It is plain from recent exchanges that they still don’t like to admit it, but the census showed clearly that Unionists are now a minority in Northern Ireland – as this blog put it a fortnight ago, we are all minorities now.
Interestingly, in 2011:
- the first-preference Unionist vote at the Northern Ireland Assembly election was 48%;
- the number self-identifying as British (at all) in Northern Ireland was 48%; and
- the number claiming Protestant background in Northern Ireland was 48%.
The Unionist share of the electorate (i.e. working-age and retired population) has dipped below half; and those in the entire population from whom it can reliably draw votes has also fallen below half. And all the trends are downwards.
Ultimately, that is what the riots are all about. In the history of Ireland, Unionists have always been able to rely on artificial privilege – initially marked by religious background; subsequently by land ownership; since 1921 in Northern Ireland by virtue merely of being the “majority”. They are no longer the majority, and they no longer have any artificial privilege. They just have to use persuasion and compromise like everyone else now. It’s called democracy – and it has to be said, it is made more difficult by the fact that the largest non-Unionist party in Northern Ireland is anything but responsibly democratic.
As warned last week on this blog, Unionist Leaders have not shown even the slightest hint of reacting to the new demographic. Their first move (they act together these days) was to try to get the issue raised at Stormont – this failed due to a boycott, but if they continue to push it they will find, as will ever now be the case, that they lack the numbers to do so anyway. Their second was to hint that perhaps a bit of “Unionist Unity” would help deliver something – but the protests kept going on, not least because everyone knows it can’t deliver anything because they are not the majority and they don’t have a case that makes sense to anyone but themselves. Their third was to call for the protests to stop – a call not even their own elected representatives heeded.
In the midst of all the 48% figures, however, there was a far more significant figure – 29%.
29% is the number of people in England and Wales who regard themselves as in any way British (a staggering 71% do not).
29% is also the number of working-age people in Northern Ireland who have no educational qualifications whatsoever.
Unionists may begin to take account of the 48% figure in due course. But it’s the 29% figure that should worry them most. That it doesn’t, is the very reason Unionism is in such obvious crisis.