The case for Northern Ireland’s place in UK should be made in friendly, persistent way

News Letter editorial of January 25 2021:

Monday, 25th January 2021, 9:16 am
Updated Monday, 25th January 2021, 12:43 pm
News Letter editorial

A new pro Union group called Uniting UK thinks it has good news for Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, but bad news for unionism.

Philip Smith, an Ulster Unionist councillor who helped to set up the campaign body, writes in this newspaper today about revealing research that they have carried out. Women and young people who want to maintain the link with Great Britain often reject the label unionist, but call themselves neithers.

Much of this is unsurprising: unionism has not been polling well in the east of the Province for many years, a part of the country that has been overwhelmingly pro Union.

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There have been large numbers of non voters in constituencies such as North Down for decades, but often this section of the population is only motivated to cast a ballot in major political questions such as the Belfast Agreement plebiscite of 1998 and the Brexit referendum of 2016.

Latterly, many people within this group have been voting Alliance. As recently as the 1990s, the Alliance Party was overwhelmingly pro Union, but its agnosticism on the Union is all the more pronounced now that the UK has left the EU.

It is likely that this pro Union group which typically does not vote and is Alliance inclined if it does, would decide a referendum on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. As Mr Smith says “all is to play for in any future border poll”.

Polling on support for a united Ireland is, as an essay on these pages by Marcus Leroux explained recently (see link below), throwing up contradictory findings. There is good reason to think that support for it has not in fact risen sharply, and to think that face to face surveys are are more reliable. But it would be highly complacent and perilous to depend upon this belief.

The case for our position in one of the world’s richest and most culturally admired nation states needs to be made in a clear, friendly and persistent way. Many people are open to that message, but are not attracted to traditional unionist symbolism.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor