A new poll by Lord Ashcroft has good short term news for Unionists but a bleak long term. From Lord Ashcroft’s report in The Daily Mail:
The survey, for pollster and Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, reveals that a clear majority would to opt to stay in the Union if a referendum were held now. However, just one in three Northern Irish voters believe that would be the outcome if a so-called ‘border poll’ is held in ten years’ time.
And Lord Ashcroft warns that ‘in Northern Ireland, politics is played for the long term, and with that in mind few are resting easy on the Unionist side’.
Based on interviews with 3,301 people, the poll records that if a vote were held tomorrow, most people would vote not to join the Republic by 54 per cent to 46 per cent (excluding ‘don’t knows’).
There are five main reasons for their pessimism. The first is simple demographics.
As one Catholic voter told us cheerfully and candidly in nationalist Strabane: ‘We breed better than they do. They have big TVs; we have big families.’ More than seven in ten voters aged under 25 said they would vote for a united Ireland.
Second is Brexit. Most believe that leaving the EU was the wrong decision for Northern Ireland, and nearly nine in ten blame Brexit for shortages in their shops. More than one in five say Brexit has made them question their support for the province remaining part of the UK.
Third is the belief that the rest of the UK is indifferent to Northern Ireland’s place in the Union. Voters on all sides feel that their British compatriots regard them as an expensive nuisance, and that any talk of ‘levelling up’ applies to the North of England, not to them.
Nearly four in ten Unionists – not to mention two-thirds of nationalists – think that even if it can’t say so, the Westminster Government would rather Ulster joined its southern neighbour. Boris Johnson’s agreement to an Irish Sea border under the Northern Ireland Protocol only adds weight to this perennial suspicion.
Fourth is the understanding that as the Troubles become a more distant memory – and, for younger voters, not even that – traditional loyalties will count for less. In some ways, this is an answer to prayers. ‘We’re damaged goods from a time that was just awful,’ as one old Loyalist put it.
That generation has longed for their children to be able to grow up in a place where politics is not dominated by green and orange, Catholic and Protestant. But the more real this vision becomes, the less instinctive loyalty the Union might command – especially as the Republic looks to many like a more modern and liberal place than the North.
The final cause of Unionist gloom is their feeling that, in the political arena, they have simply been outclassed. None would want to turn the clock back on the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement.
For me, the most revealing statistic is the role the middle ground will play in deciding the result of any border poll. 43% of the middle ground say they have changed their mind on the reunification question at least once. Since Brexit the middle ground has been steering towards reunification, if this momentum keeps up this is going to be a real challenge for Unionism.
I help to manage Slugger by taking care of the site as well as running our live events. My background is in business, marketing and IT. My politics tend towards middle-of-the-road pragmatism, I am not a member of any political party. Oddly for a member of the Slugger team, I am not that interested in daily politics, preferring to write about big ideas in society. When not stuck in front of a screen, I am a parkrun Run Director.