Gerry Adams has called for a border poll and has been met with widespread derision. There’s no chance, Peter Robinson says, of the majority of people in Northern Ireland voting for constitutional change. They point to the census figures which show 63% of people here wanting to maintain the Union with Britain.
Adams, however, points out that the census also shows only 40% of people here describing themselves as exclusively British. So again maybe it’s a question of lies, damned lies and statistics - it all depends on how you look at them. However, Sinn Féin have taken on the task of persuading at least some of those who presently believe in the Union to change their minds.
There are two ways in which people here might shift their position on the constitutional question. They might look at what a united Ireland has to offer, economically and socially, and be drawn to that vision. In contrast, they might look at the union they now have and see the things they thought were good about it have in fact disappeared. They might move, in short, to a pro-united Ireland because the alternative has become unpalatable.
At present, unionists (and some nationalists, I’m sure) believe that Gerry Adams’s call for a border poll is simple politicking - that he wants to show his party’s republicanism in a brighter and more attractive light than Fianna Fail’s new-found republicanism. I’m sure there’s something of that in it - Sinn Féin’s ambitions for development in the south are there for anybody to see. And political parties, by definition, work in the interests of their own party.
Some unionists, Peter Robinson included, think that unionism should try harder to sell its benefits to the Catholic/nationalist population here. I don’t see any serious effort to do that - and of course the flag protestors have sent not just nationalists but many unionists reeling backwards in horror.
An interesting comparison for us is that with Scotland, about which Kevin McKenna has an interesting article in yesterday’s Observer. He looks at how those firmly in the Union - the people of England - are faring. Not so hot, it seems. The poor are getting seriously poorer, while employees of Goldman Sachs were last week awarded on average a bonus of £250,000. The gap between rich and poor is widening; the Tory government, with Lib Dem assistance, is allowing greed and corruption to be rewarded. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau is getting nearly 1,000 calls a day from impoverished families. The sons of the UK are being sent to fight and die in pointless foreign wars. To avoid focus on such matters, distracting displays such as the Olympics and royal jubilees are hyped, not to mention the dream of a big Lottery win. The UK treasury, according to McKenna, has just declared that each person in Scotland would be £1 worse off in an independent Scotland. It seems, McKenna believes, a decent price for a change to a fair society where people run their own affairs.
It’s time the benefits of the Union were spelled out. The flag protestors complain that the flag matters - “people have died for that flag”. Is the flag that leads people to occupations and invasions of other people’s countries the only benefit the Union has to offer?