One thing to understand about Northern Ireland is that we don’t do really polls, we still mostly do elections. As far as the constant feedback loop, it’s the land that time forgot. There are so few outlets who can afford real out in the field polling that it rarely happens.
Tonight, yet again, the BBC stepped into the breach and tested the climate in the post-Brexit era regarding the business of having a Border Poll. So let’s get to the main theme first, Brexit appears to have had no significant (-2% is below the margin of error) change…
That’s not to say there is no change. But it is pretty clear that: 1, we remain a very long way from the point at which there’s any justification for a border poll within Northern Ireland; and 2, that amongst some sections of the community there is a mildly growing appetite for some form of unification.
Some of those who said they wouldn’t over back in the Spotlight poll in 2013 seem to have accepted that the only way to effect such change is to get out and vote. In that regard, there may be a positive story, but the prospect for northern Irish republicans and nationalists remains as grim as before.
It may be as David Ford said this evening that what we’re seeing is a short-term emotional reaction to the Brexit poll. He further argued that what’s needed is some material attention to making Northern Ireland work. Clare Hannah though is probably closer to the mark “we have seen what happens when you ask a raw binary question driven by base nationalism”
I’d raise two issues. One is that there is little doubt many Catholics look upon the EU in more charged terms than their Protestant as a supra-national bond between the two parts of the island. The fact that it may not have materially functioned in that way matters less than the feeling it imparts.
The other is the way the rise in pro-unification sentiment amongst Catholics does not seem have affected overall sentiment in the degree you might expect from a polity in which the numerical equalisation of the two communal blocs might have led us to expect.
Much post-Brexit rhetoric was massively overcooked, particularly on the Remain side, which seemed massively unprepared for the outcome (I know I was). In some the emotional change has been extreme but, in the broader population, the link between one and the other has been barely felt.
Christopher Stalford is quite correct to point to the often extreme emotional reaction on the part of some Remainers (writing as one myself) being out of kilter with the public mood on the doorsteps.
I suspect that the unification question suffers from serial misframing. It’s long been a mainstream Scotland figures that are most revealing of a widespread conceit in suggesting that if Scotland were to leave it would inevitably lead to the end of the UK.
For the most part, in advance of your actual Scoxit, doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference…
The link is not illusory. But in NI, where the lead Nationalist party thought as little as 22 years ago that war-war was better than jaw-jaw. That’s been supplanted by a certainty that demography would do the job incumbent on politicians to rebuild a material bridge between north and south.
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