The DUP has made some disastrous wrong turns recently – for itself and for Northern Ireland – but the recent “bluff” on a Border Poll was really very clever. It earned political points, without ever the slightest prospect of such a poll actually happening.
There are two reasons a Border Poll shouldn’t happen. Firstly, the campaign around it would be anything but rational, causing deep divisions and encouraging anyone with even the slightest interest in a United Ireland to get out and vote for one (safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t actually happen) – such divisions would take a long time to heal. Secondly, the principle must be established that a referendum can only happen once people are clear what type of United Ireland is on offer – for example, there is a world of difference between incorporating Northern Ireland into the current Republic of Ireland on one hand; and uniting Ireland as a new, federal, Commonwealth of Ireland with the monarch as Head of State on the other. For both of these reasons, a Border Poll currently would create a dangerous vacuum.
However, the DUP’s bluff had the added benefit of demonstrating the utter vacuousness of the Irish Nationalist cause. On BBC NI’s Nolan Show, Sinn Fein proved utterly incapable of even beginning to answer the question of why a Unionist should vote for a United Ireland – somewhat giving away the underlying suspicion that really it is all about demographics. The DUP was even let off with quoting statistics based on current numbers to “prove” the UK’s economy is better than Ireland’s (which is dubious, actually), without any hint of a challenge – laying bare Sinn Fein’s economic illiteracy on top of its lack of vision. Sinn Fein got one thing right – its vote is based on hard work in communities across Ireland; it is evident that it is not because of detailed vision, well thought-out priorities or rational policies!
By hinting at potential support for a Border Poll, the DUP called Sinn Fein’s bluff and probably ended any hint of a call for one.