Violence renewed

How the cowardly slaying of two soldiers and a police officer in Northern Ireland has been covered o

Responding to murder

It's been more than ten years since peace in the country has experienced such violent hiatus – and the murders of army and police personnel by republican terrorists in Northern Ireland has dominated the blogosphere this week.

John Wright, writing on Socialist Unity, was unsurprised by the Antrim attack, believing that it exposed underlying flaws in the peace process.

“It involved throwing money at the communities involved in a clear attempt to buy their support,” he wrote, “hoping that in time the contradiction that lies at the root of the conflict – namely partition – would recede in importance in line with a peace dividend in the form of prosperity and a boom in consumption.”

Wright believes that as darker economic times come upon us, the divisions that characterise the country are inevitably re-emerging.

There was a tangible hardening in of condemnatory rhetoric amongst republicans following the killing of a police officer in Craigavon, an act claimed by the continuity IRA. Former government advisor Conor Ryan regarded Martin McGuinness' press conference with DUP leader Peter Robinson and Hugh Orde as a sign of the “penny having dropped” among Sinn Feinn politicians, writing that McGuinness “expressed himself with unprecedented emotion and feeling”.

South Armagh republican Chris Gaskin was less than mournful at the death of British soldiers – but at news of the police murder, he wrote “I'm starting to feel slightly angry at the moment and I never thought I would ever feel that reaction in relation to the death of a peeler”, going on to say that: “these people cannot succeed in allowing this country to slip back into chaos, they just can't!”

On the leading blog for coverage of Northern Irish politics, Slugger O'Toole's Turgon examined the question of whether Sinn Feinn's initially “stuttering condemnation” of the army murders amounted to a missed opportunity for the party, which, he argued, should be using the airwaves and internet to call on constituents to assist the police.

Northern Ireland Tory Seymour Major wanted us to spare a thought for former DUP MEP Jim Allister, now representing 'Traditional Ulster Voice'. Allister, he blogged, is puzzled by unionist support for McGuinness' stance following the attacks – and is now keenly seeking to make political capital from Sinn Feinn's rejection of stepped up security.

Finally, the silent protest against violence, led by the trades union, was captured beautifully by Belfast photographer Phil O'Kane.

What have we learned this week?

That the government has apparently abandoned any pretence of sanity, decency or consistency, by granting Hezbollah's Ibrahim Moussawi the right to enter the UK, just weeks after refusing the same to Geert Wilders.

Around the World

Riyadh-based blogger Ahmed Al-Omran commented this week on injustice in the Saudi judicial system. He blogged about the elderly Syrian woman in the KSA, who was lashed and deported for having two men who were not relatives come to her house and sell her bread. Ahmed considered it “a slap in the face” for the country and welcomed news that human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem is to take on the case, “not just for the sake of the old woman and the two young men, but also for the cause of justice and human rights in this country”.

Video of the Week

Watch footage of the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia McKeown, address the crowd at Belfast peace protest, courtesy of WIMPS, a Northern Ireland website dedicated to improving youth engagement with public representatives.

Quote of the Week

“So as well as a return to recession we have the return of people who think that murdering working class teenagers is a good and noble thing.”

John Gray on Labour List

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.