This article was first published in the Mail on Sunday on 12 December 2021.
The news that Northern Ireland voters would choose to stay in the UK – by a majority of 54% to 46% in my poll, once undecideds are excluded – is a welcome early Christmas gift for unionists. In a similar survey two years ago, I found a wafer-thin margin for Ulster to join the Republic in a united Ireland. As in Scotland, where support for independence has fallen, ideals of national identity are being edged aside by a renewed post-pandemic focus on practicalities like public services and living costs.
Some doubt that Ireland would want to take on the North, given the current state of both economies and the extent to which Northern Ireland benefits from UK public spending. Apart from the call of old loyalties and historical destiny there are practical questions: what would the health service be like, would you have to pay to visit the GP, would you still get your old age pension?