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Northern Ireland - the Elephant in the Room of Scottish Independence

06/06/2014 13:46 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

With just three months to go until the referendum which will determine whether the UK in its current form survives or divides, much of the attention paid by the media has focused on Scotland's ability to survive as an independent sovereign state, and the possible repercussions of independence on England. But there is one part of the UK which has been sorely neglected - Northern Ireland.

At first glance the Ulster province does not merit much attention. Constitutionally when we think of the Union we evoke the memory of the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707 which bound the Scots and English together in supposedly perpetual union. But the possibility of a Scotland independent from the rest of the UK has deep implications on Northern Ireland which have been overlooked by many. Historically, ethnically, and in terms of identity - the ties between Scotland and Northern Ireland are undeniable. Unionism in Northern Ireland is underpinned by the concept of an Ulster Scots ethnic identity dating back to the brutal and shameful Plantation of Ulster wherein Catholic land was stolen and given to Protestant settlers from Scotland, and the two nations have since then been historically united by Presbyterian Protestantism.

Therefore, if Scotland leaves the Union, Northern Ireland's continuing place within it is called into question. Northern Ireland is unique amongst the four member countries of the UK regarding the nationalisms prevalent within it. The two main competing nationalisms in Northern Ireland of "Irish" and "British" are on the whole mutually exclusive, with Unionists/Protestants invariably subscribing to a "British" identity, and Nationalists/Catholics to an "Irish" one. This cannot be said for the nationalisms on the island of Great Britain, which are harnessed by both separatist nationalist and unionist movements/parties (e.g. the notion of 'Scottishness' is not the preserve of Scottish separatists - a pro-Union Scot is invariably capable of possessing an identity which is both Scottish and British, not solely a British one. Therefore if the "British" identity to which the Unionists of Northern Ireland subscribe to is eroded and dissolved by the event of Scottish Independence, what is the alternative identity in Northern Ireland to replace it?

Furthermore, what reason is there for Northern Ireland to remain in a union with England and Wales; separated from its kin nation of Scotland. Scottish separatism in particular undermines the Ulster Unionist identity in the sense that it challenges the ethnic ties to the island of Great Britain by asserting Scottish difference and uniqueness from the rest of the UK - including Northern Ireland. In the event of Scottish independence and the breakup of the UK, the chances of Ulster Unionists acquiescing to the idea of Irish reunification is remote, as are the chances of an independent Scotland agreeing to a union with Northern Ireland. It's my best guess that concepts of Ulster nationalism - a nation separate from both Ireland and Britain, would become more prominent in a Northern Ireland which finds itself in an identity limbo. Either way, any event which effects concepts of identity in Northern Ireland is worrying, a place where we now take relative peace between rival ethno-nationalist communities for granted.