Though the Irish Free State introduced an ‘Irish’ monetary system in 1928, Ireland in fact maintained a de facto currency union with the pound up to the 1970s. When Britain decimalised its currency in 1971, Ireland did so. Moreover, the British pound was freely used in Ireland. Insurrection, civil war, the civil rights movement and the brutal early years of the troubles had no effect on this relationship. The link between punt and pound was only broken when Ireland joined the European Monetary System in 1978.
Sharing a common currency with had little impact on the choices made by the political leaders of the respective states. Ironically enough, now that the two nations have separate monetary systems they have moved closer together in terms of politics and economy. There are of course superficial differences. Ireland’s elite remains wedded to clientism and the Church; the UK’s elite to dreams of empire. Yet in both states the political class actively pursue a policy of redistributing wealth from the poor to the powerful, a parasitical form of economics also known as ‘austerity’ or ‘socialism in reverse’.
If the Irish experience shows the utter pointless of the currency debate in Scotland, there is another aspect of Ireland’s relationship with the United Kingdom that has great and terrible relevance. Partition of Ireland allowed for the creation of elites in both jurisdictions of Ireland that used, and continue to use, religion as a prop and a weapon to curtail social justice and dissent. Yet partition was never an inevitable outcome. Unionism in Ireland succeeded in creating partition because it was supported by and supportive of a powerful section of Westminster’s political elite. In the struggles between Liberals and Conservatives, Ireland became a weapon that each could use against the other. The needs of the people in Ireland – unionist and nationalist – became secondary to the realpolitik of the British Empire.
While an Irish type partition is unlikely in Scotland, there does remain a very real danger that the needs of Scotland and the people of Scotland will become subsumed by bigger power struggles in Westminster. In the bigger Imperial game, London’s political elite – whether Labour, Tory, UKIP or Lib Dem - are adamant that the UKs nuclear weapon will remain in Scotland and that Scotland’s natural resources will be controlled by London. In order to keep this ugly status quo Westminster will do whatever it can to retain a presence and influence in Scotland that will, like partition in Ireland, bolster the forces of reaction and undermine the cause of social justice.
Understanding this, Scots have to ask two questions that really do matter, two questions that go to the very heart of democracy and social justice in Scotland and the other nations of these islands. The questions are:
If Scotland votes Yes to Independence will Labour support Scotland’s right to use its natural resources to fund schools, health, education and equality?
If Scotland votes Yes to Independence will Labour support Scotland’s right to remove nuclear weapons from its soil and use the money saved to fund schools, health, education and equality?
In the little time remaining before the referendum, these are questions that must be constantly and without pause put to Alistair Darling, Johann Lamont and Anas Sarwar. Allowing the debate to remain focused on the currency debate chimera is not only idiotic but dangerously obscures the very real threats to Scotland’s future democratic development.
For more on Scotland's Independence debate, read my Social Justice & Scottish Independence articles.
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