If Scotland Votes "Yes," Is Northern Ireland Next?


The polls are open in Scotland, where voters have a very simple "Yes" or "No" choice on the very complicated question of whether or not they want to leave the United Kingdom, of which they have been a part of for more than 300 years, and become an independent country.

With current polling showing a razor-thin margin in favor the "No" vote, there is speculation on what the referendum will mean for Northern Ireland, comprised of the six northern-most counties of Ireland, which are also part of the United Kingdom. The three decades of constant violence between Catholics and Protestants (and the British Protestant-dominated government) known as "The Troubles" ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, but it has always been a fragile and shaky peace, one which has shown recent signs of fraying.

Union Half-Jack
Wikimedia Commons

Unlike in Scotland, where the independence movement is alternatively driven by opposition to the U.K.'s nuclear weapons, support for an increased socialist welfare state, as well as nationalist pride, Northern Ireland's divisions are so deeply ingrained that the upheaval caused by Scottish independence could fast track a similar referendum there. 

Recent polls have shown that the ever-increasing Catholic population of Northern Ireland would rather remain part of the U.K. than join the other 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland. To this, Michael Brendan Dougherty of asks:

But would they remain committed if Ireland's economy rebounds and the U.K.'s deteriorates? What if the broader project of the United Kingdom decomposes in the face of Scottish nationalism? And why would pro-union Catholics vote to stay in the union, when unionism will be championed by parties that attract zero Catholic votes?

Another question may be more disquieting to loyalists: Does England even want Belfast? The same polls showed that a smaller percentage of English people are committed to keeping Northern Ireland. For many years, it has received the most public money per capita in the union, while generating the least. And many English find Northern Irish politics exasperating, its style of unionism oafish.

Even Thatcher seems to have contemplated cutting Northern Ireland off during the Hunger Strikes. Similar threats were made by Westminster in order to broker the 1998 Good Friday agreement. It's hard to imagine David Cameron or his successor giving emotional speeches about the role of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, as Cameron and his associates have done for Scotland.

Northern Ireland's status in the union has been scrambled for some time. At the 2012 Olympic Games, Northern Irish athletes were not automatically made part of team "Great Britain," since Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain, only the United Kingdom. Seven of its athletes competed for Great Britain, while 13 represented the Republic of Ireland.

A major element of the Good Friday Agreement was the required disarmament of paramilitary groups like the Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), but this has never been fully implemented.

In November 2013, following the shooting of a teenager, the Police Federation of Northern Ireland warned that the UVF were "engaged in murder, attempted murder of civilians, attempted murder of police officers. They have been engaged in orchestrating violence on our streets, and it's very clear to me that they are engaged in an array of mafia-style activities." The UVF has also been accused of racist mob attacks on non-Irish ethnic minorites in Belfast. 

On the other side, fringe elements of the IRA have sent letter bombs to government buildings, and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has warned that the peace agreement is in danger of collapse over disagreements pertaining to welfare reform (which could be seen as a sign of how far we've come since The Troubles).

Adams himself was recently forced to revisit one of the darkest periods of The Troubles, when he was arrested in May and held for questioning for four days over new evidence tying him to the murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 accused by the IRA of collaborating with the British army. Though Adams was released without being charged, and vigorously denies any involvement with the murder, his arrest demonstrated how old wounds are never too far from the surface in Northern Ireland.

None of this means that widespread sectarian violence will return to Northern Ireland, nor does it mean that a referendum is inevitable. But if the choice to leave the U.K. does present itself, it has the potential to be far more divisive and painful than Scotland's.

NEXT: Sheldon Richman on the Clueless Foreign Policy Elite

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  1. I’ll be curious to see, if they vote ‘Aye’, how much more quickly they can run out of other people’s money.

    1. Much more quickly. Which is why they’re all the better off for it.

  2. The IRA gets all of the press but the really dangerous and violent fuckers are the Protestant groups. The British Army went into Northern Ireland in the late 60s to save the Catholics from the Protestants.

    There is no way in hell Northern Ireland is going to vote to leave the UK. First, the Republic of Ireland, no matter how much lip service they pay to Republicanism, wouldn’t have them. They want no part of dealing with the Northern Irish Protestant paramilitaries. Second, the Catholics in Northern Ireland know the only thing standing between them and getting their asses kicked is the British government.

    This will not happen.

    1. Free Willy!

      1. No, no, no. Orcas aren’t Welsh. They’re French (i.e., dauphins).

      2. Free Groundskeeper Willy!

    2. Free Colorado!

        1. Actually, yeah, CO will stay with America. Let’s just eject DC. Sorry, sloop. Ba

  3. I say bring back the heptarchy. Free Cumbria!

      1. North Umbria. Then maybe the Norwegians could get ambitions and invade and make themselves rulers over the North again.

        1. It hasn’t been the same since the Vikings left.

          My wife asked me this morning how “Latin” English is (this is coming up in homeschooling). I started with the answer, “Well, it’s complicated,” but the fun part was explaining how French-speaking Vikings conquered England. That got a “Huh?”

          1. The Normans really weren’t Vikings anymore by the time of William. They didn’t even know how to sail anymore. It was a pretty crazy scheme by William to try and put a bunch of horses on ships to go across the channel.

            There is still one university in Cherbourg I think that teaches Norman French. If I ever one the lottery, spending a year or two living in a nice Chateau in Normandy taking Norman French courses would definitely be on the list of things to do.

            1. They were still pretty Viking. The Viking settlements in the region only started in the late 800s, and, of course, the Norman conquest of England was in 1066.

              1. The changed quickly. They went from being sailors to horseman and farmers. And their language merged with old French. They had by 1066 become proper French gentry, such as there was back then. More French than the Bretons.

                It is weird to think that no one outside of the Ille de France thought of themselves as French back then. The Bretons and the Normans and the Anjevins and whatever the hell the people in Aquitaine called themselves all thought of themselves as their own nations and people.

                1. I think that was a better attitude. God knows that unified France hasn’t been such a good idea. Ditto unified Germany, for that matter.

        2. Will anyone as badass as Harold Hardrada ever come out of Norway again? I’m pretty sure that there are more take-charge guys in your average Waffle House on a Tuesday morning than there are in the whole of modern-day feminized Norway.

          1. I wouldn’t screw with the Fins. I think the Fins are still pretty tough. My wife’s boss’s wife is Finiesh. She is one intense broad. I am pretty sure the Fins would kick the hell out of anyone who screwed with them.

            1. Living in a country with near-constant terrible weather bordered by the USSR will do that to you. I have heard the craziest stories about Finland, both from visitors and people who used to live there. Sweden’s most famous light cavalry was from Finland — I figure you have to be some kind of badass to ride around all day with little to no armor in the freezing cold to have got as good as the Finns got at riding their horses.

              1. I have a friend who goes there a lot on business. His theory is that they never really gave up paganism. They just put a Christian veneer on it. They are still kind of nature worshipers. It has kept them a very hardy and intense people.

                1. There’s something to that theory. The Lutheran church in Finland was essentially Swedish and they had a hard time with the Finnish language (who doesn’t?). There were complaints as late as the 18th century that the more rural parts of Finland still religiously maintained the sacred sites, rituals, etc.

            2. Stalin learned this in WWII.

          2. There were some pretty badass Norwegians during the Nazi occupation.

            1. We had some Norwegians in last winter and they complained how cold the weather was in Iowa.

  4. I don’t care one way or the other, but part of me can’t help but smirk a little. In a matter of these past few months, we’ve learned that the once vaunted British empire has been reduced to an epicenter of jihadism, anti-semitism, pedophilic gang-rape, and now nationalist secession. Fantastic.

    1. It is fairly delicious. It’s also revealed that the part of the UK everyone gushes about (Scotland) is more than a bit of a shithole.

    2. My smirking is tempered by the realization that America is on the same path, just several years behind.

    3. This why I don’t buy race based reasons for poverty. Every continent except Antarctica has had the most advanced civilization at some point in history. One day people will look back on the US and wonder how it was ever a hyper power.

      1. “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded ? here and there, now and then ? are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

        This is known as “bad luck.”

      2. Eh, I dunno about Africa. Mali was pretty epic, but even in its glory days was nowhere near the stature of contemporaries like the Byzantines or the Arabian or Turkish empires.

        Africa just has awful geography for large-scale social organization, voluntary or otherwise.

        1. I count Egypt as part of Africa. I think the richest person in history came from Mali, so there is that.

  5. This is similar to the secessionist movement in Texas. The brave rebels quickly start disappearing when their federal goodies are threatened.

    1. I see the doctors no longer could justify to the judge keeping you institutionalized.

    2. Don’t lock eyes with ’em, don’t do it. Puts ’em on edge. They might go into berzerker mode; come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You might be screaming “No, no, no” and all they hear is “Who wants cake?” Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

      1. It’s Thursday, ennit?

  6. Hearing the Scots talk about what kind of nation they want I really don’t know who I want to support: the Super Socialist Scots or the Befuddled Boring British.

    1. I think it’s all going to come down to how important total independence is to Scotland versus socialist goodies. If they try to stick with the latter, the former is just about impossible.

      1. Of course the clueless progs in Scotland think independence is going to somehow get them even more free shit.

        1. It’s a real test of how crazy they are whether they’ll hold that belief when it’s totally contrary to reality.

  7. My question is about the Union Jack.

    The Union Jack is the Cross of St. George superimposed on the Cross of St. Andrew; the Cross of St. George being the flag of England since the middle ages, at least, and the cross of St. Andrew being the flag of Scotland since…Jimmy knows when.

    If Scotland isn’t in the UK anymore, will Great Britain still use the Union Jack? Will they go back to the Cross of St. George only? How will the Welch feel about that?

    Meanwhile, if the British stop using the Union Jack, what will that mean for other countries that have it incorporated into their own flags? Will Australia change its flag to only the Cross of St. George?

    And what will Def Leppard fans wear?

    I don’t think they’ve really thought this through.

    1. “How will the Welch feel about that?”

      I meant the Welsh rather than Matt.

      1. Same as always – like the ugly red-headed stepchild of the Kingdom.

        1. Nah, that’s the Cornish…

          1. Well if you really want to get picky there’s the Manx.

    2. Of course they have. Their new flag will be of Michael Palin in his ex-leper garb.

    3. Don’t forget the cross of St. Patrick. (It’s diagonal red stripes on a white field, and also a constituent of the Union Jack, which otherwise would have no red in the diagonal cross.)

  8. “comprised of . . .”
    No! That’s equivalent to saying “included of . . .”
    It’s a flaw I regularly find in Reason’s articles.
    Instead, say “comprising . . .”
    And only say it when the constituent elements follow that word, not when they precede it (another frequent error).
    (The whole comprises all the parts that constitute or compose it. The flag comprises the colors red, white, and blue. The colors red, white, and blue constitute (make up) the flag.)

    1. Have you considered a career in nitpicking?

    2. Decomprising. Why isn’t that a word? Decomposing is.

  9. Can we vote on California Independence?

    I don’t live in California, which is why I’d like to vote on it.

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