The Scottish referendum of 18 September 2014 represents an important constitutional milestone in the history of the UK state and, more broadly, these islands. The outcome will have profound significance for the various relationships spanning Britain and Ireland, perhaps in particular that of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Not only are the two places bound by considerable shared history, they are arguably both central to the concept of the UK as a pluralist entity and diverse polity. Both places bear down on questions of identity, perhaps most topically that of Britishness, its various meanings and non-specific character, its histories, the challenges of its multiculturalism, and its uncertain future. In the light of a still precarious political context in Northern Ireland, and with regard to the almost evenly balanced religious divide between Protestants and Catholics in the Province, Scotland’s choice, whether for or against independence, is likely to have wide-ranging repercussions, perhaps especially for the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland, long the main source of the cultivation and celebration of Ulster-Scots heritage and cultural inter-connections. As a recent editorial in ‘The Economist’ put it: ‘Scottish independence might yet make Northern Ireland’s constitutional status a touchy subject again.’
This event, to be held on Wednesday 25 June 2014 at Queen’s University, Belfast, has at least two important contributions to make to debates about the implications of the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum. First, it will address the changing nature of established historical ties that bind Scotland and Northern Ireland. Second, it will discuss questions surrounding the challenges that the Scottish Independence debate and poll might pose for Northern Ireland.
The event will consider the extent to which the ‘Scottish Question’ has already impacted on Northern Ireland and the possibility that it has contributed towards recent political de-stabilisation such as public disputes over parades and flags. It will assess the relationship between sectarianism in Scotland and in Northern Ireland, and the extent that it has been affected by the Independence debate. The event will also explore what potential political significance might be attached to the role of those in Scotland whose allegiances relate to Ulster and Ireland more widely. A key element of discussion will be the implications of both possible outcomes of the Scottish referendum – a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote – and there will be consideration of how Northern Ireland might respond to Scottish independence or to the further evolution of UK devolution strategies. In particular, it will consider the potential outcomes of a looser Union and the possibility that this will provide a boost to the growth of a ‘Northern Ireland’ identity and to the strengthening of civic society.