A Yes vote would hurt Irish economy but our special bond will always endure

Article by Brian Hayes MEP which appeared in the Irish Independent on Friday 12th September 2014

The English and the Scottish crowns were united in 1603 when, on the death of Queen Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England. In 1707, the countries were united in a unitary state after the passing of an Act of Union in the Scottish and English parliaments. The new state was called Great Britain.

It is that Union, now almost 300 years old, which will be put to the test on September 18. If Scotland votes for independence, it will continue to share the same sovereign with the rest of the UK. The 1603 Union of the Crowns will remain.

The coming referendum in Scotland is already having an impact on Ireland. Recent opinion polls showing the Yes side gaining momentum – and even ahead in one important poll – have caused sterling to weaken considerably on international money markets. A weak sterling does not suit Ireland. It would have been in Ireland’s interest if the euro had remained below 80p. Such a rate is good for Irish exports and good for the tourist sector. There is a real danger that if Scotland votes Yes, sterling might suffer a major drop. That would not help the Irish economy.

Irish government ministers have very wisely maintained a Trappist-like silence on the Scottish referendum. Others have been less wise, including the prime ministers of Australia and Canada and some senior EU figures, including former Commission President Manuel Barroso, all of whom have made negative comments on Scotland’s potential independence.

I think the Irish position of not expressing an opinion on the domestic political arrangements of our nearest neighbour is sensible. No matter what happens, they will always be our neighbours and, hopefully, our friends.

That does not mean we are not interested or that the outcome is of no consequence for Ireland, in the Republic and in the North. We should be very interested indeed. It matters a great deal to us what happens in the UK.

It seems to me that irrespective of what happens on September 18, major change is already coming to Britain. Even if Scotland rejects independence, more devolution for Scotland is now promised. The Welsh Assembly is also demanding increased powers. And some of the regions and cities of England are also beginning to make new demands. Some commentators are even predicting that Britain will take on some of the characteristics of a federal state in the future, with power increasingly located in the regions and cities.

Of course, if Scotland votes for independence, the consequences for the UK will be profound. The UK will enter a period of political instability. The situation will be further complicated by a possible in-or-out referendum on British membership of the EU. A vote for Scottish independence will also have consequences for British party politics. The rise of nationalist parties and of UKIP is adding to the political mix.

From an Irish perspective, British politics and the British state have been extremely stable. That may be about to change. The consequences of Scottish independence will be significant for Ireland. The Irish political establishment has been very happy with the Dublin/London axis. And it not just the political establishment which is content with the status quo. It’s interesting to note that no national media outlet has a full-time correspondent in Scotland reporting on Scottish events.

Since the mid 1980s, managing Northern Ireland has brought Britain and Ireland ever closer. It is true to say that relations between Dublin and London are now warmer than at any time since independence in 1922. An independent Scotland would introduce a new dynamic into East/West relations. While we compete with Scotland for foreign direct investment opportunities, that competition would intensify with Scottish independence.

The biggest implication of independence is, of course, for the North. In some respects, the North’s union with Britain is more with Scotland than it is with England or Wales. Will a diminished Britain be willing to pay the heavy price to maintain the Union with the North?

What impact will an independent Scotland have on unionist thinking? These are all very interesting questions. Since I became an MEP, I am being constantly asked by my fellow MEPs about Britain and its relationship with the EU. The upcoming Scottish referendum and its result will have a real impact in several parts of the EU where regions are demanding independence. The EU is obviously concerned about a domino effect.

I don’t see any great difficulty with an independent Scotland becoming a full member of the European Union. There are now 28 countries in the EU and others, particularly from the Balkan region, will join in the not too distant future. The terms of Scottish membership, of course, will have to be negotiated with current members. Just as it is in Ireland’s interest that Britain stay in the EU, it would also be in Ireland’s interest that Scotland be a full member. The problem for Scotland will be the negotiation that follows. The devil is in the detail of a new relationship with Europe – I’m not convinced that Scottish terms will be favourable as they reapply for membership.

There is an acceptance on all sides that the result will be respected. The referendum on Scottish independence is an example of political freedom of a very high level. Of course, it matters to Ireland how Scotland decides. But irrespective of how Scotland decides on September 18, it is important to remember this. The ties of geography, of history, of family and friendship, of culture, and of trade which bind together the peoples of these islands will never be broken.

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