Northern Ireland

Lord Laird and Barry McElduff make an unlikely Union

Image caption Scottish independence could have far-reaching implications for Northern Ireland's place in the Union

What would Scottish independence mean for Northern Ireland?

To find out, BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme travelled to Scotland with two politicians - Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird, a high profile Ulster Scot, and Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff.

They explored the main arguments through meeting key people with differing views on Scottish independence.

Here, Lord Laird and Barry McElduff provide a personal perspective on the trip.

Lord Laird

Lord Laird
Image caption Lord Laird discusses Scottish independence with Humza Yousaf of the SNP and Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff

I joined a group visiting Scotland to look at the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. My initial view was from the simplistic positions of either London or Belfast.

It was that this would be straight-forward and that the Scots were most unlikely to opt out of the United Kingdom. As an Ulster-Scot the only culture I knew was Scottish. Instilled in me from a young age were the Scottish concepts of education, equality and having a world-wide vision. Few races, if any, have done more to shape the modern world than Scotland.

I couldn't believe that such people would now wish to go into an inward looking country with a nationalist ethos and with a lack of self-confidence. What I discovered in Scotland with my BBC colleagues was infinitely more complicated and interesting than my simplistic view.

Barry McElduff and I tested all the main shades of political thinking in that beautiful land and the picture which emerged was quite alarming. Neither the Tories nor the Labour Party, and I suspect the Lib Dems, are organised to fight the referendum battle.

The only group who have prepared the ground currently are the Scottish Nationalists - why wouldn't they? They've had 70 years to prepare. They are pushing every lever and pressing every button to motivate groups throughout the country.

They hark back to ancient battles and recent lack of feeling in the treatment of them by the Westminster government. These things are real but cannot be addressed, in my opinion, by going into a corner with a huff and becoming inward looking and negative.

I have experience of Irish nationalism which is exactly that type of political movement. To underline their policy they call themselves 'Ourselves Alone' and seem incapable of tolerating any other culture, language or way of thinking in the land that they wish to dominate. I trust that the Scots will not go down the same route.

The very concept of where Scotland starts and where it ends has not been considered by the nationalists. As an example, my ancestors came from Otterburn 400 years ago which they considered to be in Scotland, because they spoke the Scottish language and had Scottish culture. Otterburn is now in Northumberland and is part of England. Where does Scotland begin?

The world is going through a period of change. This is not the time for those who have shown the way in other centuries to pull the duvet over their heads and think the rest of the world does not exist. I put these points to Scottish nationalist supporters. They could not answer them to my satisfaction.

My visit to Scotland allowed me to understand the complex society there. But, just as importantly, it showed me that whatever happens in the referendum, the future of relation in these islands will be a major topic for years after the vote.

Could it be that the Irish Republic will rejoin the United Kingdom?

Barry McElduff

Barry McElduff
Image caption Barry McElduff in Scotland with Spotlight reporter Mandy McAuley and Lord Laird

I travelled to Edinburgh with the outlook that it is a matter for the people of Scotland to decide their own future. I returned with that same outlook but a good deal more educated on the dilemma facing the Scottish people at this historical juncture in their development as a nation.

I was keen to learn lessons for possible application here in Ireland. It is no secret that I and everyone else in Sinn Fein are working towards independence for all of Ireland.

That is why my emphasis was on the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own arrangements for governance. After all, this is what we are seeking for the Irish people - national self-determination for the Irish people, without external impediment or interference.

Historian Tom Devine's interpretation of the Bannockburn battle site stirred thoughts in me of the Battle of Yellow Ford near Benburb in 1598 when Hugh O'Neill was our version of Robert the Bruce.

Meeting then with the political representatives was more than interesting as they expressed their individual 'takes' on the options facing them. I was reminded that there are more pandas in Scotland at the minute than there are Tory MPs.

Several of these meetings took place at Holyrood, the home of the Scottish Parliament. This edifice always impresses me for its brightness and functionality and there is an energy about the place, for sure.

I reflected on the four things I had learned in Scotland as I prepared to return to Belfast City Airport:

One: The people are becoming very exercised by the debate. At the beginning, it was suggested to us that it had not really captured the imagination of the people but I believe that it has.

Two: Nothing will ever be the same again in Scotland and there is a thrust towards change which is irreversible. Do they want full independence or will they be content with Devo Max? It is apparent to me that Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party may be on a journey with no guaranteed destination but things are on the move.

Three: The drivers of Scottish nationalism are the politics of the SNP which are perceived to be progressive. Scotland is challenging old assumptions about its economic viability as a separate entity. Of course, a sense of Scottish identity is another factor. These are fundamental questions which we in the north and in the whole of Ireland need also to be asking ourselves. Who is really subsidising who? Who is strangling whose economy for their own selfish interests behind it all?

Four: If the BBC Spotlight crew ever ask you to go to Scotland, or anywhere else for that matter, be prepared to work hard - to work very hard.

Spotlight is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Tuesday 14 February at 22:35 GMT and is repeated on Wednesday 15 February 15 at 22:00 GMT.