Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

No need for a tartan army when Salmond is around

Grand nationalist: Scotland’s First Minister and independence crusader Alex Salmond

As Billy Connolly might crack, in his broad Glaswegian accent, "Isn't it amazen?" No Provisional, Real, Official, Continuity or even imaginary Scottish Republican Army.

No bombs at Canary Wharf. Not a soldier, or police officer, killed or injured. Not a protest march. No hunger strikes. Nothing.

Isn't it amazing that, in Scotland's case, just one wee affable man, Alex Salmond, appears to be single-handedly dismantling the United Kingdom, with referendum ballot-boxes in both hands and not an Armalite in either?

There he goes, smiling for the cameras, brushing off the questioning of Jeremy Paxman and Andrew Marr as if he were being interviewed by the Muppets.

And there they all are on Newsnight and the like, actually taking him seriously about making Scotland an independent state.

What the IRA couldn't do in 30 years, Scotland's First Minister thinks he can achieve by the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn less than 30 months away.

What a man. What a Scotsman. As Rabbie Burns might have written:

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine

Alex's a man, for a' that

We should know by the autumn of 2014 what it is to be for Scotland. But make no mistake: the independence debate will have ramifications for all of us on this side of the Mull of Kintyre.

Just when the arguments between unionism and nationalism in Northern Ireland seemed consigned to a constitutional back-burner, up pops Salmond to stir the pot and raise the Saltire above rebellious ramparts. Nothing could unsettle us more and yet it is a debate which should enlighten us all.

The UK might not miss Northern Ireland, or even Wales, but it would certainly not be the same without Scotland.

And some people may well ask; if Scotland goes, can Northern Ireland be far behind?

No doubt the question will exercise many minds here before the Scottish make their constitutional choice. That is no bad thing.

The politics of unionism and nationalism in Ireland, like Scotland, are shrouded in too many myths and governed by more hearts than heads.

The more economic facts emerge in the Scottish debate, the more people there and here will be better placed to make a proper judgment as to the benefits, or otherwise, of being within the UK.

I can recall when the Troubles broke out that some leading hardline unionists toyed with the idea of independence.

The argument went something like this: if we can't hold what we have within the UK, namely unionist and Protestant majority rule, we will go it alone. This frightening nonsense permeated the Ulster Defence Association in the 1970s and was even suspected of entering the head of a young Ian Paisley and his lieutenants who are still with us today.

Admittedly, the North Sea oils the campaign wheels of Scottish independence. We have no such valuable asset; nor had the Republic when it cut loose from Britain. But what if the pipelines run dry, or the price of oil plummets?

Scotland, with 8% of the UK's population, wants 8% of everything the UK has of any value; for example, 8% of what's left of the gold in the Bank of England's vaults. Unfortunately, by that argument, Scotland must also shoulder 8% of the UK's current massive debt.

That doesn't seem to worry Alex Salmond.

Again the words of Burns seem particularly apposite:

The man o' independent mind

He looks an' laughs at a' that

The Scottish are perfectly entitled to get on with deciding as swiftly as possible whether they want to run their own country, in their own way, with their own parliament, taxes, welfare benefits, health and education funding, army, navy and air force.

And when they have come to their senses and have decided that they don't want to, which is the most likely outcome, they should be encouraged to move on to more pragmatic proposals.

We may well ask what has come over so many of them? Have they lost the run of themselves, or are they only temporarily hypnotised by Alex Salmond?

Perhaps, at the snap of fingers, they will awake from their nationalist trance and return to some semblance of sanity.

Small wonder Mr Salmond and his party are reluctant to have a vote immediately and are keen to set more than one question on the ballot paper.

More likely, the people of Scotland - like a majority in Northern Ireland - want to see devolution strengthened, made efficient, decisive and less wasteful, without ditching their historic links with the rest of us in this United Kingdom.

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