Two constitutional fires burn on Westminster’s hillside. Scottish nationalism, for so long a marginal force, came within six percent of winning the referendum on independence held in September 2014.
It briefly triggered a bout of soul-searching in Westminster before normal service resumed. Nine years on, the demand for independence shows little sign of abating, with some polls reporting support for leaving the UK over the 50% barrier. Across the Irish Sea, a similar secessionist movement gathers force, with United Irelanders increasingly confident that they will be the generation that eventually secures independence for all of Ireland’s 32 counties.
The Good Friday Agreement makes calling a referendum a legal obligation for British ministers ‘if it looks likely’ that there is demand for constitutional change. At last year’s local elections in Northern Ireland, parties with a clear position on unity outpolled parties with a clear position on maintaining the Union for the first time.
A general election is due in the Irish Republic and, though they have had a wobble, Sinn Fein are still favourites to win the election which will likely boost the Irish Unity campaign. With a British general election likely in 2024 – and with the possibility of a hung parliament – how will the next Westminster government deal with Scottish and Irish nationalists’ legitimate and pressing demands?
John Finucane is Sinn Fein MP for North Belfast and previously Lord Mayor of Belfast.
John Alderdice was the Speaker and a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and leader of the Alliance Party from 1987 to 1998. He now sits in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat.
Kevin Meagher is a regular contributor to irishborderpoll.com and a columnist for the Irish Post. His books include A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable And How It Will Come About.
Richard Thomson is MP for Gordon and SNP spokesperson on Northern Ireland.
An SDLP speaker has also been invited.