Ghost of Mary Queen of Scots hovers over referendum issue

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

With less than 100 days to go before Scotland votes in its historic referendum those of us with Scottish blood in our veins but no entitlement to vote may have already made up our minds whether Alex Salmond is a smart cookie or a man giddy with his own importance.

At this time of year my thoughts always turn to Scotland where I spend my summer holidays. Every year since the referendum was first mooted I’ve made a point of asking the Scottish people what they think and how they might vote.

In all that time I found only one woman who said she would be a yes voter. Surprisingly, she was English.

My ancestors on my father’s side were Scottish Moravians who came to Ireland to set up churches. I’m not sure how successful they were although, as children, we attended a Moravian church. My father was not a church goer but some of his family attended this church in Ballyronan on the shores of Lough Neagh. That church is still there, it is where my parents married. It is still open for worship.

Whatever way the vote goes in September I think it’s about time I did my own Who Do Your Think You Are exercise. If Scotland is going to be lost to us I will want my grandchildren to know that though they were born in Europe their ancestral home is a beautiful country with fascinating people pitched into making a choice they never anticipated.

This week Scotland’s most influential clan chiefs declared they would be ‘neutral’ over independence. That’s an interesting standpoint from the modern day notables given the country’s history in 1587 when Scotland’s Queen Mary lost her head thanks to her English cousin Elizabeth who felt insecure on her own throne while Mary lived.

Depending on who we can believe about that treacherous period Mary was never likely to succeed to the English throne but she was let down by her nobles chief amongst them Argyll, Huntly, Bothwell, Ruthven, Lindsay and Cassillis. Despite her great intellect she was no match for the conniving noblemen who had led her into two disastrous marriages. Eventually she lost her throne and her head, they went to ground and the English Queen Elizabeth was able to manipulate the unification of Scotland and England.

Without doubt some of the history of that time will influence voters to mark yes on their ballot papers. On my travels through Scotland over 40 years I have talked to people who felt that England had no right to Scotland and Mary, most certainly, did not deserve the treatment she received at the hands of the English.

There are parallels here to our own history. Most of us in Northern Ireland know we are better off under the British Crown, others want to be part of a united Ireland despite the possible economic shortcomings that no doubt would ensue. When Ireland was split in the last century and Northern Ireland came into being the north flourished while the south struggled out of poverty.

It wasn’t until they became members of the EC as it then was receiving millions from Europe every year leading to the Celtic tiger economy that Ireland seemed, at last, to get ahead.

Sadly it was not to last and the south showed its vulnerability during the recent economic crisis. Maybe Scotland’s clan chiefs have learned the lessons of their history. Had the chiefs and nobles adopted that stance in Mary’s time it may have remained an independent country and there would be no need of a referendum.