Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Robinson flags up danger of dismantling the Union

First Minister Peter Robinson

With a Saltire in one hand and a Union flag in the other, Scottish independence can be defeated, according to First Minister Peter Robinson.

Speeches from unionist leaders emphasising the virtues, values and advantages of being part of the UK are not as commonplace as they once were.

Perhaps unionists feel there is no need, because the threat from the IRA has disappeared and the Dublin government has no serious intent on a united Ireland which would embrace the north's debts and woes.

Mr Robinson's speech is important because it puts down a marker. He is right to assert where he and a majority of people in Northern Ireland stand and to warn also of the consequences of a Scottish referendum going the wrong way.

Whatever Scotland elects to do, Northern Ireland has no significant natural resources, no strategic role in global defences and not a lot going for it other than its magnificent people, scenery and quality of life.

No one should doubt the serious and potentially dangerous bearing Mr Robinson's Scottish counterpart, Alex Salmond, could have on the future stability of Northern Ireland.

Mr Salmond may argue that he only speaks for Scotland, but can anyone believe that if he were to get his way, the future of this corner of the UK would be secure?

A century after the Irish Home Rule crisis and the signing of the Ulster Covenant, we have Mr Salmond, with his tartan scarf wrapped firmly around his neck, mischievously egging on the English at every turn.

In doing so, he opens up a debate as to why the English taxpayer should foot the bill for poorer regions, such as Northern Ireland.

Some might even agree with the former Ulster Unionist leader, Tom Elliott, who asserted that Mr Salmond was a greater threat to the UK than the IRA's violence. At this moment, the SNP leader probably is. Thankfully, it appears from opinion polls that the Scots are waking up to the danger.

The SNP has emerged from political obscurity, because other parties in Scotland failed to convince people of the values of being part of the UK.

Scottish unionists, of whom there were once many more than today, Conservative, Labour and Liberal, allowed the likes of Alex Salmond to build up an unchallenged momentum and to convince his followers that an independent Scotland is viable.

The SNP is not unlike the SDLP, insofar as both see themselves as moderate, left-of-centre, social democratic parties. One major difference is that the SDLP has nowhere near the same enthusiasm for abandoning the UK that the SNP displays.

Opinion polls in Scotland suggest that the independence brigade commands only a third of voters and, after the Olympic summer of 2012, support may have faltered further as the entire UK embraced and heralded the success of the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Andy Murray.

Support for Irish unity, or for leaving the UK, is at an all-time low in Northern Ireland, according to recent opinion polls. The figures are so emphatic that they must lead the SDLP and Sinn Fein to develop a more pragmatic and realistic strategy on relations with London and united Ireland aspirations.

The unionist community has come close twice to rebelling against Britain - through the Ulster Workers' Strike in 1974 and the protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

Those days have gone and are surely never to return, given the level of dependency which unionists and nationalists alike have on the British Exchequer today.

That said, unionist parties here have failed to attract that wide section of the community which considers itself Irish, but which, according to the opinion polls, has no immediate interest in leaving the UK.

Perhaps, during the forthcoming Ulster Covenant celebrations, we will be reminded of the fact that Sir Edward Carson, born in Dublin, was proudly Irish, but not a nationalist.

Many people in these islands want to express their Scottish, Irish or Welsh culture within the UK family of small nations and regions.

They belong to a new generation of devolutionists, which the established parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not accommodated properly.

Alex Salmond and his SNP party capitalised on this failure. He has managed to hijack the desire for devolution and twist it into a misguided strategy for independence.

With a Saltire in one hand and a Union flag in the other, as Peter Robinson says, the potentially disastrous break-up of the UK can still be averted.

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