Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Alex Salmond gives us food for thought in go it alone poll

Something to think about: Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond holds the agreement between the UK Government and the Scottish Government to hold a referendum on independence for Scotland

Key the words Salmond and Scotland into Google and one of the first websites that pops up is for “Scottish quality foods."

If Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, pulls off a ‘yes’ vote in the independence referendum he has just secured from Westminster, history is unlikely ever again to confuse him with a smoked fish starter.

The Edinburgh Agreement signed at St Andrews (not to be confused with our own St Andrews Agreement) is undoubtedly a major moment in the history of these little islands.

Historic. Seismic. All those words we got fed-up-to-the-back-teeth-with down the years of peace processing here.

What would independence mean for the Scots? And never mind them — what could it mean for us here? Will you have to carry a passport on the Larne/Cairnryan ferry? Will Old Firm fans have to apply for visas?

Above all, will it give people here ideas? It’s some considerable time since we’ve heard independence talked about as aspiration in these parts. And, outside of Enda Kenny, talk of unification has also been relatively muted. Ironically we have, in some ways, become the comfiest part of the United Kingdom. We have become spectators to another part of union making a pitch for Home Rule. Odd how these things pan out. Who’d have thought it?

But make no mistake, political parties here will be watching the tartan independence bid with more than just passing interest.

Even that bit (maybe especially that bit) about 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds being allowed to vote in the poll.

Good thing or bad thing?

In law they’re not old enough to get their hands on Resident Evil 6. Some of them have hardly outgrown One Direction.

So should we allow them to take the controls on deciding the destiny of the UK? To potentially take it in a second direction?

A referendum is, by its very nature, a numbers game. The result of this one — and in particular the impact of that youth vote — will be closely monitored this side of the sheugh. And the question of whether the Scottish Nats have done their sums correctly comes into it in another crucial sense.

By coincidence on the same day this week that First Minister Salmond and David Cameron shook hands on the referendum agreement, another headline warned ominously ‘Scottish Power Set to Raise Prices’.

Scottish Power it turns out, is an energy company — not a reference to any future kilted administration.

All the same it illustrates what is likely to be Cameron’s most powerful weapon in this re-run of Bannockburn — the whole question of the economy and whether Scotland, post-independence, can actually stand on its own two feet.

Mr Salmond seems confident it can (with some unquantified support from Westminster). Scotland has oil reserves. He can make a reasonable case. And anyway, how much will Scottish people be swayed by heart — not economic considerations?

Again — hard to say. Again something that will be carefully watched here where we have some knowledge of how tribal loyalty trumps balance sheets. The SNP will be hoping that pulling off a ‘yes’ vote may not be impossible given that the poll takes place in 2014 when celebrations of that famous victory at Bannockburn in 1314 (that long they’ve been trying to get shot of the English!) could inspire nationalist fervour.

What happens after that, however, is what will really determine Mr Salmond’s legacy. Future economic stability is the real challenge. The man the search engine already confuses with a foodstuff will not want to go down in history for making a haggis of it.

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