Statistics – you gotta love ’em

I saw Allison Morris, late of that venerable organ The Irish News and currently of The Belfast Telegraph, on UTV’s Spotlight  recently.  In it she said she just loved censuses  – there was so much you could do with the figures. She got that one right.

According to a recent NI Life and Times survey, ‘nearly half’ of NEI’s population want to remain in the UK – 48% to be exact (cue gloomy nationalist/republican faces). However, that contrasted with a 2020 survey, which found 54% wanted to remain in the UK (cue  nationalist/republican faces smiling through their tears).

And there’s more. They found that ‘people reporting a nationalist identity’ was 19% in 2020 and 26% in 2021. As for unionists, they identified as 32% of the population – down three points from 35% in previous polls. The largest group – 37% – identified as neither nationalist nor unionist.

As to the protocol, 44% of unionists found it on balance to be bad, while 69% of nationalists said it was good.

What can we make of these figures? Probably anything you like.

My attention is snagged by that 37% group who don’t identify as nationalist or unionist. The good news is that there are fewer of them than used be, the bad news that they’re the biggest single group in our stateen.

I am slightly baffled by that – not totally baffled but a bit.

The first thing I note is that there are fewer of them than was the case. Not many people know that, I’d suggest. The popular perception is of the non-aligned growing and growing massively. Not so – it’s shrinking.

The trouble with being non-aligned is it suggests you’re off your head. How could you live in a country  – Ireland – and not see that the biggest single matter in politics is the division of our country into two states?  But let’s be more charitable; maybe they’re fed up with border talk because it never seems to go anywhere, and you still have the bills to pay.

If the charitable view is right, the days when the border was all talk and no action are coming to a fairly swift end. When a prominent Blueshirt recommends the creation of a cross-party body to explore the pros and cons of a united Ireland, the pie-in-the-sky conception takes a fatal blow. When Sinn Féin – by a country mile the most anti-border party in Ireland – is returned as the biggest single party in the south and the north, you know that something fundamental is afoot.

I’ve never understood why the results of a census are so slow in opening up. Because there’s all sorts of stuff that the Life and Times people  haven’t access to that’ll tell us how near or how far we are from  resolving the single biggest political issue in Ireland this past 100 years: the partition of our country.

Meantime, I continue to marvel at those who see partition as irrelevant. Even they must know that it’s no longer a matter for maudlin rebel songs.  Something big and truly radical is stirring in the undergrowth.

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