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Fintan O'Toole: British wrong to think revolutions are bloodless

We need to talk about political violence. In Britain's current crisis, it is hinted at, alluded to, occasionally threatened. It has a spectral presence, as for example last week, when foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed that "the social consequences . . . of not going ahead and leaving the EU on March 29th, as we've been instructed to do, would be devastating". But it also has a very specific resonance: different ways of thinking about political violence are at the heart of the divide between Britain and Ireland and thus of the failure of the whole Brexit project.

In less than five years, Britain has experienced two attempted revolutions, two upheavals of the kind that, historically speaking, are typically associated with mass violence. One of these is the demand for Scottish independence, culminating in the referendum of 2014. The other is Brexit. Each occupies the emotion-soaked terrain of belonging and identity, that treacherous landscape of minefields and quicksand. And each has been remarkably peaceful. There was no serious violence in Scotland. Brexit has resulted in the murder of an MP, Jo Cox, and has indirectly fed a rise in attacks on "foreigners". But from any global or historical viewpoint, it looks unusually pacific.

If you're Irish and you say this to Scots or English people, they look at you in puzzlement. They measure these things by a different scale. Scots were deeply upset that people were abusing each other online during the referendum and that there were some instances of politicians being shouted at in the street. English people are devastated that they can't talk about Brexit at the Christmas dinner table without risking a row. I do not want to minimise the genuine unpleasantness of this discord, but - how shall we put this? - it's not Bloody Sunday or Bloody Friday or Enniskillen or Greysteel or La Mon or the Shankill Butchers.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 9th, 2019 at 01:30:41 PM EST
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