Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are better off within the Union , Alliance leader David Ford has said.
In an interview with the News Letter, Mr Ford said that if he was living in Scotland and had a vote in September’s referendum on independence, he would use it to vote for the Union.
The interview took place on Tuesday, prior to Alliance’s European candidate Anna Lo saying that her own personal preference was for a united Ireland.
Although Alliance has no party policy on the border question, Ms Lo’s comments are the first time that a senior Alliance figure has made clear their preference for removing the border.
Her comments came just days before the party meets this morning for its annual conference in the Castlereagh hills.
When asked how he would vote in the Scottish referendum if he lived across the Irish Sea, Mr Ford said without hesitation: “If I was in Scotland, I’d undoubtedly be voting ‘no’ because I am a strong devolutionist; I am not a separatist.”
The justice minister highlighted one of the practical difficulties of creating a new country.
Referring to the justice agencies, he said: “There is now no doubt that there is now a good working relationship between my department and the Department for Justice and Equality; between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána.
“But that probably took 60 or 70 years to get right after partition. There are real issues and I think what we have shown in terms of the Good Friday Agreement is that there is a complex set of relationships.
“Northern Ireland was faced in 1921 with a decision as to whether it wanted to be part of an independent Free State or it wished to be part of the United Kingdom.”
He added: “I think Scotland is stronger for playing its part in influencing the UK, as is Northern Ireland, as is Wales, and then having the option to make local changes to meet local needs.”
He said that if Scotland was to leave the UK, it would create “significant difficulties just because to have a fairly cataclysmic constitutional change would to some extend damage some of the positive relationships which have existed since devolution”.
The reform of local government means that there are 120 fewer councillor positions up for grabs in May’s elections to the 11 new councils.
However, Mr Ford said that despite the reduction in the number of councils seats, his party intended fielding more candidates than in the 2011 local government poll, with about 80 candidates for the party.
Mr Ford said that he did not believe controversies about his party’s support for gay marriage and role in restricting the flying of the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall would hurt its vote.
Mr Ford admitted that the Executive of which he is a part is “run by the DUP and Sinn Fein” and “at times is completely dysfunctional”, meaning that it was unlikely to be a vote-winner. But he insisted that the work of himself and Alliance minister Stephen Farry was beneficial.
Mr Ford said that he was concerned by those loyalists over the last year who “because they don’t like certain aspects of the law, attack the police for enforcing it”.