John Lloyd argues that the moment for unity is over. I’m not sure I agree with him in that regard, in the sense that the moment has never yet appeared. Thus far, Sinn Fein’s call for a border poll has only served to emphasise a growing political distance between Northern Ireland and the south.
The point Malachi O’Doherty I think was trying to make on Nolan the other night is a good one: people have strong emotional attachments to the nation state, whichever one that might be.
The secondary point I think he was trying to make reminds me of something David Ervine used to say, ie, that you cannot argue someone out of a position they have taken up emotionally. Or as the Canadian academic Stephen Downes puts it:
…argument rarely convinces anyone of anything, that an understanding of principles of reasoning is to protect yourself from error, not to correct other people in theirs
Back to Lloyd who, I think, has correctly identified a paradox that lies squarely at our heart of peace process:
One final observation: that which excites both British and foreign comment – the absorption of Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, the independence of Scotland and Britain’s exit, broken or not, from the European Union – is exciting to read about. But the best bet is that none of these will happen. And they will not happen because of a paradox.
Nation states remain the organising principle for governance, as the Europeans have learned. But if they are liberal and capacious in their civic and social habits, most citizens will express a kind of mild loyalty to them — eschewing flag, symbols and anthems, but accepting their right to rule. Never say it’s forever: but for the moment, that’s the provisional settlement we’ve reached, and it should be very good news for those who call themselves Northern Irish.
Like gravity (the weakest natural force) it may be the fragility of the force by which the UK holds citizen loyalty that remains its strongest card.
I doubt it can be cracked with a sledgehammer.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty