Whilst Scotland moves towards its big national debate, we’ve already had our political ‘big bang’…

James Maxwell alludes to an interesting aspect of the burgeoning of the Scottish nationalist cause, and it’s likely runners off in Northern Ireland. Whilst Irish nationalism has become synonymous with Republicanism, the SNP is and remains a soft monarchist party.

These difference are as much historical as geographical. Since James VI took up the English title of James I the British monarchy has been as much a possession of the Scottish estate as the English. The siting of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is a furtive nod in the direction of that long heritage.

There is no such analogue for Irish nationalists. For the most part, and certainly since the 1916 Rising, they experienced the British state more as an occupying power than as a co-progenitor of legitimate state power.

In Northern Ireland there is currently little or no public discourse on the implications of any of the various possible outcomes of the Scottish debate. In fact both the deputy First Minister and former First Minister (Ian Paisley, in case you’d forgotten already) virtually laid down separate interdictions on anyone interfering therein.

What little talk there has been has focused largely on taking up business where the Belfast Agreement left off. In other words it’s been surprisingly limited, and ideological and rather negative compared to the more open fields of the Scotland debate.

Indeed the limited powers invested in the Stormont institutions provide a useful foil for Sinn Fein’s Dublin representatives when confronted with the reality that their northern counterparts are indeed administering Tory cuts.

There may be real questions for our politicians to answer if the Scots can successfully craft and manage a devo max package that takes substantial powers north of the border that vests further in the hands of Scottish voters for the first time since the first Act of Union and the abolition of the Three Estates.

It’s a question that will face both nationalists and unionists. If, as Barry McElduff tells Maxwell “Scotland breaks away from the Union, then the Union is no longer what it was”, what will it become, and what will be Northern Ireland’s role within it? How prepared is Northern Ireland to chart its own route(s) forward?

As Mr McElduff notes, “the destination of this new journey is completely unknown”. But it’s far from obvious to me that that this generation of unionists are “suffering greatly” as he also asserts. Nor is it clear that Nationalists have begun to do any serious work, a la Salmond, to make an alternative union with Dublin a more attractive alternative.

Integrationism was an important and formative idea for a previous generation of Unionists, most notably that cadre for whom Enoch Powell was an often numinous cipher. But this generation of unionists, led by an unapologetically devolutionist DUP, is not quite so encumbered with traditional thinking on this matter.

From the long before Salmond’s velvet revolution, the DUP have been watching movements in the Scottish game with intense interest. But their considered view has been that it is best to keep out of it. That like Ulstermen, Scots don’t like being told what’s best for them by others.

They also make the point that for Blair, devolution was the new integration. The fact that the political establishment in London is struggling to catch with the reality of how the actual union has moved on without them is less a sign of crisis in the union so much as indicative of a democratic centre that has lost touch with its own edge.

If the Union transforms into a Salmondian social union, with the Queen as joint sovereign, I would not anticipate any rush for the exit but, perhaps, a new set of negotiations for drawing down further fiscal powers from Whitehall.

The question is: does anyone in Northern Ireland have any real stomach for such powers in an Executive that already has to achieve consensus amongst five different parties merely to get legislation onto the floor of the Assembly?

One thing is sure, whatever happens in Scotland, in Northern Ireland we’ve already had our political big bang. The ‘repatriation’ of powers to Northern Ireland will be done (as air passenger transport tax has already been), piecemeal and bit by bit.

, ,