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Following On From Brexit Is It Now Time For UnityRef?

There is more than a little irony for Scotland in the negative outcome of the United Kingdom’s plebiscite on its continued membership of the European Union. One of the threats made against Scottish voters in the independence referendum of 2014 was the warning from British unionists that the Scots would find their membership of the EU stripped away if they favoured separation from the UK. Along with uncertainty over economic viability and the country’s future currency, the withdrawal of European citizenship and representation certainly played an important part in the substantial “No” result of that year. Yet here we are, two years later, and the people of Scotland have had the very thing they were threatened with imposed on them by the voting population of Greater England (that is, the non-metropolitan English and their off-shoots across the island of Britain). It is a quite extraordinary result and will surely trigger an intense debate over greater autonomy for Edinburgh – or outright independence – in the coming months and years.

As for Wales, and its own significant “Leave” result, one must wonder how much did “ex-patriot” English voters effect the outcome? Undoubtedly a substantial number of the Welsh-born electorate supported an exit from the European Union but that number may well have been taken into majority territory through the votes of English-born residents in the country. As for the north-east of Ireland, where the nationalist community and a not insignificant minority of the unionist population opted for “Remain”, it finds itself on the same sinking ship as Scotland (and subject to much the same gloating from representatives of unreformed British nationalism). The inhabitants of the region may be soon robbed of their EU citizenship, with fatal consequences for the Belfast Agreement of 1998, the growing all-Ireland economy and society, and above all, the Irish nationality of nearly half the population of the Six Counties.

The dark yellow represents the “Remain” vote, its position on the map roughly corresponding to those areas supporting the Irish nationalist parties of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and PBP in the north-east of Ireland, and the Scottish nationalist party of the SNP (and others) in Scotland

Will Britain seek to reimpose the “border” between the north-east of Ireland and the rest of our island nation? What passes as a theoretically international boundary line has been successfully reduced to little more than a change of road markings and traffic signs. For most Irish people the differences between “north” and “south” have ceased to exist in any meaningful way. If it weren’t for the currency, the different police uniforms, and the odd tattered union jack hanging from a lamp-post, a visitor to “the north” could be as much in Dublin or Cork as Belfast or Derry. A “soft border” has led to a sort of “soft reunification”. To replace both with a series of “approved” cross-border roads and bridges, of customs inspectors guarded by heavily armed paramilitary police and soldiers, to redeploy the army of occupation, would inevitably lead to renewed conflict.

I’m old enough to remember the British Army engineers, backed by dozens of troops in armoured personnel carriers and helicopter gunships, “cratering” countless roads and tracks used by the communities of the Irish province of Ulster, from the counties of Donegal to Monaghan. I’m old enough to remember the fighting on hedge-lined roads, the local people confronting the UK state, attempting to block the military bulldozers, the sappers with their glorified landmines, the soldiers with their batons and plastic-bullet guns. Back then there was no one to witness the miniature battles but the people themselves and the omnipresent police and army photographers. No journalists, no television news crews, no satellite-vans to report on the bloody, oppressive events. However, we now live in the age of smartphones and cheap digital cameras. We have Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Periscope. The British soldiers blowing up a “cross-border bridge”, the men, women and children trying to stop them, the council workers from north and south waiting to undo the damage done, would be live streamed to the world. An electronic Intifada from Ireland.

2016 is not 1976 or 1986 or 1996. If Britain wishes to provide a legitimate casus belli for a would-be Irish resistance, seeking to make visible an invisible border would be one way of doing it. As things stand, short of an understanding between Britain and Ireland, and the European Union, effectively excluding the Six Counties from the more parlous effects of Greater England’s hegemonic decision to turn its back on its neighbours in Europe, the demand for a reunification plebiscite on this island must surely take priority. Following #EUref it may well be time for #UnityRef.


40 comments on “Following On From Brexit Is It Now Time For UnityRef?

  1. I think the effects of leaving the EU will have to be felt first before a border poll.
    For example Some farmers get 90% of their income from EU grants.
    How will these and their communties be affected.
    Interesting times indeed.
    I wonder how many of those unionists who voted leave will live to regret it.. Only to vote yes to Irish Unity for the main reason of getting back into the EU.

    One final point ; in the wee 6 many pro Eu voters didn’t bother to vote.
    And why should they ? when they know their votes are minnows in the larger picture.
    Ergo. there are many more Pro Europeans in the Wee 6 in percentage terms.
    Ofc most live West of The Bann.

    • Yes, the “Remain” majority should have been higher in the north-east. I suspect there were a number of reasons for it being lower than expected, not least voter complacency. There may have also been some tactical voting by nationalists. Vote “leave” to trigger a reunification referendum. When we get the full stats it will make for some interesting reading. However the geographical spread was obvious. If repartition was to take place one can already see the lay of the new border.

      • john cronin

        Yeah, but as the Sionnach keeps on ignoring: The Republic doesn’t want the bloody place. Outside the border area, I detect little appetite for a united island of Ireland: apart from anything else the south is too broke to take on the welfare and pension bills. few people in Cork or limerick have ever been to Norn Iron, and take little interest in the place: gen consensus of opinion is that they’re all a bunch of lunatics and thank Christ it’s the Brits who have to deal with them and not us.

        • It would be funny if after all those decades of bloodshed there finally is a reunification referendum the South says “we don’t want you lol” 😀

  2. My first thought was that it would take quite some time of economic deprivation before the possibility of a border poll; that may still be the case. However, it’s important that you’ve noted in an age of social media ‘the powers that be’ cannot act with the same impunity that they did in ages past. You would think everyone would be painfully cognizant of that fact, but I’m not so sure.

    • Indeed, neither am I. A video of British military engineers driving an armoured bulldozer at nationalist protesters on the Tyorne/Monaghan border going viral on YouTube would undo twenty years of peace in an instant.

  3. Lord of Mirkwood

    I’ve been hoping for Brexit for these very reasons. There is going to be some shake-up in Northern Ireland, I have a feeling, although just what form it will take no one can be sure. Scotland will be next for freedom.

    • Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP has clearly taken the British media by surprise by jumping straight to a demand for a new referendum on Scottish independence. That said, I was shocked to see some Labour and Tory folk agreeing with her!

      • She might have taken the media down south by surprise but not up here. She consistently, and rightly, refused to rule the possibility of indyref2 during the recent Scottish Parliament elections despite the obsessive questioning she got from the Tories.

        One of the most powerful arguments last time around was the Better Together campaign’s insistence that Scotland would be out of the EU and on the margins if we voted for independence. That argument is now dead and some people I’ve talked to are already reconsidering their No vote last time around.

        • Yep, that disconnect between London and Edinburgh hasn’t changed despite some in the metropolitan press recognising their failure in the reporting of Scottish affairs. Most have yet to learn the lesson of the 2014 referendum. Hence Sky News, the BBC and ITN expressing surprise at Sturgeon kicking straight into plebiscite mode. I have to say, the early attempts by people from the British Labour Party to blame the SNP for loosing the EU referendum was hilarious. It was the UK general election all over again. Do Scots see how far apart their perception of things are with those in England? That for the many in England and London the country of Scotland is like a map with a blank space reading “Here be Dragons”.

          • Difficult to say, I think we’ve always been pretty conscious and proud of our very different outlook, philosophy, dare I say character (I’m unsure of the best definition!) but perhaps without realising how deep and important our perceptions now are or have become. In terms of general English ignorance of all things Scottish, we’ve always been vaguely aware and at times even amused by it. But speaking personally, my 18 months living in London which coincided with the 2010 general election was what brought home to me just how bad the disconnect is.

            As for the blame, we (in Scotland anyway) know where that lies. Fear of the “Scottish tail wagging the English Dog” was the principal reason for the last minute English surge towards the Tories at the last general election.

            • I heard that last night from the “Leave” camp, the outrage at the idea of the Scotland vote “forcing” Britain to stay in the EU. However when it flipped around at 3am I didn’t hear the UKIPs worrying about forcing the Scots to leave the EU through the England vote.

      • Lord of Mirkwood

        Love it!

      • i wasn’t – spoke to an English university professor today – he was scundered at the Leave vote but said he “hoped it was an opportunity to get rid of the deadweight of NI and scotland if it came to that . They just cost us money we can no longer afford! And Ni should be the first to go!!!”

        • john maciain

          apparently the english university professor was unaware of the scottish oil royalites having kept the uk budgets out of defict since thatcher. no sovereign wealth fund for scotland or the uk. norway has a swf near a trillion dollars, because they were responsible in saving the royalities from this non renewable resource. imagine what a cost scotland has been!! if scotland had been independent since the 1970 referendum they would be richer than norway now, instead they subsidized thatcher’s tax cuts for the wealthiest brits.

      • Ms Sturgeon said “it was her responsibility to protect the country’s interests in Europe and she was determined to do so”
        “It would not be right to rush to judgment without discussions on how Scotland’s result will be responded to by the EU”.

        Will Enda or our President ever say the same or ask how NI result will be responded to by the EU?

  4. marmaduc

    My punt would be to wait for Scotland to move on independence, and if successful, then Northern Ireland. Unionists with strong Scottish sympathies may well choose to emulate their brethren.

    • An out vote from Scotland would certainly make the vote in the north-east of Ireland a lot easier to carry. I think it would be more from unionist shock/dismay at the Scots leaving the so-called “union”.

  5. Deeply important questions ASF. I think marmaduc’s point is very persuasive, that a Scottish exit from the UK would have a hugely exemplary effect.

    I wonder if they’ll go for the other option, i.e. a sort of ‘border’ around the island whereby the ‘soft’ border remains but travel between Ireland and Britain is more heavily policed? Unionism won’t like that. Problem is that this is the Tories in charge and they’re not known for their adeptness and sensitivity, and if it’s been bad under Cameron what is it going to be like under any of his likely successors?

    • I’m not sure how they’ll do the international controls, though I think an “Irish Sea Border” makes sense, in both political and military terms. It’s the least worse option for those in power in both capitals. Unionists may hate it, may protest it along the lines of the flag controversy, but in terms of the island, unionists are in the political and demographic (and even geographic) minority. No one wants to hand the “Dissidents” an excuse for war. A “Bloody Sunday” scenario on some disputed border-crossing, even in minuscule, would be a disaster.

      It has been claimed that Boris Johnson has a better feel for this than most. I suspect that might be fanciful or optimistic thinking on the part of some commentators. Theresa Villiers certainly displayed no such understanding during the referendum debate, nor did any of her colleagues (as for Farage…). If the Tories go down the hard border route here in Ireland there will be bloodshed. It’s as simple as that. People will die and for no good reason.

      On a reunification plebiscite, yep, a successful OUT vote by Scotland would certainly knock the confidence of a unionist campaign here. In the circumstances of a maximised nationalist vote, hitting say 45%, we’re only talking 5.1% in the difference between YES and NO. Wavering unionists and undecideds, concerned over the loss of the EU, subsidies, the single market, free travel, etc. might be just enough to bring it over the line. However, expect to hear the term “repartition” if that comes to pass. And not just from homegrown unionists.

  6. That would be my impression too. In the border poll of 1973 a 58.6% turnout yielded a 98.9% pro-union vote. But that was with a complete nationalist boycott. The demographics have changed substantially since then. We saw that in the GFA referendum of 1998. Nationalists may be opting out of assembly/parliamentary elections at the moment but a reunification poll would certainly be different. A maximised nationalist vote (43-45%) would only need an extra 6-8% to tip it over into victory. What would that be in terms of a percentage of unionist voters?

    • Fascinating. It really is close in those circumstances, tantalisingly close, but yet perhaps still too far. However a close loss, 48% YES to 52% No, would be enough to argue for reworking the GFA or replacing it with something more substantial. It would not be the same as the EU vote in the UK and the outcome could not be treated the same. If Nationalists won by 52% it would require hefty compromises too.

  7. Very good questions. My gut says “Catholics” would 90% vote reunification, maybe taking 10-15% of “Protestants” with them, given the present circumstances. I suspect it would be the narrowest of margins if reunification was voted for, down to a few thousand votes. Low enough for both unionists and the British to renege on or challenge the outcome.

  8. Repartition would be worse than partition. None of this is good.

    Villiers has been abysmal – and that’s saying something given some of those who’ve been in her role in the past.

    I hope you’re right re the Irish Sea Border. I agree, it is the least worst option. But then, these are people who haven’t been thinking rationally about what they’re doing. It struck me that yesterday’s vote was won largely by people who clearly didn’t give a toss about the implications to the broader UK, whether economic, constitutional or whatever. It’s like a mass exercise in magical thinking (and I say that as someone deeply critical of the EU institutionally).

    I see Kenny is talking about calling the British Irish Council. I wonder is there going to be some heart searching in coming months about how certain aspects of the GFA weren’t fully worked in the past decade in order to provide a stronger foundation for what is inevitably ahead of us.

    • Heresy for a republican, but I’d be far less exercised about the “Brits” holding onto the sheep farms of Ballymena and the yacht-clubs of Bangor than great swathes of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Derry and Armagh. A reduced Northern Pale hugging the north-east coast and centred on East Belfast and Lisburn? TBH, I could live with that and I suspect many others might feel the same. Admittedly, though, there is no scenario where that could now take place without enormous bloodshed. And maybe if faced with the reality I might feel differently. Though I can’t help but wonder, in my more idle moments, what if the more extensive promises of the Pro-Treaty side had come to pass in 1922-23? If they had liberated most of the above counties through local plebiscites and the boundary commission, leaving behind a 2.5 county “Northern Ireland”? Would things have been subsequently better (peaceful) with a glorified Gibraltar up the road?

      They’re saying that the grey vote in England, combined with White Van Man, won it for “Leave”. I wonder. The spread was far greater than the polls or experts predicted. I know London, but I also know rural and northern England. Culturally, very different places.

      Kenny will huff and puff but will he do much more? There’s an opportunity to sell Ireland Inc. (horrible term, I know) to international businesses and corporations presently based Britain and now looking to find better EU access. If played right we could be looking at some production, distribution and administrative work moving here in the next two years (off-setting our own loss of companies to eastern Europe, particularly Poland and the Czech Republic. Which no one discusses). In the event of a #UnityRef that makes us even more attractive to northern voters.

      I’d hope! 😉

      • ASF… If repartition was to take place how about for the UK bit” to operate under a hong kng style lease.
        Repartition would tear up the GFA… Ergo time for a new deal.
        Everybody wins.. The rejectionist unionists get their colony for a few years leaving hem time/space to decide what to do.

    • If we got a positive vote in a referendum on reunification you could be sure that would be the topic of conversation from the DUP, UUP, TUV and Tories. Hell, even the Alliance would probably jump on the bandwagon. As WBS says, if the British (Greater England variety) can indulge “magical thinking” on the EU why not unionists on repartition?

  9. And then there’s this…. And I’ve been wondering if the conditions set in the Good Friday agreement are even valid anymore, or if any of it is after yesterday’s vote

    • She’s something else, isn’t she? I wonder will she sing a different tune if her stupidity, and that of her Tory and unionist colleagues, bring the block-buster bombs back to London?!


    Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.

  11. are we really sure we are going to need a border poll?
    Surely now is the time for irish govt representatives to hold talks with the EU for Northern ireland . Surely it’s time to set all the wheels in motion to reclaim the majority of Irish and EU citizens who are stranded behind the Border and risk once more finding themselves penned in with a Unionist/Loyalist minority determined this time to leave the EU.
    If the irish govt recognizes them as irish and the EU has given them passports, whether they are Italians, Portuguese, Poles, Bulgarians etc doesn’t that come with some duties towards them?
    Isn’t it time for the irish Govt and the EU to remember and start caring for their citizens in NI?
    I’ll bet you anything the EU would be very interested in doing its utmost to safeguard its citizens in Scotland and Northern ireland – The EU might have lost England and Wales but surely even Merkel realizes half a loaf (Scotland+ NI) is better than no bread? And if she doesn’t, isn’t it up to Enda and Nicola to make sure she does?

    PS – I wouldn’t hold out much hope with Enda who, like NI’s lovely SOS, Theresa villiers, is apparently still stuck in the 100-year old time lapse of the common travel agreement.

  12. Cameron (Camm-shròn) miscalculated so no doubt his nose is now well out of joint. He has agreed to resign by the autumn. But apart from Scotland the results were all pretty close run. Overall the great British public got the answer wrong. Oh Dear! Still you should know better than anyone what happens when a referendum gives the wrong result. A few token concessions should be forthcoming from the EU after a decent interval and that should solve the problem for England … although the cat may now be well out of the bag as far as Scotland is concerned. The SNP had planned a new indy campaign for after this referendum in any case. Nice to see that NS was quick off the starting blocks. Clearly this possibility had been prepared for so all that was necessary was to press the ´go´ switch …

    As for Ireland, well isn´t there a possibility that if the UK did actually leave the EU intact, that Ireland might be obliged to follow, provided it remained close to the UK, and hence no border?

    • Ireland has the Euro.. It’d be a real mess to disentangle Ireland from the EU.
      Also I doubt the public would vote leave.
      Om the other hand people like Farrage are forecasting an end to the entire EU itself.
      With perhaps Denmark and Sweden voting out.
      Who knows???

      • Good point regarding the Euro, I was thinking more in terms of geography. Is there much popular enthusiasm in Ireland for the EU, maybe as a counterforce to the UK??

  13. I was horrified during a TV debate by Ruth Davidson repeatedly saying how proud she was to be a “Brit”. She wants to be Scotland’s answer to Ian Paisley!

    I think that if we in Scotland go, then a United Ireland will surely follow. Also during Scotland’s next vote it would be nice to get a little support (however tacit) from the establishment of our sister nation. (Perhaps unlikely in Fine Gael’s case I know).

  14. My explanation for the result in North Down is simple ; lots of relatively affluent small-u Unionists live there and they were able to push Remain over the line by outvoting working class Unionists. My nephew and his wife who live there would be typical : he an I.T. specialist, working for a Q.U.B. spin-off company, which has a branch in Gdansk, she a Phd, part-time lecturer, both voted “remain.” His parents, who live in North Antrim, both voted “leave.” In East Belfast, in contrast, the affluents couldn’t quite push “remain” over the winning line.
    Looking at the “leave” areas on the map it’s fascinating to see the almost exact correlation (apart from N. Down) with heavy Scottish 17th Century settlement ; the Irish descendants of Scots vote “leave,” the Scottish Scots vote “remain.”

  15. Lord of Mirkwood

    The Taoiseach has said that a border poll is on the cards and is telling EU leaders to prepare for one.

    • He’s getting some backing from the French at least. The Germans are much colder on the issue. But then the French were always sympathetic since the days of Haughey and Mitterrand.

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