Newstalk’s Richard Chambers examines the potential challenges posed if Scotland says Yes in the first of a series of articles in the run-up to September 18th
There is an understandable curiosity about the impact a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum will have on Ireland.
Whatever the result, the vote has serious ramifications for Ireland’s relationship with Scotland, the UK and the wider world
The most immediate impact of Scottish independence would surely be felt in Northern Ireland.
Scotland holds a special significance to Ulster Unionism. It’s the ancestral homeland of most of the planters who arrived in the province during the 1600s and the birthplace of the Presbyterian faith which the majority of Unionists belong to.
Reverend Ian Paisley Jr says an independent Scotland would drive a “wedge into the hearts and souls of the people of Ulster”, and shake the very foundation of unionism.
The fear is best summed up by former UUP leader Sir Reg Empey, who’s warned that if Scotland goes it alone, Northern Ireland could meet the same fate as West Pakistan, with a “foreign country on one side of us and a foreign country on the other”.
The Scottish National Party are “a greater threat to the union than the violence of the I.R.A.,” Tom Elliott, former leader UUP.
Prominent Unionists and Loyalists say they’re prepared to campaign for the UK in Scotland as September 18th draws nearer.
The Orange Order has planned a series of protests in Edinburgh city centre in the days leading up to the vote. Interestingly, the Better Together campaign fears the impact of any association with the Orange Order. Leading campaigner Jim Murphy MP (Lab) says they’re “undesirable” and not the image that the No campaign want projected across Scotland.
If, at worst, Unionists are concerned a Yes vote will lead to a groundswell in Republicanism in the North, they will at least have to contend with the possibility of renewed calls for a border poll.
It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario whereby following a Yes vote in Scotland, there would be a sincere push for a similar referendum on Northern Ireland’s future in the Union by the time the centenary of the 1916 Rising comes around in less than two year’s time.
For their part, Republicans have been surprisingly quiet on the Scottish question. Sinn Féin says it’s a “matter for the people of Scotland”; however Martin McGuinness believes the northernmost part of the UK’s future independence is now “inevitable”, regardless of what September brings.
In any event, an independent Scotland will at least prompt some soul-searching in the halls of Stormont and thoughts about a “recalibration” of the Union, as UUP leader Mike Nesbitt put it.
He believes the DUP and UUP could seek more autonomy for Stormont in areas such as air passenger duty and, most crucially, corporation tax.
Speaking of which…
Throughout the referendum campaign, Alex Salmond and the SNP have advocated tax policy as one of the key reasons why an independent Scotland is economically viable.
The SNP says a Yes vote will herald a “jobs boom” (sound familiar?) Its own figures point to 27,000 new jobs on the back of a corporate tax rate designed to “reverse the pull” of London and the UK’s south-east.
The UK’s corporate tax rate is due to fall from 23 per cent to 20 per cent in 2015. The SNP wants to bring Scotland’s rate down to 17 per cent. While still higher than our 12.5 per cent rate, the reduction would bring Scotland into direct competition with Ireland for foreign direct investment.
Salmond has spoken of his hopes to lure a thriving high-tech sector to Scotland, much in the way Ireland has become the European hub for the likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
Pharmaceutical companies, which make up almost a quarter of Ireland’s total exports, would also be targeted by an independent Scottish Government.
Besides the obvious benefit of a lowered corporation tax, Scotland would also be offering highly-skilled graduates from some of Europe’s top universities in the likes of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, while also boasting an Anglophone gateway to Europe as well as a land bridge to the UK and onwards to mainland Europe.
Is there room for another Best Small Country In The World In Which To Do Business? If Scotland becomes independent, the Government here might just find out.
The most profound impact of a Yes vote for Ireland may not even be felt for another two years when the UK holds its “In or Out” referendum on EU membership.
Scottish voters, traditionally, are more likely to identify themselves as pro-European. A poll carried out for The Scotsman in March showed 51% of Scots were in favour of Britain staying in the EU, with 31% calling for an exit. The possibility of a British exit has even become an issue in the Scottish independence referendum.
It is no stretch of the imagination to see an independent Scotland massively diluting support for Britain’s EU membership. We’re in the realms of hypotheticals here, but should that happen, and the remainder of the United Kingdom chooses to leave the EU in 2016, Ireland will be left in a conundrum.
And what happens then?
We share €1bn in trade with the UK every week, 52% of our EU imports originate in Britain, while our nearest neighbour remains our single largest export market with our agriculture sector particularly dependent on its supermarkets. The “soft border” we shared with the North could well become a hard border with more customs and excise checks, cross-border trade could suffer from increased tarriffs and other barriers.
It’s easy to see why the Irish Government, along with IBEC and the Irish Farmers Association among other interest groups, have vocally appealed to the Cameron government and the British public to give the European project another try. But if those calls fall on deaf ears and the United Kingdom, minus pro-European Scotland, leaves the Eu — our largest trading partner would no longer be in the clubhouse and that could be by far the most significant impact of next month’s referendum in Ireland.