22 May, 2024


The Scotland Vote And Sri Lanka

By Malinda Seneviratne – 

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

On the face of it, the referendum held last week on the future of Scotland and therefore the future of the British union, has some relevance for Sri Lanka.  After all it was about separation.  This is why it excited the Eelamist commentariat.  The fact that the Scottish people chose, by majority, to remain in the union need not dampen their enthusiasm because the ‘unionists’ bent over backwards to offer concessions and the ‘losers’ can demand that they deliver.

The analogy applied to Sri Lanka would run on the following lines: ‘Those in Tamil areas demand a referendum.  If they win, that’s Eelam on a platter. If they don’t, they can prevail on Sri Lanka “unionists” to deliver on concessions pledged during the election campaign’.  In other words, a win-win situation.

That’s where the comparison stops, though.  In the first place what Scotland is to the British Isles is not what ‘Eelam’ (as defined by the LTTE, TNA and others) is to Sri Lanka.  More than half the Tamils in Sri Lanka live outside the boundaries of the Eelam Map.  The ‘traditional homeland’ claim is at best dubious.  Historical evidence doesn’t support the contentions. Archaeological evidence rebels against such fantasies packaged as ‘history’.  There was never ‘annexing’ by one party of another, apart from invasions from what is now South India and adventures by the land-grabbing likes of Velupillai Prabhakaran. The lines have no basis in any history apart from the whims and fancies of a pen pusher in the British colonial government. There were no ‘Tamil areas’ which even the wildest imagination coincide with creative Eelamist cartography.

But there are lessons to be drawn from the Scotland vote.  Thrishantha Nanayakkara makes some valid points.  First of all, he alerts us to the value of the main political parties (i.e. those that are not ‘ethnic’ or ‘regional’) having a strong footing across the country and among ‘minority’ groups.  He observes that if conservatives and labor were not strong among Scots, Scotland would today be an independent country.

There is a lesson there. Neither the SLFP-led UPFA nor the UNP have any support worth mentioning among Tamil voters in the Northern and Eastern Province.  They’ve gone in general for coalition options in elections. The inability to ‘move’ in the way Labor and Conservative have in Britain could stem from multiple factors.  First there is a manifest reluctance to engage with Tamil nationalism in a civilized and democratic manner, especially when Tamil politicians adopted racist, chauvinistic and unreasonable political positions. The pernicious communalist lines adopted by many Tamil political entities have not helped either. They’ve more often than not played to what could be called a primordial angst of that community at not having a ‘country’ that is Tamil-made of the by Tamils, with Tamils and for Tamils kind.  In this respect, the Scottish National Party does not have a political equivalent among Tamil political groupings in Sri Lanka.

Thrishantha points to ‘a remarkable level of integrity and moral high ground that is associated with the SNP’. They did not feed a Scottish version of an embryonic LTTE the way the TULF and before them the Federal Party did in Sri Lanka.  Indeed, the values of democracy and tolerance championed by the SNP found currency in the imagination of the Scottish polity; again something we have not seen in the Tamil community here in Sri Lanka. Perhaps this is why the Conservatives and Labor could sanction a referendum where they would naturally seek a preservation of the union.  In Sri Lanka neither the main parties nor the ‘separatist’ have operated in a manner made for ‘democratic-trust’ if you will.

Another interesting element in the Scottish vote that is relevant to Sri Lanka is the economics of resources and control of the same. Scotland is resource-rich in a way that would-be Eelam is not. The ‘union’ had a commercial stake in keeping Scotland in its folds. What Scotland would gain from remaining in the union is not too clear at this point.  But in Sri Lanka ‘resources’ hardly constitute the heart of the matter. It is more about identity, belonging (or lack thereof) and also a convenient garb for problems that are not peculiar to the Tamil community.

This is why when the TNA wants international observers present in the event of talks with the Government, it is logical to either reject it due to the bad experience with such ‘facilitators’ or to demand ‘local observers’ too for the TNA was after all the proxy of a terrorist organization and the people of THIS country have a far greater stake in observing negotiations than any non-Sri Lankan entity.  The Scottish affair did not at any point require third-party presence but this was not on account of mutual distrust being absent.  Different contexts, different modalities – it is as simple as that.

Still, it is not enough to blame the TNA and the previous avatars of Tamil communalism. The question of belonging has not been addressed in a manner that the Tamil community finds satisfactory. Grievance, perceived or real, deserves the ‘grievance’ tag and in a democratic polity there has to be space for articulation and address.  This, more than anything else, will force everyone to substantiate claim and if this is not possible for such claims to be struck off the agenda. The weight of evidence is against the positions generally taken by Tamil nationalist elements at least to the extent that even devolution (forget separatism) to lines drawn by the British advantageous to expansionist visions of Tamil communalists is untenable.

Indecent as the British have been over the past several centuries including that country’s support of genocide by clinging to Washington’s coattails, the way ‘Scotland’ was handled is of a kind that is far superior to how the political leaders of Sri Lanka engaged with (or refused to do so) with territory-based demands of Tamil nationalism.  Now that’s a plum that can be picked from the Scottish political pie.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 2

    The tenuous unity shown by the three leading parties in the UK seem already to be broken, with different parties backpedalling from the various promises made prior to the referendum, necessitated by their own individual political considerations.

    Ofcourse, Sri Lankan politicians are not known for such behaviour.

    • 1


      “Ofcourse, Sri Lankan politicians are not known for such behaviour”

      Each party take different position to scuttle any meaningful measures to resolve any problems.

      Promises made to Hindia and Moon have gone with the wind.

      Previous promises made to minority parties also have gone with the wind.

      Where is the 13A + + + + + + + + …………. ?

  • 1

    Malinda Seneviratne,

    The referendum on the future of Scotland drew the attention of the whole world, not just the Tamils.

    For us, starved of a say on our destiny, a Referendum is a dream.

    We believe that a Referendum, similar to that held in Scotland, could deliver us from the bondage we are forced to bear, in the hands of the Majority.

    A riot normally erupts when the majority tries to overrun the minority. It is the minority that rises up in protest against the majority. But, in Ceylon, whenever there was a riot, it was the other way around.

    And, when the hapless Tamils gathered in Temples and other Refugee camps with barely their clothes on their backs, they were ‘shipped’ en masse to their ‘homes’ in the North. Today, they are being told, ‘Go to Tamil Nadu!’.

    When and how did we Tamils lose the rights to our ‘homes’ and the land, you used to ship us to?

    You say that, more than half the Tamils in Sri Lanka live outside the boundaries of the Eelam Map. Let me grant that to you for argument sake.

    It is not that you are permitting Tamils to have Colombo as their home; It is that you are admitting that your assaults on us has shifted North, away from Colombo.

    If it suits you, let us have a referendum for all Tamils, irrespective of where we live, to vote for a Home in the very land you used to ship us to?

  • 0

    Malinda showing himself to be the racist little [Edited out] he is. Like all Sri Lankan racists he just ignores the violence the Tamils continue to endure at the hands of the state in peace times and concocts a bunch of other facts to suit his sinhala nationalist, oppressive agenda. With jokers like this pushing sri lanka’s policies how can one expect real change from within the state. Bring on the UN intervention it is the only hope for real change in Sri Lanka.

  • 0

    One sympathises with Malinda S for he has to keep his job. For that he has to take untenable positions to be on the good side of the regime. He is not alone there in a country where our finer democratic features have been destroyed in the altar of political expediency whose strange rules are laid down by the all-powerful Rajapakse Family totally disregarding established norms and the laws. But even a modicum of honesty is necessary even in the unfortunate circumstances Malinda has to function in and survive to keep his home fires burning.

    “…There was never “annexing” by one party or another..” …”There were no Tamil areas which even the wildest imagination..” Who, I beg to ask, are you to trying to fool? What was the political identity in the North-East when the first Colonialists – the Portugese – invaded the Tamil land – an area separating the Sinhala South by hundreds of miles of thick Wanni jungle.

    Yet another dubious claim of Malinda is the TNA “(refused to do so) with territory-based demands of Tamil nationalism” This untruth is flogged to all and sundry visiting here – but to little effect. The latest visitors from the BJP on reconnaisance – Vijay Jolly and Muralidhar Rao – have given sufficient indications in their meeting with President Rajapakse and his brother Gothabaya, the Modi Administration cannot be fooled in the way the Rajapakses think they have fooled the region and the world. It is becoming increasingly clear NaMo believes in calling a spade a spade – compared to the gentle
    Dr. Man Mohan Singh who had the habit of putting off difficult issues
    “for another day” in the foolish hope they will solve themselves as time passes.

    Britain had a narrow escape from separation but was saved at the last minute when the 3 Amigos (Cameron, Miliband and Clegg) visited Scotland personally. They assured early and greater devolution to the Scots. This is no different to what CM Wigneswaren and his NPC is rudely denied for an year here. Cameron’s regime will deliver but the Rajapakses will not – thanks to the Buddhist extreme-army nexus – of which Malinda is a part. In fact it is not an exaggeration to say he is its creature.

    R. Varathan

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