Would it be fair to say that former First Minister Peter Robinson doesn’t subscribe to democracy? After his speech at Queen’s University last night, there’s every evidence that he doesn’t – certainly if we believe in democracy as the wishes of the majority. Mr Robinson (or must we call him ‘Professor’ from now on?) believes that a 50% + 1 victory in a border poll would be a recipe for disaster. (I’m assuming he’s talking about 50% + 1 victory for a united Ireland; but maybe he’d see a 50% + 1 victory for maintaining the union as being equally a recipe for disaster.)
Before we tear into the hero of Clontibret, let’s remember how being an unhappy minority feels. Nationalists and republicans endured it for over fifty years and it wasn’t pretty. So the Prof may have something when he talks about rejecting a 50% + 1. And of course when we had an Executive and an Assembly, it wasn’t built on a simple majority: power was shared on the basis of how many seats different parties got. If we operated straight 50% + 1, the DUP would be in charge of everything.
But then we come back to the Good Friday Agreement – which the DUP never signed up to, although their actions by joining the Executive and the Assembly more than hint that they in practice accept the Agreement. The GFA promised that, should a majority of people in the north vote for re-unification of Ireland, the British government would respond and support its implementation. It didn’t say there had to be enough unionist converts voting for a united Ireland so that there wouldn’t be a surly minority. It said unambiguously a simply majority. The problem with Prof Pete’s rejection of 50% + 1 is that it’s impossible to say where that’d stop. Would 50% + 2 be OK? + 200? 2,000? 10%? 20%? You see the difficulty.
Republican paramilitaries and nationalists/republicans generally accepted the Good Friday Agreement, even though it runs contrary to democracy, if you see democracy as the wishes of the Irish people. The Irish people having given self-determination a thumb’s down to create structures of reconciliation, it’s a bit thick for Prof Pete or Arlene or anyone else to suggest we now must wait until a majority of unionists in the north decide to have a change of heart.
Mind you, if we crash out of the EU as part of the UK, you might be surprised at the level of creaking noises, as converted unionists emerge from umpteen closets.