Keeping an eye on Scotland
The political debate on Scottish independence has reached a new stage following prime minister David Cameron’s speech acknowledging that a Yes vote would profoundly change the remaining United Kingdom. Calling on voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to exert their influence against independence, he made a passionate case to preserve the existing union. This broader perspective on the issues involved is timely and necessary. It should remind Irish citizens North and South that we too will be deeply affected by the outcome of this debate - whichever way it goes.
Speaking on Northern Ireland in the Dail last week before Mr Cameron’s speech Taoiseach Enda Kenny underlined the importance of current political developments in Britain for Irish interests and the need to pay more attention to them. He particularly highlighted the British debate on the European Union, which has intensified since Mr Cameron promised a referendum on a reformed relationship through a new treaty. Should such a negotiation produce minimal change polls indicate there could be a vote in 2017 to withdraw from the EU. The EU issue is closely bound up with the Scottish one since both concern state sovereignty, open borders and the free movement of people and goods and each decision affects the other.
Mr Kenny and other ministers have clearly expressed their preference that the UK should remain a full member of the EU; they have been neutral on the Scottish issue, while acknowledging it will have an impact on Ireland. A UK withdrawal from the EU would profoundly affect Ireland’s relations with Britain. Alongside the joint involvement of the two states and successive governments in resolving the Northern Ireland conflict over the last generation their joint membership of the European communities has enabled a more balanced and complicated mutual interdependence . The political interdependence is expressed through the Belfast Agreement and in the agreement on inter-governmental cooperation signed by Mr Kenny and Mr Cameron in March 2012.
If Scotland becomes an independent state the remaining UK would change internally through a renegotiation of relations between its remaining parts, and externally through a reduced international influence. If Scotland remains part of the UK that state’s internal structure would be changed by deeper devolution all round, potentially affecting Northern Ireland’s financing and political powers. The Scottish issue would not go away because its decision would force a debate on creating a more balanced and equal relationship with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. And the unresolved EU question would remain to dog whichever government emerges from the 2015 UK general election. Mr Kenny has rightly identified Ireland’s continuing interest in all these developments.