As the debate about the Scottish independence referendum hots up with the publication of the SNP case for independence yesterday, it is an issue which should concern people in Northern Ireland but it is also important to explode some of the myths being peddled by Alex Salmond and his party.
This is an issue which has the potential to tear the UK apart. As someone who sits between the SNP and some of their most vocal Labour Party critics in the House of Commons I know the bitterness which has crept into this campaign in which the Scottish Nationalists have become increasingly bitter, vitriolic and in some cases racist in their anti-English rhetoric. I have witnessed the potential which this issue has to cause real damage to relationships within the UK.
The irony is that the SNP policy does not guarantee any independence for Scotland.
What currency they use will depend upon decisions in Europe and London. As a new entrant to the EU they will be required to sign up to the Euro. The SNP want to remain within the Sterling area and the Westminster Government has said that they will not accept the pound being used in Scotland unless Scotland abides by UK monetary policy. The choice of currency does not, as Alex Salmond claims, rest with the Scottish people.
This leads to the second issue of independence. If Scotland is allowed to stay with the pound then interest rates and banking regulation will remain the responsibility of the Bank of England. As part of the Euro their monetary policy will be dictated by the European Central Bank.
Alex Salmond says that he will get rid of the Trident bases in Scotland even though this will cost thousands of jobs and is likely to have consequences for shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde for other British Navy warships. Even this boast is not within the power of the SNP because of course since they wish to stay in NATO there will be a role for that organisation in deciding defence requirements.
Will Scotland have its own army, navy, airforce or rely on the UK umbrella for defence? How will it pay for its share of the national debt? And, given the £7,000-plus fiscal transfer to each individual in Scotland from the UK Exchequer Scottish citizens will be much poorer. So much for a bright future free of the UK.
I believe that the Scottish people will see through the mist of this romantic nationalist notion and understand the reality of the choice facing them, just as an increasing number of nationalists in Northern Ireland have done. Even 25 per cent of Sinn Fein voters recognise that being within the UK has benefits and only three per cent of people would vote to leave the UK tomorrow. The case for the Union is sensible, realistic and strong. It needs to be made in Scotland and the pro-Union campaign embraced by all UK parties in Scotland has our support.