Union vote not just for the Scots
Published 16/01/2012 | 08:00
The news that David Cameron and Nick Clegg are to meet Alex Salmond to discuss the proposed Scottish referendum is welcome. The meeting may bring some clarity to a situation which has generated much heat so far, but little light.
The leaders at Westminster and Edinburgh have been indulging in megaphone exchanges rather than sitting down to work out the best way to proceed with this complex and controversial issue.
The details and timing of a referendum need to be worked out, but without doubt it is one of the most important constitutional issues in Scottish and British history. Already the arguments for and against Scottish independence have been filling the newspapers and the airwaves, and these public exchanges are likely to intensify greatly.
This, however, is not just a matter for the Scottish people, even though Alex Salmond might argue that it is primarily a Scottish issue.
As David Cameron has pointed out forcefully, the issue of the historic Union is a matter for all the people of the United Kingdom who have a direct interest in the outcome.
This applies to Northern Ireland where the people and politicians of all backgrounds will be keeping a close eye on developments.
The importance of the continued unity of the UK is paramount for all shades of unionism, while nationalists and republicans have traditionally championed Irish unity which, if successful, would de facto lead to a break with London.
As the Scottish campaign gains momentum, the exchanges between all the major players in Northern Ireland are also likely to increase.
Already First Minister Peter Robinson has made a passionate plea to the Scots to understand how much the unionist people of this province wish them to remain part of the UK.
He rightly underlined that the Scottish referendum will have important implications for all of us in Northern Ireland. We do have an important voice in the broad area of constitutional issues affecting the UK , and we should make the full spectrum of our views known in the vital debate which is only beginning.