… and Ulster will be wrong

The annual file-fest that is the release of State Papers got its brief hour of publicity. This fills up newsprint between the stale turkey and the New Year’s Honours (more turkeys). For most sub-editors it is a delight because it can all be pre-processed. The real dirt takes longer (and the commitment of some ambitious PhD student).

Malcolm found the gem of the 1976 State documents (as so far revealed) was the Wilson memorandum, more particularly his fears over a Unionist putsch and UDI.

To show that little changes in the minds of some folk, we should refer to Eric Waugh in the Belfast Telegraph as recently as 7th December.

Waugh proposed “an independent state of Northern Ireland”. Typically, as Unionist parlance since 1921 has had it, he confuses “Northern Ireland” with “Ulster”. Malcolm finds it somewhere between irritating and incredible that he repeatedly needs to clarify that Ulster (Uladh) comprises nine counties, six of which are “Northern Ireland” (though the most northern county of Ireland is not in “Northern Ireland”).

Waugh’s tissue of speculation is that some statelet could opt out of the Union, out of the island of Ireland, out of the European Union, and survive as a tax-haven. His model is the Isle of Man (population something like 78,000).

Meanwhile, the rest of us would be expected to contribute generously, for “the new state would require bolstering for up to 20 years by the UK, the EU – and possibly the US and even the Republic”. That, of course, ignores the continued tax revenue bled away by this parasitical “new state”. Let’s put that into proportion. Government expenditure in Northern Ireland is something in the region of £16B, which exceeds by a degree the £780M of gross expenditure by the Manx government.

Malcolm suspects that Waugh’s ideal would be more modest: pulling the wagons into a circle around the defensible Protestant heartland of Antrim, Down and Portadown, perhaps. This nicely unhitches the Nationalist baggage train, and leaves Dublin and Europe to pick up the pieces in the high unemployment areas.

Wilson was a pragmatic (one of his own favourite words) politician: Malcolm expects his oft-maligned reputation will enhance with time (for one example and modern comparison, in denying Washington’s pressure to engage in Vietnam). His opinions and fears remain relevant and should not be lightly discounted (as they were then by those omniscient mandarins of Whitehall, who managed to get things so “right” in the intervening thirty years).

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Filed under Harold Wilson, Labour Party, Northern Ireland

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