United Ireland remains a popular aspiration in the Republic, but one for which a majority don’t want to pay…

Interesting poll came out at the weekend which gives a different picture of the sentiment in favour of a United Ireland in both the north and the south. Now it is my view that polls only tell us what we think we already know, and I believe we need something far more adventurous than numbers.

However, this one by Kantar is a useful for a better understanding of where we might actually be in relation to constitutional change on the island than the ‘gold standard’ surveys (which give low figures for change) and the LucidTalk polls using an online panel approach that have consistently delivered very close figures and low levels of don’t knows.

The high pro UI sentiment (nearly 70%) fits with traditional beliefs and attitudes in the Republic. Few are against it, but the way a UI has been represented in the south for most of the last 100 years has been pretty much the same as “motherhood and apple pie”. If you’re against (just 16% are) then you’d be considered heartless or deficient in national sentiment.

The figures in Northern Ireland put support at 35% is probably just about where we are. It fits well both with the 44% firmly in favour of NI in UK and 21% who don’t know.  Consider that my old stomping ground, North Down is the second most Protestant in NI but now has an Alliance MP.

But that’s not the only thing it chimes with. The middle is where the growth point is in Northern Ireland these days (as the DUP may find to its own cost), something the SDLP is (albeit belatedly) recognising. Alliance are taking votes directly off Sinn Féin and the DUP, whilst the 3% SDLP bounce in 2019 compares favourably with a SF drop of 7%.

The southern economic refusers (54%) in the poll are responding honestly to the fact that there is no credible business plan for a UI. After 100 years of economic and social divergence, the gaps are quite large and probably to the impatient soldierly mind of the Provisionals, unfathomable, so they tend to ignore it or get some market fundamentalist economist to pretend Ireland is already a Northern Singapore: see Pete Baker’s marvellous detective work here on a paper than could be the inspiration of John Doyle’s paper on financing re-unification.

Watch the census results for this year. If the growth between 2001 and 2011 holds, neither Catholic or Protestant will hit 20% (this is where a lot, but not all, the DKs likely are). This growth was missed by most commentators both in the north and south last time. But how else to explain a less than one per cent growth in Catholics in 2011 when Catholic schools are full to bursting? People are reading the data they believe rather than that which actually matters.

I think that’s because the social media platforms we all spend too much time on subverts what’s important and replaces it with increasing urgent trivia, in effect flipping Miyamoto Musashi’s advice that ‘In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things’. Whether it is building the right context for unification or a long and happy life for all (see Gregory Campbell’s ‘three minorities’) within the UK, all parties need to find a way to detach from the fantasyland that is twitter.

The irony is that the world is going to break out into new ways to handle old problems. The bridge to Scotland is not as daft or as impossible as it sounds for instance. But it takes discipline and planning as well as that all important vision to build a new Ireland.

Most important in a world of material abundance we need to take cues and clues from each other to figure out how to optimise for the widest number of people. Whoever plays that game well, will help to develop a win win win disposition over time.


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