Scottish independence: Yes vote could spark unionist crisis in NI

Ulster and Scottish flags fly together
Ulster and Scottish flags fly together

If Scotland votes Yes to independence it would prompt a crisis for Northern Ireland unionists and could spark political instability, an expert has said.

Generations of migration between the two countries have created close cultural and historical links. In places, the gap between the two coasts is hardly 20 miles.

Dr David Hume of the Orange Order said the Union would be poorer without Scotland

Dr David Hume of the Orange Order said the Union would be poorer without Scotland

Loyalists fly the Scottish saltire every summer during the marching season.

Professor Peter Shirlow is an academic specialising in conflict resolution at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and said a Yes vote next month would be a shock to the whole body politic of the UK.

“It would be a point of instability, it would be a sense that we are moving in one direction, which is the break up of the UK, that would lead at some point to unification (with the Republic of Ireland).

“Sinn Fein would be energised by that, which would add more to fractures we have in Northern Ireland.

“We have a political institution which is not evolving, going from one crisis to the next. A Yes vote would most certainly be a crisis for unionism.”

In the 1600s the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scots settlers created large swathes of largely pro-union Protestants in Northern Ireland, mainly but not exclusively concentrated in the eastern half of the country.

In the 1800s many Irish Catholics moved the other way due to industrialisation in Britain and famine at home. Belfast merchants had close economic ties with their counterparts across the Irish Sea.

Contemporary migrants are more likely to be students from Northern Ireland heading to Scottish universities. Large numbers of football fans regularly cross the water to watch Glasgow Rangers or Celtic.

Street violence in recent years has highlighted political and religious differences surrounding identity which still exist between unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.

Recently Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the political institutions faced their greatest crisis since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson responded by warning that an impasse over welfare reform was the most likely issue to force a collapse of the five-party ministerial executive.

Professor Shirlow said both sides would be affected by a Scottish Yes vote.

“A Yes vote would be a shock to the whole body politic of the UK. Anything which is constitutional would be felt quite strongly here.

“Out of the four countries that make up the UK, it would be an issue here. This is not something that is on everyone’s lips but if the vote goes Yes it might be.”

Dr David Hume, director of services at the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, has noted thousands of the organisation’s members will participate in a Scottish Orange Order march in Edinburgh shortly before the referendum.

He said: “We want Scotland to remain with us as part of the United Kingdom because we believe we have a better future together that way.

“We hope that the campaign for an independent Scotland does not succeed. We hope the people of Scotland say no to the proposal.

“The Union would be the poorer if Scotland were to leave the Union, and Scotland would be the poorer.”