Ulster’s troubles ‘could flare again’ if Scots vote for independence

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Independence for Scotland risks re-igniting conflict in Northern Ireland, a former first minister of the province has warned.

Lord Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionists from 2005 to 2010, said that if Scotland broke away from the United Kingdom, people in Northern Ireland would have “a foreign country on one side of us and a foreign country on the other side of us”.

He told peers during debate on the Scotland Bill: “We would end up like West Pakistan. We are all hewn from the same rock. Just imagine the situation we would be placed in.

“We have just spent decades overcoming nationalist terrorism and we gradually, after years and years and years, managed to settle down our community.

“I don’t wish to exaggerate, but if the Scottish Nationalists were to succeed, it could possibly re-ignite the difficulties we have just managed to overcome. I do not say that lightly.”

His comments came as Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, a former Tory Scottish secretary, questioned why the coalition government was going ahead with the bill, which gives additional powers to Scotland, when two consultations were under way on an independence referendum and the Scottish Parliament had yet to signal its consent to the legislation.

He accused First Minister Alex Salmond of proposing, in his consultation published on Wednesday, to a “rigged” referendum. He also compared him to the leaders of North Korea and Cuba.

He said if Scotland went ahead with a referendum without consent from Westminster, it would have no practical effect and be merely the “most expensive opinion poll in history”.

But Lord Empey, who was first minister for a brief spell in 2001 after David Trimble quit, told peers to “forget” about Mr Salmond and focus on what would happen if the UK split up.

Lord Forsyth, who put forward and later withdrew a motion to hold up the bill’s committee stage, called on the government to legislate to bring in a referendum that delivered a “clear and decisive” result.

And he hit out at the way Mr Salmond was preparing to set up a referendum. He said: “The First Minister, looking at this consultation paper, has betrayed the trust that has been put in him as First Minister and appears to be putting his party’s interest in front of his country’s interest, while posing as a champion of national interest.

“We have a rigged question, a rigged role for the regulator, a rigged expenses system and, on top of that, the question that there should be rigged franchise.

“He wants to give the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds. My researches tell me that there are only nine countries in the world that give the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds, two of which are North Korea and Cuba – both of which also have leaders with a high opinion of themselves.”