Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland unionists weigh in on Scottish independence debate saying Alex Salmond remarks have 'opened the door'

By Noel McAdam

Unionists have sharply rebuked Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond after he used Northern Ireland to boost his campaign for a Yes vote in next week's independence referendum.

Unionist parties here have not played a prominent role in the Scottish independence debate, but some said the SNP leader had "opened the door" to them with his remarks.

Mr Salmond held up Northern Ireland as an good example of how massive constitutional change could be managed in a peaceful way.

With just a week left until the historic vote, Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said he believed the Scottish leader's comments were "wide of the mark".

"Up until now we have tended not to get involved in these arguments because it is a matter for the people of Scotland, but he has opened the door by these remarks," he added.

"It certainly hasn't worked here in Northern Ireland, where the most recent surveys in the last year or so show around 71 % defining themselves as British or Northern Irish – (these) people have shown that they want to remain part of the Union and see the devolved government here as very much part of the Union."

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister claimed the comments showed Mr Salmond was "out of touch".

"After the expose of the failure of the Northern Ireland system in the last few days by the man at the head of the system (Peter Robinson) saying it is 'not fit for purpose', I think it demonstrates how out of touch he is when he (Mr Salmond) appears to applaud that system," Mr Allister added.

"The people of Scotland have the right to decide their future as they wish. That is democracy. I wish we in Northern Ireland could be afforded the same democracy in being able to vote parties in and out of government."

The attack came as the DUP helped organise a cross-party, UK-wide group of MPs to tell people in Scotland: We want you to stay.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: "The impact of the vote will be felt right across the UK. And for many MPs like myself, we want to show the people of Scotland that we care.

"The UK is more than simply the sum of its parts. Aside from the many economic benefits of the Union, there are deep social and cultural ties that bind us. DUP, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, and independent MPs (have) united to speak with one voice."

South Antrim DUP MP William McCrea added: "Everyone accepts and respects the fact that it is for the people of Scotland to make their decision, but it would be wrong for those of us from the rest of the United Kingdom not to offer our support.

"We are better together and we all benefit from remaining within the Union."

In his remarks, Mr Salmond also dismissed fears that an independent Scotland could disrupt the peace process here, insisting that comments by former First Minister Lord Trimble had been misrepresented.

"I saw that argument run in a statement from David Trimble, then about 10 minutes later I heard David on the radio saying that what he was actually arguing is that you can make argument to the contrary," he added.

"That an exemplar of peaceful change might provide a good example for all societies, not just Northern Ireland, of how substantial constitutional change can be achieved in a peaceful consented process."

Speaking at a pro-independence rally in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond also told how he believed that economic competition was good, and that Ireland had demonstrated in many areas that it was "a strong competitor".

He said: "The Republic of Ireland is an economy in substantial recovery, and I am quite certain that we will be close friends and colleagues, and occasionally in competition.

"I think one of the most interesting examples of the No campaign blundering is that last week they paid a visit to Tennent's brewery, making the case that British companies, as they put it, employ so many people in Scotland. I wasn't sure about the argument they were making, but Tennent's is owned by a company based and located in the Irish Republic.

"I think that their mistakes are one of the reasons why we are winning."

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