The Union is under attack that is for sure. In our recent past, nationalism and republicanism have raised their collective head and appeared, for a moment, to have wind in their sails.
A once in a lifetime Scottish referendum followed fast with calls for a second go. The growth of the perceived nationalist population in Northern Ireland and calls there for a referendum on Irish unity. Each has formed part of a perception that the break-up of the UK is on the cards. Let’s be clear. Nothing could be further from the truth.
However, our precious union must be protected and buttressed from these attacks. It will only survive if we ensure the union remains reluctant for every citizen the length and breadth of this kingdom.
The instability in UK national politics is a breeding ground for discontent to flourish. Body blows such as the passing of Queen Elizabeth II have, for different reasons, been seen by some as opportunities to invoke change. Undoubtedly, domestic stability political calm, constitutional certainty and economic harmony are the best ingredients to keep the union safe.
Government domestic policy such as the levelling up agenda, practical issues, such as contracts for shipbuilding and other infrastructure projects that encourage nationwide economic growth. British jobs are a vital ingredient to enhance and press forward with the Union.
If the people are well looked after and satisfied with the state of the nation, they will not be distracted by looking elsewhere for fleeting satisfaction. Government must focus on this strategy and not be distracted.
In recent days we have had some important outcomes that taken on their own have not had much commentary. But together they signify that the welcomed shifting sand of change, that nationalists thought they were on, has now turned into solid cement that they can’t shift.
The Supreme Court ruling on whether Scotland can call a second referendum on departing the United Kingdom has made it clear that this major constitutional question is not for a minority SNP government to determine. Rather it is one for the government and Parliament of the entire Kingdom. On this occasion, the Supreme Court came up trumps for the Union!
It would be cataclysmic if our constitution was able to be changed at the whim of the Scottish First Minister claiming to speak on behalf of all the people of Scotland - something which Nicola Sturgeon certainly does not.
Importantly. this judgement has forced nationalism in Scotland to be wrong-footed. Nicola Sturgeon’s grasp of office has most certainly been weakened and instead of being able to have a referendum, she has to turn a fast-approaching Scottish Parliament or Westminster election into a pretend plebiscite on a single-item agenda. The difficulty for her is that everyone knows Westminster and Scottish Parliamentary general elections cannot be read as such.
People vote for a host of issues and candidates at general elections, and it would be grossly unfair to read any result in Scotland in a general election as one that determined the one narrative of the state of the union. And well the SNP MPs know it.
Already their Nicola Sturgeon loyalist leader has been deposed and another losing out to replace him. A challenge of Macbethian proportions has sounded from Aberdeen. “From Fife Great King” rebellion within the rank’s fans our leader cold! (apologies to William Shakespeare).
The decision by Nicola Sturgeon to go for broke will ultimately break her leadership, and well she knows it. The Labour Party, momentarily enchanted by a Lab-SNP pact at Westminster will now never contemplate such a move. The seriousness of an independence cry in Scotland is all, bar the shouting, over for now.
Secondly, in Belfast, a poll produced this week by Ipsos has sent a torpedo into the bowels of the good ship Irish unity as it sails forth. Captained by a motley crew of Irish republicans, nationalists, the so-called ‘non-affiliated’ Alliance Party and one or two useful idiots of a Unionist background. Chalking up on the sea map of destiny some little advances of demographic change, new language provisions and maybe even more places in government. Things appeared to be going well.
But a change in the weather, the storm clouds of uncertainty have suddenly made the journey very rough. Despite appearances, the strength of the nationalist vote hasn’t grown in decades. Instead, the opposition has diluted its strength of unity. But there is much more to the sea change. Despite millions of pounds and euros being thrown at all Ireland propaganda. Soft diplomacy like ‘Shared Island initiatives’ and promises of funding streams for pet projects. The people have done their sums and know that Irish unity just doesn’t add up!
It’s not complicated, it’s not emotional, it’s not even tribal. It’s simple. Unity just does not work. Two very different economies, very different aspirations and very different people just won’t join for a pretend collective boom. Instead, they know it will be a financial bust!
The Ipsos poll is decisive. Only one-quarter of people in Northern Ireland want Irish unity. They wish to retain the status quo of British rule. Not just most Unionists from the Protestant tradition, but importantly from across all communities, including of a Catholic background too. In fact, around one in five Catholics in Northern Ireland abjectly oppose a united Ireland and again, over 20% of Catholics in Northern Ireland said they weren’t sure how they would vote. There is no question about the results of this poll.
Those who identify themselves as “Northern Irish” and are regarded as the important swing voters, are not for a united Ireland. It appears the old maxim is true - ‘if you don’t know they will vote no!’
Whilst one swallow doesn’t make the summer, a recent confession by non-other than the leader of the SDLP that even his mother would vote pro-Union because of the NHS was telling enough when you consider just how poor a state the NHS is in Northern Ireland.
So, Unionism has all to play for. It’s on a solid footing and needs to march forward with confidence that it can grow and secure the certainty of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for another generation.