Belfast Telegraph

Scottish independence: Trade and cultural links too strong to ever break

By Margaret Canning

We are a stone's throw away from Scotland, but if the nation decides to go it alone, the distance could feel much longer. An independent Scotland undoubtedly presents a challenge to Northern Ireland, for all the historical, cultural and family links we enjoy with it.

We would possibly have to adapt to a new regulatory regime, a new tax regime and even a new currency.

And it is the change of tax regime which presents the most potential upheaval – and envy – for us.

If an autonomous Scotland jumps the gun on having a low rate of corporation before we do, we could find ourselves competing for foreign direct investment with not one, but two low-tax regimes.

That argument – the fear of the unknown – is the pessimists' view of Scotland and its big decision.

There are also optimists out there, who feel it presents an opportunity to use to prove our mettle as exporters.

After all, we're already used to exporting to a technically foreign market just a few miles away from some of us, so what difference will it make it have another export market a short sailing away?

Figures for Northern Ireland's external sales to the UK are not broken down into regions, so there's no clear evidence on the value of the goods we send to Scotland.

But we all know the tangible ways in which we trade and exchange with Scotland, from sailings to and for football supporters, to the sale of trailers by SDC in Toomebridge to some of Scotland's biggest haulage firms.

According to Belfast Harbour, there were 205,000 freight vehicles in 2013 on the Belfast to Cairnryan route.

My colleague contacted some of those trading partners of SDC Trailers to canvass their views on the trading links between our countries.

The reluctance of most of them to get into the possible outworkings of the referendum reflect the intense atmosphere around the debate, and the reports of intimidation by the 'yes' side against some of those, from celebrities to corporations, who have suggested that the status quo is best.

Whatever the outcome this day two weeks', the links will be tested – but the canny businesspeople in Northern Ireland and Scotland will find a way.

Belfast Telegraph