Working towards Irish Unity




From IndyRef2 to a border poll: Are we afraid of democracy?

Watch this Battle of Ideas festival debate produced in association with

For the first time in Northern Ireland’s existence, the leader of a nationalist party is in line to become first minister. In May’s elections, Sinn Fein won the most seats – leading some to argue that the prospect of a united Ireland is closer than ever. In a recent poll conducted by the University of Liverpool and Irish News, 43 per cent of respondents answered that they would ‘vote for a united Ireland tomorrow’ if a border poll were called, compared to 39.5 per cent who said they would not.

Since elections last year, Scotland has been governed by a pro-independence coalition of the SNP and Greens, who now want to hold a new referendum on Scotland’s future. Although a clear majority voted to stay in the Union in 2014, pro-independence campaigners and politicians argue that Brexit has changed the political landscape and ‘IndyRef2′ is the only way to resolve the matter.

While calls for border polls and referendums in Northern Ireland and Scotland differ in historical and political context, they share one similarity: Westminster seems desperate to prevent them. In both cases, a vote would require the agreement of the UK government – which is currently implacably opposed. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been forced to refer plans to hold a second referendum to the Supreme Court after the UK government refused to grant permission for a legally binding vote.

Should we be concerned that the relationship between the UK and its constituent nations seems to be tipping into one of coercion rather than consent? Are attempts to block independence referendums a sign of the weakness of the Union? When opinion polls suggest voters are, at best, ambivalent about constitutional change, should these issues take a back seat in favour of more immediate matters, like the cost-of-living crisis? Or is denying an Irish border poll, or a Scottish Indyref2 the kind of retreat from democracy that should worry all democrats?


Ben Collins – writer; communications consultant; former chief executive, The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations; author, Irish Unity: time to prepare

Dolan Cummings – author, Gehenna: a novel of Hell and Earth; associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; co-founder, Manifesto Club

Ewan Gurr – charity pioneer; consultant; columnist, Dundee Evening Telegraph; co-founder, Sovereignty

Lord Moylan – conservative peer