Belfast Telegraph

Scotland's close ties to Northern Ireland won't be broken by Yes vote for independence: SNP

Spokesman bids to calm concerns across Irish Sea

By Liam Clarke

The Scottish National Party has offered assurances that Northern Ireland cultural and economic ties to Scotland would not be weakened by its independence.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Angus Robertson, the SNP's Foreign Affairs spokesman, said: "A sovereign Scotland can play its part in continuing to grow and develop our long-standing relationship with Northern Ireland".

At the same time, the MP for Moray and the director of the SNP's referendum campaign stated that Northern Ireland's link between religion and attitudes to the union with Britain was no longer reflected in Scotland.

"The realities of Scottish nationalism are significantly different to the experience elsewhere. We on the Yes side have support from every sector of Scottish society. That is one of the really encouraging aspects of the debate," he said.

He argued: "Our vision is of a Scotland reflecting every section of society, leaving identity as a personal matter".

"In the same way that people have been able to be Scottish within a UK context people will be able to remain British in an independent Scottish context, if people want to remain British, be entirely Scottish, be hyphenated with any other form of identity, whether that is European or Scots Asian, that is OK."

Some predict that identity issues may come up in the final days before the referendum on the 18th of this month. Ukip is holding a rally in Glasgow, which is expected to be attended by its elected representatives from Northern Ireland, on September 12. The next day the Orange Order, which is registered as a supporter of a No vote, is holding a march through Edinburgh in opposition to independence.

Better Together, the pro-union group campaigning for a no vote, has distanced itself from both events.

On a practical level, Mr Roberston pledged that the current Common Travel Area that involves the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands "will remain after a Yes vote".

He added: "A sovereign Scotland would retain the social union, the single market and the travel arrangements across these islands. We believe in maintaining our links with the European Union which is sadly under threat from the eurosceptic voices in Westminster. The links we enjoy across these islands are even more important for us as home nations.

"In terms of people travelling between Northern Ireland and Scotland or continuing to trade using sterling and so on there will be no change to current arrangements."

Mr Robertson pointed out that the British Irish Council, a body set up under the Good Friday agreement to promote co-operation between parliaments and assemblies across the Common Travel Area, has its headquarters in Edinburgh. He said that would continue and predicted that co-operation would strengthen.

"It holds great opportunities for the future. If we look at what our northern European neighbours have been able to achieve through the Nordic Council we can see what an excellent vehicle for future co-operation between our nations the council can be. It can move us into a new phase of co-operation," he stated.

He went on: "When looking at issues like tourism or energy, education and the environment there are a whole series of priorities which we share. We must cooperate on them to ensure that the optimal decisions are taken."

He believed an independent Scotland could co-operate with Stormont to try and counter "centrifugal forces" which tend to pull economic investment to London and the South East of England.

Under independence, he said that Scotland would build up its armed forces from the present 11,000 British forces stationed in Scotland to 15,000 and that Northern Ireland people would be free to apply to join.

The Scottish Defence Forces would build up naval power in order to patrol the northern approaches.

Anyone who had a Scottish grandparent would be eligible for a Scottish passport, which could be held jointly with any other passport, including UK or Irish.

Voter from NI: Yes

Name: David McDonald

Age: 35

Occupation: Curator

Where are you from in Northern Ireland? North Belfast

Where do you live in Scotland? Clarkston, Glasgow

How are you voting? Aye

Why are you voting yes?: Poverty. There are areas of Glasgow with a life expectancy of 55.

In a country as wealthy as Scotland there's absolutely no excuse for this, but there is a reason for it and the reason is Westminster. Scotland exports around £75bn worth of goods and services each year and that's before we factor in the black gold in the North Sea.

It's hard to factor in the value of Scotland's oil to its economy because it's controlled by Westminster and the income goes straight to London, leaving Scotland in the ridiculous position of being the only country in history to have discovered oil and become poorer.

Since Scottish voters have a negligible effect on election results, politicians have little to gain from promoting policies which Scottish voters want to see. That's not democracy.

I don't see why Scottish voters should expect to have their desires foisted on the English, but I don't see why they should give them up simply because they're outnumbered.

The simple solution seems to be to part ways as friends, and be good neighbours rather than frustrated house-mates.

Voter from NI: No

Name: Jack Brennan

Age: 25

Occupation: Journalist

Where are you from in Northern Ireland? Holywood

Where do you live in Scotland? Aberdeen

How are you voting: No

Why are you voting no?:

Polls last week may have given First Minister Alex Salmond a landslide victory in the second televised live debate, but the only result that really matters will be on September 18, and that will be much closer.

For me there is little reason for Scotland to go it alone.

As part of the UK we're members of the UN, G7, EU, and the Commonwealth, all of which an independent Scotland would not necessarily be a part of.

A lot has been made about the part of the country where I am currently living, where North Sea oil has made the area and its people wealthy.

However, to base economic predictions on a finite resource, which is what the Yes campaign seems to be doing is idiotic. There could be as little as 50 years of oil left and what will an independent Scotland do when that runs out?

The UK has been together for 300 years and in that time we've never been invaded, never suffered civil war, we live by a political system which is the envy of the world and lived in relative peace with each other. It is for these reasons why I will be voting No on September 18.

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