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Four years ago, I wrote about ‘the myth of the fragile Union’. This is the perception, which too many unionists stubbornly cling to in the face of evidence and experience, that the United Kingdom is a fragile construct on the brink of falling to pieces.

In recent years, this has mostly taken the form of people convincing themselves that Brexit was going to turbo-charge the cause of Scottish independence, even as Nicola Sturgeon stalled out. But Lord Ashcroft’s fascinating new polling from Northern Ireland shows that such thinking is not confined to Scotland.

According to his data, both unionists and nationalists grow increasingly certain that a ‘united Ireland’ will occur the further into the future we look. By the time we get to 50 years out, only 25 per cent of voters think the Union will endure. This tells us something interesting about the psychology of unionism and nationalism; it tells us scarcely anything about the future itself.

Recent events ought to serve as a reminder of how futile such long-term projections can be. It was only a few years ago that unionism’s medium-term future in Ulster seemed secure, before the Brexit vote and the row of the Protocol upended the table. On the other hand, this most recent poll actually shows a swing towards the UK from the last time Lord Ashcroft tested the question.

Moreover, his data also provides plenty of grounds to be sceptical of the ‘default view’ on the inevitability of nationalist success. Here’s Ashcroft’s summary of what voters think would be ‘different about a united Ireland’:

“Voters as a whole were more likely to think that food and energy prices, housing costs, tax rates and unemployment (but also business investment) would be higher in a united Ireland than that they would be lower. Public spending and welfare benefits were thought more likely to be lower than higher.”

Higher taxes, higher prices, higher unemployment, lower public spending, and less welfare. Hardly a compelling vision, is it?

(This also weighs on the other side of the ledger too; polling in the Republic shows that whilst there is high top-level support for the idea of annexing Northern Ireland, there is much less enthusiasm for paying higher taxes or making any constitutional accommodation of a more inclusive all-island Irish identity.)

Ashcroft also signposts clear areas where the Government could do more to build support for the Union. There is currently a widespread perception that the Province is an ‘afterthought’ for the rest of the UK, for example, and that ‘levelling up’ does not extend to Northern Ireland. As I’ve written before, that’s precisely the sort of thing Ministers can start to address now the UK Internal Market Act (UKIMA) empowers them to act directly in areas of devolved competence.

Does any of this mean that Northern Ireland is guaranteed to endure for 50 years, let alone reach its bicentenary? No. But its fate in that span of time will be profoundly influenced by events we have not imagined yet, and this country’s foundations are a lot stronger than some people choose to remember.