MR. BALF01TR, ON NATIONALITY.
MR. BALFOUR'S Edinburgh speech on the relation of nationality to Home-rule was one of the most striking speeches of the Long Vacation. It was delivered to a brilliant audience containing the representatives of the finest Scotch culture, who thronged to offer Mr.
Balfour the support of their sympathy and admiration, and it laid down, in our opinion, principles which it is impossible successfully to controvert, for determining the limits within which the development of national feeling must be confined in any important fragment of a great Empire, unless that development of national feeling is to end in a great conflict, and either a disastrous triumph or an equally disastrous failure. If, he said, any section of the United Kingdom had a good historical claim to Home-rule, that section was not Ireland, but Scotland. When Ireland was independent, it was not united ; and when Ireland was united, it was not independent. With Scotland it had not been so. For centuries it was a separate Kin gdom,—a separate Kingdom that had successfully defended itself against English invasion, with a long and unique history, and a distinct foreign policy of its own, to say nothing of an indigenous popular revolution, both religious and political. The Union with England was for a long time most unpopular in both Scotland and England; and yet the separate nationality of Scotland, instead of having expired after the Union, had blazed out afresh, and, indeed, become more conspicuous than ever. If, there- fore, the claim for Home-rule can be based upon nation- ality at all, the claim of Scotland for Home-rule is far more weighty than the claim of Ireland. But never- theless, Scotland, according to Mr. Balfour's view and most other reasonable men's views, cannot develop her national feeling to more disadvantage than by fixing her heart on distinct legislative institutions. The tendency of identifying national feeling with such institutions is naturally to increase the divergences and rivalries between the local and the supreme Legislatures, till it is impossible to satisfy it without Separation. That was what actually happened when Ireland had Home-rule,—which Mr. Balfour defines as any scheme of government which gives a country a subordinate Legislature of its own subject to the control of a supreme Legislature,— and the consequence was an assertion of Ireland's right to independence, and the actual gain of that inde- pendence for a period of about eighteen years, though the result showed that such a, system could not possibly last, since the whole nationality of the subordinate nation con- stantly strains against the leash, and renders the joint action of two separate systems quite unmanageable. It would have been the same with Scotland ; but Scotland after the Union,—for a time a, most unpopular Union,— had the shrewdness to discern that Scotch nationality was in no way dependent on the preservation of rival Legisla- tures, but might find an even freer development under conditions which would offer no scope for rivalry of that kind at all. " Difference of locality, difference of race, I almost venture to say difference of religion, may produce by their results differences of national sentiment which would be invaluable elements in the body politic." But in order that they may be so, they must be politically merged in the body politic, as the Alsatian and Breton genius were merged for generations in the French body politic before 1870, and as the genius of Scotland and of Wales are merged in the English body politic now. It is not legislative rivalries which will develop the national spirit in the case of connections such as these ; on the contrary, it is not till legislative competition is laid aside, that the true blossoming of the literary and social and moral genius of such a nation begins. Mr. Balfour might have added that Scottish genius never blossomed till after the Legislative Union with England had become perfectly secure. Indeed, it was at the end of the last and during the first half of the present century that Adam Smith and Burns and Sir Walter Scott and Brougham and Macaulay vindicated for Scotland the claim to an imperishable national genius that was at once the special glory of Scotland and the general glory of the United Kingdom.
Now is there, Mr. Balfour asked, any reason at all why Ireland should not have a free national development of the same kind, to be gained in the same way ? And his answer was that at the present moment, if you go to Ireland and travel through it, "you will find all that is best in learning, all that is best in literature, all that shows the greatest aptitude for commerce, all that exhibits the great qualities that make Scotland what it is, and are making the North of Ireland what Scotland is, you will find these forces arrayed on the side of the Union." How can Ireland claim to be an oppressed nationality, he asked ? In all cases of oppressed nationality, that which constitutes " the most vigorous and virile elements of the population, is arrayed against the oppressor." But in Ireland it is just the opposite. Wherever there is most evidence of life, vivacity, energy, success, there is a stronghold of Union, and not only a stronghold of Union, but a stronghold of social and family life that has been converted to the policy of Union since the Act of Union was passed. It is the feebler and most dependent sections of the Irish population which yield their allegiance to the Home-rule Party. " Natural selection " in Ireland declares for the Union. It is the shrinking and self-distrustful portions of the population who yield to Mr. Parnell the great mass of his supporters.
Of course, it may be said in answer to Mr. Balfour, that the sobriety and good sense which enabled the Scotch to discern their advantage in supporting the Legislative Union was due to the preponderance in Scotland of that Lowland character which is to be found also in the North of Ireland ; but that in Ireland, unfortunately, the rela- tive proportions are reversed, the comparative flightiness of the great majority of the people showing no trace of that cool and canny good sense which has reconciled Scotland to the Union. That difference in the circum- stances of Ireland and Scotland will no doubt account for the slow progress which the Union has made during nearly ninety years ; but it does not suggest the smallest probability that the obstructiveness of the flightier elements in Irish character will ultimately pre- vail. The very qualities in the majority of the Irish people which make them so irreconcilable now, would make them absolutely unmanageable if we gave their prepossessions fuller scope. Is it a reason for setting them up with a Legislature of their own, that they have made so captious and perverse a use of their large representative influence in the Legislature of the United Kingdom ? Is it a reason for handing over to them the power to embarrass us at every step, that even with a Minister like Mr. Gladstone devoted to their interests, they could never persuade themselves to support him cordially in any branch of his beneficent Irish policy, till he held out to them the hope of breaking away ? Is it any encouragement to us to put it in their power to defy us to overrule their policy unless we wish for civil war, that they have always shown themselves most dangerous whenever they have discerned in the British Administration signs of good- will and of regret for past misgovernment ? If the spirit of a subordinate nationality is to be given scope on its purely political side, without bringing on us any peril of dis- ruption, there must be either a great sobriety in those who are to manipulate it, or a number of elaborate counter- poises such as keep the complex system of Austrian federalism from flying asunder. In Ireland there are neither of these securities. The majority show no sobriety, and there is no array of other subordinate nationalities to render the prospect of any general break-up one of extreme and obvious peril. In a word, all the experience we have of the action of a semi-independent or wholly independent Ireland is experience that should warn us of its extreme danger, and should lead us to expect that even semi- independence must result in the terrible alternative between the necessity for a new conquest, and the necessity for a complete separation.