A braw bottle of whiskey (with an ‘e’ for it is Irish) crowns our kitchen pelmet ; we’ve solemnly sworn not to hear that ‘brrrp’ of it being uncorked until either Ireland is united or Scotland is independent. (It’s whiskey, not whisky, as the latter evaporates if you keep it inside in the heat for too long, but mine is not the voice of that experience). There are wagers on the odd Saturday night when we bandy dates, predictions and hopes, usually accompanied by infamous quotes and tunes. Great craic, to be sure. And we argue about whether the Irish colonised and civilised Scotland, even built Scotland’s roads and tunnels, bridges and railway lines. Though of course there’s a rejoinder that King Robert the Bruce’s mob landed in Ireland and kicked their bogtrotting arses into gear 700 years ago, saving them then, albeit far too briefly, from the ravages of the invading English forces. There’s a healthy at times demented competition jockeying as one Celt with another.
Sorrows are shared and tears shed in considering hapless, painful events ingrained into our DNA; rebellion, Clearances, Famine. There is regretful pondering over the way things should have been had there been no Culloden, had An Gorta Mor not also been allowed to decimate a population, had the youth, the young flower in bloom, of these lands not been ejected by force, fear or favour, to blossom thousands of miles away on foreign shores were they lucky to survive the awful, filthy, terrifying, slop-filled hungry journey. We’ve hundreds of memories, photos, videos of graveyards, headstones, monuments, commemorations of the most poignant of experiences known to Man. There is shared understanding of evictions, burnings, destruction, flogging, deportation, and worse. Knowledge includes dreadful accounts of torture, hurt, loss, spanning centuries and ending only a blink of an eye ago. Though we didn’t know each other at the time, we both respect vivid recollections of political maelstrom, learning to read from a traditionally sized News of the World with black and white photos of bomb sites and riots. There is a cabinet full of DVDs recording history, war and peace upon our own doorstep.
Twenty-five years ago work took me to Dublin and the Four Courts; there I met a lawyer, Finucane by name, who proudly gave me the tour of the bulletholes in his workplace. His barrister had been an Irish diplomat and the tales he told of British duplicity found great favour with me and I shall take those to my grave. A few months later my good friend and I sat in sunshine outside Trinity College,Dublin, and I read poetry which opened to me a world of sorrow overlaid with sunshine, redemption and the optimism only an Irish writer deserves; tonight I hear my boy singing a song penned by the Irish great-uncle by way of second cousin twice removed he never met.
And today, instead of looking backwards in fear and sorrow, we can look to a future with hope, confidence and determination. That arises not because of any dark shadows of gunmen lurking ready to assume control, but as the result of a young population looking bravely for honest government where priorities are those basic rights we cherish and deserve – a home, a job, our health. It sounds almost like ‘peace, land and bread’ if you say it quickly. And those values, which are common and not at all unusual around the world, are not only the expressed desires of the people of Ireland – today they are also the aspirations of by far the majority of the people of Scotland. Exit polls and opinion polls show, time after time, that both countries welcome and embrace world travellers, new neighbours, new friends. We like the leg up, not the kick down. We consider ourselves citizens of Europe and of the world, hungry for foreign tucker, the exotic and different, not xenophobic isolationists seeking warm British beer, Yorkshire pud and jellied eels. Neither Scotland nor Ireland conduct advertising or propaganda campaigns bellowing greatness or imperial power; we don’t want or need to be the best – we know we are the same, equal; and it is our desire for equality which will lead to exactly that – seats at the table of the EU and the UN on an equal footing with the rest of the world. The “B” word need be mentioned no more, for we will be neither British, nor Borissed, nor Brainwashed. Just equal, ourselves, alone, with friends. Our day