Alex Salmond’s belief that independence will be achieved on the back of a “rising tide of expectations” is drawn from recent Scottish political history. It’s no coincidence that support for the SNP boomed in the 1970s following the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea and then slumped in the ‘80s as the UK economy entered a severe downturn.

The near doubling of Scottish rates of poverty and unemployment during the Thatcher era sapped Scotland’s economic confidence, reinforcing the defensive and conservative instincts of the Scottish electorate. No doubt last week’s news that British economic output has begun to recover after the worst recession in living memory was greeted with the same sense of relief in Bute House as it was at the Treasury.

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The explosion of loyalist anger sparked by the decision to remove the Union Jack from the top of Belfast City Hall a few weeks ago – and the street protests, riots and police clashes that followed – has served as an abrupt reminder of how deeply unsettled the political situation in Northern Ireland remains.

Despite the power-sharing deal struck by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in 2007, politics in the province has grown more, not less, polarised as support for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and its unionist equivalent, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), has steadily waned.

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