Scottish independence: Better together but even if No, vote has major implications
Today the people of Scotland will take part in arguably the most important political vote in these islands since the partition of Ireland. They will decide if Scotland is to become an independent country or if it should remain part of the United Kingdom. How they vote will be unlike any other poll they have taken part in, since the result will be binding for the foreseeable future.
This newspaper has consistently argued that a No vote today is the best result, not only for Scotland but for the UK as a whole, including Northern Ireland. Sentimentality and emotion – and also a growing sense that Scotland can govern itself better and more fairly on its own – has helped fuel the Yes campaign along with a somewhat lacklustre and, latterly, panicky No campaign.
But hard-headed reason points towards Scotland remaining in the UK. It is a greater and stronger political entity than the sum of its parts would suggest. If the Union was to be broken it would diminish every constituent part. Scotland's future, economically and socially, would be uncertain in spite of its oil reserves. But England, Wales and Northern Ireland would also be weakened by a Yes vote.
Like all good marriages, the Union may have its bickering partners, but their positive contributions outweigh any negative elements in the relationship. It has taken a late intervention by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to put some passion into this 'Better Together' argument.
This newspaper also believes that a Yes vote today could be bad news for Northern Ireland. We know from bitter experience the consequences of community instability and we don't want any repetition of those lessons. Currently we have a power-sharing administration to which all sides of the community can give allegiance and the Irish constitutional issue is largely settled.
If Scotland were to break away from the UK it could reignite old fears or even older ambitions on this side of the Irish Sea. It would force all sides to reassess their positions. This newspaper supports the Union as long as that is the wish of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, which it is for most Protestants and also for many Catholics. Independence for Scotland could destabilise our own political institutions and that could be a very dangerous development.
Of course we recognise the right of anyone to democratically strive for a united Ireland and, if there is one lesson that we can take from the Scottish independence campaign, it has been the maturity of the debate. This is a country which will make the most important decision that any country can and yet the arguments for and against have been conducted with force but for the most part without any menace or threat. This is democracy in practice and the Scottish people deserve great credit for the gravitas they have brought to the campaign.
Even if Scotland decides to stay within the UK that will also have an impact on us. Scotland has been promised greater devolved powers and great fiscal autonomy after a No vote. That has been ceded to the Scottish people without them even asking for it and it could mean harsher times for Northern Ireland. If Scotland wangles more from Westminster then reason suggests there will be less for us.
Let no one be under any misapprehension. What happens in Scotland today will have seismic implications here. And we will need to display the same maturity as the people of Scotland to deal with them.