The dark irony of Ian Paisley’s death at the age of 88 today has not been missed on internet commentators. This was the man who opposed reconciliation between Northern Ireland Protestants and Catholics at all costs. That is, to the detriment of peace. When the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish agreement in November 1985, he said: “O God in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman.”
Scotland votes next Thursday on independence. The ‘Yes’ campaign has managed to bridge the gap with ‘No’ by up to 20 percentage points in recent months. Westminster’s leaders cancelled PMQs this Wednesday to rush to Edinburgh and call on the Scots to remain ‘Better Together’. Paisley’s mother was Scottish, and Northern Ireland’s most distinct attachment to the union is through Scotland. While it takes six hours to get from Liverpool to Dublin by boat, it is a mere two and a half hours to get from Stranraer to Larne.
Commentators joke that Paisley passed away over fear that Scotland will say ‘Yes’ on 18 September. What we must take from the timing of his death is that hatred has to be suppressed, whatever Scotland decides. Peace, tolerance and acceptance are at the core of cooperation, whether that is through a political union or two nations with a strong history working together. There is a danger that a narrow vote will split Scotland, particularly if Westminster reneges on ‘devo max’ in the wake of a ‘No’.
It is up to the Scots to decide their future and for its political partners to respect its choice. Smugness in the event of a ‘No’ is a sure way to spark resentment, regardless of the way individuals voted. A self-congratulatory response in a ‘Yes’ victory would similarly ignite animosity south of the border. The partition of Northern Ireland will always be a sore point for unionists and nationalists. They dream of a united Ireland, only under different political spheres – London or Dublin.
Paisley’s furious tone softened as he aged. On shaking hands with the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2007, he said: “Today, we can confidently state that we are making progress to ensure that our two countries can develop and grow side by side in a spirit of generous co-operation.
“Old barriers and threats have been, and are being, removed daily.”
For all concerned about the Scottish vote, fear not. Business and economics will take a backseat once the verdict is in. But friendship and understanding, as in life, will always be the foundations of a prosperous relationship.