Right, first things first. To Patrick and Michael – greetings again, and it was a real pleasure to talk with both of you. I enjoyed our conversations more than a number of the speaker’s on last night’s programme. And Michael – if you’d like that pic, drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, and mention the circumstances in which the pic was taken, so I’ll know you’re you.
The big link-up between Nolan’s TV show and Prime Time was about as nimble as an elephant. There were far too many people on the panels (Carmel Hanna in Belfast never once got to speak) and people were repeatedly interrupted, especially by Miriam O’Callaghan, because there were so many.
The big question, of course, was the cross-border poll and in particular the figures on how many people would like or not like a united Ireland. That was a pointless question and a pig-in-a-poke question.
It was a pointless question because what I want, what any of the panel or audience want, what people in the north or south of Ireland want in terms of a united Ireland is irrelevant. It won’t matter. Only one person’s opinion matters: Theresa Villiers. Not until the British Secretary of State takes it into her head that a referendum on independence should be called (and that she thinks there is a majority for constitutional change) it won’t happen. But nobody mentioned who was holding the black box with the referendum button in it: a woman who looks like the proverbial fish out of water every time she appears here. So the key question – where lies power – was ignored.
It was also a pig-in-a-poke question. Supposing, for example, that I was to approach you and ask you would you like to buy a house – Yes or No? How would you respond? Well, I feel pretty certain you’d refuse to answer. Because? Because you’d need more information first. You’d need to know what it would cost, how harsh the mortgage would be, what kind of fittings does it have, is it a big house or a small one, is it a three-storey or two or a bungalow, will it have a back garden, and probably a few dozen other questions.
So how is it that we think it makes sense to give a Yes or a No to the pig-in-a-poke question about a united (actually re-united) Ireland. Pearse Doherty touched on this but he didn’t follow it through: we need to sit down and see what kind of united Ireland would be acceptable.
I say that in part because last week I heard a woman from the Scottish National Party. And she said that when Cameron agreed to hold an independence referendum, he wanted to hold it immediately. Whoa there, the SNP told him. We’ll have the vote after we’ve discussed thoughtfully and thoroughly with the Scottish people about what sort of Scotland they would feel comfortable in. Thus momentum was slowly built and the figures in favour of independence went from around 30% to 45% on voting day. Since then, the ranks of the Scottish National Party have swelled hugely in numbers. The Scottish people have been politicized.
That’s what we need. But that wouldn’t be as much fun as people being told to take the next minute to convince me as a unionist that a united Ireland would be a good idea. That’s not political discussion; it’s politics as bear-pit sport.
A final point: the figures about social matters – same sex marriage, abortion and so on – were remarkably similar. You might like that, you might not – but it shows how similar in their thinking the Irish people, all the Irish people, are.