Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Northern Ireland faces cut in funding if the Scots go it alone

Breakaway may mean less cash for NI, says academic

Emotions run increasingly high as pro- and anti-independence supporters exchange views in Dundee
Emotions run increasingly high as pro- and anti-independence supporters exchange views in Dundee

Northern Ireland could see its Westminster funding sliced if Scotland votes for independence, it has been claimed.

The formula used to calculate the grant we receive from the Treasury would have to be revised in the wake of a Yes vote.

Graham Walker, a Scottish-born professor at Queen's University, said even a No vote could leave Northern Ireland facing far-reaching changes because of the likely clamour for a constitutional review.

Scotland goes to the polls on September 18 in a vote which could transform the landscape of the UK forever.

The latest opinion polls show the pro-independence lobby narrowing the gap on the Better Together campaign, with one weekend poll suggesting just 53% will vote to stay in the UK.

Prof Walker, who specialises in comparing the politics of Scotland and Northern Ireland, said the impact will be felt here regardless of the result.

He believes that if Scotland votes for independence, the Barnett formula – the system devised in the 1970s to calculate the level of block grant provided by the UK government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will have to be reconsidered, and most likely to our cost.

"In the event of independence, that formula would at least have to be revised, and many would argue it should be scrapped and replaced," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "Any revision to the Barnett formula or changes to the financing of devolution are not likely to be to Northern Ireland's advantage. The ordinary man and woman here would clearly be affected by that in terms of the amount of money which could be spent on welfare and public services and so on."

Even if Scotland rejects independence, Prof Walker believes there will be major consequences.

The prime minister has pledged that the Scottish parliament will get further powers "soon" if there is a No vote, promising Holyrood would be able to make "further decisions" to help growth and jobs.

Prof Walker said it could also lead to Northern Ireland and Wales receiving greater fiscal powers.

"It clearly means a looser union and may lead a push for a proper federation of the UK with an English parliament," he added.

"Certainly there has been talk of the need for a constitutional convention which would consider all these issues and whether we should move in a federal direction with Westminster in effect left with control over defence, foreign policy and macro economic policy.

"So we could be left on the cusp of a real constitutional shake-up, even with a No vote.

"If there is a deliberation over the constitutional future of the United Kingdom, that will affect Northern Ireland profoundly."

Concerns have been raised that a Yes vote could destabilise our political process, with Jonathan Powell, a key aide to Tony Blair, among those sounding warnings.

Prof Walker said the prospect of instability was concerning.

"It will require the political players here to respond in a sensible and measured way and not to play to the gallery of their own electorates and contribute to people's fears and panic," he said.

"On the unionist side there are so many problems with morale that a Yes vote would deepen a sense of the world changing in ways which they don't welcome.

"There are problems around flags, parades and so on.

"There is a feeling that loyalist desires are being ignored, that loyalist voices aren't being heard, that their culture is being whittled away. It is hard to see how a Yes vote couldn't make that narrative any worse."

Prof Walker also said much of the work done in moving away from the constitutional question to more normal politics in Northern Ireland could be damaged:

"I rather fear that if the Scottish question has the effect of leading to a referendum on Irish unity, a lot of that will be undone and it will be back to a very divisive and acrimonious type of politics."

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz