Scottish referendum could pose issues for Stormont


After visting Edinburgh last June, I speculated that Alex Salmond would introduce a third option of fiscal autonomy into his independence referendum in order to guarantee the SNP a victory of some kind.

David Cameron's Conservatives are now considering cutting that option off, by dictating the timing of the poll and insisting it should be a straight choice between staying in or leaving the UK.

Mr Cameron has repeatedly declared himself to be a "passionate unionist".

The question mark over his latest gamble is whether it will hamper the SNP's project or stir Scottish resentment at perceived English interference.

During the DUP conference, Nigel Dodds made an impassioned plea to the Scottish people to stay within the UK.

But Northern Ireland unionists will play an extremely marginal role as the debate plays out north of Hadrian's Wall.

Back in May, after the SNP won an overall majority, Gerry Adams told me he thought developments in Scotland could have seismic implications for Northern Ireland. He may yet be proved right.

Expect a lot of attention on opinion in Scotland in the run up to whatever referendum is eventually held.

But if the vote goes against the UK, it would be the sentiment of the English and the Welsh which might prove more important.

Would the rump of the UK continue to be happy paying a multi-billion pound subvention to Northern Ireland, estimated by one economist at around £5,300 per head of the population.

Of course the Good Friday Agreement contains a provision for a local border poll.

The power to trigger such a referendum doesn't reside with the Stormont parties, but the Secretary of State.

Given the parlous state of the Irish economy and the balance of voting power demonstrated at the Assembly elections, it's safe to assume that any poll in the short term would not alter the status quo.

But in last week's Irish Times, Gerry Moriarty drew attention to the latest trends regarding the number of children in Northern Ireland's schools, and their potential implications for the future.

Question marks about the future of the Justice department notwithstanding, the current settlement at Stormont feels relatively stable.

But it remains a complex compromise, far from immune from developments elsewhere or shifts in demography closer to home.

More prosaically, even if the Scottish people don't opt to break up the union, this debate could still impinge on Stormont's priorities.

Will local ministers be able to isolate their arguments about devolving local corporation tax from the tug of war between London and Edinburgh over the notion of fiscal autonomy?

Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Do you not think that Mr S wanted full blown independence but recognises that he would fall short hence was looking for a fall back which would still give him the Westminster Parliament as a patsy. Or to put it another way he wants his cake and theirs too...
    I don't see why it should cause us any issues for we would be bankrupt if we went for any independence for the foreseeable future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The notion of a partial or fully independent Scotland raises an interesting dynamic for NI. What will Unionist attitudes be to Scotland, given their strong cultural ties? The old certainties of 'Unionism' and 'Nationalism' may be thrown up in the air and politicians here may have an harder job gauging public opinion. The prospects for a 'game-changer' in NI politics are high!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Perhaps we could discuss our looming property crash. Prices are still falling and look to continue to do so especially when you look at the portfolio that NAMA have and who will have to dispose of over the comming months and years. A population of just over 1.5 million and NAMA have over 4 billion worth of property to dispose of. We have yet to feel the cold breath of the recession here in NI.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    @Chris, "I don't see why it should cause us any issues for we would be bankrupt if we went for any independence for the foreseeable future." your willful blindness to any suggestion of unification is hilarious.

    Anyway I think if the Scots do go independent it will definitely have a big impact on the debate here, especially as unionism has tended to emphasise its ancestral links to Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    If Scotland were independent much of that ethno-religious argument is gone - unless they want a union with Scotland.

    Also, new doubt would surely arise about the meaning of "Britishness" if one of the core regions of Britain is no longer "British".

    Economics means unification is unlikely soon but unionist ideology and identity will surely be greatly weakened by Scottish independence.


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