31 October, 2020

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As Others See Us: The View From Sri Lanka

By David Leask

David Leask

He’s adored by breakaway movements across the globe and – publicly or privately – loathed by their enemies.

An international statesman, he has inspired demands for freedom plebiscites, most recently in Catalunya after telling Spain rulers “to let the people decide”.

Meet David Cameron, world separatist pin-up.

The British prime minister may seem an unlikely nationalist hero on these shores.

But internationally his Edinburgh Agreement with Scottish counterpart Alex Salmond is often seen as Britain “allowing” Scots a vote on their destiny.

And that, in many places, is simply revolutionary.

Take Sri Lanka. Its government back in 2009 defeated a go-it-alone statelet in the Tamil-dominated north of the island after a war that lasted a quarter of a century and cost perhaps 100,000 lives.

Now the bitterly divided island state is trying to figure out some kind of long-term fix. Some have mooted devolution. This delights mainstream Tamil opinion. And horrifies some in Sinhalese-dominated government circles in the capital, Colombo.

Suren Surendiran speaks for the Global Tamil Forum, an international diaspora organisation set up after the war and describing itself as backing a “non-violent” negotiated settlement on the island.

London-based, he says educated Tamils see Scottish parallels.

“The Scottish history has many similarities to the Tamil nation’s history in the island of Sri Lanka,” he said. “The fact that the British government accepts that the Scottish people must be given the opportunity to vote in a free and fair referendum to choose how they want to be governed, proves that democracy is valued and practised in real life respecting the fundamental rights of every person who lives within the Scottish borders.

“The same is all that the Tamils are demanding.”

The Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka, of course, would take a different view of Scotland and what is seen as David Cameron’s referendum. Especially amid clamour for a devo settlement in the north of the island.

Cue an astonishingly angry editorial in the Daily News, Colombo’s state English-language newspaper that dates back to days when then Ceylon was a corner of the British Empire.

The leader column, printed earlier this month, might be better described as a rant.

Judge for yourselves: “In these parts they used to say that nobody but mad dogs and Englishmen would go out in the noonday sun,” said the paper, not quite accurately quoting Noel Coward.

“It appears only eccentric English Tories and their henchmen could think of something that would have ‘tragic consequences’ possibly, and then proceed to promote it as a ‘political solution’.

“Cameron and [his predecessor Gordon] Brown both say that Scotland opting out of the union wouldn’t be good for the Scottish or the English.

“Well, if as they say the consequences are going to be tragic for everybody who’s British why ask the Scots alone to decide their fate — and that of the English? Well, that may be called democracy and the realisation of the Scots’ right to self-determination, including the Scots’ right to self-destruct — tragically — along with the British?

“Speaking of mad dogs, sorry, eccentric English politicians, it’s important to remember that the Scot devolution model is what’s recommended for Sri Lanka by some of the local NGO elite.

“David Cameron says that he will campaign tooth and nail to ensure that the Scots remain in the union therefore averting what he called ‘the tragic consequences.’

“Why Cameron didn’t save himself the trouble by not calling for the referendum in the first place is not something that seems to have crossed the minds of Cameron’s like-minded and brilliant British democrats.”

You’ll have got the gist. But for good measure the Daily News sums up by suggesting the only thing worth importing from Scotland is whisky.

Next year’s referendum is a truly global event, regardless of its outcome.

Not because it is taking place in Scotland but because it is taking place in Britain. And Westminster – and I am sorry for labouring this point in these articles – still enjoys a remarkable international brand as the mother of parliaments. Despots hate our vote.

But it is also a global event because it is being seen as a test of devolution. Far from all devolved nations or territories go on to vote for independence. Some international policy wonks worry that our indyref may scare some traditionally centrist states – such as Sri Lanka – away from trying a dose of autonomy.

“Devolution is really handy to have in our toolbox when we look for solutions to conflict situations,” one an retired foreign diplomat told me recently. “The Scottish referendum may make the devolution option a harder sell in some parts of the world.”

Is Cameron a “mad dog”? Is he a nationalist hero? No and No. Surely he’s just a canny democrat? One, I’d gently suggest, who has avoided the astonishing backlash faced by his fellow Tories in Spain, who, by blocking a vote in Catalunya, have only flamed nationalist sentiment.

Courtesy heraldscotland

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Latest comments

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    Well, of course there’s at least two huge differences between the situation in Britain and the situation in Sri Lanka.

    Firstly, in the case of the UK, there’s not 600 million self -identified Scots living on a gigantic landmass just 30 kilometres across the sea from Britain. (That figure of 600 million is approximately pro-rata to the Scotland:Tamil Nadu populations).

    Secondly, the Scottish nationalist party did not wage a 30 year war of terrorism against the British people. Not mention the absence in Scotland of suicide bombers, murder of democratic opponents, assassination of national leaders, forcible recruitment of child soldiers, etc.

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      Yes there are differences but they are not relevant. Tamil Nadu is still part of India like many other states. It is not a separate country but the devolution took place after continued struggle by the different ethnic origins. But Sinhalese discriminated against Tamils and nearly three decades of non-violent struggle were met with violent Sinhala politics (genocide, forced colonisation, military engagement). There was no need for war in Scotland because there was no such violent oppression by majority as happening in Sri Lanka over six decades. British did not kill thousands of innocent Scottish people or did not discriminate scottish because they are Scottish. It is better you understand the difference between democracy practices in British and Sri Lanka.

  • 0
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    Cameron is not a mad dog. He is confident that the proposed referendum will be defeated.
    The GTF proposal for a referendum is silent on the rights of Tamils outside the North and the East.
    If there is a referendum and there is a decision to separate what is the fate of these Tamils.

    • 0
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      Don’t you worry ajith,

      If there is a decision to separate in a referendum, Tamils outside North and East will have a welcome place to go, escaping from the periodic pogroms let loose on them by the Sinhala state-aided goons.
      They can then flourish in freedom free of fear of subjugation.

      At least the Tamil refugees don’t have to perish in the oceans!

  • 0
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    “The fact that the British government accepts that the Scottish people must be given the opportunity to vote in a free and fair referendum to choose how they want to be governed, proves that democracy is valued and practised in real life respecting the fundamental rights of every person who lives within the Scottish borders.”

    This is good for the UK, but there is one huge difference in Sri Lanka.
    The UK has no Big Brother like TamilNadu in South India, waiting to pounce on the North of Sri Lanka, once it separates from the South.
    It has happened in the Past! Geography is Important!

    • 0
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      Tamilnadu pouncing on the North of Sri Lanka could only be a figment of one’s imagination. The days of dynasties and dynastic wars are long gone. Until and unless the majority of the Sinhala people get rid of their ‘Mahawansa’ mindset on the one hand and a ‘minority complex’ on the other, both of which are two sides of the same coin, the National question or the ethnic problem in the island can never ever be settled!

  • 0
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    Three options for a State to take against rebel regions: Devolution, Separation & Genocide; genocide ensures it perverse satisfaction!

    Sri Lanka has taken the third option from 1948 to the present.

    Buddha save the Tamils from the fellows who have perverted your teachings!

  • 0
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    Reading this, what immediately came to mind was ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’.

    Britain gave Sri Lanka independence as a a unitary state. That is all that successive governments of SL are trying to preserve and safeguard. India would do well to remember this.

    If the Tamils/Sri Lankans look closely at the British Isles UK they will see a dynamic, vibrant group of people; the Irish, the Scots, the Welsh et al who all are united in their loathing of the English but who have the good sense to learn English, but keeping and nurturing their own languages. And newer immigrant arrivals are mimicking this practice too. Regardless of this ‘loathing’ there is serious collaboration between all groups of people who inhabit the British Isles in nearly every field of endeavour; education, health, security, business, research etc, etc. It is the synergy created by this amazing collaboration and united strength that has made Britain a colonial power and has sustained her punching well above her weight in global affairs.

    The Tamils have suffered many injustices in the years following independence. They then discovered, to their serious discomfort, that the violent route to redress does not work. The Tamils are an erudite, resourceful and capable people who will have no difficulty learning and living Sinhala (the language used by over 80% of the population) and also keeping and nurturing their beloved mother tongue. After all they do it with the languages of the adopted lands they decamped to all these years. Take a leaf from the other minority communities in SL who have chosen to make their home in this ‘land like no other’.

    The Tamil diaspora have mostly settled and adapted in their adopted communities and most are unlikely to return to living in Sri Lanka. They should abandon pathetic protests and sing-song chanting in foreign climes that only serve to make them look ridiculous in the eyes of the ordinary, bemused local population. Many of the protesters are those who ran away from the fighting leaving women and children to take their place. If they wish to play a part in the new Sri Lanka, they should return home.

    The Sinhalese, well–balanced with a chip on either shoulder, would do well to rid themselves of the many of the fears that bedevil their relationships with minority communities. There is a bigger picture but the Sinhalese are too preoccupied looking over their shoulders and cursing the day they allowed crooks and thugs to run their public affairs.

    But, from my perch, I see the elephant in the room – dressed in yellow, and these days mostly foaming from the mouth.

    Aiyoo! Aiyoo! Kaata kiyanada’the! As they say in old Angunukolapelessa.

    • 0
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      The U. K is also a unitary state. But the difference is there they are trying to practise true democracy and thereby preserve the identities of different ethnic groups like the Scottish, Welsh and so on whereas just the opposite of these are happening in Sri Lanka. Also you seem to believe the Mahawansa story that Tamils are outsiders or invaders of the island which is totally untrue. Tamils have been living in the island for millennia.

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        Sengodan you are right “Tamils have been living in the Island for millenia”. Then why are the Sri Lankan Tamils seeking the support of TamilNadu, an outsider?
        Scots, Welsh, Irish are not seeking support from any outsiders, that is why they try to make the best of their situation!

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        Sengodan. M: for the record, I do not believe the various stories, Mahawansa and similar. Nor do I believe that the Tamils are outsiders or invaders. I do believe that we are all creatures of circumstance and what we must acknowledge is that however we got here, we’re here, and we have to deal with the challenges of living together. From where I am perched, all Sri Lankans look the same; and my many foreign friends and acquaintances confirm that. However, minorities need to be mindful of the constraints that will surely apply when they elect to go down the route of violent conflict. Sooner or later the government they confront will do what it must to restore peace in its territory. The GOSL failed, for many reasons, and for many years, to fulfil this obligation to its peoples (though it crushed the JVP uprisings of 1971 and 1987-89). Mr Prabhakaran who took ‘leadership’ of the Tamil Community (by force, by default,) was unable ultimately to realise when it was time to fold his hand and avoid the inevitable misery and mayhem that was our misfortune to witness. His legacy is a community, broken in spirit and unable to look their fellow Sri Lankans in the eye with dignity. The less charitable look on them as losers and docile victims; reconciliation and repair will be a long and difficult road. The Tamil diaspora who did nothing to prevent the inevitable now look at trying to lay all the blame at the GOSL for doing what they had to. Those who financed and facilitated the LTTE to prolong the agony of the fighting are now laying plans for a ‘global tamil force’ with all the attendant free-booting. Soon or later the ‘friendly’ governments are going to tire of the futile exercise of trying to lay all the blame on the GOSL. Those of a just disposition will declare the damage ‘six of one, half-a-dozen of the other’.
        The immediate task for all thinking Sri Lankans should be the challenge of defeating nepotism, bribery and corruption, and restoring the rule of law. Meritocracy, fairness and justice should be the benchmark we aspire to. But first there is the matter of changing the government that is simply not fit for purpose. And here is the reality check: nearly 70% of voters are Sinhala-Buddhist, the majority of who are yet to be weaned of their fear for anybody who are not. It is an uphill task, I fear.

      • 0
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        Mr. DAVID LEASK++++++++:

        Britain is doing so many Revolutionary things,I can not ask why you quoted only these things.

        Britain handed over it’s defence also to FRANCE. why it is doing all these ?

        I heard, Britain Gave Independence to Sri Lanka because at that Time, once it had to leave India, Britain did not have enough money to carry on all these operations.

        Now, the situation should be worse.

  • 0
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    just stick to the wiskey folks..

  • 0
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    Generally, as the country goes down financially, different parts will want to govern separately their own affairs.

    That will come to the SO-called developed world.

    There is nothing revolutionary there. Only thing Mr. Cameron can do is play the game as much as he can.

    American South also will have similar claims may be another 50 years time.

  • 0
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    As a long term plan, Mr. Cameron should introduce more immigrants to Scotland and should go for their votes. That is only a piece of the puzzle.

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