Scottish referendum could pose issues for Stormont
- 9 January 2012
- From the section Northern Ireland
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?