Irish Nationalists instinctively wish the SNP well with next year’s referendum – an instinct which is bizarre because, looked at objectively, the SNP’s campaign is profoundly embarrassing to them. Never was this clearer than last week, when the SNP produced a near-700-page “Corporate Plan” for Scottish independence.
For what it’s worth, I found the “Plan” disappointing. It mixed up policy objectives with constitutional ones; it was based far too much on assumption (notably about the independence deal with the rest of the UK); most notably of all, it picked policy areas where distinct Scottish policy would already be possibly within the UK (after all, Northern Ireland will do away with the “bedroom tax” while remaining within the UK). In fact, I have to say, it looked to me more like a plan for “devo-max” – who knows, perhaps it was?!
For all that, it offered some sort of clear vision of what an independent Scotland would really look like. A meaningful, rational debate can now commence – advocates will no doubt point to the clarity of a Scotland maintaining its own oil, maximising its own resources, and maintaining friendly relations with its neighbours; opponents will suggest it is a hell of a risk, and will suggest that “independence” SNP-style actually means monetary policy being determined in London, social policy in Brussels, and financial policy in Frankfurt.
I wrote there that a meaningful, rational debate can now commence – this does not mean it will, of course, but it can. That is more than can be said in Ireland. I think Nick Garbutt slightly over-states how rational the Scottish debate actually is, and how emotional the Irish debate is (he is also incorrect to describe Scotland as a “net contributor” to the UK exchequer – it’s a cool two grand a head annually short of that), but fundamentally he is right – in Scotland (at least some) people can make a decision based on what is in their socio-economic interests, not what religious background they happen to come from or where their ancestors happened to live in the 16th century.
This is why it is embarrassing for Irish Nationalists. Where is Sinn Fein’s 700-page description of a true all-Ireland Republic of Equals? Where is the SDLP’s 700-page masterplan for Irish Unity? Where is the offering from Nationalists to the rest of us on the basis of true socio-economic interest?
I have long suggested (but it suits no one politically to accept) that the real distinction is that, in Scotland, an argument can be made that Scotland would be better off independent – I don’t find it particularly convincing personally, but I recognise its legitimacy. No such case can be made for Ireland. There is at least an argument, therefore, that Scotland would be better off keeping its own wealth and not contributing to pan-UK initiatives of no benefit to it; whereas all sides meekly accept Northern Ireland needs to be bailed out with a subvention regardless of its constitutional status.
Fundamentally, for any constitutional change to be seriously viable, what needs to happen is the Northern Ireland economy has to be re-balanced (or at least have a plan to be re-balanced) so it performs at least to the level of Scotland’s – otherwise everyone knows there can be no “United Ireland” (hence support for it happening tomorrow is, in reality, a paltry 4%). But I don’t see a 700-page description of how to achieve that, either…