In the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum on Independence which was defeated 55% to 45% there has been renewed calls for a similar referendum here in Ireland on the constitutional future of 'Northern Ireland'.
This morning I note the Irish Independent article (I know, I know!) "Northerners want a vote on removing the border. LucidTalk surveyed 1,089 voters on behalf of Independent News and Media (I know, I know!) around the time of the Scottish Referendum. Excluding don't knows 56.2% said they wanted a referendum and 43.8pc didn't.
The GFA states that a border poll will be called when the British Secretary of State feels there is support for Irish Unity. To me this is clear. The trigger for the Independence Referendum in Scotland was the achievement of a majority by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) in Holyrood. Similarly election results which return more Nationalist MLAs than Unionists will be the catalyst for a border poll here.
So achieving a Nationalist majority in Stormont needs to be the goal. In order to achieve this sooner rather than later, the problem of voter apathy needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Sinn Féin who has an excellent record of getting it's vote out needs to do more to appeal to disillusioned dissidents on one hand while making inroads into middle class votes on the other.
The SDLP needs to get it's house in order. They need to become visible and relevant to the electorate again if they are to get their vote out. They need to learn from this years European Election where they lost much of their traditional vote to a Nationalist candidate running for the middle of the road Alliance party. They need to forge links with the Irish Labour Party.
Fianna Fáil need to keep their promise and organise and contest elections in the North. Fine Gael should practice what they preach when they state "a true Irish party should represent all Irish citizens". Labour need to establish closer ties with the SDLP.
More parties mean more choice and more choice means more votes.
In addition to being asked whether they support a border poll respondents were also asked how they would vote in such a border poll.
Opinion Polls in the North are mainly carried out by Unionist leaning media outlets and often the questions are loaded to give the "correct" result. Often their results have been discredited where party support per opinion poll have been far from accurate when compared with party support per election results.
The latest poll is no different. Respondents were given three options - Yes for unity as soon as possible, Yes for unity in 20 years time and No for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.
Do you see what they did there? They broke the Yes option into two knowing full well that current economic conditions in Ireland and Britain would steer supporters of unity to the unity in 20 years time option. This would allow them to concur that support for unity at this time was very low. This could then be interpreted as support for a United Ireland being low.
So did it work? The results show that when excluding the don't knows, only 7.7% wanted unity now, 32.5% wanted unity in 20 years time and 59.8% wanted to remain in the UK. If we hear Unionists banging on about how there is only about 7% support for Irish Unity, we can conclude that it has worked.
Even with the scepticism held for Unionist leaning opinion polls let us take the results at face value. 40.2% of the electorate support Irish Unity and 59.8% support the status quo.
This is actually quite a good result for Nationalism for the following reasons:
- Support for Scottish Independence stood at 30% two years before the referendum was called and the debate began. The actual result of the referendum was 45% in favour. It would have been more were it not for the scaremongering tactics of the British elites.
- To have over 40% of an electorate voting for something they do not know anything about is a fantastic starting point. Nobody knows what a United Ireland would entail. No green paper on unity has been produced. How would the 26 County voters have voted on the Lisbon Treaty before the terms and conditions of the treaty were set out? A lot less than 40% I would imagine.
- Demographics. As the Catholic community grows so too will the Nationalist community. Logically an increasing Nationalist electorate should show increased support for Irish Unity in future polls. This poll also reveals that a majority of 18-24 year olds are pro-unity.
- Economics. It's the economy, stupid. There is a train of thought that people would be better off financially in the UK. The theory goes that because the UK government provides an annual subsidy of c£10bn (or considerably less if defence spending etc. is taken out) that the provision of the block grant would simply transfer to the Irish government in the event of a United Ireland. This argument, to coin a phrase is economically illiterate.
The block grant only exists because NI exists as part of the UK. British economic policy is dictated by South East England for South East England. By keeping the economic core of the UK based around London, other regions inevitably form the periphery and suffer economically. To counter this they are given a subsidy and low quality public sector jobs.
A United Ireland would see economic policy tailored to what was in the best interests of Northern Ireland. This is because the economic needs of the North are almost exactly the same as economic needs in the rest of Ireland. That is an environment which allow sectors such as agriculture, tourism and foreign investment to flourish.
A United Ireland is the best option to provide the North with the economic levers it needs to rebalance it's economy, generate extra revenue and reduce spending waste (duplication of services etc.) to an extent whereby the block grant argument is redundant. Essentially the North of Ireland would be able to pay it's own way rather than being net recipient reliant on scraps from the English tax payer.
The electorate will be shown that the argument "the South couldn't afford us" is a false argument. They will be informed of the degree to which the North as it currently exists is a basket case economy. They will be guided to every economic indicator which shows a superior quality of life and standard of living in the South. They will make up their mind as to which option they would be better off with economically.
- Health. There is also a train of thought that the electorate in the North would not vote to replace it's free NHS with the expensive HSE in the South. How often do you hear people highlight that you need to pay €50 to see a doctor in the South. For clarification Healthcare in the South is free. It's called a medical card. Those who pay can well afford it. Also the South is already moving to a free universal system.
So in the not too distant future if demographic trends continue and the correlation between politics and religion remains strong and are demonstrated in election results, we will have a border poll. Once a green paper on Irish Unity is produced (similar to the Scottish white paper) the debate will begin in earnest. In addition to the debates over economics and health, there will be arguments over social justice, education and the economy and the economy and the economy. I have every confidence that the arguments in favour of Irish Unity are superior to arguments for the status quo. Convincing the supposedly one in five Catholics who according to this poll are not supportive of Irish Unity will result in convincing a minority agnostic Protestants that a United Ireland makes sense.
And after the pro UK movement has lost the debate they will resort to scaremongering as they did in Scotland. We need to be ready to counter this better than the Scottish Nationalists did.
But why wait until a Nationalist majority in Stormont to start the debate. Why not start it now?
(chart c/o Belfast Telegraph)