BY and large, set-piece speeches from Presidents of Chambers of Commerce are not on my preferred reading list.

They are right up there with Esports, sumo wrestling and rap music as subjects which demand a Tasmina body swerve.

However, towards the end of last year my interest was sparked by a speech from a Mr Paul Murnaghan, the President of the Northern Ireland Chamber.

If my friends across the sea will forgive me, what caught my interest was its difference in tone from the normal speech from the North. It was optimistic.

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Yes, Murnaghan recognised the economic problems of the province including the over-bureaucratic aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, negotiated by Boris Johnson with the European Union. However the onus of the President’s speech was about opportunity and making the case that Northern Ireland had emerged from the whole Brexit bungle with a key comparative advantage – full access to the single market and preferred access to the UK market.

I decided to produce a television programme on the subject and sure enough some early research demonstrated that, for almost the first time since economic records began, in 2021 Northern Ireland was outperforming the other home nations in economic growth. It was clear in the resulting TV programme that this statistical evidence would not assuage the visceral opposition of the Democratic Unionists to the Protocol, but it was equally clear that this opposition had little to do with economics and everything to do with politics – and more than a degree of desperation that they were being outflanked by diehard Unionists.

Last week these statistical findings were confirmed by the National Institute for Social and Economic Research. Northern Ireland is indeed economically outperforming the rest of the UK because whatever administrative nightmares there are in the protocol, these are more than overcome by the surge in north-south trade because of Northern Ireland’s continuing position within the single market. The difference is not massive but it is measurable and highly significant.

Thus the Boris dash to Belfast this week is a plane flight in search of a crisis, or more accurately a Downing Street ultimatum in search of a headline. Of course when he actually got there, the Prime Minister changed tack telling the Belfast Telegraph that he had come to change the protocol not to bury it, despite having previously told the London Telegraph that he was about to risk a trade war to protect the essential unity of the UK!

That was sensible (not usually a word associated with the Prime Minister) but why then the Westminster pantomime of threatening legislation to breach an international treaty and all the rest of the bunk? If the Prime Minister really wants to be useful (another departure) then he would discreetly find out what practical changes the DUP would accept in the Protocol, negotiate them equally quietly with Brussels, and then let the Democratic Unionists claim a public victory as a condition for their participation in the continuing framework of peace.

He may not have that degree of statecraft in him, but the political lessons from Northern Ireland economically outperforming the rest of the UK are fundamental, and they apply to Scotland as well as to Ireland.

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I have no idea of Mr Murnaghan’s politics, still less his religion. His CV reveals that he was a water polo internationalist but that doesn’t tell us with which arm he threw the ball! However he does represent the growing majority in Northern Ireland who will sway with the economic wind and the prevailing wind is north/south.

For the national movement in Scotland, the lessons are just as profound. Assume for a second we are sensible and advocate EFTA and then single market membership as, at least, an interim position from which to conduct independence negotiations with London. In which case the current arrangements with the Northern Ireland protocol are a proxy for the administrative border which will likely come into being between Scotland and the remainder of the UK except, of course, with Northern Ireland where there would be an open border.

The economic evidence from the last year’s experience of the Irish Sea border is significant. Borders are not a bogeyman with which to frighten the children but something which can be managed for Scotland’s economic benefit. I look forward to reading a future President of the Scottish Chamber making the same case for optimism as the water polo playing Paul Murnaghan.