You may not wish to go so far as Jeremy Paxman and ask “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?” but it’s usually sensible, when receiving information, to ask where it’s coming from. The most recent figures about the desirability or otherwise of the border come from The Belfast Telegraph, which it’s fair to say has never been noted for its fiercely republican tone or content. Maybe worth tucking that fact at the back of your mind.
Now, what do they say? Well, the pollsters asked people if they’d favour removal of the border tomorrow and they got 3.8% who said they would. Ask a silly question and you get a silly answer. Ask people “Would you, tomorrow, like to join with a bankrupt twenty-six counties while at the same time coping with loyalists who assault everything that moves because someone has told them their flag is being torn down?” The question is spectacularly daft. One comparison: the Scots, before being asked whether they favour Scottish independence, have been given a full two years in which to think about it.
“Hah!” you say. “But the Tele also asks how many would vote for border abolition in twenty years’ time and only a quarter of respondents wanted it. So much for your time-to-think argument”. Well, in ways the “Twenty years’ time" question is even more daft than the tomorrow question. Think of the difference in this state between 1963 and 1983; or between 1983 and 2003. “Events, dear boy, events” as Harold Macmillan used to say. A question about what you’d like to happen in the unimaginable distant future is nearly worse than asking about border abolition tomorrow.
What we do need - all of us - is an open and informed debate about what a united Ireland would look like, how it would differ for those of us in the north particularly, what place would be found for the 20% of the population that is presently unionist. When we’ve had a calm, extended discussion - not shouting-match - on the merits and drawbacks of such a new arrangement, then ask people would they favour it in, say, three or four years’ time.
For such a discussion we need information, and information that is accurate and is disseminated in clear language. For example, we hear much about the size of the block grant from Westminster. Did you know that the north of Ireland has no dependable statement of the amount of revenue which is generated here and goes into London coffers? Scottish revenue is validated by the Office of National Statistics. Here, we get figures produced by the Department of Finance and Personnel - and nobody verifies those. What’s more, the size of the much-talked-about block grant from Westminster is decided by the amount of money spent on public services in England. Does that make sense?
Those who favour a united Ireland are often accused of living in a green-tinged dreamland. I think there’s some truth in that. The one way to get them out of that dreamland is to present facts and figures - trustworthy facts and figures - that show what at present we gain or don’t gain economically through union with Britain, and what kind of state would be established were we to have an all-Ireland political arrangement. There are arguments beyond the economic which are worth making and should be made, but let's start with the economic facts. The trouble is, they’re hard to come by. For some reason.