Scotland’s decision and implications for Ireland, North and South

Posted By: July 04, 2014

Irish Times Editorial.  Thursday, July 3, 2014, 18:00

Scotland’s debate on independence is intensifying, drawing in many more sections of
its population than are usually involved in politics. Its decision on whether to
withdraw from the United Kingdom is also deeply affecting other parts of that state
– and neighbouring states too, like Ireland. The vote on September 18th will have
major consequences whichever way it goes. An independent Scotland would diminish the
UK irreversibly; but if Scots decide to stay they will expect greater rights to run
their own affairs which will have knock-on effects in Northern Ireland.

It is as well to pay attention to the levels of political engagement in Scotland as
to the balance between the Yes and No sides in opinion polling in assessing which
side is more likely to win. Polls of polls predict a victory for the No side,
representing an increasing convergence, though not the decisive shift supporters of
independence have been hoping for. But turnout is a complicating factor. It is
expected to be around 80 per cent, compared to the 50 per cent turnout that gave
Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party their victory in the 2011 Scottish Parliament
elections. Since those who do not normally vote are more inclined to support
independence a lot depends on who mobilises them more effectively.

The expected increased turnout gives an advantage to the Yes side in the last 12
weeks of this long campaign. It is better organised on the ground and has so far
made the more positive case, compared to the warnings about the risks of breaking
away from the UK which have animated the No campaign. However valid these arguments,
they are often resented as coming from an uncaring and arrogant mindset in the
south-east of England. Such emotional factors are now likely to play a greater role.

Although most of the debate on independence has counterposed Scotland and England,
Northern Ireland and Wales have a deep interest in the outcome too. They would
remain in a union with an even more dominant England. While they could have more
influence in Westminster politics they would find it increasingly difficult to
ensure financial and political support from London and to assert their
constitutional rights. If Scotland votes to stay in the UK the consequences would
also be substantial. Scotland is already being promised deeper devolution, including
more tax and spending powers, if it votes No. Northern Ireland and Wales need to
prepare for such consequences, which could involve devising a federal system.

Externally too this vote is highly consequential. The UK’s world role would be
weaker without Scotland. If it stays intact the UK still faces major decisions on
its relations with the European Union. A vote by the UK to withdraw would probably
reopen the Scottish independence debate. These are uncertain times in our
neighbour’s politics.