In Northern Ireland unionists were hugely relieved by the Scottish rejection of independence, while republicans were disappointed that Scotland would not be leaving the Union. The best-case scenario for Irish republicans had been that a Yes vote would transform the politics of Northern Ireland by giving impetus to nationalist sentiment and delivering a crushing psychological blow to unionist morale. The nightmare vision of Unionists, by contrast, was that a Yes victory would undermine Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain, creating major instability and giving a great boost to republicanism.
The relief was instantly evident in the comments of Protestant figures, with Ulster unionist party leader Mike Nesbitt describing the result as “a victory for common sense.” The No vote is not regarded as a game-changer for Belfast, although there will clearly be repercussions for the devolution settlement which has been in place there for some years. All parties will be concerned to protect the region’s subsidy from London which is currently running at an annual £10bn. All of them hope Westminster will agree to a reduction in Northern Ireland’s corporation tax which they believe would encourage inward investment.
Belfast has its own set of devolution problems which are markedly different from those in Britain. Its power-sharing administration which includes five local parties is dominated by the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, but it has been deadlocked for many months for issues such as welfare reform. There is no huge demand for further devolution, and in fact there have been semi-serious suggestions that the issue should be transferred back to Westminster.
DUP first minister Peter Robinson recently described the devolution system as not fit for purpose, calling on London to convene intensive talks to break the logjam. The purpose would be to get the quarrelling parties to work effectively with what is already in place. It remains to be seen however how much time, in the hectic months ahead, David Cameron will be prepared to devote to the problems of Belfast.