Northern Ireland

Scottish independence: Northern Ireland's attitudes to vote

The coast of Scotland as seen from County Antrim
Image caption The coast of Scotland is visible from County Antrim

At their closest point, only a few miles of sea separate Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Shared history, culture and traditions can make it seem like there is even less of a divide.

County Antrim is in the heart of Ulster Scots territory, and in some towns you will find the saltire flying alongside the union flag.

Unionists make no apology for their desire to protect the links between the UK's nations, and at a band parade in Ballymoney, the concerns about the potential of Scottish independence were obvious.

One woman said: "I think if Scotland breaks away, then Wales will say that we want to go away - it will all disintegrate."

Image caption Megan said she was concerned about Scottish independence

Megan, who was with her friends and band-mates at the Ulster-Scots festival, had a simple reason for objecting to an independent Scotland.

"It means my flag would have to change," she said with a hint of alarm.

Watching the debate

Flags and identity really matter in Northern Ireland - a place where politics is split into two by beliefs in unionism and nationalism.

As a result, while no-one in Northern Ireland has a vote in September's referendum, everyone is closely watching the debate.

Irish nationalists undoubtedly see an opportunity in the campaign being run by their Scottish counterparts.

Many believe a 'yes' vote could aid their call for a border poll, to decide whether Northern Ireland remains in the UK or joins the Republic of Ireland.

Image caption Glasgow Celtic and Rangers both have a big following in parts of Northern Ireland

In a café on the Falls Road, in the heart of nationalist west Belfast, a woman told me: "People in Northern Ireland would start thinking if Scotland is getting a chance at a referendum then how come we're not getting a chance at a referendum?"

Yet Sinn Féin, which has been involved in a long campaign for Irish unity, refuses to be drawn into the debate over Scottish independence.

"It is a matter for the people of Scotland," is all that Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness would say when pressed on the subject.

United nations

It is worth noting the strong connections between Northern Ireland and Scotland are obvious in both Protestant and Catholic communities.

Sporting, cultural and language links all unite the two nations, alongside the many family ties and friendships that stretch across water.

Yet there is no denying the sharp sectarian split on this side of the Irish Sea, with most Catholics supporting a 'yes' vote and the majority of Protestants pushing for a 'no'.

Image caption The Scottish Saltire is sometimes flown by loyalists

Unionists insist their position is based on economic concerns as well as political ideology.

For example, they are worried about a redrawing of the Barnett formula - the method for working out how much money is given for public spending in each of the UK's nations.

Currently Northern Ireland gets more cash per head than Scotland, Wales or England.

Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Mervyn Storey said: "Obviously the Westminster government would have to look again at the Barnett formula because a key part of it - Scotland - wouldn't be there.

"There is a consequence for Northern Ireland as a result of that.

"A Scotsman doesn't like to lose money - neither does an Ulsterman."

Economic questions

No-one is really sure what the economic implications of a divided kingdom would be, but politicians and economists are actively studying the potential scenarios.

"Would investors be tempted to go to Scotland rather than Northern Ireland?" asks Angela McGowan, the chief economist for Danske Bank UK.

"Or possibly could it be the other way round? Could they shun Scotland because it is seen as risky at the beginning and Northern Ireland ends up getting more investment in the initial years?

"There are more questions than answers."


Businesses seem prepared for whatever the final decision is.

And given many Northern Ireland companies' vast experience of trading across the border with firms in the Republic of Ireland, the uncertainties about currency and taxes in an independent Scotland have not caused undue concern.

"It definitely would be a trade opportunity," said Sean Phillips, who is managing director of Foldeaze.

The company, which makes self-assembly furniture that clicks together without the need for glue, nails or screws, manufactures its products north of the Irish border, while its main showroom is just south of it in Dundalk.

"Borders matter neither here nor there," he said.

"You just operate in the different jurisdictions with their laws and their taxes."

Already there are strong business and trade links.

That is obvious from the large number of lorries and freight you can see boarding ferries in Belfast and Larne every day.

There are many places in Northern Ireland where you can actually see Scotland.

The question is whether independence would give a new sense of distance.