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Intimate Strangers: Political and Cultural Interaction Between Scotland and Ulster in Modern Timesintimate strangers.jpg (10064 bytes)

Graham Walker. John Donald Edinburgh 1995 ISBN 0 85976 417 18.00

This book is shockingly expensive at 18.00 for a slim paperback. This will be enough to deter most folk from buying it which will be a real shame. It's really very good so borrow it from the library. Graham Walker starts with an overview of relations from 1600 to the time of the Home Rule controversies of 1880. He looks at the nature and influence of Presbyterianism and the ideas of the Scottish enlightenment on Ulster society, particularly on the United Irishmen. Quite a few Ulsterfolk fled to Scotland after the defeat of the 1798 rebellion and large-scale Roman Catholic Irish emigration to Scotland raised many concerns there. Walker notes that identities in Ulster were reshaped by the 1880's with the "gradual emergence of an 'Ulster' identity which proclaimed its 'Britishness' in terms of political loyalty..". "Ulster Presbyterians", he observes, with all their Scottish links and covenanted ideas, "were perhaps the most influential architects of this emerging 'Ulster' identity."

The nature of popular unionist and labour politics in Scotland and Ulster are compared and contrasted as are the varying ideas of Britishness in Scotland and Ulster. Scots generally know that 'British' is not the same as 'English'. This is less well understood in England. In Ulster, 'Britishness' has not yet lost its imperial trappings. One particularly interesting point is the different fortunes of Labour. Despite its heavy reliance on Irish Roman Catholic block votes and attempts of the Orange leadership to paint them as disguised Bolsheviks, Scottish Protestants and rank-and-file Orangemen did join and vote for the Labour Party. In Ulster, Labour was hampered by the constitutional issue and the unionist leadership was only too keen to exploit this.. As a nephew of a former NILP stalwart, I found this all very fascinating.

Scots are understandably wary of getting dragged into Ulster's troubles. They have underlying sectarian tensions and want to keep them well in the background. 'Intimate Strangers' sums up our links with Scotland well. There is much of intimate contact back and forth between both our nations but there is a distance and reserve there too. Walker believes that unionists have to become reformers and to support constitutional reform throughout the United Kingdom if they are to have any future beyond the one pan-Irish national chauvinists demand. He hopes that in a new era of devolved government all round, Scotland could help Ulster to shape a mutually beneficial future. He could be right. 

David Kerr

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