Survey the panorama of this island from 30,000 feet and it looks completely joined together – but so does North and South Korea, India and Pakistan and dozens of other countries around the globe where separation goes well beyond geographical attachment. Nor can talk of a united Ireland be about a collective desire and shared outlook – unionists in Northern Ireland do not choose to live in a united Ireland. So, the argument is based solely on “majority rule”, the use of which was once disparaged by nationalists yet now wholeheartedly appropriated by them.
Yet even based on this premiss, there is no inevitability of a united Ireland. On the political spectrum, as established by recent election outcomes, there are two large blocks representing unionism and nationalism but also a sizable “Third Block” of voters – defined as “others” who presently inhabit a realm of constitutional neutrality or non-disclosure and whose choice in a referendum will be significant. But hold on, there is also a substantial “Fourth Block” – those who don’t bother to vote in representative elections but who are much more likely to visit a polling station when their vote could influence the most fundamental issues of nationality and more.
If the unionist defeatists who throw their arms in the air and wail “woe is me, we are undone” were instead to put their weight and effort into convincing the Third and Fourth Blocks that the union is worth maintaining, the prospects for the future would be even more sound. Maybe there is a lesson for all unionists to learn – defeat will first originate in your head. Give into the republican narrative (given unwarranted and excessive coverage by the media) that the flow towards a united Ireland is irretrievable, and unstoppable, and you lose the fire and fervour to arrest the trend. I am not interested in exploring the finer detail of “a new Ireland” – whatever that is attempting to convey, if not a cuddlier label for the same old green United Ireland within which unionist interests will be trampled on – no matter what assurances dialogue may produce - we have seen how unionists have been treated in our present situation by those in authority who are prepared to break binding, publicly delivered, promises and even the law to appease republicans.
Today a clear majority of voters would vote to remain within the United Kingdom, but the challenge is to plunder the ranks of the Third and Fourth Blocks and grow support for what, after all, is the thinking person’s obvious choice. So, what are the pivotal factors for those two Blocks that will motivate support for upholding our constitutional status? For those in the Third Block, I believe, there will be two vital boxes to tick. Firstly, most in this segment of the voter base want politics to work. They want to see local parties taking decisions and they want accountable government rather than the present remote and unresponsive quasi-dictatorship or the petty bickering over battles long lost or won. Secondly, they want economic stability and only look to live their lives with their friends and families in peace and harmony.
In the Fourth Block there are many disillusioned voters who stay away from the polls on election day because they are not sufficiently inspired or enthralled into making the journey. There are probably as many reasons for this as there are abstainers. Some will be lazy, couldn’t be bothered - the world owes me a living - types, but many others have lost confidence in the political process and in politicians. Still others will share the generality of the hopes of the Third Block, but regardless, the clear majority in the Fourth Block are from unionist backgrounds and live in unionist areas. Often unionist housing estates are polling at half the turnout of nationalist housing estates. A poll determining their identity and nationality is likely to power up the jump-leads and send them full throttle to the polling booths.
One last message to unionists. Do not fear a working relationship with the Republic. Not only can it be mutually beneficial, but it creates and acknowledges a friendly good-neighbour relationship that lessens or removes, for some in the moderate ground within nationalism and in the Third Block, the impetus of embarking on the dangerous journey of major constitutional change with its many known and unknown repercussions.
To borrow a colloquialism, if I am still permitted to use it in this alarmingly woke world, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. In terms of the Union, the end is not nigh. A united Ireland is not inevitable.