After IndyRef #3: Why Northern Ireland may be the very last bit to exit the United Kingdom…

Alex Kane thinks it’s all over in Scotland for another generation. Well, maybe. The problem with that argument is that the political system may already be re-wiring itself in Scotland around the battle lines of the campaign and the result.

Next time out the British Prime Minister may not be able to count Scottish Labour as a bulwark to keep the Scots and Picts from rebelling more completely next time. Britishness is in serious decline amongst those who came of age in the Thatcher years.

As one No campaigner put it to Slugger about a week out, “Yes have won the argument even if they lose the referendum”. That may be second best for the referendum, but it’s great deal better than a poke in the eye. As Martin Kettle suggested back in February

a rather more persuasive explanation for the inadequacy of the SNP’s engagement with serious issues this week is that it may suspect the game is up. The party has read the steadiness in the polls and realised it is not going to win a referendum that Salmond neither wanted nor expected until his shock landslide in 2011 forced him to hold it.

In that case, the long game may simply be an SNP core vote strategy, designed not to persuade but to maximise the anti-English, anti-British, anti-Tory, anti-neoliberal vote that the nationalists have successfully corralled in the past – and await another day.

Even Salmond’s resignation as leader may not be all it seems. One of his real talents has been as organisational engineer. He’s good at systems and making the whole come up as much greater than the sum of its parts. And the one thing the party needs right now is a system sturdy enough to turn raw recruits into fighting men and women for the next front.

He steps back as leader knowing that this time there is a second rank more capable of taking the party forwards than last time. Nicola Sturgeon is a proven communicator, but even if she proves less successful as leader there is still time for him to step back into that role should the time come.

Scottish independence has not been abandoned. It’s been postponed, possibly for a generation, possibly more, and maybe much less. However Salmond has done something that so far eludes those advocating a united Ireland in Northern Ireland.

He’s broadened the appeal of an independent Scotland to working class Irish Scots of the central belt, and Cameron’s seemingly reckless gamble has given them a taste for constitutional war and blood.

But at the end of the day, a defeat is a defeat. And a defeat by 400,000 is serious in anyone’s book.

In one respect, Alex is right. Unlike Scotland (where by and large they pay their way) we already know the result of any referendum to take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom beforehand. The answer is undoubtedly No.

Changing the conditions under which any future border poll might be held (as Salmond had already done) is the more pressing task. Twenty or thirty years is another lifetime to the aging warrior class of the Troubles era.

Yet that’s how long it has taken to bring the SNP from the loony fringe to the verge of a first jumping off. It depends on how seriously the Union changes shape whether they get another chance to jump.

As a matter of sheer practicality reconciliation of the people (as per Article 3) in the wake of our ‘long war’ will have to come first, and then some considerable reconciliation of finances before there is any prospect of winning a future border poll.

Don’t hold your breath!

As I suggested on the Irish Times Podcast, unless there are seriously well thought out developments on the civic Republicanism front (see Newton Emerson’s sage advice), Northern Ireland may be the last part of the United Kingdom:

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  • Michael Henry

    ” ( Northern )- Ireland May be the last part of the United Kingdom “-

    First middle or last -they could leave after England or before them-there is no future for the United Kingdom-Westminster promised more powers for Scotland if they stayed- but a few hours After the Election the Tory’s said they are going to try and take away more powers from Scottish MPs- less power not more is the English way-

  • mickfealty

    Cameron’s throwing everything at getting home as PM next time round, but it’s going to be a tough one for him. He’s blessed in Miliband who’s making virtually no impact on the public (it took Gordon to come in and rescue the Scottish situation).

    On Northern Ireland though, we have a political class used to instability, a media indifferent to the detail of what happens at Stormont, and a public increasingly disengaged from politics.

    I had a message from a reader earlier today, with an interesting perspective on the matter:

    “More devolution is SF’s worst nightmare, since it would require some display of competence in government. That’s why they are calling for border poll and government intervention.”

    If the long game is to wait on your opponents collapse, well that’s a game that was played before, and look how that turned out?

    There’s no real republican alternative to Salmond’s gradualism. Sadly, I don’t see much appetite for amongst the old warrior class. Salmond was a relatively young man when he first became leader.

    For now at least, Scotland remains a lot closer to the exit door than Northern Ireland.

  • Zeno1

    I think if Scotland did ever go Northern Ireland would become more valuable to the UK. That being the case they would be very reluctant to part with it,

  • terence patrick hewett

    Having recovered from my alcoholic referendum day, I have tried to make some sort of sense of the episode. It is so complex; so many what ifs; thousands of years of ancient and no so ancient grudges. Federation, confederation, separation; and how will this affect all of us in a hostile world.

    I remember the day that Lord Mountbatten got the chop: I was in my local pub when I was working in Capetown and in came an Irish friend of mine in his 80’s and gave a paean of triumph: his great English naval matey of the same age was over in a flash and they were on the floor punching each other’s lights out. All of us at the bar looked on with mouths open until we pulled them apart: next day they were back in the corner laughing about it.

    As an engineer I work all over the place and there is always a bar with a Welshman, a Scotsman, an Englishman, an American, an Australian, a Kiwi, and all the exotics of empire: all tearing the a*se out of each other. In the corner are two Irishman with their arms around each other one Prod one Catlick telling each other how much they miss the ould sod. It’s the way it is

  • Michael Henry

    ” Cameron’s throwing everything at getting home as PM next time around “-

    Agree- but Cameron played a blinder in Scotland by using Labour members to front the NO campaign – Darling and Gordon at the end- the Tory’s will not take new hits in Scotland -( because they have next to nothing anyway )- Labour will take some hard hits at the Westminster election next year in Scotland- could be enough to make a difference-

    Sinn Fein are asking for more powers- and the more they get the better-

  • Neil

    Cameron’s biggest blinder was setting the bear trap of English votes for English laws leaving Ed to either endorse a nightmare scenario of a government in power but not in power, or the glaringly undemocratic suggestion that English people shouldn’t get what they vote for. Ed’s got problems, and his appearance is the least of them. It pains to admit it but Cameron’s a wilier politician than Ed.

  • Scots Anorak

    “He’s broadened the appeal of an independent Scotland to working class Irish Scots of the central belt, and Cameron’s seemingly reckless gamble has given them a taste for constitutional war and blood.”

    I find the above statement somewhat reckless too. There was a constant meme issuing from the No camp in the latter stages of the campaign about Yes supporters being a good deal rowdier — in their words, “sinister” — than they were (given the fact that they were almost half the population, it’s surprising that there wasn’t a good deal more rowdiness). There was also general suppression by the mainstream media of any bad behaviour by supporters of the other side. In the end, it was an unrepresentative sectarian fringe of No supporters who became openly violent on the Friday following the vote, including a probable fire-raising incident aimed at the Sunday Herald, the only newspaper to support the Yes campaign (terrorism, in other words).

    Sadly, the BBC and others chose to report the disturbance as if the two sides had been equally to blame; we’ll see if the police and courts agree.

    Alex Salmond has succeeded in taking from the Labour Party the votes of both Catholic and working-class people, overlapping but obviously distinct constituencies concentrated in the central belt, and those new supporters, like the old, are unlikely to abandon their desire for constitutional change now. As far as actual “working class Irish Scots of the central belt” go, i.e. people who tick all the boxes and who previously supported Labour, I suspect that the Scottish Socialist Party may have done a good deal of his work for him, including its propitious implosion in the wake of Tommy Sheridan’s court cases.