#uniref: what are mechanics of a border poll?

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, Liam Clarke is reporting on an opinion poll that says that a majority of people want a referendum on a border called. David has already sketched out some ideas of what a Yes campaign might look like, but what are the actual mechanics of holding such a referendum?

The calling of a referendum is described in Annex A of the Belfast Agreement text (usually called the Good Friday Agreement). In reality, the Belfast Agreement is two agreements, a multi-party agreement entered into by the local political parties, and, an inter-governmental agreement. Austen Morgan has argued that there is ambivalence in the inter-relationship between the two agreements, since they were even published in different formats by London and Dublin (Richard Humphreys has also considered the Belfast Agreement at length in Countdown to Unity). The inter-governmental agreement has particular status in international law, while the multi-party agreement is more a political contract.

The inter-governmental agreement outlines some of the parameters of a #uniref (see relevant section of Article 1 below).

ARTICLE 1 The two Governments:

(i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;

(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;

Section (ii) states that “it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland”. Firstly this indicates that a concurrent referendum must take place in the south to comply with Article 1.ii. At the same time, the framing of the issue as being “for the people of the island of Ireland alone” would appear to limit the potential involvement of people outside the island of Ireland. Thus, a re-hashing of a #BetterTogether campaign involving unionists from Britain would seem to be precluded by the inter-governmental agreement. Since the agreement architecture actually requires a concurrent plebiscite in the south, the provision here simultaneously creates a parallel discourse around the #uniref in the south while excluding involvement from Britain. What form that non-intervention from Britain would take would require definition and monitoring.

A referendum in the south would have to conform, constitutionally, to Referendum Acts 1992-2001 . This would mean giving equal weight in public debate to both the yes and no propositions. At this remove, the likely components of the No camp in the south aren’t apparent (but there would be an opportunity here for northern pro-union campaigners to share media time equally in the south). However, the tenor and quality of the public debate around the referendum in the south may have some bearing on the capacity of the #uniref Yes camp to attract support from what would be conventionally perceived as the traditional unionist constituency in the north.

The mechanism by which such concurrent polls would be called isn’t included in the inter-governmental agreement. Instead, it is addressed in a section referring to a referendum for this purpose in the multi-party agreement. It states in Annex A:

1.1 It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.

1.2 But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.

Schedule 1 is given below:

  1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.

  2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.

  3. The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1 earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.

  4. (Remaining paragraphs along the lines of paragraphs 2 and 3 of existing Schedule 1 to 1973 Act.)

Thus, under Schedule 2, the power is accorded to the Secretary of State to make an order for a poll to be held. As noted above, for this to be valid and compliant with the inter-governmental agreement, this effectively requires the Irish government to make the necessary provision for a referendum once it is called by the British government. A failure by the Irish government to do so would mean the poll in the north, regardless of its outcome, would not comply with the Belfast Agreement (opening the result to legal challenge). While this outcome is unlikely, it is possible to envisage political and electoral reluctance on the part of, eg, a Fine Gael and Labour government to a #uniref. Given that the holding of a referendum is implied but not explicit in the inter-governmental agreement, it is possible that an Irish government could refuse and still claim to not be in breach of the agreement.

Under Schedule 2, the authority to order a poll is solely invested in the Secretary of State with no defined mechanism other than “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish” for a united Ireland. How this wish would manifest itself is not specified and the term ‘likely’ has no strict legal definition in terms of probability, so this power appears large free for the Secretary of State to exercise at will.

The timeline for calling a poll is determined, in part, by the UK Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2009 which requires a minimum of 42 days and less than six months (from the draft of an order being brought before Parliament). In the Republic of Ireland a minimum of 30 days is required with a maximum of 90 days from the associated draft Bill being brought before the Oireachtas (under the 1994 Referendum Act). Obviously the date of the poll may be announced before the draft order and legislation is brought (a referendum under UK law requires its own legislation, which in turn defines some of the rules and parameters of the poll).

One implication of the timeline is voter registration, but the more obvious one is on the time available for a campaign to be conducted. A snap poll would not allow any meaningful public debate to develop and, in all probability, would take place against a backdrop of street disorder that would not conform to idea of “…consent, freely and concurrently given…” in Article 1 as cited above. As Conor Murphy pointed out in his recent piece on here, Sinn Féin…

“…are not seeking a sectarian headcount but an informed, reasoned and respectful dialogue.”

In that regard, some of the architecture of a public debate would need to be identified in advance to provide at least an opportunity for reasoned, respectful dialogue. [I’m not just saying this to agree with Conor Murphy, there is a positive opportunity for an opening out and engagement over the issue that could benefit relationships across the island, if it was embraced.]

It is also worth noting that a valid referendum question,  again, proofed against legal challenge, would have to be consistent with Section 1.2 above, which appears to give the necessary wording required for a #uniref poll:

“Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”

To conform to the multi-party agreement part of the Belfast Agreement, the actual question for the poll would appear to have to be: “Should Northern Ireland cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland?”. In the inter-governmental agreement, Article 1.i provides an alternative wording as it requires the public to state whether they “prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland”. This could move the proposition away from a Yes/No question to a vote between two propositions, such as (1) Would you prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain, and, (2) Would you prefer a sovereign united Ireland. If Morgan’s analysis is correct and the inter-governmental agreement has more substantial legal standing, the latter form of question, with two propositions, may be adopted. This would remove the idea of Yes and No camps, and create a sense of options or pathways instead. What is also absent is any sense of how long the transition would be if there was a majority expressing a preference for a sovereign united Ireland.

NB: Liam Clarke tweeted the frontpage of todays Belfast Telegraph with an opinion poll claiming a majority now want a border poll and that support for a united Ireland within 20 years at just over 40%.

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  • Morpheus

    Thought provoking analysis John – excellent blog

    I have been saying for 2 years now that the triggers for a border poll were vague at best – probably because they had bigger fish to fry back in the run up to the GFA – but I would’ve thought the SoS would’ve made steps to clear things up and set clear, objective criteria in stone to protect not only both communities but the office she holds.

    That said, asking if there should be a border poll in a BT poll and being confident that border poll would succeed are 2 different things of course. She would be perfectly within her rights as set out by the GFA to completely ignore this BT poll. My gut feeling is that she will.

  • Zeno1

    The really interesting bit is will be when Republicans/Nationalists will jump on this Poll and claim it gives legitimacy to a a Border Referendum after years of telling us they don’t believe polls and they are nonsense.
    It’s gonna be funny.

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont believe the time is right for a poll now, I have said a hundred times before that it cant be won so it seems pointless tbh. I am heartened somewhat to see that 40% of people are open to the prospect of Unity within the next 20 years…something to build on however there appears to be quite a large number of no opinion or dont know out there. It would be naive to believe they would not cast a vote after what we saw with the Scottish ref. It seems as though the debate has well and truly started anyway which is a good thing because it warms people up to the prospect of a poll in the future. It will happen for sure, we just dont know when.

  • Big Yellow Crane

    You could cheer yourself up a bit more Robin by comparing with last years poll. No is down from 62.7% to 59.8% and Yes is up from 5.5% to 7.7%.

    Does “yes in 20 years” mean the same thing to everyone? For people from “the nationalist community” it might be just be a guilt-free way of no. For people from “the unionist community” it might be the guilt free way of saying yes.

    Last year’s poll.


  • mac tire

    Not at all Zeno. Polls, generally, are nonsense. The only poll that counts is the real McCoy. Everyone knows that.

  • Morpheus

    The ‘yes in 20 years’ line is bizarre. What’s wrong with a simple:
    1. For the concept of a UI
    2. Against the concept of a UI
    3. Don’t know

    Considering the YouGov poll had support for Scottish independence at 29% at the start of debates I find it incredulous that they can have a poll which has No at 60% and Yes at 40% at the start of debates and still comes out headlines like “Northern Ireland says ‘yes’ to a border poll… but a firm ‘no’ to united Ireland” and statements like:

    “The first option, for unity as soon as possible, got negligible support of 5.7% or 7.7% if the don’t knows are excluded from the calculation. By comparison Sinn Fein, which is campaigning for a unity referendum, got 25% of the first preference vote and topped the poll in this year’s European election. It is clear that most of its supporters do not support unity as an immediate priority. Unity in 20 years, a more aspirational choice, got 32.5%.”

    How are we supposed to take these polls seriously?

    Saying that, I had a twitter exchange with Liam Clarke over the weekend about another blatantly loaded question in their polls saying that the BT’s balance and objectivity appear to have been thrown out the window to which he reminded me that the Belfast Telegraph “are not the BBC. Newspapers are meant to have positions. But fact based” and that the BT is a “Campaigning newspaper, setting agendas”

    I asked him why Barney Rowan can report the facts without a twist…no reply.


  • Big Yellow Crane

    The editorial headline today is “We have a border. Live with it” but the line seems for a border poll to improve the quality of discussion and/or clear the air.

  • Big Yellow Crane

    Maybe these outstanding issues talks should also be discussing citizens petitions.

  • Bryan Magee

    The view among senior NIO people is that nationalist parties would need to win a simple majority of the seats in the NI Assembly. This is consistent with the legal and historical precedents in the UK system.

  • Zeno1

    You obviously don’t know anything about Polls.

  • Zeno1

    That’s true but it is not in line with the GFA. A majority of MLA’s and only 7% in the Polls saying Yes to United Ireland would be a major problem.

  • Morpheus

    No it’s not. If the SoS thinks that nationalists being the majority of MLA’s gives her confidence that a border poll would succeed then she can call it and be perfectly in line with the GFA. That’s why everyone is talking about the GFA being grey

  • Morpheus

    It was included in David Cameron’s speech after the Scottish referendum:

    “The Scottish National Party was elected in Scotland in 2011 and promised a referendum on independence. We could have blocked that, we could have put it off but just as with other big issues, it was right to take – not duck – the big decision. I am a passionate believer in our United Kingdom – I wanted more than anything for our United Kingdom to stay together. But I am also a democrat. And it was right that we respected the SNP’s majority in Holyrood and gave the Scottish people their right to have their say.

    That is off by quite some way

  • Zeno1

    Yes in 20 years is a soft option question designed to draw out anyone who might be remotely interested in UI.

  • Morpheus

    It splits Yes into 2 camps so the lower number can be used to show miniscule support for a UI while ignoring the rest. It does nothing but muddy the water

  • Big Yellow Crane

    Designed by who? It could just as easily be Augustine’s “Lord make me pure but not yet!”. For older “nationalists” it’s almost “not until I’m gone”.

  • Morpheus

    Seriously, is that the headline??? I haven’t seen it.

    I wonder who they think believes there is no border and who isn’t already living with it?

    Bizarre but I suspect this is part of the ‘appeal to unionists’ then ‘appeal to nationalists’ then ‘appeal to unionists again’, then appeal to nationalists again’ as a way of maximizing sales

  • Zeno1

    Designed by the Polling company with some ad hoc input from Liam Clarke I believe.
    Soft option questions are not unusual.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The reason for Unionist interest in a border poll is that it is the last moment that they can be certain of winning one. In 27 months time there will be a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland and Nationalists will begin to be able to win elections. The Unionist interest is not in the poll but in increasing the number of years that they can delay having another another.

    The conditions necessary for starting the Reunification process are

    1) 2 out of 3 MEPs are Nationalist

    2) The leader of SF becomes 1st Minister.

    3) Nationalists hold the majority of Westminster seats.

  • Big Yellow Crane

    It is. But then there’s bits like “…voters want to have a grown-up debate about constitutional issues…” and “a poll would give people here a chance to think deeply about their identity”.

  • Morpheus

    Westminster seats? Scotland got their referendum based on the number of SNP seats at Holyrood. In NI nationalist holding the majority of seats at stormont is way way off: 108 MLAs: 43 ‘Nationalist’, 9 ‘Other’ and 56 ‘Unionist.

    Plenty of time for everyone to calm down and have a chat about it

  • Big Yellow Crane


    SF seem confident that “in 20 years” is a yes.

  • Mike the First

    “At the same time, the framing of the issue as being “for the people of the island of Ireland alone” would appear to limit the potential involvement of people outside the island of Ireland. Thus, a re-hashing of a #BetterTogether campaign involving unionists from Britain would seem to be precluded by the inter-governmental agreement. ”
    I think that’s a misinterpretation, John.
    It reads to me as saying that it’s the votes of the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of the Republic of Ireland, that would trigger a united Ireland. No-one else would get to vote in the two referenda.
    I don’t think this should be interpreted more widely than this – and how in practical terms would you stop someone from outside NI or ROI campaigning in the (hypothetical) referenda?

  • Morpheus

    Typical BelTel, they had the chance to do something and they chose not to do it right because they are trying to make the news instead of reporting the news. What was wrong with a simple Yes, No, Don’t know?

  • Mike the First

    By the way, I think the precedent of the 1973 border poll points to it not being a question with a Yes/No answer, but rather two options. (as it should have been in Scotland, in my opnion)
    Another point occurs – if there were a parallel referendum in the ROI (which isn’t entirely clear), I don’t think the question could or should be the same as NI’s, i.e. does NI stay in the UK or join a united Ireland. Rather it would have to be something along the lines of accepting Northern Ireland into the existing Irish state (or alternatively, along the lines of accepting moving the ROI into a new state along with NI).

  • Big Yellow Crane

    Yup. An Phoblacht don’t seem worried about sectarianising the debate. They’ve “For” (a poll) in Green and “Against” in Orange in their charts. 🙂

  • John Ó Néill

    I think you need to read all of Article 1.ii rather than just those words, nowhere does it specify that this solely refers to voting. I’m not sure how all that would shake out practically, I was just flagging it up as a reading of the Agreement text. One thing is clear, though, people from the south wouldn’t be excluded from participating since it explicitly says island of Ireland. I’d assume that any groups who become part of official Yes/No campaigns would have to be based on the island of Ireland, maybe finance raised would have to be raised there too. Undoubtedly ways around those, but I’m just pointing out that it is what is written down. Westminster legislation would define poll parameters but would have to be consistent with Article 1.

  • mac tire

    Putting so much faith in them, the same could be said about you. I’ll just stick to heeding the one that matters.

  • Mike the First

    I have done, I think the whole Article even more strongly makes the point that it’s simply talking about casting votes in referenda.

    In the phrase “recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given”, the “consent” is given by means of voting in concurrent referenda, and external impediment essentially means the UK Government won’t prevent these referenda from taking place.
    All’s it’s saying is that it’s for the people of NI, and the people of the ROI, to vote to join in one state, so they’ll be the ones voting in referenda.
    It’s quite some stretch to imagine that this has anything whatsoever to do with anyone being allowed to campaign here. Indeed Unionists would (quite rightly) call foul if a referendum campaign in Northern Ireland were allowed to be influenced from across an international border in the Republic of Ireland, but not by fellow citizens in the rest of the UK.

  • Paddy Reilly

    That actually only requires 6 Nationalist gains, provided they are at the expense of a Unionist, and none of which requires more than 2,000 extra votes. The Stormont system is very accurate, and reflects changes in the population to within a percentage point. The only thing which can thwart it is allowing inequality in constituency size to build up.

  • Mike the First

    By the way, on the wider issue of what the Agreement actually provides for, here’s another possible (repeat, possible) interpretation:

    The Annex A and Schedule 1 quotes you’ve shown refer to a referendum for the people of Northern Ireland – stay in the UK or join a united Ireland.

    The Article 1 quotes refer to something else, “[how] to bring about a united Ireland”. This is a second stage, once the people of NI have said they do want a united Ireland, then there would be concurrent referenda, perhaps on accepting the outline structure or constitution of a new state (or a larger version of the old state).
    Otherwise, what are the people of the ROI voting on?

  • Paddy Reilly

    Though I am actually talking about a Nationalist 1st Minister, which only requires that the Nationalist block be the largest.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nationalists are currently sitting on 38.5% (Euros)/38.7%(councils). That is a 1% drop from the 2011 council elections and nearly a 1.5% drop from the 2005 council elections and is roughly the same level that nationalists had in the 1997 council elections. Nationalists do not appear to be making sustained electoral progress.

    So, given that the nationalist vote is apparently falling, don’t you think it’s a bit optimistic to believe that the nationalist vote will skyrocket by at least 11 percentage points in the space of 27 months ?

    The prospect of nationalists holding more Westminster seats is limited, at present, by the unwillingness of SF and the SDLP to enter into electoral pacts. If they did (and if the electorate responded to it), nationalists might be able to secure seats such as North Belfast and maybe even Upper Bann.

    There is no indication that the British government will agree to a referendum if any of your conditions are true. They have to consider it likely that a referendum will lead to a united Ireland.

  • Comrade Stalin

    No, it requires that a nationalist party is the largest.

    Northern Ireland Act :

    “If at any time the party which is the largest political party of the largest political designation is not the largest political party—

    (a)any nomination to be made at that time under section 16A(4) or 16B(4) shall instead be made by the nominating officer of the largest political party; and

    (b)any nomination to be made at that time under section 16A(5) or 16B(5) shall instead be made by the nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation.”

  • Comrade Stalin

    er, polls don’t have any legitimacy (in law). Whoever claimed they did ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    I assume you are referring to today’s Belfast Telegraph poll, in which case I must ask – who do you think you are kidding by trying to circulate this misinterpretation of what it said; and why do you find it necessary to manipulate the facts ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    if Alliance and the Greens keep gaining seats (which they may or may not do – who knows) it’s going to throw a spanner in those works.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I don’t know where you’re getting the second stage from.

    The determination must be “freely and concurrently given” across the two states in parallel referenda.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Because that could underestimate the support for Irish reunification. There are surely some nationalists who support a united Ireland, but not right now. They’re still nationalists, it’s just that they have more patience.

  • Comrade Stalin

    No it doesn’t.

    Anyone who argues (like Zeno1 did) that the 20 year vote can be ignored is a fool. Both numbers are clearly nationalists and represent sentiment to reunite the two jurisdictions.

  • Paddy Reilly

    It does not need 11 percentage points of growth to make M.McGuinness 1st Minister. It merely needs for Nationalists, not necessarily SF, to win six extra seats from Unionists, which could be done with as little as an extra 10,000 votes, only 2% of the vote.

    I did not say that this will happen within 27 months: I said that at the end of 27 months there will be a Catholic majority. It is then that the changeover will begin to happen. A Catholic majority NI is not going to retain Peter Robinson as its 1st Minister for any appreciable period of time.

    So Stormont from 2017 onwards will begin to look like Belfast Council does now: SF the largest party, Alliance still relevant, but Unionists slipping down less than 40% of the total.

  • Paddy Reilly

    You are, I should also point out, massaging the figures by only quoting the first preference votes. In the Euros it is the last preference that counts.

  • Gaygael

    We are about to become a collection of minorities. That’s what nationalism must argue as the trigger for a border poll.
    Only 55/108 MLAs designate as unionist. Only 9/18 MPs are unionist. The old unionist monolith is shattered. A very bare +50%. With all those designated as ‘other’ apparently agnostic on the union, it seems the unionist majority is about to slip under the tide. This is only likely to decrease in the current election cycle and if things continue as are, will significantly change in the next cycle.
    I know what others are saying re the plateau in the nation isn’t bite, but let’s get it out there,
    Border poll for after the next assembly elections.

  • Jon Hope

    Have to admit, I was really surprised to see support for a UI ‘within 20 years’ at ~40%. Though I can’t help feeling that the same people will be saying ‘aye, but not right now’ in 20 years without anything to change their mind.

    Also surprised by the significant ‘don’t know’ vote, similar to the Scottish polls.

    I’m not as sure as Chris Donnelly that a win isn’t achievable on the first attempt, provided there was a good lead up of 2 years or more and an inclusive, positive, Yes-style campaign with a bit of luck in the form of a convergence of factors in UK politics (another Tory govt, EU referendum). IMO it couldn’t be run only by Sinn Féin or SF/SDLP, it has to bring in Unions, media, personalities. What way would the Greens go in NI?

    Start the ball rolling by knocking Peter Murrell’s door and finding out just how the heck he did what he did.

  • Barneyt

    I agree CS but what will the secretary of state use to gauge the mood in NI with respect to the status within the union? I expect opinion polls will play a role, and effectively become legitimate by implication?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nobody knows for sure but I think the Secretary of State could only go by election results.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It does not need 11 percentage points of growth to make M.McGuinness 1st Minister.

    You said “In 27 months time there will be a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland and Nationalists will begin to be able to win elections”

    I assumed when you said “win elections” that you meant an overall nationalist majority. Which would require an 11% bump.

    A Catholic majority NI is not going to retain Peter Robinson as its 1st Minister for any appreciable period of time.

    NI’s Catholic population is steadily increasing; but the Nationalist share of the vote is steadily decreasing. I don’t see you dealing with that.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m not massaging figures; I’m counting all of the elections in the same way. And surely when you are gauging public opinion, or trying to measure the number of nationalists there are, we should look at their most preferred candidate in the election.

    BTW according to that definition I’m a nationalist, as Alex Attwood (ultimately) got my European vote. I know a handful of pro-union people who are by your definition nationalists too.

  • Alan N/Ards

    My wife and I also voted for Alex Attwood and we are pro-union.

  • Paddy Reilly

    It does not require an 11% bump for Nationalists to win elections. For a start, as I point out, you are only talking about the 1st preferences, and PR elections are won on the final choice.

    Westminster elections are FPTP, so effectively they are won by the biggest party: the Conservatives ruled the U.K. for 15 years, and never got much more than 40% of the vote share, but everyone says they won the election.

    European Elections are PR. In this year’s EU election, the DUP got 20.9% of the vote and UUP 13.3%, both short of the 25% quota, but they both won seats. As there are only 3 seats, and they won 2 of them, then effectively they won the election with 34.2% of the vote.

    Stormont Elections are PR. But the Office of 1st Minister is held by the leader of the biggest party, so it only requires a small growth in the SF vote to allow it to take that office. And that is winning, because it is winning something.

    That is what I mean by beginning to win elections.

  • Barneyt

    The questions posed on both sides of the border do indeed need to be different, for obvious reasons. Britain will indeed try to influence the decision so some degree but I cant imagine they will campaign and perhaps interfere/impede as they did in the Scottish referendum. Whilst they will react and will sit behind the “fear” campaign to influence the wavering “nationalists” (NHS etc..) they can’t roll out the Darlings, Browns and other “natives” as they did in Scotland. I think Westminster will be happy to shore up their island of Britain, which they can still argue is a united kingdom whether or not the element that helps give the UK it’s definition is removed. Whilst Britain wlll be seen to exercise democracy, I cant see them fighting to retain NI as they did Scotland.

  • Barneyt

    Pushing for a border poll does not suggest right now that SF believe they will get a majority. There are significant numbers on the nationalist side that wish to retain the union primarily for economic reasons, and the big dissuader for them is the loss of the NHS. Another 6 years of Tory government will perhaps close the gap between the semi-privatised NHS and the system operated in the ROI and therefore less the risk, but not much I suspect.

    I think the aim is to secure a border poll during the highly emotive year of 2016. Even if it is granted before hand, the border poll will make life uncomfortable for the historical main parties in the south. Their hand will be forced. I cant see how FF can sit behind anything other than a YES campaign. I cant image Fine Gael actively campaigning for reunification, and this would be desirable for those pushing a border poll. It would reopen old wounds and soon the argument south of the border would veer towards the question “Let England keep part of Ireland or take it back?”. I feel there would be a resounding Yes in the republic once the campaign takes its full effect.

    In the north, there are too many impediments, and I don’t mean those alluded to in the GFA, however a repeated border poll in 2023 will produce very different results. If the 2016 border poll emerges and produces an indicative result for change on this island, plans will be made for some level of reunification in 2024.

    Internationally there is a much greater appetite for the reunification of Ireland than there would ever be for Scottish independence from rUK.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The Nationalist share of the vote is steadily decreasing. I don’t see you dealing with that.

    As we have established that by vote, you only mean 1st preference vote in PR elections, I would say this is irrelevant. Alliance is very transfer friendly, which means they are transfer reliant: they can start with only half a preference and go on to win a seat. But I have never heard of them saying, No, take this seat back, we didn’t win it, we don’t want transfers, they aren’t votes.

    The apparent decrease is only the effect of introducing a political system which encourages multiple small parties, because the voter knows he can avoid wasting his vote by the use of transfers. At Westminster constituency level Nationalist representation shows no sign of diminution.

    The effect of a Catholic majority in NI would be akin to the effect of a Catholic majority in Belfast. SF is far and away the largest party, and Nationalist the largest block. Alliance is still there though, holding the balance: Unionists are well represented but on only a third of the vote. The question is then, how large does a Catholic majority need to be before it leads to total Nationalist control? Derry District Council with 75% Catholic population is obviously a lost cause for Unionism and Alliance, and Newry & Mourne on 80% Catholic. Limavady District Council with 56% Catholics is 9 to 6 Nationalist to Unionist, Alliance 0. So 50% + 1 (in Catholics) in January 2017 would be insufficient to establish Nationalist control, merely to preclude Unionist. At an increase rate of 1% every 2 years, it would probably be another 6 years before that could be achieved, unless some means could be found to accelerate the process.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Well done, keep it up! Continue to support the Union, just
    vote ‘yes’ to ‘Should there be a United Ireland’. That’ll fox them.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I searched the thread and failed to find anywhere where I offered a definition of the word ‘Nationalist’. What I said was:

    The conditions necessary for starting the Reunification process are

    1) 2 out of 3 MEPs are Nationalist

    2) The leader of SF becomes 1st Minister.

    3) Nationalists hold the majority of Westminster seats.

    That is to say, we do not start working on reunification until M.McGuinness is 1st Minister, SDLP has a Euro seat, and SF/SDLP between them have 10 seats in Westminster. A combination of all these 3 conditions would probably mean it had some chance of success.

    It is unnecessary though for Nationalists to acquire 50% of the Stormont votes. If they had 45%, Unionists 40%, and Others 15%, we could still proceed on the assumption that the others, being others, would not side overwhelmingly with the Unionists, but rather split between yes, no and abstain.

  • Robin Keogh

    Paddy in two years there will be a catholic majority for sure. However, there will not be a catholic majority in the over 18 voting age group until 2022, eight yrs from now. It will most likely be the middle of the next decade before nationalists have a majority of the seats in stormont. Even then, the age group that has the highest turn out numbers ( over 50s) will still be majority Protestant. Something needs to happen to inspire nationalists to the polls or we are going to have a pretty long wait ;(

  • Bryan Magee

    Paddy Reilly

    A note of caution.

    Your prediction about “27 months” sounded familiar…

    You have spent years writing posts on Slugger predicting impending electoral change. I did a quick Google search which threw up this comment from a Slugger thread on re-partition:

    “My calculations are that the balance of power [in Northern Ireland] will pass to the Alliance party in something like 18 months?.” PaddyReilly July 2006.

    Eight-and-a-quarter years on and your prediction of back then has still not actually come true…….!

  • Paddy Reilly

    Well it has in Belfast!

  • Paddy Reilly

    Logically one would think so, but in my experience data from the population as a whole is just as reliable as that from the over 18s. Notoriously also South Belfast turned SDLP before it became majority Catholic. Why is this? There could be a number of reasons.

    It may be that in our last two years on this earth, we are less punctilious about voting. How do you get an old one to the ballot box if she’s in a coma?

    It could be that there are electoral registers, or indeed censuses, which are slightly out of date, because people have died since they were compiled.

    It could be that there is a class of people who were brought up Protestant but are not Unionist because they are married to, and the parents of Catholics, and have been disowned by their Protestant family. I advanced this as an argument why Unionists win no seats in West Belfast, despite there being more than a quota of Protestants. There would need to be around a thousand of them for this to be the case.

    Then there is the Alliance effect. Take a good look as to what happened to Anna Lo’s transfers in this year’s Euros.

    11,759 went to TUV, DUP and UUP: the Unionist side

    24,675 went to the SDLP: the Nationalist side

    18,912 refused to transfer at all. So there is an average of 1,000 voters per constituency who will not vote for anyone but Alliance. If these are predominantly Protestant, (and it seems to me that 24,675 accounts for all the Catholic vote) then this would give a hidden advantage to Nationalism over Unionism, if we are using religious returns to calculate the outcome.

    But I covered this eventuality by saying Nationalists would begin to win elections. Whether they win or not depends on the nature of the election, the events, the turnout, etc.

  • Paddy Reilly

    In point of fact the calculations were correct, because in the 2009 Euros SF + SDLP won a total of 42.2% of the first preference vote, while Alliance + Green got 8.8%, grand total 51%, the Centre holding the balance, Unionists on 49%.


    However the system: the exact borders of the constituencies, the numbers of MLA per constituency, served to prevent the people’s exact wishes from being implemented in the next Stormont election. And there are only 3 Euro seats: if there were 9 or more the centre would have held the balance.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could someone explain the ‘every seven years’ clause?

    Is it a given that as soon as the first poll is done then that’s that, the door is open every 7 years?

    On that note, I was speaking to a (pro-independence) Scottish chap the other day. He raised an interesting point; In his view an independence poll is so divisive that it should be once a generation otherwise it interferes terribly with the running of things.

    I dunno if that’s a widely shared sentiment in Scotland but it got me thinking about NI and how everything will be thrown by the wayside just to deal with the continually approaching poll. Everything grinds to a halt over flegs and parades never mind a poll like that.

    Will the flags, billboards and propaganda be up forevermore? Shudder….

    But as Tacapall highlighted, maybe this constant snapping at the heels might cause some rethinking for the DUP et al.

  • Comrade Stalin


    What you said was that a Catholic majority would lead to an increase in nationalist votes, and that is what I’m challenging. In effect, you were suggesting a continuing automatic correlation between Catholic and nationalist votes.

    While it would be foolish to deny there is a strong correlation, there are signs that it appears to be breaking down. I don’t think Catholics can be automatically assumed to turn out, or assumed to vote for nationalist parties.

    Since the 1990s, the overall total number of nationalist votes cast has been dropping, and in the most recent electoral cycle we are seeing an ongoing drop in nationalist vote share from the peak of the mid/late 2000s. In the Westminster elections in 1997, for example, there were a total of 317765 votes cast for SDLP and SF. In 2010, a total of 282912 votes were vast for the same parties. So in the space of 13 years, with demographics in their favour, the absolute number of nationalist votes has fallen by just under 35,000. I don’t see the nationalist parties dealing with this.

    Your imagination about what tests might trigger a referendum are interesting, but they don’t make any sense.

    – If/when SF have the First Minister seat, nationalists will probably not be a majority. The seat goes to the biggest party irrespective of designations. This could happen, if (for example) if the DUP lost snatched 10 seats to the other main unionist parties – this is not impossible. So you can’t use this as a referendum trigger.

    – 2 out of 3 MEPs is not a good test either. As I said to you, a lot of Alliance, NI21 and Green transfers went to Attwood. You can’t count these voters as people who would be likely to vote for a UI.

    – nationalists could become a numerical majority without holding the majority of Westminster seats. This is likely as nationalists won’t agree electoral pacts in the way that unionists do.

    Also, your insistence that first preference votes cannot be used to gauge things is missing the point. A person who votes SDLP 1, UUP 2 cannot be considered as a unionist even though his vote may ultimately elect a unionist candidate.

    Remember that the test is that the Secretary of State has to think it likely that a referendum result would be in favour of reuniting Ireland. That means there have to be tests that suggest that this could happen. None of your three tests could lead to that conclusion.

    I think nationalists have to get a 50%+1 share of the vote to trigger a referendum. Even then, this is based on an assumption that every single nationalist voter would support a UI.

  • Comrade Stalin

    As we have established that by vote, you only mean 1st preference vote in PR elections, I would say this is irrelevant.

    Firstly, this is bogus. Someone who votes nationalist #1 and unionist #2 is a nationalist, irrespective of where their vote eventually lands. So if you want to know how many nationalists there are, you count the number of nationalist first preferences. You don’t count the number of nationalist councillors.

    Secondly, if you look at Westminster elections it has been dropping there too. It fell from 43 to 42% between 2005 and 2010, and there was a smaller but still perceptible drop in the assembly elections during the same approximate period, from 41.4% to 41.1%.

    According to the demographics nationalist votes should be steadily climbing. Yet that trend stopped and went into reverse around 2009. Why ?

  • Paddy Reilly

    A person who votes SDLP 1, UUP 2 cannot be considered as a unionist even though his vote may ultimately elect a unionist candidate.

    The identity crisis of a particular voter has no effect on the system or the results. A doctor who kills a patient by misplacing the decimal point in a prescription for insulin will usually escape a murder change, but the patient remains dead.

    In 2007 Joe Boyle came within a whisker of winning the only Nationalist seat in Strangford (missed by 31 votes) with the aid of 423 transfers on the 9th and 10th counts from the UUP.


    At the next Stormont election these transfers were largely withdrawn and the SDLP candidate still didn’t get in.

    Multiple voting is a dangerous venture, and you end up sharpening a stick to beat your own back, if you are not careful. An extreme Unionist votes TUV first, DUP second, then UUP. There may be a tactical benefit in continuing with Alliance and SDLP: this would be a useful tactic in Foyle, where you would effectively be voting against SF. But you have to remember to vote for all your party’s candidates first. This would not be a useful tactic in Strangford, where SF are even less likely to get a seat than the SDLP.

    A person who votes for Ian Parsley, thinking he is voting for Ian Paisley, may think that he is a true-blue Unionist, but his voting is Alliance, or whatever party Parsley is standing for at the minute. Equally your hypothetical SDLP 1 UUP 2 voter might have his reasons: he may live in North Antrim and think he is bolstering moderate Unionism against the TUV, but if his vote leads to the election of a UUP MLA, and that MLA is the last one necessary to create a Unionist government, then probably he will live to regret his oversight. Voters can make mistakes: many Bosnian Muslims voted for Milosevic as President, and a significant number of people who campaigned for the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini were executed by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

  • Robin Keogh

    Turnout is falling amongst nationalist voters for the same reasons it does in other polities, apathy, disillusion etc. Currently the natural nationalist voting block only makes up 42% of of the electorate, both the sdlp and sf seem to land in and around that figure. I think nationalists need an ‘issue’ to mobilise around to bump up the turnout.

  • Paddy Reilly

    As I said to you, a lot of Alliance, NI21 and Green transfers went to Attwood. You can’t count these voters as people who would be likely to vote for a UI.

    And a lot of Alliance, NI21 and Green transfers went to the UUP candidate. If the Attwood transferors won’t vote for a UI, then the Nicholson transferors won’t vote against it.

    So the whole effect of the Alliance party is to remove 44,432 voters from participation in the political process, as least as far as concerns the most important question the pseudo-provincial entity faces. You might as well take 44,432 people and hold them incommunicado in a Lunatic Asylum.

    And it all balances out, doesn’t it? The exact figures for the redistribution of Anna Lo’s 1st prefs is

    11,759 went to TUV, DUP and UUP: the Unionist side

    24,675 went to the SDLP: the Nationalist side

    18,912 refused to transfer at all.

    So if the Nationalist vote is diminishing, so is the Unionist, and it all evens out.

    But for my part I don’t believe this ridiculous story about people voting against a UI because they once gave a first pref to Anna Lo. Even Anna Lo says she would work with a UI. Those who transferred to Attwood will vote Yes in any vote liable to diminish the importance of the border and those who transferred to Nicholson will probably vote No.

    The trouble is you are a politician and you see everything in terms of Alliance. You are so enraptured with your own propaganda that you can’t imagine that anyone who ever votes for you could ever vote in a way not endorsed by you. People vote for Alliance because they think we should all get along together. But having established that we can all get along, there remains the question of whether we should do so in a 32 County Republic or a 6 County statelet. As long as Alliance remains sensibly agnostic it has voters: but if it comes out as favouring one side or another, before a vote has taken place, it will lose a third of them.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Back up a second.

    We are on a thread talking about how or when there will be a referendum. We are discussing how the Secretary of State will make a judgement that there is enough support for a united Ireland to call one.

    Clearly, the easiest heuristic to measure the likely support for a united Ireland is to count the number of first preference votes received by nationalists.

    You seem to think that this heuristic will not work. Why ? Why are you proposing a measure based on the number of elected candidates, when a simple count of the number of first preference votes would be much more accurate ?

  • Comrade Stalin


    The nationalist share of the vote is falling as well as the number of votes overall.

    In 1999, nationalist parties won 45% of the vote at the European elections. In 2014 they won 38.5%. That’s 6.5 percentage points of a drop.

    Just as a reminder. In order to get a united Ireland you need 50% of the vote. If it’s falling from 45% to 38.5% over a period of 15 years, it’s going the wrong way.

  • Robin Keogh

    If u compare the unionist share of the vote and the numbers voting between the same years, u see a steady decline also. The numbers fluctuate on the basis of turnout at any given election. The last election was particularly bad and it remains to be seen if the Unionist surge will continue. In any event, nationialism only really has to come on par with unionism in terms of % share of the vote ( say 45/45 ) in order for the SOS to be able to credibly justify the calling of a poll.we are about ten years away from that possibility at the moment so like it or not we will all have to show just a little more patience

  • Comrade Stalin


    It can’t be the case that everyone’s share of the vote drops. If one party sees a drop, other parties will see a rise.

    The total vote share for parties declaring as Unionist (UUP, DUP, TUV, UKIP, Conservative and NI21) in the 2014 European elections is 52.6%.

    In 1999, the total share was (DUP + UUP + UKUP + PUP) 52.29%.

    So the unionist share has actually increased slightly from 1999 to 2014.

    I may be cheating slightly by including NI21 given that they redesignated 2 days before the poll. But even then, the unionist share is approximately steady compared with a nationalist drop of 6.5 percentage points over the same period.

  • Robin Keogh

    In fairness comrade the Unonist vote has been falling steadily with every election bar the last euros/locals. There was a surge off the back of the fleg protests and general loyalist anger for sure. We will see soon enough if that mobilisation will carry through for more elections. Faha did an excellent analysis of voter turnout at the time and showed that nationalist turnout was very poor. SF/SDLP need to look at ways of getting the vote out. The problem i think is the fact that nationalist majority cohort is very young which traditionally have poor turnout. The older age cohort are heavily Unionist Majority. The Catholic population over age 50 only make up 39% while in the under 30 age group its 51%

  • Comrade Stalin


    What’s happening is that Catholics are increasingly less likely to vote for nationalist parties, and are increasingly more likely to describe themselves as Northern Irish, rather than Irish, on the census. Think of the Rory McIlroys of this world. If that trend continues then the trigger for a united Ireland will never be reached.

    Nationalism needs a better strategy than relying on demographics. Because the evidence is that it won’t deliver a UI.

  • Paddy Reilly

    It is notoriously much harder to get the voters out to vote for a losing candidate than for a winning one. In the days when County Armagh was a constituency and had a 52% Protestant population and 48% Catholic, prevented from expanding by abundant discrimination, the Nationalist turnout was derisory:-


    Unionists used to quote these returns as proof of how happy the Fenians were with the regime. But the moment discrimination was outlawed and the percentages were reversed, the Nationalist vote shot up, took over, and County Armagh had to be abolished and has never been heard of since.

    So, Comrade, remind me again: how many Euro seats have Nationalists lost as a result of their ‘falling vote’?

    How many Westminster seats?

    How many Stormont ones?

    Would the answer be zero in every case?

  • Comrade Stalin


    Is there any particular reason you didn’t mention the councils ? Off the top of my head at least one Sinn Féin councillor lost her seat.

    You’re still missing the point. The nationalist share of the vote is dropping. According to the figures, the number of nationalists is shrinking.

    Stories about the past are irrelevant. And yes, I’m aware that Catholics used to vote for the Unionist parties, and they even canvassed in mixed and majority-Catholic neighbourhoods in the 50s and early 60s.

  • Paddy Reilly

    As your colleague Nicholas Whyte has not yet put up the Council results on his site I have not yet committed them to memory.

    Folk who go knocking at people’s doors often go away with erroneous opinions as to the intentions of the residents: the Jehovah’s Witnesses probably think it only needs one little push and they’ll have converted me.

    Rory McIlroy is a resident of Florida, so his opinions do not count in this neck of the woods. There is no evidence that Catholics ever voted Unionist in significant numbers (i.e. higher than the number of Protestants voting Nationalist.)

    You are still missing the point: the number of Unionists is shrinking by the same amount, according to you. Nicholas Whyte on his site http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/fe14.htm claims that the UUP experienced the ‘worst Euro result ever’. In fact, this was not the result, it was merely the first count, and by the eighth count Nicholson was in, with thousands of Unionist votes yet to be reassigned.

    In fact, if you look at a comparion of the last two Euros, there is absolutely no evidence of shrinkage in any of the Nationalist or Unionist votes:-


    Bairbre De Brún, Sinn Fein – 126,184

    Diane Dodds, DUP – 88,346

    Jim Nicholson, Ulster Conservative and Unionist – 82,893

    Alban Maginness, SDLP – 78,489

    Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice – 66,197


    Martina Anderson (SF) 159,813

    Diane Dodds (DUP) 131,163

    Jim Nicholson (UUP) 83,438

    Alex Attwood (SDLP) 81,594

    Jim Allister (TUV) 75,806

  • Robin Keogh

    Northern irish is not british and thats the key. It tells us that these people are open to persuasion and given the correct circumstances they may indeed vote for a UI if they sense its in their best interest. Gone are the days when 60% og the people were proudly British. Catholics are not voting in similar numbers to protestants because the imperative is not there. However, going forward we dont really know if that might change. For now at least we have to work with what we have which is a settled nationalist community and an anxious Unionist one. Who knows how events might upset that dynamic.

  • Robin Keogh

    Still no sign of republicans jumping on the poll yet?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Some interesting stuff, thanks for doing the legwork on that John.
    Minor point, where you say “the framing of the issue as being ‘for the people of the island of Ireland alone’ would appear to limit the potential involvement of people outside the island of Ireland. Thus, a re-hashing of a #BetterTogether campaign involving unionists from Britain would seem to be precluded by the inter-governmental agreement”

    Well, no. Surely in Scotland too, it was for the people of Scotland alone to decide, but that did not preclude others joining in the campaign. I for one would certainly volunteer to help on any Better Together campaign in Northern Ireland.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It just means 7 years is the minimum gap between referenda. But it could be a bigger gap.
    I agree with your Scottish pal, it’s way too frequent – it should be more like 15-20 years as a minimum, otherwise it feels a bit too like the decision isn’t really respected, like those EU votes where they keep going till they give the ‘right’ answer.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ah, cheers MU.

  • Comrade Stalin


    According to that interpretation at the end, I am a nationalist because I voted #3 behind Lo and Brown for Alex Attwood. Yet I am not a nationalist. Why is this simple detail so difficult for you to understand ?

    [I’m sure Nicholas would be as amused as I am at the notion that we are colleagues. It’s at least 15 years since I last spoke to him, mainly because I’m in Belfast and he works for a diplomatic organization in Belgium (although I think he recently got a new job). And my knowledge of elections is barely rudimentary in comparison to his.

    I know when Alliance are canvassing the party’s records tend to fairly accurately reflect the results in the end. It’s silly to lie to yourself about your own chances.]

  • Comrade Stalin

    Robin, good job. Persuade me of the benefits of a united Ireland. Take your time.

  • Robin Keogh

    We have been here before…so i will decline

  • Comrade Stalin

    So much for that idea.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The figures I give above are for the 1st preference votes, and so your contribution is not part of them. Each of the parties cited shows an increase in their 1st preference vote-

    Martina Anderson (SF) 159,813 up 33,000 since 2009

    Diane Dodds (DUP) 131,163 up 43,000 since 2009

    Jim Nicholson (UUP) 83,438 up 500 since 2009

    Alex Attwood (SDLP) 81,594 up 3,000 since 2009

    Jim Allister (TUV) 75,806 up 9,000 since 2009

    And yet, in your imaginary Alliance-centric universe, the Nationalist vote is falling, despite not losing any seats. No doubt if you a Jehovah’s Witness you would see clear signs of mass conversion and the End of Days.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paddy, sorry, I thought you were still banging on about the outcome of elections following transfers.

    My original comment was that the nationalist share of the vote is falling. For Sinn Féin in European elections, it fell from 25.8 to 25.5%. For the SDLP, it fell from 16.1% to 13.0%.

    The nationalist vote is falling and this is clear to anyone who looks objectively at the statistics.

    I must say I didn’t think you dealt in self-delusion in this way.

  • Paddy Reilly

    It’s a fall, yes, of 3.4% in the first preference vote but it’s not really statistically significant. In 2014 UKIP got 3.9% of the 1st preference vote and NI21 1.7%: neither party stood in 2009. The effect of introducing extra parties into the equation will be to diminish the share of existing parties. It’s not the same election any more.

    When you have an election whose aim and outcome is the winning of seats, the exact percentages are not necessarily relevant. In 2001 Martin McGuinness won 25,667 and 51.1% of the vote in Mid Ulster, and in 2005, 21,641 votes, only 47.6%. It was not that he had become any the less popular, or that Nationalism was in decline: in 2001 Unionists were fielding a Unionist Unity candidate, and had managed to push the turnout up to 82%, the highest in the United Kingdom; in 2005 that was not the case: his supporters didn’t have to work so hard. The final results were: SF wins one seat in Mid Ulster in 2001, and also in 2005: no change.

    Equally SF won one seat in the Euros of 2009, and in 2014: no change.

    Lawyers have a maxim: if the facts are against you, argue the law; if the law is against you, argue the facts. You work on a similar principle: if the number of seats does not support your thesis, argue the number of votes: if the number of votes does not, argue the vote share.

  • Paddy Reilly

    In 27 months time, there will be a Catholic majority in NI. (I apologise for bringing in religious terminology, but these are the only stats which are collected). Catholics vote predominantly for SF, partially, but decreasingly so, for the SDLP: minimally for Alliance and even less for Greens. But when they do vote for Alliance and Greens, they nearly always give their later preferences to the SDLP, and sometimes even SF, diminishing the benefit which All/Greens receive. They never, despite propaganda to the contrary, give their vote to TUV, DUP or UUP in measurable quantities, except perhaps for tactical reasons, though it is possible that this year they may have given over a thousand first preferences to UKIP.

    The effect of having a Catholic majority in NI is so far unknown, but likely to follow established rules. 82% Catholic, or 75% Catholic means Unionists fade into insignificance, and even 56% Catholic, as in Limavady, has brought about overall Nationalist control. But 50% + 1 Catholic is probably insufficient to do this. However, the Catholic population will continue to rise, and six years after the 50% +1 turning point (2022) it will probably be at least 53%, which I think should be sufficient to bring about Nationalist control.

    There are various political systems at work, and it remains to see in which if any of them, the predilection for Alliance of the Catholic rump will cause any damage to the Nationalist cause. In the Euros, because Alliance has so far failed to achieve a place in the top 4, it will not happen: their votes will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians. So no obstacle to Nationalist expansion here.

    In Westminster no winnable seat has been lost to the Nationalist side by Catholic defection to Alliance, though one formerly Unionist seat has fallen to Protestant defection. So obviously Unionism will continue in its unfortunate habit of losing a seat at every election, and Nationalism will reach the magic figure of 9/18 seats.

    At Stormont it is more complicated. There are no Alliance seats West of the Bann. Alliance MLAs from East of the Bann are elected by a coalition of Catholic and Protestant. The only place I can see where Nationalists might feel themselves under-represented as a result of Catholics voting for Alliance are Lagan valley and Strangford. But when you’re a Catholic living in a 80% + Protestant area, you might safer not taking a very Nationalist stance. Equally, it is notoriously the case that the 16% of Protestants in West Belfast fail to elect a Unionist or even Alliance MLA, so swings and roundabouts.

    Local Government provides the biggest grouse, with Belfast City Council still not electing a Nationalist majority council: Alliance holds the balance. But given recent boundary changes I’m not even certain there is a Catholic majority in Belfast, but the general trend is for Protestants to move out and Catholics, and non-voting Eastern Europeans to move in, so a change in the balance will happen before long.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paddy, it doesn’t matter what explanations or excuses you come up with. We are talking about how the Secretary of State will arrive at the conclusion that leads to a border poll. The nationalist vote must be over 50% for there to even be a chance of it. How can nationalists win a referendum if their share of the vote is dropping from 42.2% to 38.5% in the space of five years ?

    You are also picking the examples, such as Martin McGuinness, that prove your point. Look at seats such as Fermanagh South Tyrone (an extreme example). There are more nationalists than unionists in that seat by a country mile; yet Michelle nearly lost the seat but for 5 poxy votes. There are other obvious distortions in Westminster; the DUP on 25.5% of the vote have eight seats, whereas Sinn Féin with 25.0% of the vote have only five – and but for 5 votes they would have had only four. You can’t say that SF are half as popular as the DUP because they only have half the seats.

    Here’s my thesis, on your latest post (which I do not substantially disagree with). There are quite a few Catholics don’t want a united Ireland either badly or soon. They’re happy enough to be part of the union as long as they perceive that it is run fairly – which right now, they pretty much do. In the meantime they – especially in the middle class – realize that they have to fix Northern Ireland and are lending votes to Alliance, the Greens and NI21 to this end. By doing so they are making a referendum less likely. That is the subject we are debating in this thread.

  • cu chulainn

    One thing that is unclear is what preparation is made for a border poll to clarify the type of practical issues that loomed large in Scotland. Having a poll without this detail is both pointless and dangerous, as it creates a vacuum for all sorts of nonsense to thrive. The actual timescale of a poll will mean that present economic turbulence in the Republic will only be a memory and the profligate spending in NI will have had to be moderated somewhat owing to changes in the UK. Renewed prosperity south of the border might make the put the issue
    on the table in the way it hasn’t been in the last couple of years, yet it is hard to see the sums adding up, making things a bit tricky.