"The Nineteenth century saw a great Springtime of Nations as the revolutions of 1848 saw new countries created the length and breadth of Europe. In our world today we are now seeing our own Spring Awakening with people and cultures that have long been dormant and subdued asserting their right to exist, their right to dream." Adam Price MP
Speaking today Presidential candidate Martin McGuinness said he would be a president who is independent of Government. McGuinness said it was important the president act in the people’s interest in respect of his or her constitutional duties and not be open to pressure of influence from... View more
This article appeared in the Welsh Independence Blogspot and is republished here with permission of Cambria magazine. Siôn is author of the book The Phenomenon of Welshness, published by Carreg Gwalch.
Too poor to be independent: Same old story
by Siôn Jobbins
"Wales is too poor to be independent. It’s not economically viable." Funny, were Wales given a penny every time somebody said that, then Wales would certainly be economically viable!
This 'can’t afford independence' is a common refrain by commentators and politicians alike, and is currently used with great gusto as an argument against Scottish independence. But a quick glance through the articles, editorials and letters page of the past makes it clear that Wales and Scotland haven’t been the only European countries 'which can’t afford independence'. It seems to be the standard line every time a small country strives for freedom.
Malta was one example. An editorial in The Times on 7 January 1959 noted gravely:
"Malta cannot live on its own … the island could pay for only one-fifths of her food and essential imports; well over a quarter of the present labour force would be out of work and the economy of the country would collapse with out British Treasury subventions. Talk of full independence for Malta is therefore hopelessly impractical."
The Times published a letter on 21 January 1964 by a Joseph Agius of Ta' Xbiex on Malta stating fearfully of:
"... the folly of giving independence to Malta when we are not economically prepared for it."
Malta gained independence on 21 September 1964. It is essentially a city state on a barren rock; from a British point of view it was a very large dock. In 2009 its GDP at $23,800 per capita was similar to other former imperial port cities like Liverpool, Newcastle or Marseilles.
Norway was another country which 'couldn’t afford independence'. Like Malta prior to independence, it had an amount of self-government, but within Sweden. One of the great bones of contention for Norway was that the consular service and tariffs were biased towards the more agrarian Swedish economy rather than the exporting Norwegian one. Even though the call for greater independence was widely felt across Norway, there were still some who were afraid of it and its consequences.
On 6 July 1892, The Times published a letter by 'RH' entitled, ‘A Warning from Norway’:
"… I may add that, as regards the immediate point of consular representation, the opinion of the commercial class in both kingdoms, as expressed in the chambers of commerce, beginning with the Norwegian capital itself, is decidedly hostile to it … At the same time it seems scarcely possible that the leaders of the movement can clearly realise the fate they are preparing for the country by what may well be termed a suicidal agitation … would not a free national existence but subserviency, not to say bondage to Russia … [Norway] reduced to conditions of a central Asian khanate."
Norway gained independence on 13 May 1905. It didn’t become a 'central Asian khanate'.
In a rare article on Icelandic politics, the Guardian wrote a sentence on 23 March 1908, which I guess has been used for all former colonies:
"It is very interesting to note that in this connection that Denmark has to pay a heavy price for her nominal possession of Iceland in the form of a large annual subvention [that word again!] to the Budget of the island."
To bring us closer to our present time, Slovakia gained independence in the famous 'Velvet Divorce' in 1993 and again the questions of its future were raised. In a generally balanced editorial, the Independent on 31 December 1992 noted:
"… there is no shortage of potential disputes. Currency union is doomed, with the Czechs determined to balance their budget and the Slovaks expected to head down the road of deficit financing and inflation."
The Guardian’s report two days after independence of the two new states on 3 January 1993 highlighted that:
"Many people see the split as a failure and others are nervous about proving themselves in an uncertain world."
What no report on Slovak (or Czech, Norwegian, Icelandic or Maltese) independence seem to suggest or foresee is the economic success which they have been.
In this respect, the general tone of the British mindset varies from a mild independence-scepticism to hostility towards most forms of independence. A scepticism which is at times more irrational and unscientific than that which the 'romantic' nationalists are accused of.
There are presently 192 members of the UN – they can all 'afford independence'. This month there will be another when the UN will accept its latest member, South Sudan. Yes, South Sudan can 'afford independence'. There is also another country which is expected to declare independence this summer. It is the one country which in terms of its fractured geography, fractious politics and crippled economy you would expect to hear an argument that it 'can't afford independence'. That country is Palestine. However, in much the same way that Scotland seems to be uniquely the only oil-producing country in the world which British left wingers think would be poorer with independence, Palestine seems to be the only state which no left winger questions if it could 'afford independence'.
Which leads me to question if there is a deeper reason for the historic reaction which some of our self-appointed 'progressive' friends have against independence for smaller European nations?
In a little quoted article titled 'The Magyar Struggle' in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on 13 January 1849 the co-founder of Communism, Freidrich Engels wrote of the 'primitive' and 'counter-revolutionary peoples' of Europe. These were nations such as the Basques, Bretons, Scottish Highlanders and Serbians whom he patronised for not having even reached the stage of capitalism. He calls them ‘völkerabfälle’ (racial trash / residual nations). He says:
"... these residual fragments of peoples always become fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution and remain so until their complete extirpation or loss of their national character, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution."
Is this the root of the historical world-view among some so-called progressives, of deep hostility towards independence for some European nations ? Is it that these progressives (and economists) see the larger nations, as Engels would say as "the main vehicle of historical development" to the detriment of smaller nations who seem, by definition, to be insular and counter-revolutionary?
But back to July 2010. Of course, South Sudan gaining independence is hardly an economic inspiration for Welsh independence. Not even the South Sudanese wish to celebrate their economic fortune. But then, the comparison for all economic scenarios, pre or post independence, in the short term at least, is the context of the neighbouring countries.
So, let’s discuss independence in another frame? Maybe we should view economic independence in light of it just being another economic transition.
The Welsh economy has been through several major economic transitions; agrarian in the early 19th century, then an industrial revolution, and a managed (or badly managed) process of de-industrialisation.
Independence would be but another economic transition. No Welsh economist or politician would advocate the Welsh economy to be the same in 20 years time as it is now. There will be change whatever happens, so why not a more fundamental economic change with independence as the vehicle?
There are of course those who argue that Wales is 'too poor' and I’ll leave that debate to those more capable than me in the statistical war of attrition but I’ll make a few comments.
The Welsh economy has been in historic decline since 1923 when the price of coal peaked. During that time Wales has been through 3 of the 5 stages of constitutional states. It’s been governed as an integral part of 'the Realm of England' (1536-1959); as a part of England but with some administrative functions - the Welsh Office period (1959-1999); and as a state with some self-government (1999 until the present day).
There are two stages left, generally speaking. The first is self-government with some taxation powers and then independence. Both the first three constitutional settlements have not improved Wales's economic well-being. Why not, from an economic point of view, try the other two?
In the same way that I believe independence is a vehicle to revive a weak language and culture I believe economic independence is the best way to revive a weak economy. It is the journey as well as the destination.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. As predictable as the articles 'can the Turnip-eaters afford independence?' are the articles post independence by the same papers which point how better off, economically and culturally, the countries are.
One quick example, again from that barren rock in the North Atlantic, Iceland – the little country which had the courage to tell their bankers where to go.
On, 1 December 1938, twenty years and a World War after The Guardian’s dire assessment, the Times wrote a glowing report on Iceland’s twentieth anniversary of independence from Denmark. Subtitled with the decidedly modernist, 'Roads and Radio' the Times notes succinctly:
"Side by side with the political liberation of the country, developed the gradual economic emancipation of the island."
The article continues by outlining the many benefits gained since independence, especially in the fields of modern communications.
So what of Wales? Wales today is guilty of voting for a sort of national Gombeenism form of economic politics. The Gombeen man is the Irish politician who’s only out to get some economic or social gain for his constituency, devoid of a broader political or philosophical outlook. Wales, by belatedly wanting 'fair funding' from Westminster, sulking over 'unfair cuts', 'demanding' electrification of railways, but shirking responsibility over large energy generating projects or taxation policies is only furthering the Gombeen image of itself. It’s humiliating and unnecessary.
In his recent article, 'Small is cute, sexy and successful: Why Independence for Wales and other countries makes Economic Sense' in the Harvard Kennedy Review, Adam Price makes a case for independence for 'small' nations. He compares the economic fortunes of independent Luxembourg and its neighbour, the German province, Saarland since the Second World War. The case is compelling. A similar case could possible be made in relation to Singapore which became independent of Malaysia in 1965 and Zanzibar which lost its independence and joined Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964.
But we needn’t look to foreign lands for inspiration or precedent. There’s a successful case of Wales not being 'too poor to be independent' in every parish in our land – the founding of the Church in Wales in 1922.
Like those Wilsonian new East European states, it could hardly have been formed at a worse time! After 800 years, the Welsh church became independent during what the Rev D.T. W. Price in his book; A History of the Church in Wales in the Twentieth Century (1990) calls 'the locust years'. "Nonetheless," as the Rev Price notes, "by 1937 it was generally felt, and rightly so, that the financial condition of the Church in Wales was as sound as it had been before disestablishment."
Independence would force politicians and us voters in Wales to grow up. We would be economically viable because we would have to be – we’d have to learn to swim. Let's look at 'good practice'. After communism, bling-capitalism, imperialism, state socialism, supra-national states or religious statehood, the nation-state and independence is the one political construct which not one state or people has turned its back on. Independence works. It's time Wales made independence work for her.
Sinn Fein confirms McGuinness for Irish presidency
By Andrew Bushe | AFP – 1 hour 57 minutes ago
Enlarge PhotoSinn Fein's Martin McGuinness (right) is greeted by a supporter as he arrives for …
Enlarge PhotoNorthern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) speaks to the media, …
Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the IRA and Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, was officially confirmed on Sunday as his Sinn Fein party's candidate for next month's Irish presidential election.
The socialist republican party's executive, the Ard Chomhairle, unanimously backed a proposal to nominate the 61-year-old, with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams saying: "He embodies everything that is needed in a political leader."
McGuinness is expected to obtain the required support of 20 Irish lawmakers by the time nominations close on September 28. The election for the presidency, a ceremonial role currently held by Mary McAleese, is on October 27.
McGuinness will struggle to win -- Sinn Fein took just 9.9 percent of the vote in February's general elections in Ireland, and the bookmakers have ranked him third behind candidates from the ruling Fine Gael and Labour parties.
But the decision to field a Sinn Fein candidate for the presidency for the first time ever is a sign of the party's growing presence south of the border.
Despite his four years as the second most senior figure in Northern Ireland's devolved administration in Belfast, McGuinness remains controversial.
He was a leading member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary group responsible for much of the violence during the three decades of sectarian violence that plagued British-ruled Northern Ireland.
However, he was also a key player in the peace process. He was viewed as instrumental in the IRA's decision to hold a ceasefire and then give up its weapons, and was a chief negotiator for the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace deal.
"When I first set out on my political journey in the streets of Derry city over 40 years ago, little did I think I would ever end up here," McGuinness told reporters at a press conference in Dublin.
McGuinness was born in the Northern Ireland town of Londonderry, a stronghold of republicanism, but he also holds a passport for the Republic of Ireland.
"I would see the presidency as being central in the unfinished business of the peace process, namely national reconciliation," between Northern Ireland and the Republic, he said.
The father of four said he had been "humbled" to be contacted by relatives of IRA victims pledging their support, adding: "This election needs to be about a new beginning. I do new beginnings."
He promised that if elected, he would draw only the average salary and donate the rest of his presidential wage to the Irish people.
McGuinness will not resign as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister but will step aside for the presidential campaign, handing over temporarily to Sinn Fein education minister John O'Dowd.
Political reaction to McGuinness's candidacy has been muted, although commentators said it promised to reinvigorate what was looking like a lacklustre race.
For immediate release: Friday 16th September 2011 Sinn Féin Officer Board nominate Martin McGuinness for office of Uachtarán na hÉireann SINN FÉIN president Gerry Adams has confirmed reports that the party’s Ard Chomhairle is to meet on Sunday morning to discuss a proposal from the National Officer Board to nominate a candidate to stand in the presidential election. The Sinn Féin president said: "The officer board will recommend that the candidate will be Martin McGuinness. Sinn Féin believes that the office of Uachtarán na hÉireann has been made more relevant by Mary Robinson and by President Mary McAleese. "This is a time of great challenge for all the people of Ireland. We need positive but authentic leadership. It will be a great honour for me to propose Martin McGuinness to contest this election on a broad, republican, citizen-centred platform. "I believe that this election will give Martin the platform to continue the work which he has led in the North and in the peace process and to put it on a national footing. "I believe he can be the people’s president. If elected he will draw the average industrial wage. He will dedicate himself to a genuine national reconciliation and the unity of our people. He will personify hope in the great genius and integrity of all the people of this island, Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters. "I would appeal, if Martin contests this election, for people to join in this campaign, including people in the North and across the diaspora who are denied a vote at this time. The campaign will give citizens the opportunity to make a stand for a better Ireland, for a united Ireland." Ends
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness is to run for the office of President of Ireland, his party confirmed tonight.
The former IRA leader and current deputy first minister in the North will be formally endorsed by his party leadership over the weekend.
The announcement is already being billed as the republican movement’s most audacious act since IRA prisoner Bobby Sands stood as an MP.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams confirmed that the party's Ard Chomhairle is to meet on Sunday morning to discuss a proposal from the National Officer Board to nominate a candidate to stand in the presidential election.
He said: “The officer board will recommend that the candidate will be Martin McGuinness. Sinn Féin believes that the office of Uachtaran na hEireann has been made more relevant by Mary Robinson and by President Mary McAleese.
“This is a time of great challenge for all the people of Ireland. We need positive but authentic leadership.
“It will be a great honour for me to propose Martin McGuinness to contest this election on a broad, republican, citizen-centred platform.”
Mr Adams said: "I believe that this election will give Martin the platform to continue the work which he has led in the North and in the peace process and to put it on a national footing. I believe he can be the people’s president. If elected he will draw the average industrial wage.
“He will dedicate himself to a genuine national reconciliation and the unity of our people. He will personify hope in the great genius and integrity of all the people of this island – Catholics, Protestants and dissenters.”
The Sinn Féin leader went on: “I would appeal, if Martin contests this election, for people to join in this campaign, including people in the North and across the diaspora who are denied a vote at this time.
“The campaign will give citizens the opportunity to make a stand for a better Ireland, for a united Ireland.”
Martin McGuinness: From IRA commander to peace-process champion
Martin McGuinness has just completed a top level trade mission in the United States which included talks with Hollywood movie moguls.
But even they would baulk at the storyline the one-time IRA commander now hopes to write for himself by his bid to be elected President of Ireland.
The shock move, however, is just the latest twist in the life of a man who was branded the IRA’s mastermind, but who became a champion of the peace process, and defied all the odds by forming a government – and even a friendship - with his most bitter enemy Ian Paisley.
The republican leader emerged from Derry 40 years ago as a fresh-faced 21-year-old – the IRA’s boy soldier who ran the city’s Bogside.
He was a feared street fighter who for years lived on the run, mostly across the border in Co Donegal. Security chiefs at the time considered him a ruthless terrorist who was at the centre of the IRA’s campaign.
But all that changed once the IRA called a halt to the bombing and shooting, first in 1994 and then three years later when the leadership announced a permanent ceasefire.
Martin McGuinness had been seen as the face of the IRA and the wider republican movement, alongside Gerry Adams.
But as politics replaced conflict, a new McGuinness began to emerge. Former enemies recounted tales of meeting a figure they found to be affable, who loved sport, enjoyed fly-fishing and even wrote poetry.
He was nevertheless seen as Sinn Féin’s toughest negotiator and took the lead role in talks.
Over the last 20 years of Ireland’s slowly developing peace process, the 61-year-old has brushed shoulders with successive US presidents and British prime ministers. But at home, he retains the ability to inspire both loyalty and enmity.
Last week Sinn Féin held its annual conference in Belfast for the first time. One of the highlights of the Ard Fheis was a speech by Presbyterian Minister David Latimer, the first Northern Ireland Protestant clergyman to address the republican gathering.
He has struck up a personal friendship with Mr McGuinness and embraced the senior republican at the event, before hailing him as one of the “true great leaders of modern times”. The fulsome praise brought bitter criticism from a number of unionist politicians.
On news of Mr McGuinness’s plan to run for the presidency, the clergyman said: “My first reaction is that this is a loss for Northern Ireland, because he has been involved in the process of turning our community 180 degrees and starting that new journey, if you like, that has taken us towards peace and a better future.
“I have watched Martin McGuinness change, so impressively change, that it would persuade me that he has a life beyond what he is currently engaged in, because he has, I think, changed in ways that prepare him for leadership at the highest level.”
Rev Latimer added: “In running for the President of Ireland, he would have my full support. At a difficult time economically, as well as socially and culturally, I would see him as a man who could send out ripples of hope.”
In recent years, as Mr McGuinness rose in prominence through his role in the North's powersharing government, there have been signs that a growing number of unionists are prepared to accept his bona fides, despite bitter opposition in some quarters.
A 2009 newspaper poll that sampled opinion across the religious divide voted the Derry republican the most respected politician at Stormont, where he shares the lead role with Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson.
Alan McBride, who lobbies for the victims of the Troubles, and whose wife and father-in-law were murdered in the IRA’s Shankill Road bombing in Belfast in 1993, said he had met Martin McGuinness several times.
“I know that when these things come up they can be hurtful for victims,” he said. “But he is someone who has played a key role here in the peace process. I would have no problem with him becoming president – though some of my relatives and friends would feel differently.
“I think he would do very well as president. I think he would be a good ambassador for Ireland.”
He added: “He shares a joint office with Peter Robinson and so is Northern Ireland’s joint First Citizen. What’s good for the north should be good for the south as well.”
Born in 1950, Mr McGuinness is married to wife Bernie, and the couple have four children.
They still live in his native Derry and he leaves his family home at dawn each day to travel to Stormont, often not returning home until midnight. His commitment – and that of Mr Robinson – is recognised as having bolstered the power-sharing experiment and cemented opposition to violence.
When dissident republicans opposed to the peace process murdered two soldiers in Co Antrim and a police officer in Co Armagh in 2009, Mr McGuinness rounded on the killers.
He branded them as “traitors to the people of Ireland” – a rebuke that was later said to have seen dissident republicans issue threats to kill the Sinn Féin figure.
Allied to such episodes was the daily task of forming new relationships with former enemies at Stormont.
When the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin agreed to enter government in 2007, critics said it would never last.
Mr McGuinness and the then DUP leader Ian Paisley stunned observers by forging a strong political relationship, which blossomed into a friendship. The sight of them laughing together in public saw them dubbed "the chuckle brothers".
When the DUP figurehead handed power to his tough deputy Peter Robinson, it was thought the new leader would seek to cool relations with Sinn Féin. But when Mr Robinson’s private life hit the headlines after his wife admitted an affair with a teenager, Mr McGuinness offered his support to the embattled unionist. The pair shook hands for the first time and a new DUP/Sinn Féin partnership was sealed.
Martin McGuinness has been frank about his republican past – though opponents have said he has yet to tell the full story.
During the Saville inquiry into the British army killings on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, Mr McGuinness confirmed his leadership role in the IRA at the time. Since then he has repeatedly declared “the war is over”.
Now, the man who was held in Portlaoise Prison on a sentence of IRA membership in the 1970s is preparing to challenge for the state’s highest political office.