Will the Scottish independence debate ripple south of the border and across the Irish Sea?

At last, it’s game on for the Independence Debate.  London based comment has decided that on balance David Cameron  had the best of Round One, or  the “Edinburgh Declaration, “  as  Alex Salmond  dubbed it with typical initiative-grabbing grandiosity. Salmond of course hasn’t conceded any such thing.

Leaving the wording of The Question aside for later debate, some of the wider ripple effects have been noted.

 Tory opposition means 17 year olds will be able to vote in the Scottish referendum, which is likely to be held in the autumn of 2014, but will be barred from doing so in the general election the following May if they have not turned 18 by then.

So the referendum has already widened the devo gap to include the franchise  – always assuming of course that the rest of the UK can hold the line against it . On the other hand it may prove in the end that Scottish pressure will result in a lower franchise throughout the UK . Devolution was always designed to be a two way street, allowing the devolved territories to be different, but equally allowing them to set the pace occasionally on equal terms with England.

The Independent’s Steve Richards laments the existence of referendums altogether on the grounds they solve nothing, an arguable Londoncentric  point of view but one which whistles in the dark against the trend.  Europe rather than the misty northern province somewhere beyond the M6 is at the forefront of his mind. But at least he is one of very few London commentators to have even spotted political consequences in the likely sequence of a Scottish independence referendum followed by an in-out referendum on Europe.

Cameron is of course right not to grant Salmond equal status in debate, not only as it is beneath his dignity as the UK Prime Minister but for the opposite reason, that he is the leader of a party which barely survives in Scotland.

Both leaders touched on the implications of the Scottish referendum for politics in the rest of the UK.   David Cameron’s “passionate”  commitment to the Union carries an edge that will be noted in Northern Ireland. There may be no selfish interest in maintaining the Uniion but there may be an idealistic one, is the implication.

 English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters will not be consulted about Scottish independence, but Mr Cameron said he would be fighting hard to persuade them too that the Union should continue.

Are we included in that little sequence because it would be too glaring to leave us out – as many do who do not emotionally identify with our Union?  There’s  no doubt that today’s Conservatives pay warmer lip service to the Union without wishing to disturb the parameters of the  spirit and letter  of the GFA, whether or not it means anything at all in terms of practical politics or even genuine sentiment.

Similarly Alex Salmond’s declaration “We’re in the business of building a new relationship between the people of these islands.” may also be no more than  another piece of rhetoric. But his vision of soft independence and a social union with the rest of Britain will create echoes  in our identity debates.


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • “Alex Salmond’s declaration “We’re in the business of building a new relationship between the people of these islands.””

    Looks like Alex’s way of handling his relationship with the Scottish islands amounted to a somersault on the intent to unbundle lifeline ferry services – at least until after the referendum. The For Argyll site has picked up some ripples from these parts on the machinations of a devolved administration, including its tendency to blame Westminster.

  • Ciarán

    Nevin, really? How do you manage to link bloody ferry stories to every post?

  • I don’t, Ciarán. The ‘For Argyll’ article does a neat job of bursting the Salmond balloon as well as highlighting some lessons from here about devolved government incompetence, not to say shenanigans.

  • HeinzGuderian

    “By winning an outright majority, he has shot his own fox. Rather than shed crocodile tears for his inability to call a referendum, he must now put the issue to the test.

    “As a shrewd and intelligent man – indeed, one of the shrewdest and most intelligent in British politics – he must know that his mission is impossible, that in two years’ time his country will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom, and that far from being achieved, independence will be deferred for at least a generation.”


    55% yes to retaining the Union. 34% no.

    I like to cut to the chase. 😉

  • The final paragraph in the For Argyll article is worth noting:

    Good and honest government – and an independent Scotland would need the very best of both – increasingly seems, to our profound disappointment, beyond the reach of those who would take us there.

    And this from a writer who appears to favour the independence option.

  • JoeBryce

    Two points, one anti-Irish nationalist, the other anti-Ulster unionist.

    So far as nationalists and republicans are concerned, the spectacular achievement of Alex Salmond and the SNP in building a civic nationalism that embraces all sectors of Scottish society contrasts with the dismal failure of Irish nationalism to do the same. Protestant fears of home rule were justified by Dev’s catholic state for a catholic people, and the failure of the Irish nationalist imagination culminated in a monstrous quasi-genocide directed towards the expulsion of a significant proportion of the Irish people. Of course, not all the blame rests on nationalism, but easily half of it does, and as the dominant force on the island it bore the greater responsibility to show generosity. Only in recent years, starting perhaps with the late great Garrett Fitzgerald, has accommodation become mainstream within Irish nationalism. Vastly overdue, and contrasts with a Scottish nationalism that never got any of this wrong. Irish nationalism has a great deal to learn from its Scottish counterpart.

    For unionists: reality has to break in now. The ‘Armed Struggle’ is long over and much of the justification for partition is coming to an end. Unionists treasure the bond with Scotland and as she acquires greater autonomy she will want good relations with the whole of Ireland. Ulster (9 counties) is the geographical corridor between Scotland and the rest of Ireland and as such there is an enormous economic and social opportunity. The unionist tradition needs to start thinking how to mould a constitutional position in a new framework in which, frankly, it may well be in the interests of all for power to be devolved to Belfast from Dublin rather than from London. These may be hopeful times but some active thinking needs to be done or opportunities may slip away.

    For nationalists and unionists both, change in Scotland, however far it goes, points to change in Ireland.

  • grandimarkey


    “55% yes to retaining the Union. 34% no.”

    Indeed, favourable statistics for Unionists. However, the election is 2 years away, a very long time in politics.

    The media/information campaign from the Yes side has been sparse to say the least. I’d imagine things will begin to pick up now, and I very much doubt those statistics will remain the same.

    And as a politico living in Scotland, I’m really looking forward to it 🙂

  • grandimarkey


    Protestant fears of home rule were justified by Dev’s catholic state for a catholic people

    Without wishing to deviate too far from the OP – It is virtually impossible to make such an assertion. No one knows what Ireland would have been like with the Northern Six Counties involved bringing with them a sizeable and vocal Protestant vote. To state otherwise is simply justifying partition based on a guess.

    I agree with your other points however.

  • BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor’s take on recent events: Triumphalism Deferred

    We do not know how the Scottish people will vote in the referendum in two years’ time.

    However, we can be pretty sure – and polling evidence appears to confirm this – that they want to be consulted. They want it to be their decision. They favour a referendum.

  • BarneyT

    grandimarkey – indeed Ireland may have taken on a different shape with a stronger protestant voice in a fairer Ireland and hence ensured more diversification. The migrations that occurred polarised the two entities and allowed extremism in both sectors to flourish unchecked.

    But, what about the recent Liberal Democrat contribution? Scottish home rule and a federalist UK. Sounds familar (pre convenant). Is this an attempt to upstage the independence debate or a means of securing the UK as is…with a fairer distribution of power. My understanding is that an independent scotland has no republican ambitions and would not seek to appoint their own head of state, instead remaining with the incumbent?

    Perhaps NI would become a federal state with equal tax raising powers. Can’t see that working.

  • 55% yes to retaining the Union. 34% no.

    Is that the ITN/ComRes poll? If so the question was whether the Scottish economy would suffer were the Union to end — not quite the same thing as opposing “independence”. I haven’t seen a poll on that simple issue since ICM in January 2012: that was 26% independence; 26% Devomax; 33% as now; 10% don’t know.

    grandimarkey@ 2:03 pm rightly emphasises the long run-in to the Referendum. Particularly when the SNP has professional workers and organisers in every constituency — and a whack of funds. Particularly, too, since Salmond got the main ingredient: the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn (Michael Forsyth’s little sneer about that was surely ill-judged). Let’s also factor in the accompanying “soft-sells” of the Commonwealth games, the 2014 Homecoming, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and substantial bawbee-age being pushed into VisitScotland’s sporran.

    So what to expect? Obviously nobody at Westminster is going to annoy the Scots unnecessarily — there may even be a few goodie-bags handed out. That largesse may not be extended to the other colonial territories — where chagrin is predictable.

    Above all Salmond has two years to define and refine his argument — and I’m expecting the definition of “independent Scotland” to refine and soften over that period. His old-but-effective salami-slicer isn’t obsolete just yet.

  • Red Lion

    I don’t believe the last line of the main post – that Salmond wants soft independence. He has a history of harder line nationlism/republicanism and anti-monarchy views – to the extent that even some within the snp had a problem with him. Now its possible for a leopard to change its spots, but I think its the clever pragmatist in Salmond bleating about soft independence and social union – he doesn’t want to spook too many middle of the road undecideds with harder line views or too many changes at independence. Thats why he’s keeping the monarchy – for now. If Salmond wins and ‘independence’ gets through then expect a referendum on whether scotland should become a republic and get rid of the monarchy in a few years time.

  • harold

    In two years time, the BoS fiasco will have faded from view; the Euro may well be sorted; and the UK facing a clear fork in the European Road.

    And Salmond will be saying, Well I wanted a Devo Max Option, but David has put a gun to our heads.

  • I’d agree with that first sentence of Red Lion @ 5:50 pm, and the rest of that post is realistic. It may mark another Cameron failure — I’m assuming that Michael Moore was merely the messenger boy.

    The devil is still in the detail of the referendum wording. As I read the “agreement”, Salmond holds the aces. The Westminster end is to pass an Order in Council:

    It will then be for the Scottish Government to promote legislation in the Scottish Parliament for a referendum on independence. The governments are agreed that the referendum should meet the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety, informed by consultation and independent expert advice. The referendum legislation will set out:
    — the date of the referendum;
    — the franchise;
    — the wording of the question;
    — rules on campaign financing; and
    — other rules for the conduct of the referendum.

    The “fine print” doesn’t seem greatly to restrict SNP machinations over the next eighteen months or so.

    One thing we do know about Salmond: he’s one of the best operators around. He will be defining the referendum in terms which don’t frighten the horses, but then leave him and the SNP free to “interpret” whatever falls out.

    When I look at the “Road to Referendum” page, flag-waving included, my antennae continue twitching. The SNP have a very effective, integrated and professional operation on show here. I’d diffidently suggest that they’ve run rings around Westminster for some long time.

  • andnowwhat

    In 2 years, the Tory policies will be biting all of the UK hard but places like Scotland and NI very hard. We all know the history between Scotland and the last Tory administration and I wonder how powerful a message that independence will mean the Scots will never be under such an administration be?

    Incidentally, I heard Alistair Darling, the man leading the yes campaign, on the radio admitting that an independent Scotland was indeed viable.

  • terence patrick hewett

    If I remember correctly the “shrewd and intelligent” Salmond said in Dublin this year that his bid for Scottish independence was the same as Ireland’s struggle against British rule. To quote The Scotsman:

    “Seamus Mallon, a former leader of the moderate, mainly nationalist SDLP, suggested Mr Salmond should brush up on his history, saying many Scots were members of the Black and Tans, the notorious British militia that gained a reputation for violence in Ireland after the Great War.

    Mr Mallon said: “Scotland was part of the bullying that took place in Ireland. People from Scotland were the cornerstone of the plantation of Ulster. I think Alex is a very able performer, but his knowledge of history is a little weak.

    “As recently as 15 years ago, you had Scottish regiments here, enforcing the writ of Britain so, I think I could recommend a good history of Ireland for him.”

  • Bit silly, terence. People from all parts of the UK and Ireland (then) and later from the Empire fought in the British army all over the world. Why single out those Scotsmen who often had no option but to join the army?

  • terence patrick hewett

    Merely pointing out Mr Joe that this “shrewd and intelligent” man is ignorant of Irish history or if he isn’t is completely insensitive.

  • terence,

    A bit similar to the ignorance of many people in N.I. that the majority of them have Scottish blood flowing in the veins? Or would that just be denial because of the Scots general refusal to accept the Rome interpretation of the meaning of Christianity?

  • terence patrick hewett

    Mr Joe

    In Ireland, politicians from both sides of the religious divide criticised his remarks, The political storm crossed the Irish Sea, where the First Minister’s remarks were described as as “incredible”.

    As for “Scots blood” it may be postulated that the Scots as are presently constituted are genetically more “English” than the English; anyway we are all mixed up as hell. The whole concept of “blood” has been forever tainted by the Teutonic activities of the latter part of the 20th century. May I sugest you glance at Stephen Oppenheimer’s work on the subject “The Origins of the British”

    What has Rome got to do with the price of fish?

  • “Forcing” people to eat fish on Fridays, once upon a time?

  • IJP

    Darling is very wise to say an independent Scotland is viable – and not just because it is!

    The idea that the pro-UK side can win the referendum by “dingan doun” Scotland is ridiculous.

    The “no” campaign can only win by saying “Yes, Scotland could go it alone – but it would have even more influence and even more success if it did so as a self-governing part of the UK”.

  • Reader

    harold: And Salmond will be saying, Well I wanted a Devo Max Option, but David has put a gun to our heads.
    Then people will be asking him why he never *said* he wanted a Devo Max option. And the only thing that ever went into the SNP manifesto was an independence question.
    However, I am not convinced the option is entirely closed off. The signed agreement stipulates that there will only be a single question, but so far it has not stipulated what the question will be. Slamond might be able to renege on his manifesto commitment and opt for a subtly different vote he has a reasonable chance of winning, instead.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Alex knows he is fecked.
    Alex knows the only reason the SNP won the last election was because Labour treated their constituents with complete and utter disdain,as emphasised by the silly bitch turning up at Holyrood in a celtic top,ffs.

    Hey,I like backing an outsider as well as the next man,( Jonas Blixt last week in the golf,£40 @ 38’s),but I draw the line at a show pony,with only 3 legs.

    1/3 is money from Edinburgh. I advise you all to fill yer boots !!! 😉


  • BarneyT

    I have to jump in a if not defend the comments from Terrence, those from Seamus Mallon.

    I spent many a night in South Armagh in the 70’s\80’s walking home from football training, discos and other events and frequently would run into an Army patrol. Whilst it was always a risk and you had to take the “yes sir”, “no sir” approach, if you wanted to get home without a kicking, you always hoped to avoid a Scottish regiment. I found that the English soldiers would generally move you on and let you proceed if you thoroughly complied as above, however the Scottish were more likely to have an agenda, usually religious and would nagatively engage. So from my perspective, they represented Scotland, were delivering on behalf of Britain and were guilty of bullying in Ireland. There were many in South Armagh who reacted differently to being apprehended whilst going about their normal business, and this was their right.
    They would perhaps add a different account and experience of the Scottish in Ireland. I only had a rifle pointed at my 16 year old head just the once.

  • carlota martinez

    Must agree with Barney T.

    I grew up in West Belfast. With most regiments of the BA you just had to take your chance when you were stopped. However, the Scottish regiments were a different proposition. I dreaded them and despaired when one of them was doing a tour of duty locally.

    Thre always appeared to be a sectarian edge to the manner in which they dealt with the local population.

    Worst kicking I ever got was from a Scottish regiment.

  • John Souter

    For the sake of accuracy the SNP have never advocated nor asked for Devo Max to be included in the referendum. For the MSM to claim this as a victory for Cameron is nothing more than the usual triumph of PR over substance.

    Devo Max was an option created by Civic Scotland – the great and good of twin sets and gaiters. Another halfway house in the halfway road to nowhere in the State of ambiguity and promise.

    It was included in the National Conversation for the sake of democracy but, since it created no positive response from the quasi democracy in Westminster (other than to use it in a dismissive fashion as a face saving ploy) it merely reflects the quality of Westminster’s democratic process.

    Generally I regard politics as the legitimisation of every corrupt and negative trait inherent in the human psyche (second only to the financial shamans -and it was the first who allowed them to get where they are) and, were the choice mine I would be voting for The Democratic Republic of Scotland. But the choice is not mine alone and neither is it the choice of any political party nor their’s to award, deny or distort the debate by their self serving rhetoric of arcane institutions and rhetorical bullshit.

    So yes I would like to see Scotland take the High Road in 2014. A Scotland where its people are sovereign and it’s parliament is responsible under a written constitution to safeguarding that sovereignty. Mind you in addition I’d like the constitution to include the powers for corrupt or incompetent members to be sacked after one written warning or shot if corruption is involved – but I accept that might be just a shade too much to hope for. Yet surely, for all that is sense and common decency we (all of us) need a damn sight better set of ‘guvnors’ than we have now.

  • John,

    Who do you suggest would exercise the power you describe in your last paragraph?

  • Were we each an autocracy (population: 1), the cri de coeur of John Souter @ 5:05 pm would make perfect sense. Alas, all politics, all democracy involve — to one extent or another — agreeing compromises with others. Then I always find John Donne (No man is an ilande, entire to itselfe; every man is a peece of a continent, a part of the maine) more human, more humane, more persuasive than Ayn Randian objectivism (the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life).

    Despite the rhetoric that is, and will continue to be thrown at it, this is not a once-and-for-all moment. We have come a long, long way since the Scotland Act of 1978. There’s a bit further to go yet.

    Rab Butler borrowed it from Bismarck, and Salmond & his amazing political salami slicers know full well: Politics is the art of the possible.

    Therefore I would be surprised if the SNP frame a hard-and-fast, do-or-die question to which the answer must be ‘No!’ [© John Rentoul]. Nick Robinson is premature when he propounds that this is a zero-sum game where Cameron and Salmond shake hands … smile for the cameras … both men will know there can only be one winner.

    So, in my book, the SNP are fully entitled to seek a referendum question through which to make their best advance. If that’s not total independence, then they have a duty to their supporters to deliver the closest alternative possible. Of course that will offend the die-hards and irreconcilables; but it’s good politics, good democracy — and good leadership.

    Whatever the result in 2014, I fully predict the SNP will then still be around. Unlike, say, the UUP.

  • John Souter

    Mister Joe – not sure whether your question relates to the protection of the peoples’ sovereignty or the shot at dawn quip?

    The quip is flippant as I think I made clear, the sovereignty more difficult to pin down in irrevocable terms as man -especially when he has the armoury of an institution backing him – has always been able to create wriggle room. But that by itself is no reason for not starting from firm foundations.

    Malcolm Redfellow – I would quickly tire of my perfection.

    At present the question proposed by the SNP government is “Do you agree Scotland should be an independent nation.” Yes/ No?

    Will it change during the run-up to the referendum? Its possible, but I doubt it.

    For Devo Max/Min/Quo to have any legs would need a positive response from Westminster. They rejected it -perhaps understandably given the can of worms it would open and for the present party in power, the removal of a cadre of thirty odd Labour MPs from cluttering up their power base.

  • HeinzGuderian

    ‘Whatever the result in 2014, I fully predict the SNP will then still be around. Unlike, say, the UUP’

    Or the nationalist party….although what that has got to with Scottish non independence,I shall never know. …;-)

  • BarneyT

    I think it has now started to ripple in our direction. Gerry is making noises about a referendum…and Enda is not very receptive presently.

    As I’ve said before, the Scottish question is much simpler as their removal from Britain established or reaffirms the same Scottish entity. Nothern Irelands departure from the UK also will require a transformation i.e. merging back with the 26 counties…to form….at what. Can’t see a republic being unniversally accepted.

  • IrelandNorth

    If the English man with the Scottish name who is currently British Prime Mininster (true to Jacobite tradition) is passionate about the union, which type of unionism is he more passionate towards – imperial or democratic? And was it a mistake to halt further devolution to Scotland pending the independence referenda outcome 2014, when maximum devoluion might have assuaged many independent Scots. And given that the recently appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced the moratorium at the British-Irish Parliamentary meeting in Scotland, might she not have been intuiting a juxtaposed independent NI and a maxdevoed Scotland.

  • BarneyT

    ok…looks like the UK government is running scared…hence the refusal to seek an officual EU position. Clearly it seems and independent Scotland would contunue to remain part of the EU….something unionists would like to lessen


  • david thistle

    Heinz- Alex and the SNP have been behind before, its all to play for. Several factors to consider are that the YES vote will turn out in force- and there is around 40% in the middle who would likely have preferred Devo Max but will now have to choose between Independence or the possibility of further Tory rule, with people like Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge.
    I support the SNP here, and when we achieve our goal it will have been done in an inclusive manner without a single drop of blood being shed.
    Greetings to our closest friends of whatever persuasion across the water.

  • BarneyT

    Well, is this a demonstration of the degree of autonomy Scotland might get..within the Union.


    So whats the message? If an English principality can have its own tax raising powers, the Country of Scotland may be given further scope with regard to self determination?

    I’m not sure if this move with Wales will encourage Union or promote separation.