One of the reasons I argued that making the proposed marriage between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists would work well for both parties was that it would shore up Cameron’s party colleague’s woeful lack of understanding of the constitution of their own country. Something at Reg Empey shows a residual grasp of:
“I feel that there is a real danger of the UK sleepwalking itself into a major constitutional crisis unless there is a proper and open debate on the merits of the UK continuing in its present form.”
As we noted back in 2003 (page 41), there is a tendency amongst Unionists of all stripes to externalise all forms of threat to the Union. In actual fact one of the biggest threats is the attitude of Unionists themselves. Arthur Aughey’s evocation of Schopenhauer captures the self-sidelining of the Union’s most committed and passionate advocates:
‘A number of porcupines, Schopenhauer wrote, huddled together for warmth on a cold day but as they pricked one another they were forced to disperse. The cold drove them together again and the process was repeated. After many turns of huddling and dispersing they discovered that a comfortable relationship involved maintaining a little distance from one another. It is only when we discover a moderate distance, Schopenhauer believed, that life becomes tolerable: our mutual needs can be reasonably satisfied and, as far as possible, we can avoid pricking one another.’
The fable is powerful. But there is one problem. To the rest of the UK’s inhabitants it seems that Northern Ireland’s unionists now prefer a chilly distance to exchanging heat and light with their neighbours.