Wednesday, 23 January 2013
A border poll: what a pity Theresa Villiers gets to decide.
Tonight, barring natural disasters and acts of God, I'll be on the Nolan Show. Not, I rush to add, as one of the top-table people: I'll be down there with the commoners (and boy, were they common last week), with an occasional filler-in question lobbed my way if I'm lucky. The debate, again barring natural disasters and acts of God, will be about the pros and cons of a border poll.
What will I say? Well, I'd like to say I think it is an excellent idea. The border is THE issue here. It was created by Lloyd George under threat of "terrible and immediate war" if the Irish delegation to Downing Street didn't accept it. It has shaped our voting patterns with uncanny accuracy ever since. So yes, it would be good if we could see if thinking has changed since nearly 100 years ago.
I'd particularly like to see a border poll because it will - I hope - allow us to find out if we know what we're talking about when we say we're pro-union with Britain or pro-united-Ireland. At present we tend to fill this great gap between us with flags, screeches of "No surrender!" or "Tiocfaidh ár lá!". I hope - I pray - that we'll be given time to look at the matter from every angle. If I were moving house to the other side of town, I'd consider house prices but also facilities like schools, shops, hospitals. I'd talk to people who lived there, I'd drive around and check out the neighbourhood. And after loads of thought and discussion I'd make up my mind, to move or stay. I wouldn't allow my granda, who always hated that side of town, or my da, who didn't like the way people on that side of town talked, to make up my mind for me. I'd make my decision in the light of the present day, taking all the factors into consideration. Constitutional change demands the same measured investigation.
If we could have a factual, contemporary look at the advantages and disadvantages of union with Britain, the advantages and disadvantages of a re-united Ireland, we' d really have done ourselves a service, almost regardless of the outcome of the poll. In fact, a border poll is so obviously a Good Thing, it's astonishing we've never considered it before.
When should it be held? Well, Alex Salmond has arranged that Scotland's referendum on independence should happen after a three-year period of thought and discussion. I think we're entitled to as much. The sad part is, the poll/no poll decision rests in the hands of a woman who lives here only part-time, stays in a castle when she does come, and who obviously knows little about our history and cares less about our needs. The fact that an English secretary of state like Theresa Villiers is able to make the decision about the holding of a border poll here shows at least one drawback in being governed from London. Let's hope she has sufficient brains to say "Yes" to this request.