EVERYONE – for once – is agreed.

A genuine milestone was reached earlier this week with the restoration of devolution at Stormont and the appointment of Northern Ireland’s first-ever Irish nationalist FM.

In fact, there was another mini-milestone in the shape of Michelle O’Neill’s personable deputy Emma Little-Pengelly. No intransigent tub-thumping Unionism from this relatively young woman or bitter “we wuz robbed” undertones to her speech – instead those words were as carefully chosen as those of her republican counterpart. Does the DUP deputy have the same easy-going demeanour off-screen? Fa kens. But her surly predecessors couldn’t even play nice. This surely is progress.

But will the two women become the Chuckle Sisters – emulating political enemies Martin McGuinness and the Reverend Ian Paisley, whose remarkable double-act kicked off the power-sharing process in 2007?

That’s a tall ask. McGuinness was a former IRA commander while Paisley once denounced the Pope as the Antichrist in the European Parliament. But against these odds – maybe even because of their shared, lived experience of bombings, killings and pointless reprisals – a deep friendship developed between these polarising figures which enabled the Northern Ireland peace process to begin.

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Now, 17 years later, at a time of conflict, genocide, war and the threatened return of Donald Trump to the international stage, the world desperately needs some good news – and the sight of a deadlock unexpectedly released. So, all sides are intent on turning the women into political superheroes who swept in from relative political obscurity to don the chuckling mantle. There’s a massive sense of expectation.

Will Michelle O’Neill’s appointment bring Irish reunification closer?

Well, obviously. But the First Minister was very careful not to provoke the other “side” by making any mention of that in her inaugural speech, even if a comment by Mary Lou McDonald – leader of Sinn Fein in Ireland – got misattributed to the careful FM.

Of course, in a later TV interview, O’Neill said a border poll was probable within a decade. How could she not believe that, when it is her party’s main aim? But that interview response was not the framing she chose in her first words as FM.

A bit like Nicola Sturgeon, who famously promised to be FM for all the people upon election in 2014 and whose first move after the Brexit result was to reassure European citizens living in Scotland that this country will always be their home, whatever mayhem emanates from Westminster.

The National: The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood from Salisbury Crags.
Pic Gordon Terris/The Herald

And so the British establishment is in a quandary. It’s desperate to portray O’Neill as a wild-eyed, socialist, separatist and friend of terrorists, but is forced to treat her with something bordering on respect since the whole world is watching.

And ironically, that’s one reason the formal proceedings at Stormont also constitute a milestone in the break-up of Britain.

First and foremost, democracy has produced a peaceful transfer of power that reflects the political will and changing demography of voters in the Province. Designed to have a “permanent” Unionist/loyalist majority, it now has a larger number of people from a Republican/ Catholic background – just like the Republic of Ireland. And a younger generation considerably more sympathetic to quitting Britain altogether.

Just like Scotland.

Of course, it’s too soon to know how stable the new arrangements will be. But with the notable exception of hard-line Unionist Jim Allister, it seems “loser’s consent” has been achieved, with Unionists conceding the vital cabinet posts of economy and finance to Sinn Fein.

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So far, there’s been no obstruction, violence or threats of political meltdown. Early days. But still amazing to behold, given the rawness of the situation and a useful riposte for a Scottish Government endlessly challenged to explain how a large “No” voting minority could ever be accommodated in a new independent state.

The new Northern Ireland suggests it can be done – with hard work, sincere effort and painstaking mediation efforts.

Mind you, looking ahead to the probability of a border poll, British commentators have been raising questions about the democratic dangers of winning by a single percentage point. What a relief it was to hear that old chestnut kicked into touch by a young female reporter from the Belfast Telegraph: “50% plus one is written into the Good Friday Agreement and it’s an international treaty. So, no-one will change that easily…” and thus telt the interviewer and the discussion moved on. The aim is to win by a higher margin. But them’s the rules. End of.

If only the Scots had the same clear and non-negotiable international process backing our bid for self-determination.

But that’s the second way in which events at Stormont might strengthen the cause of independence here. Scots are having our noses rubbed in it and – masochistic as this may sound – that humiliating experience might have a rousing effect.

The National: Michelle O’Neill

After all, the nation of Scotland is larger, older and has enjoyed greater devolved powers than either Northern Ireland or Wales. Yet here we are coming in second – maybe even last if a new Starmer government favours a Welsh Labour-run Senedd.

Sure, this isn’t news. Scots have known our lowly position in the pecking order since Northern Ireland’s smaller Remain vote resulted in a far better bespoke deal – “the best of both worlds”. No such effort was ever made for Scotland. Now watching the diplomatic efforts of British Tories in Belfast throws our own unresolved, unrecognised and much-mocked democratic deficit into painfully sharp relief.

Yip, it’s true that Northern Ireland’s political clout arises partly from its violent past and the constant, smouldering threat of a return to the bad old days. But, the biggest factor forcing Westminster into a semblance of respect for Northern Ireland – even led by Sinn Fein – is their neighbour, Eire.

Democracy in Northern Ireland is protected, sheltered and defended from the snubs Scotland must thole by a well-liked and respected neighbouring state, and by dint of Ireland’s EU membership, the whole of Europe. Indeed, by dint of the happy fact Joe Biden’s family came from Ireland, its future is currently on the world’s agenda.

This is the product of good fortune, hard work and the higher status that arises from having a constitutional process framed and policed by international law – not the whims of successive Tory PMs.

Do folk in the Republic want Northern Ireland?

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It’s true that domestic issues like the Dublin housing crisis drive Sinn Fein support – not so much the long-stated goal of reunification.

But the Irish have a good track record in resolving constitutional dilemmas. It’s almost a decade since they became the first country to legalise equal marriage after a popular vote and Citizens’ Assembly.

I’d imagine they might consider becoming a highly devolved federal republic upon re-unification, to further reassure citizens in the north. After all, the island is composed of nine ancient counties. Yes, there would be problems, but the Citizens’ Assembly – which successfully legalised abortion – is more than able to deal with that.

These tantalising possibilities lie ahead. But that’s another thing the Irish now enjoy – the ability to conduct a legitimate debate about their future without being accused of simple-mindedness or treason.

Scots can only look on.

Or get busy.

Even veteran Unionist commentators like Simon Jenkins can see the writing on the wall for UK PLC. In The Guardian this week he stated that reunification is the obvious solution for Northern Ireland whilst Scotland – “by size and economic potential, [should] be as rich and independent as Ireland or Denmark.”

There it is – plain and simple.

A truth, laid bare by Ireland.