|Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond|
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is currently embroiled in a power struggle with British PM over a referendum for Scottish independence, but if he wins the dominoes won’t just stop at Hadrian’s Wall.
If Scotland and England do take divergent paths, that leaves Wales and Northern Ireland essentially in a “back me or sack me” situation, stuck between siding with their Celtic brethren (and to a lesser degree Europe) and the Westminster government who supply the block grant for their respective assemblies. And if they do, then it may be the best chance proponents of a United Ireland will have in decades.
If the UK becomes more of a loose confederation as would be likely the case under Scottish independence, then Northern Ireland’s closeness to the Republic of Ireland will come under closer scrutiny, in terms of trade, services, culture and a host of other things that will suddenly become relevant if such a debate ever arises. Of course, that means it will energise both sides of the argument.
Already you can see the Unionist side in particular sharpening their swords. This Tuesday on Spotlight, a Northern Ireland current affairs discussion programme, DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots claimed First Minister Salmond was like a dog agitating to get off the leash and went on to essentially claim that the fundamentals of the Union were strong. But United Ireland advocates are getting more nuanced in their approach, with younger members of Sinn Féin like Pearse Doherty providing a counter-balance to old irredentism by considering a range of ideas about how the arrangement could work, even how to accommodate hardline Unionists in an Irish parliamentary setting. More interesting still, they’re focusing on a referendum of their own for around the 2016 mark.
As I’ve said before, the case of a United Ireland is something I’m intensely ambivalent about and would be of the opinion that an independent Scotland would more likely precipitate a kind of Celtic alliance, each country becoming more independent of London but still under the kind of loose confederation I mentioned earlier. But, the political sands are changing and changing quickly, and for those who dream of a United Ireland they should make their case extremely well for the debate ahead. Their day may finally be coming if they do.