An anecdote related by Alex Salmond in 2014 on the eve of the referendum on Scottish independence still resonates. Yet, it doesn’t concern Scotland. Rather, it was a warm remnant from the febrile and intoxicating days immediately before and after the signing of the Good Friday Peace Accord.

News of the death of the Reverent Dr Ian Paisley had just broken as Mr Salmond embarked on a helicopter tour of the north of Scotland during a final push for independence. The former First Minister of Scotland was fond of “Big Ian” and it was clear that he regarded this giant of Northern Ireland politics with a degree of affection.

"I remember when I first realised that both he and Martin McGuinness (pictured below) could work together and bring peace,” recalled Mr Salmond. “On a trip to Northern Ireland not long after the elections which put them both in government we were all on an outing and Big Ian slipped.

“Martin McGuinness instinctively grabbed him and stopped him from falling. It was an act of simple humanity from one human being to another but it told me that these two men, who became friends, could work together.”

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Throughout the three decades of suffering and hurt brought on by the civil war in Northern Ireland armchair experts on the British mainland cast their judgements on who was responsible and offered solutions born of ignorance and no little condescension. When peace came, uncertain and fragile though it might immediately prove to be, we walked away and, from a safe distance, began loudly fretting about other conflagrations.

As President Joe Biden flew into Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, some politicians across the UK will offer a silent prayer of gratitude that “The Troubles” never really migrated here.

Professor Sir Tom Devine, has studied the interactions between Ireland and Scotland throughout his academic career and believes that Scotland has an important stake in the Good Friday Agreement. We live in close proximity to Northern Ireland and the emotions, faith and history that still influences many people in west central Scotland originate there.

Sir Tom said: “It’s often said that Scotland didn’t play a significant part in the Troubles. This is a myth. Firstly, Scotland was an active front for the IRA and for the UDA and UVF, not militarily, but in fund-raising, gun-running and provision of safe houses.

The Herald: Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness has died aged 66. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

“Throughout the 1970s there was concern in Scotland and UK that, given the close association of both countries and the perception that Glasgow had experienced the same societal fissures, there was anxiety that the Troubles would cross over to here.”

He cites two bomb attacks in 1979 on known Irish pubs in Glasgow carried out by Ulster terror groups. Only a few people in one of the bars were injured, but the attacks sparked fears that sectarian terror would erupt in Scotland.  The political and civic authorities waited nervously to see if the IRA Council would respond in kind. That this never happened, according to Sir Tom, is due to several factors. 

“Glasgow was not Belfast,” he said. “Despite sectarian tensions Scotland didn’t have anything like the same depth of social division between Protestants and Catholics that existed in Northern Ireland where Catholics had been subject to political gerrymandering for generations. In Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s the age-old job discriminations suffered by Catholics were beginning to die out.

“Moreover, the most influential church and community leaders – including the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland - were determined to prevent any transfer of conflict. The Scottish police had also become effective after the 1979 pub bombings in dealing with the problems of sectarian terrorism in Scotland.”

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Sir Tom also points to a startling revelation contained in the 2019 book Thatcher’s Spy by the MI5 super-agent Willie Carlin, who died earlier this year. Mr Carlin had become close to Martin McGuinness after infiltrating the IRA. “Carlin reported in his book that he raised the issue of non-aggression in Scotland with McGuinness.

According to the spy this was less of an official policy than an emotional response. Carlin recalls McGuinness saying: "They [the Scots] are our Celtic cousins, disenfranchised just the same as the Irish. The English took away their language and killed off their culture, so it’s more of a principal than a policy.

“’After all, they’re a Celtic nation just like the Irish except they haven’t got the balls like we have to fight for self-determination’.

“This is the first substantive evidence I know of reason on why troubles didn’t cross the Irish Sea. Despite having many of the ingredients.”

The Herald: BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JANUARY 30: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Alternative crop of image #1230871489) A woman walks past a Loyalist paramilitary mural on the Newtownards road on January 30, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Police Service of Northern Ir

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland this week Joe Biden will paint a picture of hope and optimism in pastel shades. Gail Walker, former editor of the Belfast Telegraph and a leading political commentator in Northern Ireland, believes though, that the reality of the post- Good Friday era in Northern Ireland will probably be glossed over.

“The President will bring the usual caravan with him, of people who only dip in and out of Northern Ireland politics for big-ticket events like this,” she said. “He’ll convey a sort of ‘boosterism’ built on hope and optimism but the reality on the ground is different.

“The Stormont Assembly has been absent for about 40% of its entire existence between the current DUP Brexit stand-off and, prior to that a three-year Sinn Fein hiatus.

“As a result of this executive dysfunctionality the issues that affect ordinary people’s lives, such as NHS reforms, educational under-achievement in working-class areas and, during Covid, some of the worst infection rates in Europe.

Read more: The British state colluded in the murder of its own citizens. Where’s the justice?

“Working-class communities are not seeing the ceasefire dividend as much as people in middle-class areas. After 25 years we should be talking about the archaeology of the Troubles, but they’re still very real. Nothing has been done to heal the old wounds: housing and education remains largely segregated.

“We need to wake up as we have a long way to go in terms of caring for victims of the Troubles. There’s been no serious attempt to effect reconciliation and no dismantling of the old tribal totems.”

The President will spend most of his visit to Ireland in the South where he’ll hope that picture opportunities in his ‘ancestral homeland’ will elicit votes if he decides to seek the Democratic nomination once more. The caravan will follow him south and leave Northern Ireland and its wounded communities for another quarter of a century.