“a shared future/shared society will require a natural, evolutionary breaking down of barriers – be they psychological or physical.”

In the News Letter Alex Kane revisits the topic of his last column, the shared future section of Peter Robinson’s speech at the DUP’s annual conference, and takes on Chris’ criticism of that speech.  From the News Letter article.

What struck me most about the comment is that the writer seems to object to the fact that unionism should try and reach out to Roman Catholics at all. Indeed, he seems to believe that the only purpose of such an outreach is the “pitting of Catholics against their fellow co-religionists.” So, does he believe that all Roman Catholics should support republicanism, or does he just believe that those who don’t shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as voting ammunition against those who do? Either way, it’s an absurd argument.

But there is a wider point to all of this. How do you share a future or a society if there is no agreement on the constitutional future? Unionists believe in the Union and the United Kingdom. Republicans believe in the disintegration of that Kingdom and its replacement with a united Ireland. So someone who believes in eventual Irish unity is not going to encourage anything which seems to diminish or dilute their hopes. And that applies to unionists, too. Which means that all you can expect in those circumstances is precisely what we have at the moment – ongoing stalemate and mutual veto.

Yet what do we do if there is a pro-Union majority which is bigger than just unionists? What do you do if the pro-Union majority represents 60%+ of the electorate? Do you continue with structures and mechanisms which keep the power blocs polarised and stalemated? Or do the pro-Union believers – irrespective of background, religion etc – start to build their own version of the shared society?

Read the whole thing.

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  • The problem is not the shared society, it is the abuse of the shared society to further the same old politics. Sinn Fein wants a “shared society” only if it favours Irish unity, and Alex Kane wants a “shared society” which amounts to an explicit acceptance of the union. Neither side is putting the shared society ahead of their constitutional prejudices.

    He is correct however when he says that the DUP (amongst others) can’t transform itself into a “post-conflict” political party. That’s where the real problem lies: how do we move the political process beyond us-vs-them when every actor is forever identified with either us or them? Do we have to wait for them all to die off? And in the republic, civil war politics survived de Valera for decades…

  • between the bridges

    Methinks a certain ‘republican blogger’ will have been delighted to have got a mention…

  • Alex Kane

    Hi Andrew,

    The point I was trying to make was that I don’t believe that it is possible to put the shared society ahead of your constitutional position.

    The choice, or so it seems to me, is between a stalemate society, with republicans and unionists constantly at loggerheads; or for those who believe in the Union (irrespective of religious belief or lack of it) to try and create a common platform which keeps that end goal in mind.

    Which is why I believe that we need to move beyond the parties we have now and into some sort of post-conflict situation in which, as you suggest, it may be possible to move beyond the weary politics of us and them.

    Of course, SF can never buy into that for SF exists to promote Irish unity and nothing else. So what are the rest of us to do (and I happen to believe that there is 60%+ support for the Union)? Remain at loggerheads to keep SF happy, or look at alternatives which may, eventually, produce a pro-Union vehicle which is Big-U pro-Union rather than red/white/blue unionist?

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Alex

  • “How do you share a future or a society if there is no agreement on the constitutional future?” .. Alex Kane

    Change the ‘constitution’ – and reduce ping-pong politicking.

    Here’s a recent exchange between myself and Chris on SO’T that bears repeating:

    Chris, my suggestion was shared sovereignty, a devolved administration, the merger of strands 2 and 3 and the parallel development of relationships with our neighbours across these islands. However, in 1998, we were offered a 50%+1 constitutional switch instead – a ‘solution’ that guaranteed the tug-of-war/mutual veto/duopoly dictatorship that we’ve ended up with.

    Nevin, Personally I think your idea was – and remains – an excellent one.

  • Cynic2

    An absurd argument from Chris? Surely not

  • Alex,

    The point I was trying to make was that I don’t believe that it is possible to put the shared society ahead of your constitutional position.

    I can. Perhaps you could explain why you can’t?

    The only reason the constitutional argument has become such a divisive issue is precisely because we don’t have a shared society. Unfortunately our political system is (for understandable historical reasons) populated almost entirely by people for whom the constitution will always be paramount. They therefore cannot engender the trust from the other side that is required for a shared society to grow. That is why the current party system desperately needs to be overthrown.

    The choice, or so it seems to me, is between a stalemate society, with republicans and unionists constantly at loggerheads; or for those who believe in the Union (irrespective of religious belief or lack of it) to try and create a common platform which keeps that end goal in mind.

    But this is the paradox – so long as defending the Union remains the end goal you will struggle to create that common platform, because you cannot be trusted to deal fairly with those who do not support that position. Elected politicians can do nothing to defend the Union (that remains in the hands of the people at a referendum), so the best thing they can do is shut up about it. If you are so convinced that >60% of people support (overtly or tacitly) the continuation of the Union, then why keep talking about it? Why keep campaigning on it? Why keep the wound open? You’ve won already. Move on.

    There is a third choice, and that is for those people who genuinely want a shared society to create a common platform that puts the welfare of the people first. There won’t be a border poll for some time, so we need to get working on making sure that when it eventually does come (and whatever result we get out of it) our society will survive it. That means setting aside constitutional preferences in favour of bread and butter politics. The theory of powersharing was that this could be done in the Assembly between communal parties, but all that we got was deadlock. In retrospect this should have been obvious, because the current system does nothing to remove the constitutional issue as the defining characteristic of political parties – in fact it has done the opposite and ensured the consolidation of politics into unionist and nationalist blocks.

    If the constitutional/communal divide is to lose its position at the forefront of politics it needs to be internalised within the politicial parties, in the same way that other highly-emotive issues have been – such as abortion, which in most countries is treated as a matter of individual conscience and not party politics. But the union is not just any other highly-emotive issue, it is a proxy for identity politics. And so long as voting unionist can be interpreted as voting Protestant, you have a serious chicken-and-egg problem. The usual method whereby controversial issues become uncontroversial (stealing of political clothes a la Blair) probably won’t work. A complete break with the past is the only way to be sure.

  • DC

    I agree with Alex in that the constitution is essential, not in terms of a zero-sum identity game in that to accept the constitution is to do down your own sense of Irishness or actually boost Britishness; but, rather, the constitution is essential in terms of rules and laws – it is via this framework that a shared future will be built.

    If you don’t know how you are constituted how do you firstly know what shape you are in and secondly how would you or could you ever plan ahead for change whenever you work off a political map which is at best indifferent to the lay of the land as currently set out, or at its worst is in complete denial of it.

    Basically, it’s like having two arms and two legs – then saying to people around you that you don’t really care that much for them and in some cases that you never really use them at all to walk or go anywhere – yet bizarrely implore others to get up and sprint off with you into the promised land – in this case – off to the land of a shared future.

    Of course, it is the same arms that are used to feed the NI populace, this is the body politic of NI, the arms and legs and everything else.

    So, if you don’t know how you are constituted how do you intend to do anything. Do you or would you have a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing and in terms of creating sound policy does everything not just end up in a bit of a muddle because of this denial (or bluffing away) of the de facto Union. Albeit one with its devolved rules and laws and of course power-sharing – with its own unique set of limits and opportunities.

  • DC,

    A constitution is essential. But not necessarily the one we have right now. Everybody knows what constitution we have and (roughly) how it works. The choice is not between a constitution and no constitution, but between two slightly different ones. There is a difference in that a united Ireland is so far undefined, but your analogy of having no legs is ridiculous. A UI would presumably have a constitution based on the Westminster model with the usual rights and division of powers of any modern European country.

    You do have a point about forward planning and certainty, but that can be addressed. For example, it is SDLP policy that devolution in NI should continue to function even after a vote for change in a border poll. I’d be extremely surprised if many unionists would prefer a unitary state to such an arrangement, so it would hardly be controversial to state now – in advance of any prospect of change – that devolved government for NI is a permanent arrangement. It would then be possible to argue for continued political investment in the Stormont system regardless of any future changes in sovereignty. But of course that would entail unionist politicians seriously contemplating what would happen if they lost.

  • Los Lobos

    No Party in NI wants a shared future, what they want is a “shared out” future full stop. And why would they want anything else that would complicate the cosy us and them situation that dominates this place. Two languages (well three if you include English), two schooling systems, two of everything if you really want. And we in NI really want that, hense we get the politicians who represent our aspirations. SF no more want a United Ireland than the man on the moon. The sight of Sammy Wilson tripping to Dublin to meet his counterpart tells us about the defunct mindset within loyalism. Keeping people apart is what we do best in NI, its going to take much more than a mealy mouthed idea such as a shared future to change how we deal with that fact.

  • Granni Trixie

    I very much appreciate points made in the above posts eg
    “use of a shared society to further the same old politics”,
    “two schooling systems “, “beyond the usual divide”,
    “a shared society ahead of constitutional politics”,

    It reassures me as to why I joined the Alliance Party in 1972. It follows Los Lobos that I also disagree that NO party in NI wants a shared future but a shared out future.
    Soundes like the USPs of the Alliance Party (ie parking the Constitutional question) is coming into its own.

    Chuckie ar la. (our day has come…or is coming).Keep up.

  • DC

    Andrew

    Yes of course the republic has a constitution but it is slightly different in that it is a written one, whereas Britain doesn’t have one which is written etc etc and these differences can be exaggerated or played down or whatever. (In relation to devolution staying in place post UI – I can’t see it as a runner over the short-medium given the public finances in Ireland – I personally don’t think it would be needed and could be detrimental to Ireland which is clearly a pro-business market-state at the current time – however much having it might well be genuinely comforting for some.)

    But my point is this, in order to build a shared future in the here and now – if that is what people are wishing to do right this moment in time – the issue of the existing constitution must be addressed, which comes with its own set of rules. To build a shared future in the here and now people need to know the rules of the game in order to balance cultural freedom with much needed integration. They also need to know the limits of the political participants up in Stormont and understand what goes beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable via democracy (the community veto being applied is another constitutional drawback, or perhaps it is a beneficial thing in terms of protection). Of course these political participants and associated limits would naturally change if a shared future in a UI context were ever to be debated inside the Dail.

    Also, I find the argument about a shared future inside Northern Ireland as tantamount to sharing on Unionist terms a bit concerning in that mixing with prods could do down nationalist/Irish culture, surely such a stance cannot be far removed from Emma West – the woman on the tram in London – who thought that her tram being occupied by a majority of blacks and Asians were proof that her England had been diluted, and the English culture was receding and that this must ultimately be a negative thing – at least in her eyes.

    Are certain Republican politicians or senior supporters saying their culture must remain (as far as is possible) impenetrable to others in that it can only truly flourish by having Irish catholics beside Irish catholics, or anything that reduces the opportunity to perpetuate that could take the whole sharing thing off the table? I think maybe the best thing to pin Sinn Fein down on is its definition of cultural freedom, if this involves state swap then the shared future thing is going to hit the buffers, if it actually hasn’t done so already. If the way that the Irish state delivers public services is so exceptional and superior then those people who think that can easily drive down or take the train and live out their lives there. The EU is all about living and working wherever you want. If Ireland is the land of milk and honey then there is absolutely no barriers to moving there should people so wish.

    Ps, if you have concerns about the nature of the political system up in Stormont the thing to do is to try and get support for changing that; however, tactically I have yet to see any party show the electorate that it can represent and operate on behalf all communities together, which party do you know that designates as both Unionist and Nationalist and Other. None. So, why should the current system be changed? Is it really obsolete?

  • Granni Trixie

    DC: can you tell me in what way the Alliance Party does not make effort to represent and operate on behalf all communities together etc

  • FuturePhysicist

    Physical barriers to the union. There already is a physical united Ireland. Surely to overcome the physical barriers to the unity of Northern Irish people with mainland Britain involves Terraforming.

    Suppose you can accept they’re united as with most of Europa by a Continental Plate though.

  • DC

    GT

    Because it designates as Other.

    I believe that cross-designation is a more effective way of imagining that Northern Ireland has a new Northern Irish electorate, than opting for ‘Other’ and then exhorting the electorate to believe in cross-community – despite having never stood over any votes or been forced to take a position regards identity issues.

    For instance, I reckon I have strands of unionist and nationalist identity in me because I’ve lived here all my life and can understand and agree with certain issues belonging to certain parties, but what I don’t have are strands of ‘Other’. Because I don’t know what Other means or signifies or could signify.

    In terms of cross-designation, it could be used a bit like counter-cyclical spending by a government in a depression – if for instance nationalists propose a good idea, but were being thwarted by traditional Unionists voting against it, how many ‘Unionist’ MLAs of the cross-designation party would be needed to vote in favour in order to cancel out those traditional Unionists so that the cross-community vote carries?

    The way i see it is that designation is just merely a numbers game X number of MLAs vote in this camp and X in the other camp, so many of each are needed to carry or block an issue. But numbers have meaning to people – it’s a bit like getting a pay rise in recognition of good work, the electorate would pick up on this and perhaps reward a party trying to move things on on behalf of the wider populace over party politics. This is the dirty work – which requires leadership and judgement – the ability to stand over the choices made – and votes taken or not taken. Without this – why should things change whenever such parties have failed to prove themselves that politics can move beyond unionism and nationalism and designation, adopting the ‘Other’ position does not show this, it does not show that identities are fluid and flexible enough to move beyond the fixed communal blocs.

    If Alliance had had such a cross-designation policy in place earlier then there would have been no issue when that party indulged in Saving Private Trimble, because it would have been justified on the basis that Trimble was at the time a more progressive force, than Paisley politics. Here cross-designation would have paid off because the electorate would have known Alliance had a policy or plan at the outset to do this as and when required. Rather than realise belatedly that it was out of position and actually out of the political game entirely. Alliance MLAs had to re-designate as Unionist in the end anyway in order to keep the political process moving forward.

    Someone in Queens or UU should do a study on whether cross-designation politics could actually be used in an effective way to combat stagnation and veto politics at Stormont.

  • Granni Trixie

    DC:I genuinely do not understand the points that you are making. All I am sure of is that, living in the context of WB,the most important thing for me was that joining APNI was a way of getting beyond the community divide. As someoine who can think for themselves, I would not have continued to be in APNI if they had not been progressive and evolving.

  • DC,

    In relation to devolution staying in place post UI – I can’t see it as a runner over the short-medium given the public finances in Ireland – I personally don’t think it would be needed and could be detrimental to Ireland which is clearly a pro-business market-state at the current time – however much having it might well be genuinely comforting for some

    I see it the other way around – the idea that North and South would remain operationally separate for some time after a UI would be very easy to sell down here. The extra costs of running NI as a devolved region would have to be set against the costs of integrating it with the south. Neither option is cheap, and NI’s economic imbalances won’t magically disappear if Stormont is abolished.

    To build a shared future in the here and now people need to know the rules of the game in order to balance cultural freedom with much needed integration.

    But we do know that. Didn’t we have a tortuous process over decades trying to work out the precise rules of that game?

    Also, I find the argument about a shared future inside Northern Ireland as tantamount to sharing on Unionist terms a bit concerning

    So am I. I am equally concerned by the idea that a shared future is an intrinsically Unionist position.

    If Ireland is the land of milk and honey then there is absolutely no barriers to moving there should people so wish.

    I did. But that’s not the point, now is it?

    Spot on on cross-designation, by the way.

  • DC

    GT – I don’t doubt that, all I am saying is that perhaps it isn’t the most rewarding thing to designate as Other given that Stormont operates a designation system like it or not.

    Take the new emblem for the prison service, if alliance had MLAs in both Unionist and Nationalist camp it could have voted in favour of the emblem by registering its vote – in both camps. This would have sent out a signal that Alliance was prepared to take a stand on an identity issue.

    Whereas because Alliance is down as Other, its vote doesn’t count and is now at the mercy of the Unionist veto, should the issue of the emblem ever come to the Assembly floor.

    If you’re in the media or a journalist what’s the point going to Alliance looking for a story out of this whenever Alliance votes don’t count or have no weight and there is no story to be had. You know yourself cross-community votes are usually called and taken on contentious identity issues and most journalists go looking for stories on these kind of issues in NI.

  • Pete Baker

    “GT – I don’t doubt that, all I am saying is that perhaps it isn’t the most rewarding thing to designate as Other given that Stormont operates a designation system like it or not.”

    DC

    To be fair to the Alliance Party representatives their choice not to designate in a sectarian manner is both consistent with their party’s position and their opposition to, what they view as, a sectarian designation system itself.

  • DC

    Andrew

    Spot on on cross-designation, by the way.

    Thanks!! You understood it! That means a lot to me 🙂

    I’ve been throwing my tuppence in on the issue with Labour NI, I reckon it’s simple – either cross-designate or don’t bother with Stormont.

    To be frank, my personal take on Stormont and Stormont politics at this time can be summed up in two words: f**k Stormont!

    Labour should stick with community organising and stand for local councils over the short to medium if not ad infinitum. Not sure many would be content with just that.

    But if I hear another complaint about the designation system and no one doing anything about it – simple: don’t stand for election then!

    It’s getting late, I’m getting tetchy.

  • Pete,

    To be fair to the Alliance Party representatives their choice not to designate in a sectarian manner is both consistent with their party’s position and their opposition to, what they view as, a sectarian designation system itself.

    It is a principled position, certainly. But sometimes taking the principled position is a futile gesture. Designating as Other under the current rules is fighting with one hand tied behind your back. If you’re not prepared to get dirty you shouldn’t be in politics.

  • Pete Baker

    ” Designating as Other under the current rules is fighting with one hand tied behind your back. ”

    Not when designating as something else automatically means you’ved declared for one side or the other.

  • DC

    Not when designating as something else automatically means you’ved declared for one side or the other.

    But you actually declare as both – and being in both camps and having the ability to alternate your vote depending on the issue means that over the electoral term you would have likely voted as Unionist and Nationalist. In doing so you therefore reduce the potency of having fixed designations, it begins to lose its original purpose and meaning.

    This would be a unique approach to politics in NI, as how many Nationalists vote Unionist, and Unionists vote Nationalist, none! So, the fixed designation system would lose some of its relevance.

  • This is quite interesting. I remember a few years ago when Alliance members redesignated as ‘unionists’ for a day to save Trimble’s ass. I would say that the difficulties and unwillingness to do so at the time demonstrate how wedded Alliance peeps are to designate as anything other than ‘other’ – a hateful, bland term that no-one in the party really likes.

    However, it was certainly noted at the time while the party agonised that tactical designations could allow it to control key votes in the Assembly, on occasion. There was some number crunching done, but it’s such an important totem to the party that future tactical re-designation looked like cheating and unprincipled. Trimble never realised just how lucky he was, the ungrateful wretch. He almost makes me wish Alliance had just crashed the Executive; we might have ended up with an earlier St Andrews Agreement.

    My argument would be that, yes, it is unprincipled, but that since there are so few principles evident in the Stormont system – look at the Rubicons SF and the DUP have crossed – the party should consider seizing power where it can in order to effect change. If it shifted the outcome of a few cross-community votes, it would make a mockery of the sectarian system, which might be enough to kill it.

    And if Alliance worked the system to their own advantage, it might end up with the other parties who want to move away from designation.

    However, I haven’t done the sums, so can’t say how effective such a move would be with the current Assembly make-up. I fear it’s wishful thinking.

  • ayeYerMa

    Andrew Gallagher, you’re approach of ignoring the issue of the constitution as being a goal is one that I would have agreed with a couple of years ago. However, it is now one I strongly disagree with.

    In the last couple of years you have naturally seen Unionist parties talking less about the constitution as the perceived threat to it has reduced. Given that there are Republicans hell-bent on eradicating every fibre of Britishness, combined will Alliance-types who are more than willing to place no barriers in preventing them to do so, then there needs to be someone to say no.

    I also find the approach of “not talking about it” dishonest and impractical. We cannot act as if the fact that we are part of the UK as if it is somehow offensive or “politically incorrect” – it is simply denying reality.

    Remember also, that the Union is something that allows people to be as Irish and British just as it allows people to be Welsh and British etc. The same cannot be said for Republicanism, the goal of which being Irish nationalist separatism. The British symbols that many PC type commentators were criticising Robinson for defending most likely also included a harp or a shamrock – if that is not also defending a “shared future” then I don’t know what is.

  • Gonzo,

    Exactly. If there are political parties out there who are willing to do anything to advance their cause, why should I vote for a party that hamstrings itself as a matter of policy? Alliance have made a virtue out of being non-threatening, but an equally valid reading of non-threatening is “weak”. “Vote Alliance, we’re pussycats” is not a winning election slogan.

    aYM,

    I’m not suggesting that we deny that we’re part of the UK or stop talking about it – but I am suggesting that we calm down and broaden our political horizons. There is more to life than the constitution, but our political system is still organised around it.

    Also, the symbols Robinson was willing to go to the trenches for may well include harps and shamrocks, but the symbols that are likely to replace them would (if the precedent of the PSNI were to be followed) hardly be much different in community balance. It wasn’t a particular change that Robinson was against – there were no concrete proposals in place – it was the very idea of change itself. Northern Ireland is a new place, and it’s entirely appropriate that the symbolism of NI should change to reflect that, so long as it is done sensitively. Robinson wasn’t even willing to give a tiny symbolic change the benefit of the doubt.

    Again, we all just need to calm down.

  • The British symbols … most likely also included a harp or a shamrock.

    That Robinson seems to be the only unionist to have seen a Prison Service badge speaks volumes.

  • Alias

    “How do you share a future or a society if there is no agreement on the constitutional future?”

    There isn’t much agreement on constitutional future of Ireland in regard to EU federalism either, but it hasn’t led to a divided society that must be ‘shared’ between those who want to be first citizens of an EU state and those who don’t.

    The key difference, of course, is that there are two nations in Northern Ireland and that is why we talk of ‘sharing’ rights of commonality between them – sharing is only applicable when there is a greater number than one.

    There needs to be a clearer distinction in the discussion between sharing the society and sharing the state. On a qualitative level, people can share social aspirations and values without sharing political concepts of sovereignty, nation-states or sovereign nations, etc. On a quantitative level, the qualitative sharing becomes redundant if the state is not shared between the two nations. That is because, rather obviously, a nation cannot be expected to promote the best interests of a society that excludes that particular nation’s interests.

    The shared society then is conditional upon a shared state but a shared state is not conditional on a shared society. That is what you have ended up with in Northern Ireland: a shared-out future, and not a shared future.

    But what about a shared present rather than the never-never land of the future? That is conditional on the shared promotion of those shared societal values and aspirations, and not conditional on the two nations sharing a common constitutional aspiration.

    Northern Ireland will always be dysfunctional even within dysfunctional constitutional structures such as the UK or the EU. The sovereign British nation requires that the non-sovereign nations within its jurisdiction give their national allegience to the British state. So while the English, Scottish or Welsh nations can do that, where is the Northern Irish nation? It is conspicuously absent from the constitutional equation when it is an essential component of it.

    Until this missing component can be engineered the best you can hope for within the constitutional structure of the UK is that the two nations that exist in place of it can share the state and the society but, alas, will never share a common national identity.

  • Alias,

    Until this missing component can be engineered the best you can hope for within the constitutional structure of the UK is that the two nations that exist in place of it can share the state and the society but, alas, will never share a common national identity

    Why the proviso “within the UK”? I have yet to see any convincing arguments that leaving the UK would automatically solve NI’s problems.

    The nation is not the only basis for democracy. It is the one most commonly used, but it rests on a flawed assumption – that nation and territory coincide. As you have pointed out, this does not apply in NI. So if we want to save democracy, we need to find something other than nationalism to base it on.

  • Alias

    “Why the proviso “within the UK”? I have yet to see any convincing arguments that leaving the UK would automatically solve NI’s problems.”

    NI leaving the UK won’t solve the problem of two nations but only one state. If it joined Ireland, that would just give the Irish state the complexity of managing it when the British state has all of the prerequisite experience (and subvention capacity). If it left the UK and became independent, the differences between the two nations could not be managed by a third party and would likely become extremely problematical for both nations.

    The normal order is for the nation to exist before the state, but the state came into existence before the nation in the case of NI. You now have two nations locked into one (quasi-)country which is a dismal situation that doesn’t exist in the other three countries that comprise the UK. In addition, you have the question of whether or not the Northern Irish does exist at all or can be engineered – it certainly didn’t exist prior to partition. Whereas there is no doubt, for example, that the English nation exists or that the country of England is its proper homeland. Essentially, NI is an anomaly within the UK and is also abnormal to the order of nations and states.

    The Northern Irish nation is the missing non-sovereign nation within the constitutional structure of the UK. In the case of the British nation, there is another nation that must exist before it. What existed before partition was the non-sovereign Irish nation. It doesn’t matter that GB is not the same legal entity as the UK since the Irish nation was expected to owe its national allegience to the UK.

    What now exists post-partition is a non-sovereign Irish nation within NI and some oddity called the British nation which apparently doesn’t belong to any other nation but occasionally throws out substituting banners such as Ulster-Scots or just political designations such as Unionist – anything other than Irish (so as to distinguish itself from the other nation).

    The bargain of the UK is that non-sovereign nations should forego their respective national rights as members of those nations and share a common set of national rights under the nationality of British and, of course, share a single state. In claiming to be exclusively British the unionists are rejecting the bargain of the UK and claiming a status as an exclusively sovereign nation that is not available to the other nations that comprise the UK.

    What that means is that the two nations in the UK have unequal national rights. The British nation lives in a sovereign state – a de facto nation-state – whereas the Irish nation has no claim to ownwership of the state in which it lives. If, however, both nations were to be merged into the missing nation then these abnormalities would no longer apply.

    “The nation is not the only basis for democracy. It is the one most commonly used, but it rests on a flawed assumption – that nation and territory coincide.”

    There is nothing flawed about it. It is the proper international order. Indeed, it enjoys pride of place as the first article of the UN’s ICCPR: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The state or sovereign territory is the essential means by which a nation exercises its right of self-determination. Without sovereign territory, there is no state; and without a state, there is no self-government.

    “As you have pointed out, this does not apply in NI.”

    Which is why NI is fundamentally dysfunctional.

    “So if we want to save democracy, we need to find something other than nationalism to base it on.”

    No, you have to base it on nationalism. The failure to do so in the case of NI is why it doesn’t work. Besides, within the UK, it is based on nationalism anyway. The problem is that it is British nationalism and half the citizens reject British nationality.

    It is simply a unionist myth that the UK offers an alternative to nationalism or nation-states. It does nothing of the sort. It is a nation-state for members of the British nation wherein they may “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” in accordance with the international law of nations and states.

    True, there are thousands more nations in the world than there are states so not every nation can be sovereign but that limitation is circumvented by those diverse nations sharing the common nationality of the state in which they live. For every sovereign nation in the world there are 25 non-sovereign nations. The Irish are lucky to be among the sovereign nations, and would be foolish to convert themselves into a non-sovereign nation just to appease a jurisdiction that wishes to remain as a sovereign British nation but to convert its neighbour into a non-sovereign one.

  • Alias,

    The normal order is for the nation to exist before the state

    That’s not tenable historically. Take France, for example. It was an absolute monarchy for centuries, with considerable language and cultural differences that were (mostly) ironed out through absolute rule. England had a similar birth – it was pieced together through conquest and personal unions, only to be invaded and have a foreign aristocracy installed. Medieval France and England were not nations by any definition we would recognise, but they were powerful, functioning states. The concept of the nation is a romantic one which emerged in the modern age of mass literacy and fast communications, but whose roots lie in the suppression of cultural differences by the absolutist regimes that preceded the enlightenment. If it were not for the imposition of nationhood from above, we would still be members of petty kingdoms and tribes like those found in parts of the world where there was no history of strong central government.

    In addition, you have the question of whether or not the Northern Irish does exist at all or can be engineered – it certainly didn’t exist prior to partition

    Perhaps not as a defined today, but there are significant linguistic and cultural differences between north and south which have deep historical roots, and which don’t follow the same dividing lines as religion or national identity. Northern Ireland didn’t just appear at the stroke of a pen, even though sometimes it may seem like it.

    There is nothing flawed about it. It is the proper international order

    Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it will work.

    No, you have to base it on nationalism. The failure to do so in the case of NI is why it doesn’t work.

    So what do we do while we sit around waiting for a Northern Irish nation to appear? Life and government must go on. If there is no nation, and no immediate likelihood of creating one, the state must still function under another basis. Democracy assumes that those elected to power can be trusted to exercise it on behalf of all the people, not just those that voted for them. In most countries, the idea of the nation is what engenders this trust. In NI we do not have that trust because we have no single nation to base it on. We are currently attempting to run NI on the basis of mutual mistrust, but it has resulted in deadlock. Political trust must be created somehow, and nationalism (of whatever hue) is not available to us. What would you suggest we use?