Why is Unionism more popular with Unionists than Nationalism is with Nationalists?

On the SluggerReport this morning I picked up on a theme raised by Malachi O’Doherty on the Guardian yesterday, and asked why does nationalism seem to be less popular amongst nationalism than Unionism is amongst unionists.

In an attempt to take a long view towards the end, I offer three key points:

  • NI arose out of protest: Unionism originates in the 1880s as a response to the transformation of the land league movement into a home rule movement. It’s the longest running mainstream political campaign movement in these islands, far out stripping the Home Rule movement. It still possesses a fire in part because people still insist on throwing more logs on it.
  • Possession is 9/10 of the law: Unionism is more popular amongst unionists than nationalism is amongst nationalists. Years of Life and Times Surveys tells us this. After the 2011 election, one ESRC project found that 81% of unionists who voted and 18% of nationalists/republicans chose a candidate on the basis of their constitutional position.
  • We live in an era of dissociation: Brexit, IndyRef and even the dispersal of sentiment amongst a plethora of small parties and the rise of rural independents in the Republic are all signs that people are for breaking up what’s already there, rather than for putting divergent bodies together again. Putting two parts of the island together faces an intense plausibility test.