By Bill Heaney
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed Michelle O’Neill MLA to Bute House yesterday to discuss what Scotland and Northern Ireland would look like if they were part of the UK.
The official line from the spin doctors is that the meeting provided an opportunity for Sinn Fein to discuss with the SNP shared areas of interest including the current cost of living crisis, the importance of the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated with the EU and the prospects for the formation of a new Northern Ireland Executive.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Today’s meeting was an excellent opportunity to discuss some of the shared challenges Scotland and Northern Ireland face and I thank Michelle for reaching out and enabling us to discuss these extremely important issues in person.”
“It was a particularly timely conversation which provided an update on the ongoing developments around establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive following elections earlier this month.
“We also discussed the Northern Ireland protocol – most notably the extremely concerning announcement by the UK Government that they intend to legislate to enable unilateral action to dis-apply parts of the protocol – and the incredibly damaging effects this would have in communities right across the UK. In a cost of living crisis and teetering on the edge of recession, pitching us into a trade dispute with the EU could be what tips us over.
“Intergovernmental relations are essential when it comes to tackling shared challenges and it is clear that much more needs to be done by the UK Government to ensure a rapid and effective response to the devastating cost of living crisis facing households across these islands. No one should ever have to make a choice between heating and eating.
“Today’s meeting was a further example of the close relationship between Scotland and Northern Ireland. In that spirit, I have written today to the leaders of the DUP and Alliance parties with an offer to meet to discuss these important matters.”
This will be Edinburgh’s attempt to ensure that the DUP and other parties do not take the nip at the fact that Sinn Fein appear to have a head start on them in the Independence race.
Speaking after her meeting with Ms O’Neill, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right, said this could have “significant and very severe impacts” on businesses and living standards in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon stressed that the futures of Scotland and the island of Ireland should be treated on their own merits rather than drawing comparisons, but said the Brexit process has “brought to the fore some very fundamental questions” over the system of governance in the UK.
She added: “Scotland, and indeed Northern Ireland – we both voted against Brexit but we are both now dealing with the very negative consequences of Brexit.
“That really brings to the fore that that system of government that’s been at play in the UK for some time now is not serving all of our interests.
“You hear these questions in Scotland, you hear them in Northern Ireland. Increasingly, you’re hearing these questions being asked in Wales, as well. I don’t think these questions are going to go away.”
The first minister said concerns raised by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the protocol were “not a surprise”, as she had expressed similar sentiments when the pair met in Washington earlier this week.
Ms Pelosi said the US Congress would not support a free trade agreement with the UK if continued with “deeply concerning” plans to “unilaterally discard” the protocol, and she urged “constructive, collaborative and good-faith negotiations” in order to uphold peace in Northern Ireland.
Ms Sturgeon also said it was “too much of a stretch” to say that Sinn Fein’s success in Northern Ireland strengthened her own case for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
She said people in Northern Ireland would take decisions about their future, as would people in Scotland, so “we’ve got to be careful about drawing those parallels”.
Top picture: Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill from Northern Ireland meets Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh.