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Rathlin's tongue-in-cheek bid to unite with Scotland in wake of Brexit 'disaster'

By Linda Stewart

A resident of Rathlin has launched a cheeky bid for the island to become part of Scotland in the wake of the UK's decision to leave the European Union.

Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island has close links to the Caledonian mainland, and now one local has appealed to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon "take us with you" should Edinburgh call and win a second independence referendum.

He believes most islanders voted to remain in the EU and it is time that Rathlin threw its lot in with Holyrood.

The resident, who wants to remain anonymous, admits the move is tongue-in-cheek, but hopes it will open up debate on more serious issues. He said the island's EU funding had brought major infrastructure improvements which had contributed to a near doubling of the population in recent years.

"It was very much an immediate response to the EU referendum that Friday morning when the results were slowly beginning to sink in," he said.

"Everybody was in a daze and in shock. It was almost like when you hear about a terrible natural disaster. Not everybody on the island voted Remain, but it's a safe bet that most people did."

That night a few people in the island's bar - McCuaig's - joked about declaring independence and drew up a Cabinet list of locals. But the notion sparked other ideas, including the plan to unite Rathlin with Scotland.

The resident explained: "Rathlin's close association with Scotland stretches back to the early medieval period and far beyond, and in particular to the kingdom of Dal Riata, which encompassed much of western Scotland and north-eastern Ireland, with Rathlin at its heart.

"Add in Celtic Christianity and monks sailing from the island north to Iona, the power struggles of the MacDonnells of Antrim and a terrible massacre at the hands of the Campbells - and of course a Rathlin sojourn by none other than Robert the Bruce - and you have an island community steeped in Scottish history and heritage."

He added that Rathlin had done well out of EU membership, with major improvements to the harbour in the 1980s and huge breakwaters that were installed in the 1990s.

Rathlin was only linked to the National Grid for the first time in 2007 with an undersea electricity cable funded by the EU with the help of MEPs John Hume and Ian Paisley.

"We don't believe that money would have been spent here if it was just down to London," he pointed out.

The resident, who has launched the Twitter handle @RathlinScotland, said that thanks to those structural improvements, the island is thriving, with increasing enrolment in the school.

There are now 145 inhabitants after the population plunged to below 100 at one point.

"In 2007 during his first visit to Northern Ireland as Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond noted the bonds that echoed down the years between these islands, and in response to Ian Paisley's recognition that Rathlin had been 'at times an island of Scotland, at times an island of Ulster and Ireland', Salmond announced that he'd like to have Rathlin back again," he said.

"Could the time for this have unexpectedly arrived in the febrile atmosphere of Brexit Britain? Stranger things have happened. One thing is sure; many on Rathlin have just one thing to say across the North Channel: take us with you, Scotland."

He explained that in 1617 a Scotsman named Crawford of Lisnorris launched a legal bid for the ownership of Rathlin resting on the claim that the island had been granted to his ancestor in 1500 by James IV. If Rathlin was Irish, James would have had no right to grant the land.

"The dispute ultimately came down to the introduction of a snake to the island - with St Patrick's banishment of snakes from Ireland, it seemed obvious that if the serpent were to survive, the island must belong to Scotland, but if it were to die, then Rathlin must belong to Ireland," the campaigner said.

"The unfortunate reptile didn't last too long, and Rathlin's fate was sealed - at least until now."

Belfast Telegraph