Myths about Scottish independence

There are some unbelievable myths being peddled about “Scottish independence”. It is worth nailing a few of them – if only so that those repeating them can be placed on the list of “those too lazy to do their own research who should probably never be paid as commentators”…

1. England would always elect Conservative governments.

The Labour Party “would die” according to one Sky News commentator. Utter codswallop! In England alone (even excluding Wales), Tony Blair would have headed a Labour-led administration for each of the three elections from 1997 just as he did; just as David Cameron would be Prime Minister now. Yes, Mr Blair would have needed a coalition in 2005 (though including Wales even then he had a majority) and David Cameron would not need one now, but it would still have been the same party’s Prime Minister in Number 10. Some “death”!

In any case, Labour would merely move slightly to the right to re-align politics marginally – just as it had to after the “Longest suicide note in history” election of 1983.

2. Scots would be “foreigners”.

This is lovely and emotive and maybe strictly true, but are the Irish “foreigners”? Actually current UK citizenship law views Irish nationals as having the same rights and responsibilities as UK nationals within the UK almost without exception; and it is already the case that any EU national can use consular services of any EU member state. Thus, with the safe assumption that UK citizenship law treats Scots the same way and the fairly safe assumption that Scotland becomes an EU member state, it would be much the same. Unless the Continuing UK is idiotic enough to leave the EU, of course…

This is also not unlike arrangements between the Nordic Countries or between the Czech Republic and Slovakia or Australia and New Zealand. In each case, people from the other state are not really “foreign”, as they possess all the same rights and responsibilities.

3. Scotland would move to a Scandinavian model.

I’ll return to this, but in fact there is no evidence it would. All proponents of a “yes” vote talk of reducing taxes, not increasing them; the SNP in office has centralised power and engaged in middle-class giveaways; and an iScotland would be dominated by oil, finance and drinks sectors none of whom would allow such a dramatic change of economic and social model. If anything, the evidence is an iScotland would be more Liberal in many ways, including economically.

4. Scotland could not use the pound.

Of course Scotland could use the pound. Actually no one with any authority has said otherwise.

What it could not do is retain influence on the pound – including on interest rates, revaluations or whatever. There may also be some difficulty with joining the EU; although this could probably be solved by setting up Scotland’s own currency which happened, initially, to be pegged to the pound.

5. Independence is the only way to save the NHS in Scotland.

On the contrary, independence is the only thing which puts it in any danger.

The difficulty here is that increasing moves towards private care provision are being referred to as “privatisation” by some – an utterly misleading term as that provision is still funded from the public purse.

Thus, the retention of public funding for all aspects of the Health Service means there is and remains exactly the same amount available for Health in Scotland (actually more per person, as Scotland’s public spending per head is higher within the UK). In fact, interestingly, the SNP has chosen to take money away from the NHS for other departments. Health accounts for 22% of public spending in England but just 20% in Scotland – a differential which has opened up under the SNP administration.

With the trend already being towards comparatively lower Health spending by advocates of independence themselves, and uncertainty over future oil revenues (plus inevitable costs of setting up a new military, a new diplomatic service and so on), it is clear objectively that the strain on the NHS would come with independence, not without it.

6. Scotland would remain in the EU.

This isn’t the worst myth but it is not straightforward and we should be clear about that. To be in the EU, you have to be a member state. An independent Scotland would have opted to leave a member state, and thus to leave the EU. It may of course then apply to become a member state and I would hope everyone would see the sense in fast-tracking the process prior to the date of independence – but it may not be possible to conclude this by March 2016.

This is similar to the nonsense that the pound is “also Scotland’s currency”. No it isn’t – it is the currency of the UK governed by the UK’s Central Bank. Scotland would leave the UK and thus no longer have that Central Bank, nor therefore its currency. As noted above, it could peg its own currency to Sterling or try to negotiate a Sterling Zone similar to the Eurozone – but as of March 2016 it would, failing the latter, cease to have the UK currency as its currency for the simple reason that it would have left the UK.

It is somewhat bizarre that those in favour of “independence” are so wary of being clear about what leaving the UK means!

7. Alex Salmond is a Social Democrat.

Just because you don’t like Margaret Thatcher doesn’t make you a Social Democrat!

Which is the crux of the issue, really, isn’t it?!

Is Scotland really more “left wing”?

The underlying basis of the “Yes Scotland” campaign, arguably, is the notion that Scotland should become a country independent from England (ahem, the “Continuing UK”) because it is fundamentally more “left-wing”. Prime evidence for this is the old line that there are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs.

In fact, however, there is little real evidence for this. By “England”, too often there is the lazy assumption that this means the Home Counties. However, this should be put the other way around: does, say, Liverpool have significantly more in common with the Home Counties than Glasgow has? Put that way around, it seems ludicrous that post-industrial heavily Irish-influenced Liverpool could soon be in a different country from Glasgow but the same one as Oxford or Haywards Heath.

Even historically, there appear few grounds for this contention. Is Scotland more progressive? The only part of Great Britain which refuses to count votes on a Sunday is in Scotland, not England. Is Scotland less capitalist than England? Where was Adam Smith from again?! It is true that there was never a truly Conservative (as opposed to right-leaning Liberal or Unionist) tradition in Scotland, but neither was there in parts of England and, in any case, Conservatism is not the only (or even predominant) centre-right political philosophy. A century ago Scots accounted for a twelfth of the UK population yet a third of all British Imperial Governors and Governors General – hardly renowned for their left-wing sympathies!

Even in terms of contemporary social make-up, if anything it is England which looks more progressive. 13% of England’s population is non-white compared to 4% of Scotland’s – where, therefore, are the more progressive and liberal attitudes to immigration based on those numbers?

This is devil’s advocate stuff of course – there is of course competing evidence which does suggest Scots are broadly marginally to the “left” of the English. However, perhaps the main argument for suggesting Scots are just as individualistic, selfish and, well, right-wing as the English is the fact that this referendum is happening at all. After all, Scotland gained hugely from the UK at its height – as its living standards grew to match England’s and its people gained unimaginable influence over world affairs through their hugely disproportionate role in the military, administrative, political, industrial and economic affairs of the Empire. Yet as soon as the decline set in, far from working together with their compatriots in Liverpool, Newcastle or Sheffield to overcome the blight of deindustrialisation, many Scots seem content to take their oil money and run. Where’s the social conscience in that?!

UK will have to stay in EU, and push for more integration

“What are we going to do to save the European project?” asked one correspondent recently. Having pondered this, I think the first step is to set out why we should seek to save it, and indeed advance it. On the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the last World War, I have come to the conclusion that the answer to why is one word – security.


Crudely, we are now at the point where global conflict has already started. We can kid ourselves all we like that the vicious religious wars of Iraq/Syria, Israel’s and Hamas’ brutality in the Holy Land, the takeover of Libya by Islamists and other purges are confined to the Middle East; and that the Crimean/Ukrainian conflict is down to one man’s posturing in Moscow; and that sectarian violence across the Sahara from South Sudan to Nigeria is just down to localised power struggles. In fact, they are a series of inter-connected religious and economic wars. When we add to them the near certainty of conflict in the Far East as China flexes its muscles and Japan weakens in economic (and thus political) influence, the ever-present risk of turmoil in the Americas, and even on-going civil and economic strife within the Eurozone and the United States, we need to be brutally realistic – the upturn in strife, conflict and war is an inevitability made so by a shift in economic balance and the (not coincidental) unwillingness and inability of the United States to play the role of sole global superpower and thus sole global policeman.

The UK also needs to be brutally realistic. It has endured a period of harsh economic decline and, again not coincidentally, has cut back its defence spending. Until recently the second largest spender on defence in the world, the UK will soon slip out of the top ten. This means its role as supporter to the world’s sole superpower is no longer viable, even if the United States were willing to play that role – which it isn’t. The UK’s influence now will depend more than ever on diplomatic weight – a weight it can carry uniquely as the bridge between North America and Europe.

Here is the point, however – it can only play that role by retaining its strong intelligence links with the United States while at the same time remaining firmly within the EU. What the UK is grappling with is a harsh realisation that its influence depends on remaining within an ever-integrating EU – and indeed on being a core part of that EU. In the ideal world it would not be faced with this conundrum – but then, in the ideal world Russia would not have a President playing war games, moderate Israelis would negotiate a two-state solution with a dominant Fatah, the United States would be able to afford to remain in Iraq to build democracy as it did in Germany and Korea, the EU would be able to retain some degree of law and order along the Sahara, and the West’s economy would be in much better shape. We should probably have worked out by now that this is no “ideal world”!

Let us deal again with brutal reality in this new, non-ideal, turbulent world. There are two outcomes – one is World War Three; the other is a new multi-power world where the United States begins to share its role as global policeman with other powers (just as it once did with the Soviet Union), delivering security through a series of compromises and deals around global security and trade. One of those other powers will surely be China (with Japan increasingly irrelevant); another will probably be India (although Pakistan and others will need some role); another may be Latin America (headed by Brazil); and, here is the thing, another will be Europe. That latter will in fact be the United States’ most trusted ally among the new Great Powers; as this happens, Henry Kissinger’s old question will apply – what is Europe’s phone number? The UK has a straight choice – it can either join the likes of Japan on the sidelines (costing it influence on security but also on trade, with real social and economic consequences) and leave Germany unquestionably the main player in that Europe; or it can seek to position itself as a main player in Europe and thus retain relevance as the focal point of a Transatlantic Alliance which it can use for its own security (as well as trade).

The biggest problem we have with the European debate in the UK at the moment is that it is appallingly parochial, and proceeds as if the world has stopped waiting for the UK to make its decision. On the contrary, the world is becoming a more polarised and more dangerous place in which the last thing we should want to do is retreat into insularity and irrelevance. Most of all, we all – each and every one of us – need to grasp and grasp quickly that this isn’t the ideal world, any more than it was this day 75 or 100 years ago!

Northern Ireland vastly better than 20 years ago

One correspondent joked that I should be “more definite” in my blog pieces, so here’s another one: the notion that Northern Ireland isn’t multi-fold better (and more cohesive) than it was 20 years ago is complete drivel!

In the Northern Ireland of 20 years ago, with freakish exceptions, you never saw a different coloured face and you never heard a foreign language. No one wanted to come and live here; actually, no one wanted to come and holiday here. You did see plenty of army (and other) checkpoints; you did take ages crossing the border; you did face restrictions to where you went and when. And murders were more common than road fatalities are now.

Host a major music awards ceremony, or the start of a Great Cycling Tour, or a major golf championship? The notion would have had you in hospital laughing! This is a better country.

Promote an Irish language job freely in East Antrim, or park a car with a ‘GB’ sticker in Andersonstown, stroll into a political event in the Felons Club to mention your dad was in the Army in open discussion? That would have been cause for genuine concern. This is a more cohesive country.

The Troubles. What were the Troubles? People who will soon be driving and voting actually ask that. My 11-year-old stepdaughter condemned sectarian slaughter in Iraq on the grounds that “I mean, we have Protestants and Catholics but we don’t go around doing that”. To grow up in, this is pretty much a normal country!

Find the second highest and fastest growing identity here is “Northern Irish”? You know what, this is actually a country!

I suspect those who forget the obvious, vast advances are those who were anticipating something different. The notion of “peace” had perhaps always been of a “peace” solely on our own terms. We find one which is a mushy compromise a bit disconcerting – yet it is the only one available. And it is one which has improved things so immeasurably, that sometimes we forget to try measuring.

Is it imperfect? Look around the world and tell me somewhere that isn’t.

Why is predicting next UK General Election so difficult?

The polls are increasingly suggesting a Labour majority at the next UK General Election. However, here is the thing – never in the history of polling have polls been a less reliable indicator of the outcome. The truth it is phenomenally difficult to predict the next UK General Election. It is worth specifying why this is so.

Firstly, historically, it used to be relatively straightforward because the two main groups – Conservative-Unionist-NatLib on the centre right and Labour on the centre left – scored over 90% of the vote between them. It was relatively easy to take the spread of seats from the last election, calculate the “swing” in favour of one group or the other, and then apply that consistently across the seats to work out roughly how that translated into seats. Even this wasn’t perfect – as long ago as 1959, the first properly televised UK General Election, the swing was away from Labour in most places, but to Labour in Scotland and Lancashire (which was noted at the time and taken account of in calculations).

Secondly, it is now the case that even in a good year for the three main parties collectively, an eighth of votes cast in Great Britain are against them. With the growth of UKIP, this figure will only increase. That figure is not enough for any other party to win a seat except if it specifically targets one (e.g. the Greens in Brighton Pavilion), but it does make it hard to predict which of the three parties they are taking their votes from, and thus to predict a winner. Put another way, if the race is to 45-50% between two or three candidates, it is fairly easy to predict a winner from some basic polling; if the race is to 30-35% with up to 20% of votes cast constituting effectively a protest, it all becomes a lot closer. There aren’t, in fact, many three-way marginals, but it becomes quite possible that those that there are (e.g. Watford) will be won at under 30%. Predicting that reliably, even from accurate regional polling figures, is nigh impossible.

Thirdly, the loss of some parties’ votes may be more marked in some areas than others, and the scale of that difference may be difficult to pick up. For example, we can reasonably guess three things: a) the Liberal Democrat vote will decrease; b) it will decrease more in seats where they do not have an incumbent MP (and more so where than incumbent him/herself is not defending the seat than where he/she is); c) it will decrease more in regions which are not traditionally Liberal than in areas which always had a Liberal strain (e.g. the rural South West or the Scottish Highlands). All of this means that even if the Liberal Democrats lost more than half their vote, crashing to 8-12%, they could still retain more than half their seats (but it would be hard to predict which)… or not…

Fourthly, tactical voting is hard to call. In 1983, the Conservative vote share declined but their majority trebled because of a shift in votes from Labour to the then Liberal/SDP Alliance, which was rarely enough to elect a Liberal/SDP MP but often unseated the Labour one, leaving the Conservative elected thanks to the split. In 1997, however, voters essentially voted for whichever party was most likely to unseat the Conservative, giving the Liberal Democrats double the seats despite an unchanged vote share (the Conservatives only actually lost a quarter of their vote share, but more than half their seats).

After all this, the likelihood is that of all the votes cast for the three main parties, the Conservatives will probably have roughly the same share as in 2010 (maybe slightly more in fact), and Labour will have considerably more at the expense of the Liberal Democrats (although exactly how this works out will depend on region and who holds the seat). This would see the Conservatives lose some seats to Labour (as former Liberal Democrats lend their votes to the Labour candidate in Conservative/Labour marginals), but actually gain some from the Liberal Democrats (as Labour pick up Liberal Democrat votes allowing the Conservative to sneak through). Quite how many of each would happen is uncertain, as is the precise effect of a likely upturn in the UKIP vote (often Conservative, but often also Labour or just protest) and even the Green vote (an obvious destination for disaffected SDP-leaning former Liberal Democrats). In the end, there will be a fair degree of luck in simply just how the votes fall. It’ll be some election night!


Currency symptom of Salmond’s problem, not the cause

Despite what seemed to me to be a comprehensive “victory” on Monday evening, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond appears still to be losing ground at the very time he needs to be gaining it because, it is suggested, he cannot come up with a “Plan B” on the currency an independent Scotland would use if the Continuing UK refused to enter into a formal Currency Union. Yet in fact I think the “currency issue” is the symptom of his basic problem, not the cause.

Firstly, it is worth being clear about what the “currency issue” is. Mr Salmond claims that an independent Scotland will enter into a formal Currency Union with the Continuing UK – a Sterling Zone, effectively, with a single central bank, interest rate and so on with influence on decisions affecting it from both countries. All three main UK parties have said, however, that they will not allow this. The obvious “Plan B” would be for Scotland to have its own currency pegged to Sterling, the same way Denmark’s is pegged to the euro (as Mr Salmond pointed out, although it would probably be called the pound and pegged at 1:1, thus in practice similar, as Mr Darling has said, to countries such as Panama which simply use the US Dollar). Economically this “Plan B” has a certain appeal, as having a no bank of last resort (the inevitable consequence) means banks have to be more careful – as has indeed proved to be the case in Denmark and Panama. However, politically, it is a disaster because it means the Continuing UK would make decisions affecting Scotland’s currency without Scottish input – an unsellable proposition to undecided voters as it hints at loss of control rather than gain.

My own view is that Mr Salmond is being skewered over the Currency Union not because of its potential economic ramifications but because it demonstrates a more obvious (and potentially unpalatable) point – if Scotland is independent and gets to make decisions in its own interest, well, so is the Continuing UK…

In other words, what is alarming people about Mr Salmond’s proposals is that it is becoming increasingly apparent that “independence” works both ways. If Scotland gets to act entirely in its own interests, so do its neighbours. Given Scotland’s peripheral location, unfavourable demographics and small population, undecided voters are increasingly reaching the conclusion that this works to Scotland’s disadvantage. To make matters worse, it would be Scotland which unilaterally departed, thus leaving the Continuing UK with all the benefits of being the successor state (not least full control of Sterling).

By insisting that his campaign is about having decisions affecting Scotland made in Scotland, but then also insisting that he knows and can influence decisions affecting England which will be made in England, Mr Salmond is beginning to look somewhat disingenuous. It is that, not the currency, which is the crux of his current difficulty.

NI Corporation Tax reduction can’t happen

I was astounded to see media reports suggesting the UK Prime Minister is about to reduce Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland. This shows a basic misunderstanding of devolution – and of politics.

The UK Government has never claimed to have the power to reduce Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland. What is being considered is the devolution of Corporation Tax to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would be for the Northern Ireland Assembly (Executive, in practice) to reduce Corporation Tax, not the UK Government.

This is important because, of course, that couldn’t possibly currently happen. For all their talk of lower business taxes (DUP) and all-island tax harmonisation (SF), the fact is the DUP and SF have brought the Executive to the brink of collapse over immediate spending reductions (necessitated by maintaining the current broken Welfare system) and ongoing real-terms spending reductions (necessitated by the UK Government’s determination to reduce the deficit). The idea that they would double this burden by adding hundreds of millions to the “savings” already having to be made to take a punt on the long-term benefits of a Corporation Tax reduction is laughable. Reduction of Corporation Tax, even if it were devolved, would merely go into the pot with all the other issues upon which the DUP and Sinn Féin are gridlocked – from the single education authority to the Maze.

A Corporation Tax reduction can’t and won’t happen any time soon. Don’t trust anyone telling you otherwise.

Time for Sinn Féin to “show leadership”

When Unionists of various stripes have been caught breaching the basics of the 1998 and 2006 Agreements and even engaging in hate speech, Sinn Féin has strolled up to the parapet of the moral high ground and demanded that the DUP and others “show leadership”.

I am not one for “whataboutery”, but I’m not one for hypocrisy either. So, after the appalling example of hate speech exhibited by a band at the Ardoyne Fleadh (cheered, note, by hundreds present), we are entitled to suggest that perhaps now is the time for “Ireland’s largest party” to, well, “show leadership”…

Let us be clear, the band was cheered because it expressed a sentiment hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland share – that the “British” have no right in any part of Ireland, that Unionists and other non-Nationalists aren’t really “British”, and that therefore there is no place for “Britishness” at all in contemporary Ireland. These sentiments are utterly unacceptable – partly because they simply are given the reality of contemporary Ireland, and partly because we all signed up to binning them in 1998. That includes Sinn Féin.

I have ranted ad nauseam about how the 1998 and 2006 Agreements – and, more importantly, basic common decency – require Unionists to come to terms with the Irish national identity and citizenship held and cherished by many of their co-citizens in Northern Ireland. However, that absolutely works both ways. Required also by those Agreements is respect for British national identity and citizenship, and also for the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK. It is understandable that people who grew up fundamentally opposed to Britishness and all it stood for and believing that the constitutional position is the result of a terrible historical injustice would have difficulty with this, which is precisely why it requires those who signed up to it while recognising the need to compromise to “show leadership”.

What happened at the Belfast Mela, at the Cenotaph commemoration of the outbreak of World War One, and at Belfast City Hall’s Peace Vigil was a recognition of our different national identities but also of our common citizenship. What happened at the Ardoyne Fleadh was a disgraceful hate-filled rant which has no place in post-Agreement Northern Ireland, and which should probably be prosecuted for incitement to further hatred.  Let’s hear Sinn Féin say so – no ifs, no buts.

Branding: people don’t believe you, even if it’s true

The new Audi A4 “compact executive” saloon is due out early next year. Already the blurbs are appearing in the car magazines about how it will have a “drastically improved driving experience” aimed at “seizing the BMW 3-series’ crown” as “best car to drive” in the class.

I have to wonder at Audi’s PR team. Why would they allow such a thing to be written in advance of the launch of the model? Why are they prioritising “driving experience” when its main rival has been accepted as the “ultimate driving machine” for at least two decades (i.e. as long as the typical target buyer has been driving)? Because here is the thing: even if Audi were to produce a model which was clearly a better drive than the BMW equivalent, no one would believe it!

This is the power of branding – it builds on a perception which once had justification, but which is maintained in the public’s view long after it is objectively valid. Thus BMW is the “ultimate driving machine” even though other makes do better in sports and touring car racing; Volvo is the “safe” option even though in fact Renault was the first make to have a five-star Euro NCAP rating; Toyota is rock solid reliable even though it has had more recalls globally in the last five years than anyone.

Audi has enjoyed phenomenal success – outside North America at least – with its strategy of using only four basic manufacturing points to build over 50 different models. In other words, there are fundamentally only four Audi models, but they are reshaped, redesigned and re-powered into a vast combination, allowing almost anyone to find an Audi that suits while maintaining the “premium” brand. It’s brilliant. But trust me, no one will ever believe they are better to drive than the equivalent BMW – even if some of them are…

A “United Ireland” won’t happen. Ever.

I am pleased to see, over on Slugger, at least the hint of a real debate about a “United Ireland”. Most of the basic sentiments – that we need some economic reality and that Northern Ireland has to work for all its citizens – are spot on and conveniently are necessary to any constitutional preference. This is why my own politics were always based on those sentiments.

I have put forward various thoughts on how a United Ireland could operate – most obviously, like Australia (a federation with the current Monarch as Head of State). However, I have done so primarily to demonstrate that “Nationalists” are either so biased that they find this unacceptable, or so disinterested that they find this irrelevant. It is no surprise to me that the only threat to the UK comes from Scotland, not Northern Ireland.

The truth is this: a Unitied Ireland is not going to happen.

Why not? Let us go back to the Covenant. One of the main aspects of that document in September 1912 was the economic argument that splitting Belfast – its shipbuilders, rope makers, linen weavers and so on – from the rest of the UK would see tariffs imposed and thus create costs to exporting to the UK which would render them unable to compete with the West of Scotland and the North West of England in those key industrial areas. The point here is that in an era where there were tariffs imposed on trade between any two countries, it made sense to belong to a large country. There were two prime reasons for this: first, it gave you the biggest possible free trading zone; and second, it gave you the clout of a powerful government to negotiate trade deals with other large countries on your behalf. That is why the map of Europe at the outbreak of World War One consisted of a unitary British Isles, a larger single Germany, a huge Austro-Hungarian realm, a newly united Italy and large Russian and Ottoman Empires – alongside France. Spain and not much else (even Sweden and Norway had broken apart only in the previous decade).

A century later and we live in a vastly different Europe, where tariffs and many other trade restrictions between countries have been abolished. This makes it no longer necessary or even beneficial to belong to a large country. With the benefit of free trade, countries such as France and Germany are the exception in Europe – which contains a raft of countries at around 7-11 million (Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic. Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Sweden etc), another set at around 4-5 million (Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland. Slovakia, Croatia etc) and another lot at around 2 million (Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia). This is vastly different from what went before, but it is enabled by free and peaceful trade, and thus the pressure is for more break-up – perhaps in Catalonia, Venice or Scotland to give some obvious examples. After all, if Brussels is already handling everything from foreign trade to social regulations; and you are already handling domestic policies and laws, what role precisely do Madrid, Rome or London play?

Therefore it is no coincidence that, aside from Germany, there really is no precedent for uniting a country in modern Europe – the movement is all the other way.

Germany itself is not a useful precedent either. It consisted, legally and practically, of the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic (what the English-speaking world but not the German-speaking world referred to as “East Germany”) and the expansion of the Federal Republic of Germany (“West Germany”) to incorporate its territory. The equivalent would be the dissolution of Northern Ireland and the expansion of the current Republic of Ireland to include 32 counties not 26. Overnight, the Northern (NHS-style) Health system would be abolished, its laws would be replaced (e.g. the Rules of the Road would change) or repealed (e.g. laws on equality or animal cruelty, which are often markedly lacking in the Republic), and rafts of people would be out of work (most civil servants would be unnecessary; all lawyers now unqualified; and so on). This would be much more dramatic in fact than it was in Germany, where some “Eastern” systems were maintained by the new States (in their own policies and laws; unlike Ireland, Germany is a federation) and “Easterners” gladly underwent training in new “Western” systems accepting from the outset that they were inherently better. This is why no one seriously advocates such a method of unification for Ireland.

So there is no precedent. In fact, most Nationalists who think about it come to suggest that Northern Ireland would continue to exist, with its own separate laws, education system, accounting methods and so on. But that takes us back to the above question – if Belfast continues to manage the domestic policies and laws, and Brussels does the foreign stuff, what exactly would Dublin be doing? The answer to that, hypothetically, is it would be working out what to do with its new security headache and how it was to manage a mammoth subvention to Northern Ireland – a subvention to a place with half the population but the same number of public servants, for some reason. Hypothetically… it wouldn’t be daft enough to do it in reality, of course.

Even without that headache, the simple fact is the “United Ireland” thus created would consist of a legally separate unit, with its own laws, institutions, heritage and identities. That has been tried, of course – in 1707, when the Kingdom of Scotland was united with the Kingdom of England. How’s that one working out in the modern context explained above?!

So no, a United Ireland is not “closer than it’s ever been”. There was one chance of it ever happening outside the UK, and it was wasted at Easter 1916. Towards 2016, all the trends across Europe tell us there was more chance of a sovereign Northern Ireland than a sovereign United Ireland some time this century. What was that about making Northern Ireland economically viable and a fair home to all, Irish, British and neither…?!


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