voting base beyond these groups because UKIP’s reactionary loyalist connections in Scotland could be disguised by having Cockburn as its candidate.

[138]   see Part 5) The impact of UKIP on







1)         The ‘outsider’ in relation to the UK state and Britishness and conservative, liberal and reactionary unionism

This section will develop the notion of the ‘national outsider‘, in relation to the UK state, with regard to people living  in Scotland (1). The use of the ‘national outsider’ analogy to the ‘racialised outsider’ does not imply an equivalent experience of repression or denial of democratic rights. In a similar manner, the use of the term ‘wage slavery’ can address a wide range of experiences of exploitation and oppression. It covers the relatively privileged, highly paid professional workers, who are capitalism’s ‘house slaves’, mainly found in the imperialism’s metropolitan centres; as well as the brutally exploited, very low-paid, fixed-term contract workers, who are capitalism’s ‘field slaves’, mainly found in the plantations and mines of the ‘Third World’. There has always been a possibility for the ‘national outsider’ to step in from the cold and take a full part as a privileged Scottish-British, Welsh-British or ‘Ulster’-British ‘insider’, in a way that was much harder for ‘racialised outsiders’.

One consequence of any sharing of ‘outsider’ status, in relation to the UK and the current dominant idea of ‘Britishness’, is that this does not automatically lead to greater solidarity with others, such as Virdee’s ‘racialised outsiders’. There is a hierarchy with regard to ‘insider’/’outsider’ status and to Britishness. Thus, whilst those sharing ‘outsider’ status may more easily be drawn into struggle than those who uphold official state-promoted Britishness, there still remains a political considerable job to be done to ensure that wider solidarity amongst ‘outsiders’ actually occurs.


2)         The clash between of liberal and conservative unionism in the Labour Party in Scotland

The Unionists form the parties that uphold the UK state. Historically the mainstream unionist parties have been the Conservatives, Liberal Unionists, Liberals, Labour, Social Democrats and Lib-Dems. They have been divided in their approach over the best way to maintain the union, adopting either conservative unionism (supporting administrative devolution) or liberal unionism (supporting political devolution or Home Rule). There has also been a reactionary unionist approach to the UK constitution, which has drawn its greatest strength from Irish and Ulster Unionists and loyalists, the Tory Right and today UKIP [2].

Liberal unionism took root in the late nineteenth century Liberal Party, in the face of Irish, and to a lesser extent, Scottish and Welsh, Home Rule challenges. From the end of the nineteenth century, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) emerged as a significant political force in Scotland. The ILP took over the liberal unionist mantle from the old declining Liberal Party and was strongly identified with Scottish Home Rule. The ILP became a key component of the Labour Party, particularly in Scotland.

The British-based marxist groups in Scotland, the Social Democratic Federation (later to become the British Socialist Party [BSP]) and the breakaway Socialist Labour Party [SLP] were, in effect, Left British unionist, albeit, like the ILP, supportive of greater Irish self-determination.  For a brief period, between 1919 and his death in 1923, John Maclean, became more  influenced by events in Ireland, and his growing understanding of the late James Connolly’s politics. He began to advocate a break-up of the UK and British Empire road to communism and a Scottish Workers Republic. However, as the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave ebbed away, such politics became completely marginalised  in Scotland. The infant CPGB fell-back on a  British road to socialism following  paths earlier advocated by the SLP and BSP, first opposing Scottish Home Rule, then later supporting it.

Meanwhile,  during the inter-war period, Scottish Home Rule remained ILP and Labour Party party policy, even if increasingly a paper one, in the latter case. However, immediately before, during and after the Second World War, a political struggle took place within the Labour Movement, and between the Labour Party and the SNP, over whether or not meaningful Scottish self-determination should be enacted once the war was over. The incoming post-war Labour government failed to democratise the existing Scottish-British relationship within the UK through the  introduction of Home Rule. This was despite Labour formally having this particular political reform as a longstanding policy.

Furthermore, by the end of the war, the SNP was in a relatively strong position and was exerting considerable political pressure on Labour in Scotland. This was highlighted by their May 1945 Westminster by-election victory. Robert McIntyre won what had previously been a Labour held seat in Motherwell. The SNP shared some economic and social policies with Labour. Therefore, it might have been expected that Attlee’s Labour government could have been pressured into implementing Scottish Home Rule.

Yet, in the face of all this, the post-war Labour governments still relentlessly pursued a conservative unionist constitutional strategy and faced down the pressures to introduce Scottish Home Rule. Labour’s war-time role, in coalition with Churchill’s Conservatives, probably contributed much to the shift from liberal to conservative unionism. Their managerialist desire to utilise a centralised UK state machine, the better to implement their post-war social democratic reforms, was another factor. The CPGB, then in its strongest position, also encouraged this slippage way from its own earlier support for Scottish Home Rule in the 1930s. The idea of centralised economic planning, as found in the USSR, another unionist state, now took precedence over democratic reform, for the CPGB.

Tom Johnston expressed this shift to conservative unionism most clearly. He had been a co-owner of the ILP’s Forward, and a one-time strong supporter of Scottish Home Rule [3]. However, he later became Churchill’s appointed Scottish Secretary in the war-time coalition and, under Attlee’s Labour administration, the post-war chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board. He abandoned his earlier support for Scottish Home Rule.

Nevertheless, successive Labour governments’ retreats over Scottish Home Rule were still strongly contested. Despite the collapse of the SNP vote in the 1945 General Election, following the end of the war-time political truce between the Conservatives, Labour and Liberals, John MacCormick’s [4] Scottish Covenant Movement, campaigning for Scottish Home Rule, gained widespread support [5]. This included local Labour Party and trade union branches in Scotland.

Why were the post-war Labour governments successful in their dismissive response to this Scottish Home Rule challenge? How was Labour able to obstruct any further popular widening of the notion of Britishness to encompass greater national self-determination for those holding hybrid British identities?

The answer lies in ‘The Spirit of 45’. This provided very real benefits for the white male working class throughout the UK and by extension to their families. Labour’s economic and social reforms, and the strong post-war economic recovery, trumped the political demand for Home Rule. There can be little doubt that the post-war Labour government’s establishment of the Welfare State (building on the war-time coalition government’s precedents) did provide the notion of Britishness with its widest and most popular basis of support up to that time. The National Health Service was the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the UK’s new social monarchist and imperial order. Here the word ‘National’ was designed to give the notion of Britishness a popular dimension missing in its traditional associations with the Empire, Crown and Westminster.

Thus, the earlier economic and social underpinning of Scottish working class support for Home Rule no longer appeared so necessary. The new North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board (operating in the Highlands and Islands), the all-Britain nationalised industries, such as coal, rail transport (with its administratively devolved Scottish ‘region’) and the all-UK Welfare State, together provided secure jobs and social security “from the cradle to the grave”. The post-war economic boom did the rest.


3)         Labour’s failure to democratise Britishness in the face of rising national democratic challenges during the 1960s and ’70s

However, just as economic and social reforms marginalised democratic political challenges in Scotland after 1945; so setbacks and failures in these fields led to the re-emergence of the Scottish democratic issue from the late 1960s. Furthermore, from then on, the inadequate political response of Labour led to a greater questioning of the conservative unionist UK status quo. This resulted in a fall off in support for the existing notions of Britishness, accentuated by the rapid decline of the British Empire. Support started to rise for the Scottish pole of hybrid Scottish-British identities.

In the face of renewed national democratic challenges, the 1974-9 Labour governments again failed to democratise the notion of Britishness. This would have necessitated a rebalancing of the hybrid British identities inherited from Labour’s post-war Britishness. It would have meant finding new relationships; between the UK’s constituent units, through political devolution or federalism [6]; within the British Labour Party and its subordinate offices in Scotland and Wales [7]; and with the SNP and Plaid Cymru, parties organised solely at the national level.

From the mid-1960s, industrial decline began to undermine the post-war economic revival in much of Scotland. A decimated post-war SNP started to recover once again as a populist nationalist party with Left and Right components. These divisions were often a reflection of the nature of the local communities in which the party organised. The political glue that held this politically diverse SNP together was combination of a commitment to future Scottish independence and an immediate programme of right social democratic economic and social reforms.

Initially, the 1964-70 Wilson Labour governments tried to counter this challenge through further administrative devolutionary measures, including the setting up of the Highland and Islands Development Board and other regional development agencies. This was very much in the tradition of Labour’s immediate post-war conservative unionist approach. However, the growing economic gap between Scotland and, in particular, south east England – the hub of unionist political power, where Westminster, Whitehall and the City of London were located – gave the SNP a political opening to raise the issue of greater Scottish self-determination once more.

After Winnie Ewing’s spectacular by-election win for the SNP in Hamilton in 1967, following Gwynfor Evans by-election win for Plaid Cymru in Carmarthen in 1966, the British ruling class began to take notice. In 1969, the Labour government appointed a Royal Commission (under Baron Crowther, then after his death, Lord Kilbrandon) to look into the matter [8]. However, when Labour won back these two seats in the 1970 General Election, the Royal Commission abandoned any sense of urgency. It took until 1973 (and the by then not-so-new Edward Heath-led Conservative government), for it to report. The key feature of this report was that it raised the issue of liberal unionist reform of the UK constitution once again. It proposed political devolution for Scotland and Wales. However, the Conservative government decided to do nothing about it.

The two General Elections of 1974, which Labour won, provided a further jolt. In the March election, the SNP gained 7 seats and Plaid Cymru 2. By the October election the SNP held 11 seats and Plaid Cymru 3. In 1976, the Labour Party in Scotland faced a Scottish Labour Party breakaway led by Jim Sillars. This time the British ruling class and Labour government began to look seriously at those earlier liberal unionist devolution proposals from the Royal Commission. This led to the Scotland and the Wales Acts of 1978, designed to pave the way for devolution referenda in both nations.

However, 1979, the year when the two referenda were held, was at the dog-end of Callaghan’s Labour government, which had lost its parliamentary majority. It was floundering in the face of a growing economic crisis. It had become increasingly obvious to the British ruling class that the UK’s economic competitiveness in the world was continuing to decline. Although, the Social Contract, backed by most trade union leaders, Labour had already undermined the recent working class challenge, this was not seen as going far enough. The ruling class was looking to more drastic measures to maintain the standing of ‘UK plc’. The majority no longer saw any need for liberal constitutional experiments [9]. They decided to batten down the hatches of ‘HMS Britannia’ in preparation for their planned neo-liberal assault.

An increasingly confident Right, led by new Tory leader, Margaret Thatcher, was gaining more support from the British ruling class. Labour became split over its own liberal unionist devolution proposals. A revived conservative unionism found its voice in Labour. Key Labour Party individuals joined the Tories in opposing Scottish and Welsh Devolution. Despite winning a majority vote for Scottish Devolution in the 1979 referendum, a Labour rebel-initiated and Tory-supported parliamentary amendment prevented Devolution from being implemented. A broken Labour government was defeated in a vote of ‘No confidence’.

This time, in contrast to the immediate post-war situation on the Left, it was not the CPGB, but the SWP, which provided a rhetorical leftist gloss for conservative unionism, with the call for ‘Revolution not Devolution’. There was to be a ‘No’ to Devolution but, instead of ‘Revolution’, there was Thatcher! Liberal unionism was dead in the water. The issue of the ‘national outsider’ had not been resolved. It was to become even more strained under Thatcher’s Tories.


4. The failure of ‘New Unionism’ and New Labour to stem the demand for greater national self-determination in Scotland after 1997

From the mid-1980s, the British ruling class was once more facing mounting national democratic opposition. This emerged first in Northern Ireland (particularly during the Hunger Strike and its aftermath). Later, largely in protest against the impact of Thatcher’s neo-liberal measures, the challenge extended to Scotland, particularly after the Poll Tax revolt, and to Wales.

Eventually, in response to this renewed opposition, a ‘New Unionist’ strategy was developed to hold the UK together. This occurred over two phases, the first in 1994, when John Major’s Conservative government wooed Irish Republicans and Ulster Loyalists under the Downing Street Agreement with the promise of a reformed Stormont. However, it took New Labour, elected in 1997, to implement this under the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and provide more solid grounding for the Peace Process.

The second phase occurred when Tony Blair’s government won the support of the majority of the British ruling class for the implementation of an extended ‘New Unionist’ constitutional settlement. Unlike the considerably less ambitious post-Thatcher Conservative proposals, aimed only at Northern Ireland, Blair’s constitutional proposals covered the whole of the UK. The reinvigorated Peace Process designed for Ireland, north and south, was to be supplemented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, by ‘Devolution-all-round’. The main purpose behind the ‘New Unionist’ constitutional reform of the UK has been to create the optimal political conditions needed to maximise corporate profits throughout these islands – 26 Counties Ireland included.

One of the primary aims of the ‘New Unionist’ devolution deal in Scotland was to see off the SNP. Devolution offered the British ruling class the prospect of coopting the SNP into the running of the Scottish component of the UK state. The possibilities of cooption have been demonstrated most spectacularly in the transformation of the formerly revolutionary nationalist Sinn Fein into the thoroughly constitutional nationalist coalition partners of the right populist and reactionary unionist DUP at Stormont. However, just to ensure that the SNP could not replace Labour (or a wider unionist alliance in Scotland), Holyrood was given a form of proportional representation to ensure it could never become the majority.

Yet, against all predictions, and after the initial setbacks in the 2003 Holyrood election (in the face of more radical challenges – the SSP, Greens and independents), the SNP was able to form a minority government in 2007, and then a majority government in 2011. This government was pledged to seeking a Scottish Independence Referendum.

Why did Devolution not work out in the way that the British ruling class and the unionist parties had hoped? Back in 1995, then Shadow Labour Scottish Secretary, George (now Baron) Robertson, claimed that “Devolution would kill Nationalism stone dead”  [10]. One of the major reasons why this did not happen was New Labour’s undermining of the Britishness once associated with ‘The Spirit of 45’. By the time New Labour was giving its support to a new constitutional settlement – the Peace Process plus ‘Devolution-all-round’ – this was no longer linked to the maintenance of any Keynesian economic or social democratic welfare policies that could benefit the working class.

The shared neo-liberalism of Thatcher and Blair, or ‘Blatcherism’, had replaced the old ‘Butskellism’, which had underwritten the post-war British Welfare State. Its dismantling became a joint Tory/New Labour concern. Once in government, Blair and Brown went even further than Thatcher and Major, to the extent that Thatcher could say that her greatest political achievement as Prime Minister had been “Tony Blair and New Labour”! [11]

Back in 1945, Labour’s commitment to the Welfare State had trumped and marginalised the demand for Scottish Home Rule. But, since 2003, the demand for greater Scottish self-determination has trumped New Labour’s liberal unionist constitutional reforms linked to neo-liberal economic counter-reforms. These have brought very little economic or social benefit to a working class reeling under the impact of successive New Labour, Con-Dem and Conservative governments. This is why the Labour initiated Devolution concessions have failed to stall the demand for greater self-determination.

During the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign from 2012-14, Labour ‘No’ supporters did try to invoke ‘The Spirit of 45′. They failed miserably, because it was under New Labour, following the Tories, that this legacy had been undermined. Miliband’s One Nation’ Labour never really broke free from Blair’s ‘Tory-Lite ‘ New Labour. Furthermore, Miliband was more challenged at the time by the neo-Blairites and the even further right, ‘UKIP-Lite’ Blue Labour, than by any residual Labour Left.

This is why an SNP government could, with increasing confidence, claim to be the inheritors of the social democratic legacy of ‘The Spirit of 45’, and even that very icon of post-war Labour, the National Health Service, but with the ‘National’ increasingly understood as Scottish rather than British. Thus the SNP has been able to win support from disillusioned Labour supporters, who have seen their party abandon the post-Second World War social monarchist, unionist and imperial Welfare State settlement, which had underpinned their Scottish-British identity.

Despite the tameness of the SNP leadership’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals and their probable willingness to have settled for ‘Devo-Max’ for now, if that option could have been included in the 2014 referendum, the British ruling class were not prepared to concede any constitutional reforms, which the mainstream unionist parties had not initiated themselves. ‘Devo-Max’ was seen as a second prize that would benefit the SNP more than the unionists.

The ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, put in place under New Labour, had been expanded in Scotland and Wales under the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition government from 2010-12. However, the SNP government’s independence referendum threat to this existing settlement led the Conservatives, Lib-Dems and ‘One Nation’ Labour to fall back on conservative unionism to minimise the concessions needed to hold the UK together. They jointly formed the ‘Better Together’ campaign, also known as ‘Project Fear’.

The SNP government, with its constitutional nationalist politics has, however, at the same time as pushing the Scottish pole of a Scottish-British identity to its limits, also promoted a wider and more liberal unionist notion of Britishness. Scots who chose to do so could still retain their Scottish-British identities, but more in the manner of those Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and others who are happy to share a looser Scandinavian identity. Scandinavians cooperate politically, economically and culturally through the Nordic Council. In the SNP scheme of things, a strengthened Council of the Islands (covering England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland) could take on a similar role to the Nordic Council [12].

Why does the SNP leadership promote both Scottish nationalist and British liberal unionist politics simultaneously? The SNP leadership wishes to create a wannabe ruling class by prising away leading Scottish capitalists from their unionist politics so they start prioritising the Scottish pole of their Scottish-British identity. They are trying first to win over the Scottish managerial levels of big business and those from a professional background to create a future Scottish ruling class. Their preferred method of achieving this is by the gradual accretion of powers devolved from Westminster, thereby opening up greater prospects for patronage. They have no desire to challenge fundamentally the anti-democratic UK monarchist, unionist and imperial set-up, nor indeed the wider global corporate order. They remain very wary of extra-parliamentary activities fearing these will alienate those influential people they want to attract.

So far, relatively few major capitalists have been won over. Sir Brian Souter, owner of Stagecoach, a major global transport corporation, is the best known. However, as British capitalism continues to decline, and as the SNP gains greater political leverage over the devolved institutions of the UK state, others could be won over. Gaining control of Scottish local councils and Holyrood is important. This all provides the SNP with access to additional patronage that can be used to lubricate this process.

However, in a country like Scotland, with a relatively small indigenous capitalist class, the creation of a wannabe Scottish ruling class needs to be supplemented by winning support from other classes to boost the SNP’s political project. The SNP masks its own class politics through the promotion of a form of social democracy designed to appeal to Scottish working class Labour voters. In this it has been very successful, greatly assisted by a Scottish Labour Party mired in careerism, corruption and a belief in its own entitlement.


5.  Clashing versions of nationalism today – cultural/ethnic Britishness versus civic Scottishness and their effect in the Scottish Independence Referendum Campaign

Since the 1970s the racialised notion of ‘White’ Britishness has largely given way to cultural or ‘ethnicised’ notion of Britishness in  the UK. This view has been adopted by Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems. It underpinned the politics of their ‘Better Together’ coalition. In contrast, the SNP government has moved beyond the party’s own earlier largely ethnic nationalist version of Scottishness to a broader civic nationalist version. Civic nationalism rejects both racial and ethnic notions of who belongs to a nation, in favour of accepting all those who choose to live in the country, whatever their background.

The effect of this was highlighted by the SNP government’s promotion, for the Scottish Independence Referendum, of a franchise consisting of Scottish, other UK, Irish, Commonwealth and EU residents living in Scotland, and extending the vote to those over 16. During the independence campaign, the multi-ethnic nature of the ‘Yes’ campaign was very evident, ranging from Asians for Independence to English Scots for Yes.

Civic nationalism contains a universal element, through rejecting ‘race’ and ethnicity and desiring the integration of all who wish to reside permanently in the nation. This is not to deny that as long as current capitalist society, so prone to multifaceted crises, exists, both racist and ethnic nationalism are likely to re-emerge and undermine such civic nationalism. Universalism can only be fully realised in a world where nation-states no longer exist, and where capitalist social relations no longer predominate.

Yet, despite the political and social limitations of any civic nation in a world still divided into UN-recognised ‘nation’-states, racist and ethnic (or ethno-religious) attempts to subvert such a civic nation need to be opposed – just as the limited democracy found in a parliamentary system needs to be defended against corporate business attempts to undermine it, and military and fascist attempts to overthrow it. Up until now, the SNP leadership’s civic nationalist politics have marginalised ethnic nationalist politics in Scotland. However, such politics still exist on the nationalist fringe [13].

Why is there less of a prospect for the development of a British civic nationalism? The difference arises from the particularly reactionary nature of the UK state, with its constitutional monarchy. This fronts the state’s anti-democratic Crown Powers; its unelected and class privileged House of Lords; its unwritten constitution; its undemocratic first-past-the-post elections; its privileged position for the City of London; its unionist denial of the right of self-determination to its constituent nations; and its continued imperial commitments, either on behalf of the British ruling class, or as ‘spear carrier’ for the US. A UK constitution, which does not recognise popular sovereignty, but is based on the anti-democratic notion of the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament, can not guarantee democratic rights.

The open or tacit acceptance of the existing UK state and British constitutional framework soon undermines the progressive potential for parties which go along with this. Various social democratic parties have hoped to extend Britishness to cover their working classes more fully. However, the more reactionary the local form of the UK state is, the more the ‘Law of the Falling Rate of British Progress’ takes over, and the sooner any countervailing tendencies towards increased inclusion are stymied and rejected. Thus, whenever the UK state faces politically challenging campaigns for constitutional reform, British-orientated Labour parties have united in defence of the UK and made common cause with the other unionist parties.

This ‘Law’ can be illustrated in the pre-First World War Belfast branch of the ILP under William Walker [14]. Later it was seen in post-partition ‘Ulster’ in the Northern Ireland Labour Party. Today, we see this ‘Law’ in operation in Scotland. British Labour, and particularly its Scottish Labour ‘branch office’, joined the Tories and Lib-Dems in ‘Better Together’, in order to oppose the exercise of greater Scottish self-determination.

The difference between civic and ethnic notions of nationalism is now highlighted in the Conservative government’s proposed franchise for the forthcoming EU referendum. 1.5 million EU residents in the UK are to be excluded. The Conservative government’s exclusion of EU residents (and others too) points not only their more restricted ethnic Britishness, but to the likelihood of stepped up attempts to create more ‘outsiders’.


6)        The threat of the reactionary unionism and why the SNP does not recognise the real problem

Liberal unionism was largely marked by its absence during the Scottish independence referendum. The main battle was between the forces of constitutional nationalism in the SNP and of conservative unionism represented by the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems. However, the forthcoming EU referendum brings reactionary unionism (previously mostly confined to Northern Ireland) to the forefront.

UKIP is central to a wider reactionary alliance [15]. UKIP has extended its politics beyond a right wing English chauvinism, in order to play to the reactionary elements still found in the various forms of hybrid ‘Britishness’ in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. UKIP is the only party that covers the full extent of the UK state, since the Ulster Unionists made their final break with the Conservatives in 1985, in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Where as conservative unionists largely accept the post-1997 ‘New Unionist’ settlement, reactionary unionists are prepared to attack this from the Right.

Northern Ireland is very important to UKIP’s reactionary unionist alliance, because the Ulster unionists (DUP, UUP and TUV) have already demonstrated their capacity to undermine the institutions of the ‘New Unionist’ settlement there. They have often obstructed Stormont, both aided and pressured by the street forces of right populist and neo-fascist loyalism.

This all has a bearing on the political situation in Scotland, despite the SNP government having little vision beyond Scotland. Indeed, its own ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals are based on the continuation of the remainder of the UK – or rUK. The SNP also wants to leave the Crown Powers, the City of London, the British High Command (and NATO) with key roles within its future ‘Independence-Lite’ Scotland.

Just as all these external forces would make their reactionary weight felt, so the existence of Northern Ireland will continue to have a reactionary impact in Scotland. The SNP leadership does not acknowledge the nature of the political threat from reactionary unionism, with UKIP now acting as an important transmission belt from Northern Ireland to the wider UK. This is because the SNP leadership makes no fundamental critique of the operation of the UK’s constitutional order beyond Scotland’s own borders, since it does not want to challenge the wider UK state. A future rUK, along with the USA and the EU bureaucracy, are seen as allies. Therefore, when it comes to any non-Westminster, non-Scottish political issue with ramifications in Scotland, the SNP government either ignores or downplays this.

One consequence of this is that the SNP has accepted the unionist-promoted view that Scotland still suffers from some deep-seated historical problem labelled ‘sectarianism’. Exaggerated claims are made for the impact of Scotland’s religious divisions. Others say that modern ‘sectarianism’ now focuses, not so much on church allegiances, but more on support for particular football teams. Using the misguided ‘sectarianism’ model, the SNP government has been trying to clamp down on its ‘manifestations’ through the Offensive Behaviour Act [16] . This is targeted primarily at football supporters and public houses. Yet, there is nothing religiously sectarian about most of the songs or wall-displays that have led to prosecutions or warnings under this act. What is called ‘sectarianism’ in Scotland today represents the overspill of a political divide first enforced by the UK state in Ireland as a whole, but then maintained within Northern Ireland after Partition.

From the sixteenth until the nineteenth century, religious affiliation certainly had significant economic, social and political ramifications in most European countries, including Scotland and England. Yet many other countries, such as Spain, France and Germany had a far more violent history of religious oppression and conflict than Scotland. So, why is this now largely a thing of the past there, and why has ‘sectarianism’ continued in Scotland?

The immigration to Scotland from both ethno-religious communities in Ireland (Irish and Irish-British), during the Industrial Revolution and in the aftermath of the Great Famine, gave ‘sectarianism’ a new lease of life over here. The consequences of the methods required to maintain British unionist control over Ireland were imported into Scotland. Today there is political divide in Scotland between those who, on the one hand, consider themselves Scottish-British or Scottish-British with ‘Ulster’-British roots; and those, on the other hand, who consider themselves Scottish with Irish roots, alongside those who see themselves as Scottish (or have other hybrid-Scottish identities) but who now also reject Britishness [17]. The loyalist rampage in Glasgow on September 19th 2014, the day after the Scottish Independence Referendum, made it clear that they also see, not only Scottish-Irish as ‘outsiders’, but also those who consider themselves Scottish and not British.

Furthermore, the SNP still retains some British elements within its Scottish nationalism. These tend to vitiate the otherwise more civic nationalism found in the movement for Scottish self-determination. SNP governments’ support for participation in imperial wars (most recently in Afghanistan and Libya) tends to give succour to racist and ethnic nationalism. The SNP government’s support for Scottish regiments, which have loyally served British imperialism from Culloden to Crossmaglen, and from the Heights of Abraham to Helmand, has led them to deny the nature of the global imperialist order and its current military upholder, NATO.

SNP MPs’, MSPs’ and councillors’ practical acceptance of their role in wielding Westminster’s devolved austerity axe (whilst still managing to claim they offer more protection than the unionist parties) could also undermine civic nationalism in the future. Those hardest hit and alienated by austerity could fall prey to the allures of scapegoating – whether it be on a racist or ethnic (e.g. anti-migrant or anti-English), or a social basis (e.g. welfare recipients).

If reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland and conservative unionism in England and Wales are currently dominant, then Scotland and 26 Counties Ireland have shown a different politics, which can attract large numbers. The multi-ethnic nature of those mobilised during the Scottish referendum campaign, and the broad franchise that was extended to them, has strengthened the notion of Scottishness based on civic national principles. This is in sharp contrast to the exclusive Britishness being promoted by conservative and reactionary unionists, with very little opposition from liberal unionists, who are in wholesale retreat.

The recent referendum to make gay marriage legal in 26 Counties Ireland has also broadened the notion of Irishness, reconnecting with the original Irish republican wish to widen its  popular appeal by uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, but on a new social basis. The impact of this spilled over the Border, leading to a demonstration of 10,000 in Belfast supporting gay marriage. The Water Charges struggle (so reminiscent of the Anti-Poll Tax struggle) [18] also has the potential to bring about greater unity, provided it is not diverted into purely electoral politics for party advantage after the 2016 Irish General Election.

Such developments could also begin to challenge the very restricted ethno-religious concept of Britishness defended by those reactionary Ulster unionist representatives of the ‘Ulster’-British. However, only socialist republicans advocating an ‘internationalism from below’ approach, encompassing Scotland, England, Wales and the whole of Ireland, will be able to make these links.


7)         The SNP and the prospects for a Labour revival in Scotland

The SNP leadership wanted to make a post-2015 Westminster General Election agreement with a Miliband-led Labour government. However, his conservative unionism was so entrenched that he announced he would rather have a Tory government than have to make deals with the SNP to implement his own ‘One Nation’ Labour manifesto. In bowing to Cameron, Miliband signed Labour’s own death warrant. This followed the near fatal damage Labour experienced in Scotland, when they acted as Cameron’s principal ‘Better Together’ agent.

It was the SNP landslide victory in the May 2015 Westminster General Election, on the basis of more traditional social democratic and anti-austerity politics, which paved the way, by example, for Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour leadership election in September. This is barely acknowledged by those on the Labour Left wishing to divert attention from the wider political significance of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ for the UK.

The SNP leadership hoped that the new Corbyn-led Labour Party would be different from that of Miliband, especially in regard to any extension of Devolution. However, Corbyn has failed to acknowledge that he would back a further referendum, if the SNP wins the 2016 Holyrood election with that demand in its manifesto. As with CPGB, faced with the demand for Scottish Home Rule after World War Two, and the SWP faced with the demand for Devolution in the late 1970s, so there are still Left unionists who believe that the UK set-up underwrites British working class unity. In this spirit they proffer their support for or advice to Corbyn.

Corbyn faces a significant neo-Blairite opposition. He will find great difficulty commanding the support of many of his party’s MPs or of the party machine for his own neo-Keynesian and social democratic proposals. Len McCluskey (UNITE) and Sir Paul Kenny (GMB) are also plotting behind the scenes to undermine these, as their shared support for Trident renewal highlighted. McCluskey’s left posturing and occasional nods towards Corbyn are designed to manoeuvre himself into a better position to achieve his long-standing aim to restore the trade union bureaucracy’s privileged role within the Labour Party. He would ditch Corbyn overnight, if any plausible candidate emerged, prepared to cut a deal with him.

The likelihood of Corbyn leading a substantial Labour revival in Scotland remains slim. On issues like Trident, the SNP leadership can still deliver the votes of MPs on the party’s right wing, something Corbyn is unlikely to be able to achieve with Labour.


8)       The need for a republican and socialist coalition to take the ‘democratic revolution’ forward

As a result of the 2012-4 ‘Yes’ campaign, Scotland entered the first phase of a ‘democratic revolution’. 97% registered to vote, whilst 85% actually voted. Vibrant and well-attended meetings and a new independent social media countered the unionists’ ‘Better Together’ campaign and the mainstream media offensive. Although the unionists technically won the September 18th referendum, they are very aware that things went far beyond what they had originally anticipated, when they conceded a referendum to see off the prospect of Scottish independence for a generation.

This is why so much effort is being put into attempts to roll back this ‘democratic revolution’ and to contain it within the conservative and reactionary institutions of the UK state, particularly Westminster. First came Lord Smith’s enquiry to sideline the empty federalist promises made by Gordon Brown and others. Then came Cameron’s official government response, which was to dilute even Lord Smith’s limited proposals. This was coupled to his attempt to win over UKIP support in England by falling back on English chauvinism; and to create two tiers of MPs at Westminster, under the guise of ‘English Votes for English Laws’. As well as the Ulster unionists, Michael Forsyth, once Thatcher’s leading advocate in Scotland, has been horrified at this attempt to drastically curtail a shared Britishness.

Since the SNP’s electoral triumph in the May 2015 Westminster General Election, there has been a combined unionist focus on ‘house training’ their MPs. The British ruling class is particularly adept at taming political opponents. This can be seen in the domestication of the once revolutionary nationalist Sinn Fein.   It has become a thoroughly constitutional nationalist and is now part of the machinery needed to maintain the post GFA neo-partitionist order in Northern Ireland.

Unlike Sinn Fein, the SNP has always been a constitutional nationalist party, with a greater resemblance to the pre-First World War, Irish Independence Party (IIP). However, the SNP today, like the IPP back then, have accepted their mandate as coming from being elected national representatives at a Westminster based on the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament, and not by upholding the principle of the sovereignty of the people. At the end of the day, there is a limit to what can be done by 56, 55, 54…. MPs in Westminster, just as there was for the 80+ IIP MPs before the First World War. Westminster is one of the most powerful institutions for subverting any radicalism, as the fates of many one-time Labour firebrands have shown.

Meanwhile, beyond Westminster and Holyrood, the Scottish Independence Referendum Campaign led to the large-scale involvement of people not under the control of the official ‘Yes’ campaign. This included the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). RIC was able to organise conferences of 800, 1100 and 3000 in Glasgow. It initiated the very successful voter registration drive in housing schemes long abandoned by a complacent Labour Party.

The radical threat represented by such independent political organisation has produced the other wing of the attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’. Many in the SNP leadership are not at all happy with the continued existence of ‘Yes’ forces beyond the party’s control, and even more dangerously, with the ability to mobilise people for actions which threaten their desire to create a wannabe Scottish ruling class ready to cut its own deals in the global corporate order.

The SNP leadership has tried to hoover up all the ‘Yes’ voters in a massive recruitment drive. They are meant to act as cheerleaders for their new MPs,  their anticipated bigger numbers of MSPs after the May 2016 Holyrood election, and councillors after the 2017 local elections. As with the unionists, the SNP focus is primarily on the UK state’s institutions, all of which operate under the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament. Given the privileged role the City of London enjoys under this set-up, this makes it even more difficult for the SNP to challenge austerity in practice as opposed to rhetoric.

Another distinctive feature of the wider ‘Yes’ campaign was its reliance on the social media, with several influential websites and blogs. Amongst those taking part, was a relatively small number of ‘Cybernats’ who specialised in online abuse and threats to ‘No’ supporters. Unionist propaganda directed against the ‘Cybernats’, downplayed the continued threats emanating from ‘Project Fear’, as well as the ‘Cyberloyalists’ also resorting to abuse and threats online.

However, in the aftermath of ‘defeat’ in the Scottish independence referendum, many ‘Cybernats’ have turned their fire on anyone, including ‘Yes’ voters, who dare to criticise the SNP. What is also becoming more evident is that, in their retreat into a nationalist ‘laager’ (as in the Scottish Independence Campaign – or ‘the 45%’), some also want to move from the civic Scottish nationalism, which underpinned the ‘Yes’ campaign, to a more ethnic and anti-English Scottish nationalism. This can also be seen in some of the actions and statements coming from Scottish Resistance.

Tommy Sheridan and his supporters in Solidarity are now looking for support in these quarters. Sheridan’s political drift from Left nationalist (following his earlier Left unionist phase in Militant) to populist nationalist [19] has been one of the dire consequences of the split in the Left in Scotland since 2006, in the aftermath of ‘Tommygate’. In contrast, RISE – Scotland’s Left Alliance represents an attempt to resurrect a Left, building on Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ and Scottish internationalism. RISE, like the SSP, is itself an alliance of Left nationalists and socialist republican internationalists.

To be successful, RISE will have to challenge populist nationalism, in order to ensure that people do not turn in this political direction, once the SNP leadership falters. RISE will also have to take on board the republican principle of acknowledging the sovereignty of the people, a principle first adopted by RIC in May 2014, to develop a political strategy that does not end up tail-ending the SNP.

It is also vital that RISE has a political perspective, which includes England, Wales and Ireland, as well as the EU. RIC provided the precedent by bringing in speakers from England, Wales and Ireland (including Bernadette McAliskey), as well as from Greece, Spain, Catalunya, Euskadi and Quebec. RIC sent speakers to England, Ireland (north and south), Catalunya and Greece. It organised a series of demonstrations to support the Greek people against the EU ‘coup’ directed at the elected Greek government. This internationalist approach needs to be further developed.

UKIP has clearly understood the need to address the current political crisis engulfing the UK state at an all-UK level. Their reactionary British ‘internationalism from above’ is designed to maintain the unity of the constituent units of the UK state – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – through the defence of all its most reactionary features protected under the Crown Powers. The forthcoming EU referendum provides UKIP with another basis for moving politics to the Right and promoting their version of’ Britishness’. This involves the UK’s removal from the EU and the creation of new ‘ethnicised outsiders’, anticipated in Cameron’s limited franchise for this referendum.

The best way to counter all forms of unionism, and challenge the constitutional nationalist and neo-liberal SNP government, is to promote the break-up of the UK state and its alliance with US imperialism. Such an approach can also oppose that fount of reaction, the current Northern Ireland set-up, from which reactionary unionists currently draw much of their sustenance. Similarly, we need to unite with those in the EU challenging the Troika; those advocating national self-determination on a civic national basis in Spain and elsewhere; and those migrant workers currently under attack. In the process, Britishness and ‘outsider’ status need to be brought to an end. The UK state should be broken up, to open the road to a genuine internationalism and the transformation of society.



[1]             For an extended history of the rise and fall of the UK state and the notion of Britishness see my article at:-

[2]           These differences have already been addressed in more detail in part 1 of From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Outsider’ and the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsiders’ and the New ‘National Outsider’.

[3]           Tom Johnston became chair of the Scottish Tourist Board and Scottish National Forestry Commission. He also represented Scotland on the council organising the 1951 Festival of Britain.

[4]           John MacCormick had been a former prominent member of the SNP, on its liberal wing. He resigned when the left populist, Douglas Young, defeated the incumbent liberal, William Power, for the leadership of the SNP in 1942.

[5]           The Scottish Covenant’s main political tool for achieving Home Rule was a petition. Two million Scots signed this, a considerably larger number than ever signed the SNP’s official ‘Yes’ campaign petition (which was quietly dropped) in the recent referendum. However, unlike the Scottish Covenant campaign in the early 1950s, the UK government had to concede a Scottish independence referendum for 2014, largely because there was the additional political pressure from an SNP majority government at Holyrood.

[6]           Talk of federalism has always been the unionists’ last-ditch option when under pressure. However, genuine federalism would be inconsistent with the current UK’s unwritten constitution based on the sovereignty of the Crown-in-parliament. In other words it would need a thoroughgoing democratic revolution. The British ruling class doesn’t do ‘democratic revolutions’, something all unionist parties understand. This is why ‘federalism’ is only kept in the locker to be taken out, quickly passed before our eyes, before being returned once the immediate danger has passed.

[7]           This problem has also arisen within the trade union movement. Unions can be found which organise on an all-islands basis, e.g. UNITE and UCATT; on an all-Ireland basis, e.g. INTO; on an all-UK basis, e.g. FBU and NAS/UWT; on a British basis, e.g. CSA; on an English and Welsh basis, e.g. NUT; on a Scottish basis, e.g. EIS; and on a Northern Irish basis, e.g. NIPSA.

[8]         The Northern Ireland Constitution Act made the situation more complex. This Act was passed earlier that year. It abolished (for the meantime) the one devolved UK institution that did exist – Stormont. However, Stormont hardly provided an attractive example for devolution in the UK!

[9]         In a similar fashion the British ruling class quickly forced the Labour government to abandon the liberal industrial relations proposals, with their recommendation of workers’ participation, published in the 1977 Bullock Report.



[12]         Nordic originally meant those speaking the Norse-based languages, but the Nordic Council also includes the non-Norse Finns. A beefed up Council of the Isles would be dominated by the UK and its devolved parliaments/assemblies with their hybrid-British identities and a future independent Scotland (sharing a dominant English language) but, in a similar manner to the Nordic Council, which includes Finland, would also include non-British Ireland

[13]         Scottish, like Irish nationalism, can produce their own domestic racist or ethnicist politics, as the fascist Altiri na’ hAirseirghe showed in the 1940s (see Architects of the Resurrection by R.M Douglas) and the proto-fascist Soil nan Gaidheal has shown in Scotland (see ‘White Settlers’ or ‘Jockbrits’ – Who Is to Blame? by Allan Armstrong, published by the Scottish Republican Forum). Such thinking has been marginalised in the party by the SNP leadership. Nevertheless, potentially far right versions of Scottish nationalism could still emerge, with Scottish Resistance displaying anti-English, anti-migrant and sexist elements.

[14]         See part 4 of From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Outsider’ and the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsiders’ and the New ‘National Outsider’ 

[15]         See part 7  of From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Outsider’ and the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsiders’ and the New ‘National Outsider’


[17]         Virdee has already emphasised the overdetermined nature of the Irish as ‘outsiders’ (see Virdee, RCatRO, p.162) with  Catholicism as one of its two components. However, the specifically religious aspect was always subordinate to the national aspect of the difference between the Irish-British and later the ‘Ulster’-British on one side, and the Irish on the other.  Part 2, section 6  of From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ and the Irish ‘Racialised’ and Ethno-relgious ‘Insider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’  shows how the Protestant aspect of  ‘Ulster’-Britishness and Ulster unionist politics became more and more subordinate to the national aspect. This was paralleled in Scotland, where loyalists increasingly turned away from such Protestant fundamentalist preachers as Jack Glass ( in favour of support for loyalist paramilitary organisations like the UVF.


[19]         Historically, populism has provided the cover for shifts from Left to Right. Sheridan’s own political fan club, Solidarity, now encourages joint membership with the SNP. This could possibly provide a conduit for the resurgence of anti-English nationalism either within or outside the party.



Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ also formed the basis of my contribution to the book  No Problem Here – Understanding Racism in Scotland, edited by Neil Davidson, Minna Liinpaa, Maureen McBride and Satnam Virdee, published by Luath Press in 2018.

The editors did a fine job with the editing, with one exception. The last line of my article in the book reads, “Only the break-up of Britain will open the road to a genuine internationalism and socialist transformation of society.” However, the last line of the piece I actually submitted for the book reads, “The UK state should be broken up, to open the road to a genuine internationalism and the transformation of society.”

The widespread  inability amongst those, usually from an initially British Left background, to be able to distinguish between Britain and the UK, was highlighted in my earlier review of  James Foley’s The Break-up of Britain‘, “The constant referral to Britain, when what we are up against is the UK state…  also covers Northern Ireland”;  and, “It is not the “break-up of Britain” (a geographical entity) but the break-up of the UK state that we want. Certainly we would like to see the demise of ‘Britishness’, an imperialist, unionist and monarchist constructed political and cultural identity held by many people in England, Scotland and Wales, and by Unionists and Loyalists in Northern Ireland. This is not the same, though, as the calling for the end of geographical territory called ‘Britain’ (which would really require many millions of year’s of geological tectonic activity!) Furthermore, Britain, with or without the prefix ‘Great’, has never included Ireland in the past, nor does it include Northern Ireland today. These particular territories have been bound to ‘Britain’ by the UK state.” (

Furthermore, the addition of ‘socialist’ before ‘transformation’, in the book version of the article, represents a common misunderstanding  found on the Left. When they are moving into new and uncomfortable political territory, giving the new change a ‘socialist’ prefix can offer some reassurance. However, although I, of course, also want a socialist transformation, this will not come automatically by advocating ‘independence’. But a  republican and ‘internationalism from below’ road to achieving independence would weaken the liberal, conservative and reactionary unionist forces currently trying obstruct such a course. This is why I refer to a “transition” not a “socialist transition”, when the current political conditions do not permit this. To take this further  would depend on the socialists’/communists’ ability to develop international independent working class organisation. The inability of so may socialists to understand the need to adopt an immediate republican and ‘internationalism form below’  programme and course of action, is what makes them so susceptible to tail-ending the most radical constitutional options being put forward by the liberal sections of the ruling class, or the radical section of the wannabe ruling class.

Allan Armstrong, 20.3.18


also see