Alex Kane is a man I like a lot. He’s cheerful, intelligent, accommodating. While he is an unambiguous unionist, he’s frank in his analysis of the need for a recognition of the Irishness of almost half the population here, and a great deal of the time he knows what he’s talking about.
But every so often he’ll come up with a column or an idea that makes it hard to see the many good qualities he has. In fact, he has written columns that some would see as biased. The one he wrote in the News Letter recently shows both sides. of the man, I think. Which you may conclude makes the column balanced or, on the other hand you may conclude it’s like the curate’s egg, good in bits.
He opens with a brief comment on the Scottish referendum, concluding that, if the Yes vote is defeated, that won’t mean the end of it. Scottish nationalists will return to the fray and there may well be calls for another referendum in five years’ time. Ditto, he believes, is the case with republicans here. If a referendum on constitutional change were held and defeated, republicans would not simply walk away: they would redouble their efforts. In short, for nationalism in both Scotland and Ireland there is no final half-way house.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that, although I’m not so sure about Scotland. But it’s beyond unlikely that nationalists and republicans will abandon an aspiration that has throbbed in Irish veins throughout the centuries.
Alex goes on to accuse Sinn Féin of not putting flesh on the bones of what a united Ireland would look like. I think he has a point here: I too would like to know, beyond generalities, how a united Ireland would look and how it would differ from what we have now, apart from the obvious feature of deleted partition. However, when he contrasts nationalist and republican thinking here with the Scottish nationalists’ 600+ page document, he’s a bit unfair. The Scot Nats have been given the referendum they asked for. We have been, rightly or wrongly, told to forget it, referendum-wise. So a comprehensive, exhaustive document without the prospect of applying it in practice would be a bit premature here.
He contends that if a united Ireland were voted for in a referendum (on both sides of the border), unionists here would still remain unionists and every bit as British as they are today. I don’t think so. I have always believed that a large measure of people’s thinking comes from the social/political/economic situation in which they live. If, for example, today’s unionists were to find themselves an effective and respected part of the Irish nation – which I’m certain they would be – it’s perfectly conceivable that their present thinking would modify. It would be almost insulting to suggest that changed circumstances would not be followed by changed thinking.
Alex also predicts opposition and almost certainly violence if a referendum here voted for a united Ireland and moves were made to act on that democratic decision. Now he may be right or he may be wrong, but as we know, people painting a picture of coming disorder very often offer a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep talking about the inevitability of violence and there will be violence. Besides which, it’s an odd international agreement – which the Good Friday Agreement was – where one large section of the population declares in advance that if the vote goes against them, they’ll resort to violence. Were that true, the GFA then would be a beaten docket, a waste of good trees.
“The one big thing that is missing now in Northern Ireland, in the Republic, between Britain and the Republic, and between Belfast and Dublin is a serious, detailed debate about the future. If you want to solve a problem then, at the very least, you need to begin by agreeing the nature of the problem.”
I couldn’t agree more. Independent research should be conducted, facts amassed, opinion sought, a clear and practical (and readable – no 600+ pages, please, guys) ground plan of the nature of a united Ireland should be at the top of all parties’ agenda. We still have to agree on the detail of the problem, if not its nature; and I don’t blame unionism for being fearful, when all they’re fed is some notion of a big 26-pound fish swallowing a small 6-pound fish whole.
But please: no more predictions of violence if the vote goes against you. That’s literally asking for trouble.