The perils of polls

I doubt if Bel Tel’s latest snapshot poll will stimulate much more than ritual pressure for a referendum on Unity. The parties have got enough to do just hanging in there for a long time to come. Naturally people will take what they like out of it. What stands out for David McKittrick is the finding that 69% of all Catholics would still vote for Unity, despite the developments of equality and powersharing. I find that less surprising. These are achievements of direct rule the parties have yet to live up to on their own. By contrast, the supporter of the Conservative fraction Owen Polley sneers at Gerry Adams for daring to talk up Unity at the Paddyfest, because 85% of Prods and 26% of Taigs would split in favour of the Union. However the overall figure of 55% for remaining in the UK is a far from permanently decisive margin, so hopes of Unity remain very much alive. On the question of political will to hold a referendum however, there’s a paradox. Unless public opinion or the demographics shift dramatically, the more strident the politics and the wider the gap, the less likely the two governments are to call a border poll. Althiugh they are derided by partisans, the wide tolerances in political attitudes consistently recorded in the Life and Times surveys make a referendum scenario even cloudier.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London