Several years ago, I remember chatting with a young Scottish Tory friend, who had spent some time working in sub Sahara Africa about the endless chaos of the Northern Irish Peace Process™️.
At the time, she cited Zambia as a case where elected politicians in new democrats sometime prefer, by far, to debate new constitutional arrangements and how they might be set, than doing any representing.
So the vacuum at Stormont has created the perfect opportunity for some to obsess on the possibility of replacing Stormont with a border poll. It comes with the routine “the DUP can’t be trusted” line.
Creating and maintaining a vacuum doesn’t necessarily win political capital. The lead article in today’s Irish Independent excoriates SF for its failures to defend the Irish national interest on Brexit.
The negative focus on the DUP (which almost every Irish commentator is convinced will end in failure) ignores the fact its objections to the backstop align with objections in British constitutional convention.
In that one narrow degree they enjoy cross party support at Westminster. Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster, if not household names are the only recognised political figures from NI in Britain.
As for unity, Eilis O’Hanlon makes several telling points in her piece in the Sindo yesterday, not least how the large proportion of non voters amongst the Protestant population who are likely to kill it off.
It’s not simply SF who’ve been losing long term perspective on the matter of unity (which is dealt with supremely clearly in Article Three of the Irish Constition). Eoghan Harris wrote this yesterday:
Back in 2016, Arlene Foster was adamant about wanting a soft border. But instead of the Taoiseach trying for a local political solution within the island, he repeatedly alienated unionists of all persuasions, refusing to accept they had rational fears based on facts.
Thanks to his green rhetoric and the support of an equally green media, by now 99pc of the Irish people think the DUP is a party of dumb dinosaurs who don’t know what’s good for us is naturally good for them.
We should beware of wondering why others don’t want the things we think they should want – and this also applies to choosing Christmas presents.
That last is particularly relevant. Right now, the only thing that ties committed nationalists and unconstitutionally minded liberal middle is a mutual loathing of the DUP.
Ironically, it is SF’s own public pronouncements on the politics of the south that is likely to provide prime material for the anti unity side. NHS to the Irish National debt burden.
Nation building requires a broadening of the national interest. As Newton Emerson observed in the Irish Times last Thursday, what’s going on at the moment is a narrowing:
Without evidence to the contrary, Sinn Féin’s Border poll demand must be taken for what it looks like: a back-to-basics campaigning and recruiting tool, a chance to regroup after the disappointing presidential election, a return to the “permanent crisis” mode of republican agitation and at best a slightly desperate roll of the dice.
Or, as Harris puts it..
…maybe some nationalists are thinking things they would like unionists maybe some naff nationalists are thinking things they would like unionists to think, as we regress back to the dark days when deep down we knew what was best for unionists.
In not having a democracy perhaps some are figuring a UI can be got by ignoring unionists, when in fact John Hume’s vision (that led to the signing of the Belfast Agreement) was based on the opposite premise.
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