Maturity of Scotland's deliberations a lesson for dysfunctional Stormont
Today marks the beginning of a new month in which the Scottish people will take part in a referendum to opt for independence, or to maintain the union with England and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Either way, it will be an important outcome, and many people in Northern Ireland will be keeping a close watch on the debate – which will intensify as our near neighbours finally make up their minds on one of the most important votes in the history of these islands.
The arguments on both sides are complex, and they involve all sorts of issues, including the currency, defence, foreign affairs, constitutional law and a host of other important and complex political, social, economic and constitutional subjects.
These are some of the hard-headed questions which the Scots have to face, but there is also the important, intuitive question of national identity. How many of the Scots will allow their heart to rule their heads, and when it comes to the privacy of the ballot-box what will be the deciding factor for each person who is about to vote?
The answers to these questions are incalculable, whatever the opinion polls suggest, and the final decision must obviously lie with the Scots. However, bearing in mind all the issues for and against, it is the view of the Belfast Telegraph that the Scottish people should clearly decide to preserve the union.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognise the strength and dynamism of the Scottish debate on identity. Scotland has given a great deal to the union, and has also received much back in return.
The Scots and the English, as well as the rest of us in the United Kingdom, are closely entwined by ties of history in a powerful and positive way.
It is therefore right that the people in the rest of the UK have an opinion on this important issue, and whatever happens, it is certain that things cannot be totally the same as before, and that devolution will continue to be a live and evolving issue.
The Scots have shown that their political system is mature enough to make their own decisions on the path which they wish to follow. Can we honestly say that about Northern Ireland? At the moment there is still all to vote for in Scotland, but after the September 18 referendum across the Irish Sea, the one fact will remain clear. We in Northern Ireland will have to grow up quickly.
We need to stop looking back on the past, and we need to build a society and a political system that is fit for the 21st century, and one which will bring mutual benefits to people from all backgrounds in this country.
Our present system is too often deadlocked with regard to government and decision- making and is no longer fit for purpose. The people of Northern Ireland are crying out for greater co-operation among the political parties and their leaders, and a new dynamism and urgency is needed in facing up to the problems we all share.
The long debate about Scottish independence, and the imminent reality of the referendum, could be an opportunity to look at our own system of politics more critically, and hopefully more creatively as well.