Ever since the Brexit became a reality (when Boris Johnson won a solid majority), I have wondered about the fates of Ireland and Scotland. Now, The Economist has taken up the issue in an article in the most recent edition.
“For most of the century since Ireland gained independence from Britain,” the article says, “control of the country has alternated between two parties. On February 8th that duopoly was smashed apart, when Sinn Fein got the largest share of first-preference votes in the republic’s general election. The party, with links to the Irish Republican Army (ira), which bombed and shot its way through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, won with a left-wing platform that included promises to spend more on health and housing. Yet it did not hide its desire for something a lot more ambitious. “Our core political objective”, its manifesto read, “is to achieve Irish Unity and the referendum on Unity which is the means to secure this.” A united Ireland is, indeed, a long-standing ambition.
The article goes on to say that “Scottish independence has grabbed headlines since Brexit, but it is time to recognise the chances of a different secession from the United Kingdom. Sinn Fein’s success at the election is just the latest reason to think that a united Ireland within a decade or so is a real—and growing—possibility.” There are good socio-economic reasons for Ireland to unite. For example, the Brexit “creates an economic border in the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and Britain, even as it keeps a united Ireland for goods. Although services will become harder to trade with the south, trading goods will be easier than with Britain. In that the north’s six counties are affected more by what happens in Dublin, the value of having a say in who governs there will grow … [and, on the socio-political side] … The pressure for unification is about more than Brexit. Northern Ireland’s census in 2021 is likely to confirm that Catholics outnumber Protestants for the first time. The republic has also become more welcoming. The influence of the Catholic church has faded dramatically and society has become more liberal. Over the past three decades restrictions on contraception have been lifted and gay marriage has been legalised. All this explains why support for unification in Northern Ireland appears to have risen in recent years. In some polls respondents show roughly equal support for it and the status quo.“
I suspect that Irish (re)union makes better socio-economic and political sense than does Scottish separation. But I also continue to believe that both a united, independent Ireland and a more independent Scotland would be better off in either or, better, both of an EFTA+ and/or a CANZUK+ arrangement than either would be in the EU.
I think there are opportunities here for Canada to act as a leader and honest broker in helping our good friends and allies in Europe, and especially in the Britsih Isles, to make better arrangements for their socio-political and economic futures than exist today. But first, of course, Canada will need to address its own problems and that will require new political leadership which, for now, can come only from the Conservative Party.