11 February 2017

Solving Irish Unity, Scottish Independence & Staying in the EU in one fell swoop

One suggestion from Reddit... 

One nice thing about a total political clusterfeck in the Western World is that it forces us to think a little outside the box. Sure, if we had stability in Northern Ireland, continuation of our membership of the European Union, the far-right in a box and someone with half a brain in the White House in Washington, we might reasonably conclude that the applecart was just grand, and we'll just leave it as it is for now, thanks.

However, times have changed, and you don't need me to point out the woes our little planet faces at this stage. But here are a few facts that are worth pointing out.

  1. Most people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
  2. Most people in England and Wales voted to leave the EU.
  3. Most people in Scotland voted to remain in the EU.
  4. Northern Ireland and Scotland stand to lose the most from leaving the EU; England and Wales will likely be fine, eventually, but are unlikely to want to pour treasury funds into NI & Scotland.
  5. A sizeable minority in Scotland voted to leave the UK in the IndyRef. A majority voted to stay.
  6. When Brexit occurs, Scotland will be outside the EU (obviously), and any future independent Scotland would have to negotiate re-accession terms that will probably be far more unfavourable than those it currently enjoys as an EU member as part of the UK.
  7. Although most people in NI want to remain in the UK, for the Unionists at least, the locus of that loyalty lies where many of their ancestors came from - i.e. Scotland. Irish Nationalists also have very strong connections with Scotland, and many also trace their ancestry there. And of course there is our shared "Celtic" culture.
  8. If Scotland's status within the UK were to change, it is inevitable that the attraction for NI of remaining in a Union with just England and Wales would take a massive hit.
  9. A sizeable minority in Northern Ireland want a United Ireland, with a split from UK.
  10. Northern Ireland has a history of violent conflict, and a lot of the benefits we have seen from EU membership and (relative) political stability could be undone if we don't sort out our cultural, economic and political relationships with our nearest neighbours - Scotland and the Irish Republic.
  11. The Republic of Ireland is still in the EU, and is almost certain to remain in the EU; although "Irexit" has been suggested, it has no hope of success (at least at the moment, but who knows).
  12. There are calls in NI for a referendum on a United Ireland (which is doomed to fail) as well as in Scotland for "IndyRef2" (which will probably fail too), but these calls tap into a degree of public feeling that deserves at least some recognition.

Those are a lot of points. Taking all of them together, it seems that we need to get creative and think of alternative solutions that might at least be worthy of consideration. I'm going to propose one here - I am not necessarily advocating it, but I think it deserves some serious scrutiny, given that everything else is up in the air. So here goes - I propose:

The Celtic Union of Scotland and Ireland (CUSI)

Now I'm not the first to suggest this - here's Dorcha Lee's suggestion in the Herald, and it's been touted several times before. The model I would suggest is that we maintain the regional parliaments in Dublin, Edinburgh and Belfast, and work towards a light-touch federal model within the EU. We would need to work on which issues would be devolved and which would be centralised, but in terms of overall powers, it is reasonable to suggest that as much as possible would be left regional.

  • Name of state: Celtic Union of Scotland & Ireland (CUSI)
  • Government: Federal Republic
  • Currency: Euro
  • Flag (do you really want to go there?): Amalgam of St Patrick & St Andrew saltires (although I think someone already has this - maybe something else).
  • Defence: a small army, navy and air force, up-skilled in international relief and peacekeeping - we'll not be needing the nukes.
  • Health: redesign around principles of NHS
  • Economy: aligned with EU best practice, focused on knowledge-based industries and what we already do best. Likely to require a fair bit of EU funding initially
  • Other stuff that I haven't thought of: sure we'll sort all that out. We're good at that.
So what are the advantages for Ireland? Well, we get that United Ireland that people seem to want (or at least some people seem to want), and it avoids all that confusion on the international stage with people not quite knowing what Ireland and Northern Ireland are. Although Ireland already has a significant voice in Europe, joining with another important country at the Atlantic fringe means more negotiating power. Plus bridge funding to set the whole thing up.

Advantages for Northern Ireland? We get to stay in the EU. We maintain (indeed hugely strengthen) our links with our important neighbours in Ireland and Scotland. The distinction between Unionist and Nationalist cultural elements becomes pretty much irrelevant, peace and prosperity break out, and we achieve Nirvana where everyone is happy (realistic? Nah). Major injection of EU funding to manage the transition. 

Advantages for Scotland? Fast-track reaccession to the EU on favourable terms. Strengthening of a link with a major trading partner (although the England-Scotland border is a disadvantage, as would be degradation of access to the English market. Would this be offset by greater access to Europe? Difficult to say).

One thing is for sure - CUSI would be very marketable internationally, particularly in US and Australasia, as a destination for tourism and investment. We would be strategically very important internationally, just given our location. We have a wealth of natural resources in both main islands and our waters. There are opportunities to position ourselves at the forefront of environmental management and renewable energy. We have skills and industries in IT and manufacturing with a surfeit of highly-performing universities.

There are lots of reasons why this could work, and maybe lots of reasons why it might not. So the question is this: is it worth even thinking about, and when/if we do have Scottish IndyRef2 and a referendum on the Irish border, should these be simultaneous, and should CUSI be offered as one of the options?

And at the very least, would it be any worse than the mess we are in right now, and where we're heading?

Comments welcome below!