IF Scotland does become independent, common sense dictates that we should look for an example to the last – indeed the only – nation to leave the United Kingdom, which is the Republic of Ireland.
Like Ireland – we will use that name and Northern Ireland distinctly – Scotland would become a nation that would hopefully continue trading with the rest of the UK and either stay in or rejoin the European Union.
Alternatively both countries could end up caught out by ties to England, Wales and Northern Ireland which membership of the European Union might require us to sever.
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Leading Irish academic and highly respected commentator Paul Gillespie has coined a phrase to describe the position of Ireland and indeed Scotland, stuck out the edge of Europe in a position that nobody in either country wanted. He calls that status of being between the UK and the EU the “pincer of peripherality”, and succinctly explains what Brexit could mean for Ireland and Scotland.
He said: “Looking at this drama from Ireland can add an important perspective on where European integration is going to the currently dominant triumphalism of the Brexiteers and the defensive resignation of the Remainers in the UK.
“Ireland badly needs a soft Brexit to maintain its present amicably interdependent relationship with the UK; but this will be exceedingly difficult to achieve if the UK leaves the single market and customs union. Ireland’s strategic interest and evident preference to remain a full EU member puts it firmly in the EU 27 camp.”
Ireland’s ministers are already on record as saying they will assist Scotland in its bid to remain in the EU or at least the Single Market, that message brought home from Dublin by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Here again, Scotland might follow the Irish example, as Gillespie recently wrote: “Small states need to be smart in these circumstances – hence the diligent and largely successful Irish efforts to flag the difficulties involved with other EU leaders and to think tactically about when and how they are best addressed.
“Beyond that Ireland must think hard about where it should be positioned in an EU without the UK.
“As a small open state and economy benefiting from globalisation and liberalised markets Ireland has shared many policy platforms with the UK, notwithstanding obvious differences on agriculture, structural funds or social policy. An EU without the UK will probably be more statist, more integrationist, more prone to tax harmonisation and defence-sharing than many Irish leaders and citizens would like.”
Much will depend on the terms of Brexit for the UK and Scotland, with a second independence referendum a certainty if a hard Brexit takes Scotland out of the single market.
Gillespie said: “If the UK’s exit goes badly in diplomatic and economic terms, and especially if it leaves without agreement, political and constitutional turbulence could see an English reconsideration of the Brexit decision coming after a UK breakup.
“Relations between the Republic and Scotland are much better in recent times, a change of potentially great interest in Northern Ireland because of its own Scottish links.
“Whether all this results in a united federal Ireland in a confederation with Scotland, each in the EU and enjoying strong bilateral relationships with England and Wales outside it, remains to be seen. But it is no longer fanciful to imagine such futures between these islands and their changing unions.”
A Celtic confederation? Well if the Scandinavians can have their Nordic Council, why can’t Scotland and Ireland have a more formal link?
With Brexit, anything is possible.