Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Ireland's travails a salutary tale for breakaway Scots

The Scottish First Minister poses a bigger threat to the Union than the IRA did. He must be faced down, says Tom Elliott

The past week has seen renewed interest in the question of Scottish independence, following the announcement that the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, proposes to hold a referendum on the issue in the autumn of 2014.

Mainland media attention has focused on the implications of a Yes vote for Scotland and its people and its future relations with London. But we in Northern Ireland have a very keen interest in this, too.

There is no question that the Union has been of great benefit to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Economically, politically and socially, we have all benefitted from being part of a United Kingdom.

Having endured a 30-year terrorist campaign designed to break the will of the unionist people of Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom, I believe that the willingness of the unionist community in Northern Ireland to withstand that pressure demonstrates our judgment on the value of the Union.

Indeed, with Northern Ireland's position within the Union having been secured, it is rather ironic that the constitutional approach of Alex Salmond appears to pose a greater threat to the Union than the violence of the IRA.

It is evident that Scottish nationalists will attempt to pull at the heart-strings by playing on a 19th-century romantic-style notion of nationalism.

This is obvious in Alex Salmond's declaration of intent to hold the referendum in Autumn 2014, no doubt intending to capitalise on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

It is absolutely essential that the pro-Union forces articulate a convincing and positive case for the continuation of the Union in the 21st century.

Those of us who wish to see Scotland and its people remain as fellow citizens in a United Kingdom must both articulate the benefits which the Union has brought to Scotland and provide a positive vision for the future continuation of the Union.

Union with England in 1707 saw a near-bankrupt Scotland gain a new lease of life and Scots politicians, merchants, administrators and military figures played a huge role in the expansion of the British Empire, with Glasgow becoming renowned the world over as the Second City of the Empire and Edinburgh renowned for producing a host of literary and academic figures.

Scotland was not kept down by the Union; it was empowered by it. Scotland as an integral part of the Union has contributed massively to the United Kingdom and the task facing British politics and pro-Union parties in the UK of the 21st century is to ensure that the frustrations and circumstances which have fuelled nationalist sentiment are properly addressed.

Economics alone will not decide the case for, or against, the Union, but the economic implications of independence must form a central part of any discussion over its future.

Put simply: Scottish nationalists may appeal to the heart-strings, but the Scottish people will also be mindful of the purse-strings.

The experience of the Republic of Ireland from 1921 is a warning to Scots about what may lie in store for a Scotland 'free' from Westminster, namely a century of economic struggle, culminating in a Celtic Tiger boom which has now bust and left the Republic having to go cap-in-hand to Brussels and Berlin, seeking bailouts from the European Central Bank and - of all places - Westminster.

The crisis affecting the eurozone is a stark warning for anyone seriously thinking about breaking away from the United Kingdom. Larger European countries and economies than Scotland are having their economic policies dictated by Brussels and many are in utter chaos.

It's not so long ago that Alex Salmond was assuring Scots that they had nothing to fear economically from independence and extolling the virtues of the 'arc of prosperity' made up of the Nordic countries and the Republic of Ireland as proof that smaller nations could prosper in 21st century Europe. This was until a worldwide recession saw Iceland go bankrupt and the Republic of Ireland be overwhelmed by debt.

Would an independent Scotland have been able to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland? Or would it have joined the queue of Greece, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland outside the offices of the European Central Bank?

The undeniable fact is that the Union benefits the whole United Kingdom and has saved us all from economic disaster.

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been cushioned from the worst excesses of past and present global economic recessions by being part of the UK economy - the fifth-largest on the planet. The history of the last century - and particularly the Republic of Ireland's experience - would indicate that the choice facing the people of Scotland may be between a broke, but independent Scotland and a comparatively prosperous Scotland still within the Union. Put like that, it's not a difficult choice.

The Ulster Unionist Party is adamant about the benefits of the Union and is unashamed about its promotion of the Union. This is a time for us all, as unionists together, to support a continuance of a strong United Kingdom.

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