Freed from the straitjacket of Irish nationalism

As the rival political parties in Dublin haggled for power in the Dail, the Irish President, Mary Robinson, took off to another Celtic land to project a more edifying image of the New Ireland which she has so attractively and effectively symbolised during her seven years as head of state.

The stateless nation of Scotland might seem a strange place for her to spend three of her final days in office, but then Mrs Robinson's marvellous achievement on the diplomatic stage has been to escape from the straightjacket of nation stateism and to inspire her compatriots to think of Ireland as an entity which stretches far beyond Erin's Isle.

As the political theorist Benedict Anderson has convincingly argued, nations are "imagined communities". The Irish community, which Mrs Robinson has imaginatively represented since 1990, is not simply the 3.5 million souls living in the Republic, but the 80 million or so members of the global Irish diaspora, be they in Boston, Kilburn or Glasgow, where she will round off her Scottish sortie tomorrow.

Mrs Robinson arrived in Scotland on Sunday, presiding at a special service to commemorate the 1400th anniversary of the Death of St Columba, who sailed to the island of Iona to establish a monastic base and lay down the roots of the Christian church in Scotland. She made her own pilgrimage in a helicopter rather than a coracle, telling fellow worshippers that St Columba "reminds us of how old the links are between Ireland and Scotland".

But the focus of her visit is on the future as much as the ancient past. Yesterday, opening an exhibition on St Columba in Stornoway on the equally windswept western isle of Lewis, she launched an initiative to promote closer links between the people of Ireland and Scotland based on their shared Gaelic heritage. Her announcement was welcomed by the Scottish Office minister, Brian Wilson, who has long championed the Gaelic language cause in the pages of the West Highland Free Press.

But Mr Wilson would like to keep the Celtic connections limited to the cultural and sporting spheres. Having been one of the last in the Scottish Labour Party to reconcile himself to the party's policy of devolution - largely for career advancement reasons - he would detest it if Scotland ever broke away from the British state as Southern Ireland did 75 years ago.

Indeed, when he wrote a column in Glasgow's Herald newspaper, Mr Wilson used to warn his fellow Scots that if they went down the separatist road, their country would end up an economic basket case like Eire. He has ceased to peddle that argument in recent times as Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economy has roared ahead of the rest of Europe.

Ireland is now cited as an inspiring example of Independence in Europe by the Scottish National Party, whose leader Alex Salmond never misses an opportunity these days to rhapsodise about the Republic. This represents a major shift for the SNP, which used to point to the prosperous and socially cohesive Scandinavian countries as model mini-states which Scotland should seek to emulate.

Mr Salmond wrote recently in the Irish Times: "In Scotland we can only envy Ireland's access to Europe's top table, just as we can only envy Ireland's international visibility in tourism and investment - not to mention the self-respect which go with it."

Ireland's constitutional status calmly contributes to its current national vibrancy. Mrs Robinson acknowledged this on Sunday, telling the Iona worshippers: "In Ireland at the moment it is a very creative time, partly I think because we feel enhanced and reinforced by our membership of the EU."

But Mrs Robinson would never publicly urge the Scots to opt for independence in Europe like the Irish. Don't ever expect her to declare in DeGaullian fashion: "Vive l'Ecosse libre!" not just because she doesn't want to provoke a diplomatic storm between Dublin and London, but because the President of Ireland is, essentially, a post-nationalist.

That enviable outlook is simply not available to stateless Scotland, which slept through the springtime of nations to share in the fruits of the British Empire and is struggling to find a post-imperial role.

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marine / Shipping Solicitor - South Coast

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: SOUTH COAST - MARINE / SHIPPING Th...

SAP GRC Architect

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

BI Develop/Analyst - £35,000 ~ £40,000 - Sheffield

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply Teachers Would you ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game