Ronnie Quinn is a big, broad shouldered man, with a great story. Not only is he a hurling fanatic and president of the Hurling Club of Argentina, he was – as a bilingual Irish Argentinean conscript in the Argentine army – the “unofficial” translator for the Argentinean surrender to the British army at the end of the Malvinas/Falklands war. He has written an excellent book about his war experiences.
The hurling club was actually founded in 1922 by Irish immigrants. Amazingly, in the 1930s there were lots of clubs here with names like Wanderers, La Plata Gaels, Saint Patrick’s Mercedes, Fahy Boys, St Paul’s, Irish Argentines, New Lads, Santos Lugares and Club Nacional.
The game almost died out in the following decades – replaced by hockey and rugby – but as a result of hard work by the likes of Ronnie, it is now growing again, so much so that earlier this week I met a young Waterford farmer, John Kelly, farming in Uruguay, who regularly comes over to Buenos Aires with his “sticks”. He told me that because the Argentineans are so good at hockey, that they are master ground hurlers and could give anyone in Ireland a run for their money.
This was proved in the recent GAA World games in Abu Dhabi where Argentina beat South Africa, Middle East and Galicia (twice) to win the cup for teams without Irish-born players.
What was remarkable is that they only took up the sport a couple of months previous to the competition, when invited to the tournament. All of the players are based at one club, Ronnie’s Hurling Club. To come up against the likes of Galicia, which has had 8-10 club teams on the go for a long time, and beat them, is exceptional.
We are sitting talking about the resurgence of the GAA in Argentina and the results of the British election. This is the odd thing about Argentina; despite the war and the on-going rivalry in football, the people are concerned about what is going on in Britain and the results of the UK elections are front-page news here.
The potential break-up of the UK isn’t just academic here in Argentina, there is still the Falklands to think about and the Argentinians genuinely believe the islands are theirs and it is only a matter of time before they get them back. The fact that there may well be lots of oil under the Falklands, obviously keeps the issue live.
But what is going to happen now to the UK?
The only logical conclusion that one can draw from the election is that the process of creating federal Britain is the only option – and even this mightn’t be sufficient. Welcome to the Balkanisation of Britain.
The two big nations, the Serbs and the Croats of the UK – the English and Scots – are now politically on polar opposite paths.
Scotland is governed by an anti-British, pro-European party that wants to break from London, while England is governed by an anti-European, pro-British party that wants to break from Europe.
At the moment the Scots have lots of seats and no power and this will obviously amplify their feeling of impotence being ruled by English Conservatives who have absolutely no legitimacy in Scotland. This lack of power over their own affairs will further strengthen their desire for another referendum. The longer they have all the seats and no power, the more they can consolidate.
Because they are pro-European an English referendum on EU membership will further inflame Scottish passions.
However, David Cameron is a Eurosceptic and so too is his party. The majority of English people are also Eurosceptic and the notion that Labour is pro-European is not particularly convincing. The history of the Labour party with regards to Europe is a complicated one. Only Tony Blair could be described as being a committed European, in favour of closer and closer ties to the EU. He is so politically toxic now, that any link of the Blair years will be enough to make the new Labour leader take flight. The British Left have never been convinced by the EU, and as a result, I am not too sure that it will campaign vigorously for Europe if it implies allying itself with British big business to do so.
It is also easy to forget that the first past the post system sends out strange messages about the underlying strength of certain movements. Take Ukip for example. Although the party got only one seat, an enormous 3.9 million voted for Ukip. That’s bigger than the entire population of Wales! They all want out of the EU.
The question therefore is whether Cameron wants to save the union which means staying with Europe and bribing the Scots with federalism? Or whether he wants to lead Britain out of Europe and in so doing, making the Conservatives the permanent party of government in England?
He might just go for the latter. He is committed to the referendum now, so everything is in play.
Let’s imagine that the referendum is held and won by the anti-European side. This would trigger an interesting chain of events. The SNP wedded to independence would be forced to go for a new referendum. Otherwise the Scots’ choice is to be ruled for perpetuity by Little Englanders.
I am sure Cameron would go for some federal solution where the Scots have hugely devolved powers and almost everything bar their own army. But the resurgent English might not wear that, after all what’s in it for England to continue bankrolling a sulking Scotland?
It is not hard to see the whole thing getting very messy.
Where does all this leave us? Economically a political upheaval in the UK will have a clear commercial effect on us. The UK is still by far our biggest trading partner. Over 30 per cent of all our imports come from the UK. What would happen to sterling during this period? Would it weaken? Probably, driving down the cost of imports but making it more difficult for Irish exporters to the UK – our 2nd biggest export market. Would there be capital flight out of or into the new truncated UK? My sense is that capital would flow in, because the UK would market itself as a freewheeling trading nation – a big Singapore – off the coast of Europe.
Politically, what would the breakaway for Scotland mean for Northern Ireland? Could it remain within a truncated union indefinitely? If Scotland goes, where does it end?
It has a funny ring to it doesn’t it. Imagine the truncated United Kingdom of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and . . . Las Malvinas.
Stranger things have happened – like the revival of hurling in Buenos Aires!