Ulster has always been London’s headache but Scottish independence could make it a real thorn in Salmond’s side.
What has been completely ignored in the Scottish independence debate is the possibility that England, Wales and Northern Ireland would not be successfully united together as we are now with Scotland in the UK. Hypothetically, if we were to offer the option of union with England and Wales or union with Scotland to Ulster’s Unionists, I would put serious money on them favouring the latter. As much as we try to justify our presence in Ulster and the existence of a British state on the island of Ireland, we are effectively Scottish people living here. The culture and symbolism of Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and Protestantism would suggest it is London we are loyal to given the tirade of union flags, unwavering devotion to the royal family and high membership of the loyal orders. However, in England and Wales membership of these orders is near non-existent whilst in both Ulster and Scotland membership remains high despite a gradual fall in numbers.
The ultra-British nationalism that has endured in Ulster – even a century after the empire began its decline and our forefathers gave their lives for England in the Great War – is the symptom of being an abandoned people.
We are an abandoned people: I make no apologies for saying that. We were dumped here 400 years ago amidst a hostile undeveloped native Irish and the simmering ethnic tensions exist to this day. Unless my imperial masters are going to offer some sort of package to set me up in Paisley just outside of Glasgow where my ancestors are from, I’m not going anywhere. The imperial culture and parading of loyalty to the crown may have been long forgotten in England: but to a people who gave their lives for the British Empire for no reward it is the only thing they know. The idea of being a lost tribe is a bit much for some to handle, so in desperation to display their difference from the Gaelic Irish they cling to the empire that Ulster was important in building. Remember that Belfast was the richest city in the British Empire outside London in 1912. Being part of something bigger meant taking on the identity of British Imperialism and the Scottish traditions we once held have dwindled away, leaving only allegiance to Rangers Football Club. Many of Ulster’s Protestants left for America to become the Scotch-Irish, and despite an agency being set up to try and revive Ulster-Scots culture, displaying allegiance to the crown and consequently getting that feeling of being a part of something bigger is far easier as a result.
I bet you that you could easily confuse Whitehead on the East Coast of County Antrim and Troon just a few miles across the sea in Scotland. Just the other day, I was on the East Antrim coast when my sister asked me “Why are there so many Scottish people?” Living in globalised Belfast, she is exposed to more Americanised culture than Gaelic Irish or Ulster-Scots, but it made me laugh at how right she was. There are vast areas of Northern Ireland that you could quite easily mistake for the West coast of Scotland. There are more churches per square mile in East Belfast than anywhere else in Europe, and only three of these churches are Anglican (two are Roman Catholic). This is another similarity between Ulster and Scotland – Presbyterianism is effectively the established church.
The defiance of the Scottish diaspora will never end. Even if it is completely impractical for Northern Ireland to be in a union with just England and Wales, there’s no hope in hell of Loyalists being dyed green overnight. It’s incredibly unlikely, but if Scotland does go independent I do feel a consideration should be given to the possibility of Ulster continuing to be in union with Scotland rather than with England and Wales. In Ulster, we are a Scottish colony rather than an English one, and I will be insisting that Mr. Salmond provides me and the rest of the abandoned people with a Scottish passport. I am British but I am not English, I am not Welsh and I am most certainly not Irish no matter what anyone says. It might make some loyalists’ heads explode, but if Scotland goes independent I will be exchanging my then English passport for a shiny new Scottish one. Hopefully my Scottish brethren do not put me in the position where I would have to consider any of this.