On February 13th 2008, Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, speaking at Trinity College Dublin, argued that Ireland provided significant inspiration for envisioning Scotland’s future:
“As a nation, Scotland must look outwards and upwards. We must measure ourselves against those around us – and those who have the ambition to achieve. Scotland looks out to an Arc of Prosperity around us. Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark. All small independent nations. All stable, secure and prosperous. Of all these nations, no example is more impressive and inspiring than Ireland. And none is more relevant to the decisions that Scotland faces today. So I have come to Dublin to set out our aspirations for Scotland’s future – how we will create a Celtic Lion economy to match the Celtic Tiger on this side of the Irish Sea….The rewards to a nation that is willing to face up to its position, set its ambition, and pursue it resolutely – these rewards could scarcely be greater. The story of Ireland – one of the greatest success stories of the last century, and of this century – is a testament to what the people of Scotland can achieve.”
Well, things have certainly changed since then. The Irish economy has imploded, as has Iceland’s. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, Alex Salmond’s hopes of an independent Scotland, modelled on the Celtic Tiger has been attacked by his political opposition. On Friday, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray (here) criticised Salmond for his ‘daft, delusional, deranged and downright dangerous’ drive for independence in the wake of the Irish bank bailout. He argued that following Ireland’s lead would have been a huge folly: “Everyone in Scotland knows that in a separate Scotland our two biggest banks would have gone and with them all of the jobs, savings, pensions, mortgages and salaries.”
So, while the bank bailout is having direct consequences in Ireland, it also having other kinds of consequences elsewhere. Given that Ireland was the model for the Scottish National Party’s argument for independence, its fall from grace undermines a significant element of its case, and provides plenty of ammunition for pro-unionists worried that independence could lead to economic meltdown. Of course, as part of the UK, Scotland is about to suffer austerity cuts in an effort to sort out its own ailing economy. Nevertheless, once the model for many small countries looking to fast-track their economies, and to nation-states seeking political and economic autonomy, Ireland has been transformed into the lesson for how things can go badly wrong when the going gets tough.