1981 papers and Thatcher’s wobble

So what are you – British? Irish?  From time to time those commenting on my blogs tell  me it’s truly stupid to talk about Britain running Irish affairs, that they (unionists) are British, do I think one million people are going to be evicted?

This is an old argument and one used by the SDLP as well as unionists: that talk of ‘Brits out’ is absurd, the block to a united Ireland is not the British government but the one million unionists living in the north. Those who share this view should find government papers from 1981 instructive this morning. The Financial Times reports that Thatcher and her cabinet were very worried about a speech former PM James Callaghan was due to deliver, suggesting that,  in the face of the hunger strike and increasing unrest,  Britain should rethink its relationship to Northern Ireland.

“His views might well receive massive support from public opinion in Britain where there was already a widespread feeling in favour of British withdrawal. Many people in Britain now believed that a settlement of the complex problems of the area would be more easily reached by the Irish on their own and that continued British involvement could only mean the futile sacrifice of further British lives”.

It looks as though Thatcher & Co had no difficulty in spotting a qualitative difference between “British lives” and the lives of people living in Ireland, including unionists. Which of course there is.

Response to the release of the 1981 papers will no doubt lead to further drum-banging by those who desperately want to attribute the deaths of most if not all the hunger-strikers to Sinn Féin rather than Thatcher.The Financial Times, in contrast,  sees the central issue as being the possibility of British withdrawal from the north – in short, the beginning of the break-up of the United Kingdom.

But here we are 1981 and British withdrawal hasn’t happened.   Or should that be qualified? The UDR has been effectively dismantled, as has the RUC. A power-sharing Assembly now operates in Stormont ; justice and policing powers have been transferred here. That appears to be the policy of Sinn Féin – transfer as much power as possible from Westminster to Stormont, and in that way move towards ending the political union with Britain. They haven’t achieved that goal –  control of the key powers of taxation and foreign policy still rests with Britain; but a look at Scotland is instructive. There, the Scottish National Party has eviscerated the opposition, has some control of taxation if not of foreign policy, and while its leader Alex Salmond is much more popular than his key goal of Scottish independence, informed British analysts like Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian see a Scottish  Yes for independence in 2015 as a distinct possibility:   “Salmond may be the Times‘s choice of a great Briton, but his ferocious talent could yet prove to be Great Britain’s undoing”.

A final note: Salmond plans on having a second question on the 2015 referendum, in addition to the one asking Scots if they favour total independence. It’s being called “devo-max”, which would give Scotland every power short of a total break from Britain. In other words, his second-best would be to transfer as many powers as possible from London to Edinburgh, thus moving closer to total independence.  Sound familiar?

7 Responses to 1981 papers and Thatcher’s wobble

  1. Anonymous December 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    The same cabinet papers talk of abandoning Liverpool, which completely destroys your argument.

  2. Jude Collins December 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Anon 18:57 – You mean you don't think she was capable of screwing unionists AND Liverpudlians? Methinks you underestimate the lady…

  3. Anonymous December 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    No surprise the Tories think everyone north of Watford is a second-class citizen. Some surprise you agree with them – although I suppose it lets you sneer at the Prods, and sure that's the main thing.

  4. Jude Collins December 30, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Anon 20:52 – You're probably right about the Tories and certainly wrong about me. Oh, and maybe next time try reading what's written…

  5. giordanobruno December 31, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    If a United Ireland is ever going to be a reality, then someone should be doing some thinking about what is to be done with those troublesome prods.
    They won't go away you know.

  6. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I'm sorry but once again a nonsense argument that I'm not going to take much time with….suffice to say I have no doubt that all plans from the half baked to the possibly plausible are discussed at the cabinet table from time to time…the fact it was never acted upon is enough for me to conclude it would fall into the half baked category.
    No the point that I think your readers have missed is the reference to thatcher being responsible for the hunger strikers deaths…it really does amaze me that you cannot be honest and just admit that the hunger strikes were a political strategy designed to attack the Brits purely from a different angle,in fact as the newly realised papers show thatcher actually wanted to solve the problem but pira didn't want a solution…a fact that doesn't fit your romantic view of the strikers as noble men forced to die at the hands of thatcher.
    I would urge you to look again at what really happened,ie sinn fein dragged out the deaths for maximum political leverage whilst the British were trying to stop the strikes.
    Those are the facts,so please give your readers some truth jude

  7. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Censorship or cowardice…never thought you the type to censor contributions,very disappointing