Wednesday 16 January 2019

Scots' opportunity could be Ireland's difficulty very soon

When Mel Gibson and his Tartan army bared their backsides at the English enemy in Braveheart, they were not crying out for "Devolution max!"

As the dust settles on Thursday's referendum, however, heartbroken Scottish nationalists will soon learn that they have won a decent consolation prize.

Scotland may have pulled back from full-blown independence, but it is still set to become a much more powerful player on the international stage - and that could cause headaches in Government Buildings just as much as Downing Street or anywhere else.

Enda Kenny loves describing Ireland as "the best small country in the world in which to do business". Now there is a dangerous rival for that title on the horizon.

Just like us, Scotland has an English-speaking, well educated workforce who can offer foreign investors a gateway to the European market - as soon as they are given a chance to unleash their full potential.

In recent years, Ireland has been winning this battle even more often than we have beaten the Scottish rugby team.

This is largely because we have the economic equivalent of a Brian O'Driscoll - our exceptionally low 12.5pc corporate tax rate.

As a result, technology giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft chose to create jobs in Dublin rather than Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Unfortunately for us, the competition is about to get a lot tougher. At a critical moment of the referendum campaign, a badly rattled David Cameron promised the Scottish parliament much greater powers after a no vote.


For the Scots who took their Prime Minister's advice, it's payback time - and the ability to slash Scotland's own corporate tax rate will be high on their shopping list.

During the campaign SNP leader Alex Salmond often hailed Ireland as a shining example of what small Celtic nations can achieve when allowed to run their own affairs.

His movement may have ultimately fallen short (which led to Salmond announcing his planned resignation yesterday), but it gave the Westminster establishment a huge scare.

Just as the Conservative Party tried to "kill Irish Home Rule with kindness" in the 19th century, it will aim to appease the 45pc of Scots who voted yes by giving them much of what they wanted anyway.

However, the implications for Ireland go a lot wider than that.

Yesterday David Cameron announced "a devolution revolution", which means that any reforms in Scotland will be granted to Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

In other words, the power-sharing executive in Stormont is about to enter a new era - and that will impact on politics south of the border.

Officially, Enda Kenny's Government stayed neutral during the referendum debate. In reality, it was a bit like World War II when we were "neutral in support of the Allies".

Apart from anything else, an independent Scotland would have dramatically increased the chances of England leaving the EU - and the Taoiseach will be much happier to see our largest trading partners keep the status quo.

By the same token, Gerry Adams must be a disappointed man this weekend. Sinn Fein also refused to publicly get involved in the discussion, probably because they did not want to be associated with the losing side.

As the murals in nationalist west Belfast showed, however, anything that weakened the United Kingdom would have been just fine by them.


For a long time now, Sinn Fein have been demanding a referendum on Irish unity. In light of the last 24 hours they should be careful what they wish for.

After Thursday's result, the unionist parties might just decide to call their bluff - because all the opinion poll evidence suggests that Northern Ireland would vote to stay British by a far wider margin than the Scots did this week.

When World War I War broke out one hundred years ago, Irish republicans coined the phrase, "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity".

Today, unfortunately, Scotland's opportunity is our difficulty - because Scotland's modern-day Bravehearts are not about to just roll up their flags and go home.

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