There was simply no point in voting Unionist

Unionist political leaders don’t care to admit it, but the last census proved they are a minority. Only 48% of the population ticked “British” and only 48% ticked “Protestant”. Therefore only a minority of people are likely to be attracted to a party emphasising “British identity” and prioritising “(Protestant) marching”.

Unionism picked up two seats at last month’s General Election but the trend is, of course, one of further decline. A decade or so from now, we will be discussing results of a census which show more “Catholics” than “Protestants”; and of Elections at which even Unionist pacts cannot secure more than half the seats. Despite the curious decline in Nationalist turnout, these facts are not disputed.

This does not point towards a majority for a “United Ireland”. Still less than a third of people in Northern Ireland regard themselves as “(All-)Irish” and there is no reason that will change; and many “Nationalist” voters will continue to hint that perhaps now is not quite the time for a Border Poll.

Therefore, people with an interest in keeping the UK together (in “defending the Union” to use the siege parlance) have a decision to make – either “the Union” is in danger, or it isn’t.

If we accept that even a Catholic majority would have no interest in risking the financial status quo, then “the Union” is in no danger – in which case there is no point in voting Unionist.

If we accept that actually a Catholic-and-Other majority may seek to change the constitutional status quo, it is in the interests of those who support the status quo to reach out to that majority rather than circle the wagons around flag-waving British people and marching Protestants – in which case there is no point in voting Unionist.

It does not matter, therefore, what your constitutional position is. There is, on the basis of simple demographics, simply no point in voting Unionist.

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2 thoughts on “There was simply no point in voting Unionist

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    I agree in part. What is obvious is that Northern Ireland’s continued place in the UK will in future depend on Catholic voters, or non-voters. However, I regard the focus on economics as a bit of a red herring. Unionists may like to imagine that Irish unity is impossible because A is richer than B or B than A, but the existence of such disparities might not be such an important factor for those who are actually tempted by unity (rationalism, real or imagined, is not part of the defining construct of Irish national identity in the same way as it is for Northern Protestants). In any case, economic factors will change, both from year to year and between polling and any putative independence day.

    Two points can be made here. First, the experience of Scotland showed that a referendum campaign, once initiated, develops a dynamic of its own. Thus, the final number of Catholics (for such they will still mainly be) voting for unity is likely to be much larger than the measly percentages currently being reported by polling firms. In Northern Ireland there is the added factor that Unionists, faced with a referendum, are highly likely to behave badly, thus encouraging more Catholics to vote Yes. Quite how high the vote for unity will be in a given referendum is anyone’s guess, but unless there were a boycott I should be surprised if it were ever less than 30%.

    Secondly, Catholics are no longer subject to egregious economic discrimination. What disputes there are now tend to be “cultural”. If Unionists, or even the Alliance Party, could bring themselves to tolerate a role in public life for the Irish language equivalent to that enjoyed by Celtic languages everywhere else in these islands, if they desisted from festooning lamp-posts with bedspread-sized flags, if they cut back on triumphalist marches, the chances of a vote in favour of Irish unity would be greatly reduced.

    As matters stand, I expect Scotland to be independent long, long before Northern Ireland joins the Republic. I doubt, however, whether Unionists, with a large or a small “u”, will manage the culture shift necessary to secure the constitutional status quo in perpetuity.

    • I don’t see how, in practice, Northern Ireland remains in the “Union” for long after Scotland departs. That would set in train an inevitable move towards a British Isles of separate (but, if we’re sensible, closely cooperating) states – think Nordic Council.

      Quite how Northern Ireland (or for that matter Wales) fits into such a scenario is anyone’s guess.

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