Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Lords don't think Santa Salmond can really deliver

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond

It's the perfect stocking-filler for the political geek in your life – Alex Salmond's 670-page blockbuster entitled Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland.

Of course, it isn't all the First Minister's work. Scottish civil servants spent months putting together answers to the thousands of questions that are being asked ahead of the referendum in September 2014, when the question "Should Scotland be an independent country" will be put to the people.

Scotland's Future is "the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published," insists Salmond (above).

At Westminster, it was not well-received. In a Lords debate last week, peers lined up to abuse it.

"I believe that an anagram of the title, Scotland's Future, is 'fraudulent costs', which would certainly do a great deal to explain the content," said former Scottish Secretary Lord Forsyth. "It has all the deliverability and realism of a letter to Santa Claus."

The document has brought a new term into use – rUK, meaning the UK minus Scotland.

While the affairs of Scotland may seem distant to voters in Foyle, Fermanagh, or the Falls Road, it is becoming increasingly clear that Salmond's bid for independence will have a profound and long-lasting effect on the future of Northern Ireland, whether he is successful, or not.

An altogether more balanced book on Scotland's future, The Battle for Britain, by journalist David Torrance, sets out some intriguing scenarios about the state of the UK 10 years after the referendum.

A No vote would be a huge boost to David Cameron, or "the prime minister who saved the Union", ahead of the 2015 general election. But all three main parties at Westminster have committed to more powers for Scotland.

Plans for Wales to have greater autonomy over tax have already been published. Torrance predicts that English nationalist sentiment will lead to 'English Votes for English Laws' in the House of Commons, an inexorable step towards a federalised UK, with tax-raising powers passed to Stormont, Cardiff Bay and Holyrood.

A Yes vote will cause equally profound changes in rUK. No longer a United Kingdom, there will be pressure to change the country's name and flag. Perhaps Richard Haass can help with that process.

In spite of the sabre-rattling and dire predictions of the No campaign, issues such as Scotland's membership of Nato and the EU and its use of sterling would likely be concluded quickly and with rUK's help. It would not be in the interests of Wales, Northern Ireland and England to harm the economy of their new neighbour.

But without 59 Scottish MPs at Westminster, England would be even more dominant. David Cameron's promise of an referendum on EU membership in 2017 will be an rUK vote.

With Scotland gone, the English could be swayed by nationalism and Europhobia into voting to leave Europe. Just a few years from now, we could be in a situation where Scotland is joining the EU just as rUK is quitting.

The consequences for Northern Ireland will be profound, whichever way the Scots vote.

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