Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Scottish independence: Either way, Westminster's grip on union is diminished

Liam Clarke
Liam Clarke

Both nationalists and unionists in Scotland are seeking to distance themselves from their Northern Ireland counterparts.

Yet the impact of their referendum will be wide and deep here.

The pro-independence lobby is, as today's interview with Angus Robertson shows, concentrating on the economic issues – the benefits that it believes more decision making powers can have for Scotland.

Their assumption is that, with North Sea oil and a fairly large corporate sector, Scotland is a net contributor to the UK which can benefit from standing on its own feet. There is scant focus on historic clashes with the Sassenach foe. No harking back to William Wallace, Bannockburn or the Highland Clearances. This is an issue-based campaign focused on the future.

So is the No campaign, which advocates staying in the UK. It plays to the Scots' innate caution, not emotion, by warning against an irrevocable break with a bigger economy.

Here, the effect of Scottish independence might be felt most strongly in our relationship with London.

It would rewrite the terms of the union and some, both nationalist and unionist, would have more affinity for Scotland than England. The UK wouldn't feel the same without five million Scots. There might, long term, be a greater reluctance by England to continue to subsidise us to quite the same degree through the Barnett formula if Scotland wasn't sharing the burden.

There would be a feeling that if the union can be redrawn once, it can be redrawn again. Scottish independence would become active in 2016, the centenary of the Easter rising and the year of the Irish general election. Sinn Fein could present it as a step to a united, or federal, Ireland with friendly links to Scotland and the UK through the British Irish council. It would be an emotional roller coaster for some unionists who look to the Ulster Scots heritage. There might be an initial sense of abandonment by Scotland, but it would quickly become clear cultural and most other links could be maintained. Scotland would not move, the ferries would take us there for holidays or Rangers and Celtic matches, but the relationship would shift.

The Saltire, flying in many loyalist areas, would be seen as a symbol of Scottish nationalism and separatism, not unionism.

They would also be changed, though to a lesser degree, by a No vote. Taking the last seven polls, support of independence in Scotland now stands between 43% and 48%, far higher than the support for Irish unity here.

The British government is likely to respond to a close vote by offering Scotland enhanced devolved powers over taxation and benefits, giving it more of the features of an independent country. That union would have changed in a fairly fundamentally way without us being consulted and we would know that it could still change more. The Scottish example would show devolution is not a final political destination, but a process whose outcome is unknown.

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