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.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker