Friday 23 February 2018

Kenny pragmatic on prospect of Scotland staying

Nicola Sturgeon Photo: PA
Nicola Sturgeon Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Nicola Sturgeon bounced to her feet time and time again in the Scottish Parliament, aptly declaring that she was "standing up" for her country.

She batted off accusations from the Conservative Party's Ruth Davidson that she was putting the country's access to trade markets in danger and ignoring the reality in order to pursue her own ideology.

Ms Sturgeon's performance was as comfortable as it was powerful. Leaders all over Europe failed to prepare for the outcome of the UK referendum but the Scottish First Minister had a serious game plan.

Almost a week before the vote, she met Taoiseach Enda Kenny at an event in Glasgow and even at that point began acting on her strategy.

She told Mr Kenny that if Britain voted to leave the EU then she would push for a second Scottish referendum - and she wanted his help.

Irish ministers took an oath of silence during the 2014 independence referendum - for fear of upsetting pretty much anybody and everybody involved in the debate.

However, it has become clear from the events of recent days that Ms Sturgeon has managed to convince Mr Kenny to move away from that approach.

She even convinced him to usurp the place of David Cameron (right), who admittedly is a lame duck, at the EU Council meeting and speak on behalf of her and the Scottish people.

"What I was reflecting there was what the First Minister said was her view on behalf of the Scottish Parliament. They felt should not be dragged out of the EU against their wishes," Mr Kenny explained yesterday.

He said it wasn't his place to "interfere in the process of negotiations with a State like that in terms of what the outcome might actually be".

But that is exactly what he has done. Mr Kenny has crossed a diplomatic line and raised the ire of Spain and France. But it's unlikely he will face any significant backlash at home because the view of our Celtic neighbours is very favourable.

They are easy to like, with similar traditions and humour to ourselves. And if anybody understands Nicola Sturgeon's desire for an independent country, it's us.

Immediately after the Brexit vote, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil that Scotland should not have to go through the lengthy application process for joining the EU if they break free from the UK.

And while Sinn Féin wondered why the Taoiseach wasn't so forthright in noting that the majority of Northern Ireland also voted to Remain, they didn't launch their usual heavy duty missile at him. Mr Kenny told a committee yesterday that he did raise Northern Ireland but in the context of the "links" between North and South.

"We want to continue with an open border where that's possible. I don't accept the proposition put forward for a border poll in this regard," he said.

"I think it's important we make this a real priority in the sense of protecting the peace process. Irrespective of what the outcome of negotiations are, there is a €3bn fund on the table from the European Union up to 2020 and we want to see that money used and spent in those communities that are still fragile coming out of a turbulent time," the Fine Gael leader added.

That's a very different and far more diplomatic approach from the Taoiseach than the one relating to Scotland - but both are pragmatic.

Keeping a place for Scotland in an EU without Britain would be to Ireland's advantage. The odds are that as two open economies on the periphery of Europe and bordering the UK, we would share very similar views at EU level.

If Scotland is 'in', we would almost certainly be doubling our voting power by having a ready-made ally.

Back in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Ms Davidson reminded MSPs that "our exports to the EU are worth £11.6bn but our exports to the rest of the UK are worth £48.5bn".

"She [Ms Sturgeon] says that she does not want to jeopardise that. Why then has she instructed civil servants to draw up legislation for a second independence referendum?

"Why have her taxpayer-funded spin-doctors been briefing the press overnight that a second referendum is just around the corner?

"How does that protect Scotland's place in the UK single market?" she demanded.

Ms Sturgeon replied by pointing to her new found collaborators in Ireland.

"I think that trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK is important, as is trade with the Republic of Ireland, incidentally; I am sure that the Republic of Ireland will be seeking to make sure that, in whatever negotiations unfold, trade between it and the UK is protected," she said.

"Ruth Davidson wants to suddenly force the rest of us into an either/or choice. It is the Conservatives who have recklessly brought this country to the brink of disaster." The SNP leader continued: "I am going to continue to do the job that I was elected to do, which is to stand up for Scotland."

Meanwhile in Leinster House, Paddy Burke, a Fine Gael senator, was requesting that the Leader of Seanad write to Ms Sturgeon and invite her to address the Chamber "in the near future of Brexit". "There is a great affinity between certain parts of Ireland and Scotland and we have a lot in common.

"We heard a lot recently about countries that want to leave the European Union but Scotland wants to stay in it.

"I ask that Nicola Sturgeon would address Seanad Éireann before the summer recess on Brexit," he said.

Watch this space.

Irish Independent

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