Impact of Scottish Referendum on Ireland
The legendary giants of Irish Unionism, Edward Carson and James Craig and even the late Ian Paisley, must be spinning in their graves with laughter at the thought of the modern pro-Unionist family embracing home rule.
Scottish nationalists may have lost the independence vote, but the result – if the Westminster establishment can be trusted to keep its promises – means that Irish-style home rule will be given to the Scottish Parliament.
And if London grants the Scots home rule, Stormont and Cardiff are already in the queue to demand similar tax-raising powers for the Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies.
But in Ireland another series of political ghosts have been awakened by the clamour over Scottish independence – namely, the spectres of Irish and Ulster independence.
Sinn Fein is already sounding the jungle drums for a border poll, even though the party is fighting hard to maintain the struggling Stormont parliament, which is teetering on the brink of collapse yet again because of welfare reform.
With massive austerity cuts on the horizon for Stormont, similar to those which were needed in the Republic following the multi-million euro bailout, no Northern Ireland party wants to shoulder the blame of implementing welfare reform especially with House of Commons and Assembly polls in the next two years.
Ironically, Sinn Fein wants to maintain the partitionist parliament in Belfast, simply to prove to Southern Irish voters – who will have their own Dail general election next year – that it has the political maturity to be a minority partner in the next Dublin government.
Northern Unionists, and especially the DUP, might secretly like Stormont suspended. That would force David Cameron to implement the cuts under direct rule from Westminster.
As the largest Unionist party among an increasingly crowded field of pro-Union movements in Northern Ireland, the DUP would also be in a prime position to assist Cameron if he needed another coalition partner in the event of a hung parliament.
But when the original Stormont parliament was axed in 1972, direct rule condemned the state to an economic backwater for a generation as a series of Northern Ireland Office ministers implemented policies with no accountability to the Ulster electorate.
In the event of another suspension, Unionist plans to agree to power-sharing after London has implemented hard-hitting welfare reform could backfire.
Among the working-class loyalist community – the supposed backbone of the DUP’s support – the threat of a demand for an independent Ulster could return under the slogan: “If it’s good enough for the Scots to demand it, it’s good enough for the Northern Irish”.
This would not be the drastic Unilateral Declaration of Independence which Rhodesia’s Ian Smith imposed in 1965. In spite of Northern Ireland being supposedly one of the United Kingdom’s most fiercely loyal regions, there is a strong independence tradition in Ulster.
Faced with the prospect of home rule in 1912, Unionists formed the Ulster Volunteer Force militia which would have secured an independent Ulster state had it not been for the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. In the 1970s, the staunchly right-wing Unionist Vanguard movement and the then legal paramilitary Ulster Defence Association both pushed the concept of independence as an alternative to direct rule.
In the wake of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave the Irish Republic its first major say in the running of Ulster since partition, the independence lobby raised its head again with hardline right-wing loyalist organisations, such as the Ulster Clubs movement and Ulster Movement for Self-Determination. But independence for either Ulster or Ireland has always been an aspirational notion rather than a realistic solution.
Loyalists would need a major super power to bankroll an independent six-county state. Independence was a non-starter until the Yes camp took 45 per cent in the Scottish referendum.
One thing is certain: there are huge political changes coming to Ireland in the next two years as a new tartan tide ripples its way across the British Isles.