More people in Northern Ireland identify as ‘neither’, than as unionist or nationalist. I did a double take when I read this in Katy Hayward’s Guardian piece yesterday. It doesn’t feel like it right now. It couldn’t possibly be true?
Here are the latest figures.
This isn’t reflected in the way we vote though. So, does this mean the neithers are secretly at loggerheads? Probably not. In Katy’s words,
“The electoral dominance of Sinn Féin and the DUP is not an expression of passion for hardline nationalism and unionism – it is a consequence of moderate voters’ fear of what hardline nationalism and unionism would mean for the fragile stability of this place. So centre-ground voters end up gaming the system and voting for the party best placed to block the hardline position that they most fear. And as they do, the complexity, the messiness, the nuances of Northern Ireland is wiped over by the simple narrative of distrust and division and blame.”
As we navigate our way through this mess, which surely we will, it’s worth remembering that there is more to us than a simple binary. Most of our entangled lives make a mockery of it on a daily basis. Nowt wrong with being a unionist or a nationalist. It’s just that we usually forget about the huge swell of people in between. Maybe one day our politics will reflect this. Until such a time, I’m going to pin this graph to my bathroom mirror to remind myself that things are rarely as stark as they seem.
Claire Mitchell is a freelance writer, and community editor at Slugger O’Toole. Formerly senior lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a member of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but all views are her own. More at www.clairemitchell.net