By Tomás McGoldrick, Ireland Correspondent
The recent Vision Critical poll of people in what could be known as ‘rest of the UK’ found that 62 per cent wanted Scotland to stay in the Union and 38 per cent are happy to see Scotland go it alone. It would have been interesting to see results from Northern Ireland separately as politicians and the public there have started to wake up to the possible ramifications of Scottish independence.
Some unionists have called Alex Salmond a greater threat to the Union than the IRA, and warned that independence for Scotland could reignite the constitutional question for Northern Ireland. They worry that if the Scots break away it will encourage Irish nationalists and republicans to push for a border poll, although they don’t seem to have noticed that Sinn Féin have been calling for one since January 2013 and will continue to campaign for a poll after the referendum this September, regardless of the result.
Unionists should take heart that Gerry Adams can call for a poll all he wants, under the Good Friday Agreement the decision to have a border poll rests entirely with the British Secretary of State. It’s not exactly clear in what situation Theresa Villiers would agree to a border poll, but it’s a reasonable assumption that a Yes vote in Scotland wouldn’t convince her.
Another worry for unionists is that a Yes vote in September would encourage the various dissident republican groups to continue their armed struggle, particularly the New IRA who this month claimed responsibility for letter bombs sent to army recruitment centres in Britain.
It is hard to imagine that the New IRA pay any heed to what happens in Scotland, whatever the result of the referendum will be. For the die-hards to compare the situation in Ireland with that of Scotland is pointless, as they see it their ‘mandate for armed struggle derives from Britain’s denial of the fundamental right of the Irish people to national self-determination and sovereignty – so long as Britain persists in its denial of national and democratic rights in Ireland the IRA will have to continue to assert those rights.’
For dissident republicans therefore the only referendum they would ever be interested in would be an all-island referendum on Irish unity, with the people of both jurisdictions voting as a single unit.
The biggest danger of a Scottish Yes vote in Northern Ireland could be the impact on loyalists. Already largely disillusioned with the peace process, Scotland leaving the Union may increase their feeling that the concept of ‘Britishness’ is being eroded, and that their culture is under attack. There are strong cultural connections between Scotland and Ulster loyalism, going back to the Plantations. This shared identity can be seen in the Ulster-Scots language, a shared Presbyterianism and most famously support for Glasgow Rangers.
This kind of cultural affinity with the English simply doesn’t exist to the same extent, you are far more likely to see the saltire flying in Loyalist areas than the flag of St George. If Scotland does become independent these links will remain but it is inevitable that they would be diluted.
Assuming that the Scots listen to the brow-beating of the three British unionist parties over the use of the pound and decide to stick in the Union, the bigger worry for Northern Irish unionists would be the UK-wide referendum on whether to leave the EU.
Northern Ireland has done very well out of EU funding over the years, especially its farmers, and if the UK were to leave it is likely that the North would draw closer to the rest of Ireland, further integrating its economy and making a united Ireland more likely.
A re-run of the Scottish independence debate would also be on the cards as Scotland has consistently been more pro-EU than England.
The irony is that David Cameron’s appeasement of UKIP and his own anti-EU brigade could end up giving nationalists in both the North of Ireland and Scotland a Nation once again.