Sinn Fein’s policy document has had what many must have thought was an unusually fair wind from our resident bloggers. Not that I’m trying to undercut any of those critiques, but for realism’s sake it’s worth noting this important caveat from Alex Kane:
What they don’t acknowledge is that Irish unity kills off unionism as both a political and electoral force, because their country (Northern Ireland) and the constitutional identity and basis of their citizenship (the Union) would disappear.
And when it disappears the whole process – which would be lengthy, unpleasant and muddied – of building an entirely new state begins.
Sinn Fein hate partition, but it didn’t kill off republicanism. They don’t, if truth be known, like the present political/constitutional arrangements at Stormont, but those arrangements didn’t kill off republicanism.
They have the guarantee of a border poll to help them get rid of Northern Ireland; and that guarantee underpins their republican ideology and electoral purpose.
But a united Ireland means the death of unionism: and no amount of pretending that their ‘unique identity’ and ‘British citizenship’ would be recognised and guaranteed amounts to a hill of beans.
Unionism cannot exist within a united Ireland. Unionists believe in the United Kingdom and once removed from that United Kingdom their unionism has gone.
And since I’m pretty sure that what was Northern Ireland wouldn’t be ring-fenced and offered border polls every decade or so, then it follows that Irish unity and unionism cannot co-exist.
Now, to be scrupulously fair to SF, they are not the only ones who think unionists are quite as stupid as they believe them to be. A twin credo for majority nationalist opinion has been that unionists are responsible for everything bad and are stupider/less ambitious than nationalists.
Very likely Alex is overstating the difficulties nationalists face in persuading unionists that their long-term future lies in a new single state Ireland. But he is surely correct in arguing that they certainly won’t be bought off by the offer of cheap British-lite trinkets?
Nationalism in Northern Ireland is a victim of its own mend and make do tactical approach to pursuing it’s long term aims in a state all have assented to, but many cannot even bring themselves to utter the name of.
Eilis O’Hanlon’s wise advice at the weekend was shot down in a hail of man playing references to here and injurious contrasts with her late sister’s Republicanism. Amongst all the intentional barbs she’s actually advocating a strategic approach to the matter of unification.
One concrete proposal on economic growth would be worth a hundred policy documents about who gets what after Irish reunification.
Reversing the process of colonisation is neither practical nor good politics. Working with the grain of history (and human nature) is more likely to yield tangible results.
You don’t have to agree with the radical premise of Kevin Meagher’s A United Ireland: Why Unification Is Inevitable and How It Will Come About thesis, to accept the logic of its pragmatic realism:
As memories of the troubled Irish twentieth century fade, so too should Unionism’s siege mentality. It simply has no justification in the twenty-first century.
The Ireland they feared being appended to and the Ireland than northern Nationalists hope to see are illusory in both instances.
Bluntly, unity won’t be as great as Nationalists think or as bad as Unionists assume. Neither should this be seen as victory or defeat. The more rational this discussion becomes, the more a single state becomes as the only long term solution.
Unionists aren’t stupid, or irrational. For the most part, and for good or ill, they’re the ones making all the running in Northern Ireland, Westminster and even Brussels, which they look to have successfully shut down as a political centre for Northern Ireland.
It re-emphasises the dynamic nature of politics and the fact that in Northern Ireland particularly that nothing stays still forever.
Nationalists will get over this shock. When they do they must figure what to do to replace an enabling (EU) superstructure that they did too little with to demonstrate the local utility of, and (importantly) to it in such a way that does not continue to alienate would-be converts to their cause.
They can learn much from the past, and not just the mistakes. John Hume enthused many non-traditional voters with his European vision in the EP elections of 1979. But far too little of that promise translated into party wide values or action.
They might start by according their currently more agile political opponents with a great deal more than the sense they were born with. Any putative single state will and can only be crafted out of a broad consensus of the NI population.
Majoritarian take over always was, and remains, a foolhardy and dangerous fantasy.
In 2003, we posited the following thought experiment:
…the strange mathematics of a parity referendum renders traditional allegiances irrelevant. What will be decisive will be those who, for whatever reason, choose not to pass through their ‘home’ lobby. In theory, only one defection would be needed to swing the vote; one Protestant voting for a united Ireland, one Catholic voting for the status quo.
In practice, apathy could be just as important as apostasy; the absent and swing voter both up for grabs. Voters would judge the Union on how successfully it performs against possible alternatives. They would be swayed by the relative performance of leaders associated with the unionist and nationalist causes.
The attractiveness of Great Britain and the Republic as partners would also be compared. In the privacy of the voting booth, a number of questions would come into play but, as in peacetime elections across the world, ‘what’s in it for me and my family?’ would probably be dominant. And on the sofa at home, when deciding whether to go out and vote, something even more basic: ‘do I really care?’
It’s still relevant. Only this time, it is Irish Republicanism that desperately needs to play catch-up.