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:

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty