Opinion

Paul McNamee: Doughnut lose track of what’s going on

The idea of a United Ireland is no longer an intellectual and ideological argument – it could happen, and soon

In The Simpsons it’s doughnuts. Regardless of how Homer is engaged, the sight or a sugary sniff will hook him. It’s instinctive, Pavlovian.

Brexit is our doughnut. No matter what is happening elsewhere, the mere mention of it diverts us and sends us into a lather. While this has benefits – Brexit will decide our future, and our children’s futures and their children’s – there are other things going on. And if we don’t pay attention, those other things will evolve until they present themselves in ways that shock. Their power to alter how we live is every bit as potent as Brexit.

At present, it’s Scotland and Northern Ireland – the loud celtic fringe, always agitating, never happy with their lot. Best turn the volume down, let them argue amongst themselves while other things go on.

Best not.

Brexit is our doughnut. No matter what is happening elsewhere, the mere mention of it diverts us and sends us into a lather

Last week there was a seismic change in Northern Ireland. Yet, you wouldn’t really know it unless you were following their local news. Which, I suppose, is fine. Northern Ireland has been making noise and causing damage well beyond its range for a long time.

But now, for the first time ever, Unionists don’t have an overall majority in government. The relevance can’t be overstated. Northern Ireland is less a state, more a convenient holding pattern. It was established in 1921 to bring an end to a bloody war of independence, and the pro-union political class has been running things since.

So, why does this matter across the Irish Sea? Because suddenly the idea of a United Ireland is no longer an intellectual and ideological argument – it could happen, and soon.

The NI election came about because the First Minister and leader of the main unionist party, Arlene Foster of the DUP, was embroiled in a scandal over heating subsidies. There are other reasons but we don’t have that much time here.

Big Issue vendors are back!

It’s not just the shops that are opening again. From Monday 12th April onwards,  Big Issue vendors are back in business, with a big smile and a stack of magazines. Buy from your local vendor today!

Find out more

During the campaign she managed to be so divisive that moderate Catholic voters, who previously would have plumped for the centrist moderates of the SDLP (Northern Ireland LOVES acronyms), went for Sinn Fein. While many outside Northern Ireland still view Sinn Fein as the party of murders committed by the IRA, the dial has shifted where the votes are. Sinn Fein is now the constitutional voice for the overwhelming majority of nationalists in Northern Ireland. They have 27 seats in the Assembly to the DUP’s 28. And when people have crossed the Rubicon to vote Sinn Fein, they are unlikely to step back.

So a new reality grows in which a party who will look for a United Ireland hold the whip hand. Throw in anxiousness about the closing of a border that has become almost unseen in places, and a birth rate that means those who favour retaining a union with Great Britain decline in numbers, and it looks like there is only one endgame.

In Scotland a second referendum is looking likely. The will she/won’t she guessing game around Nicola Sturgeon changed dynamic last week. A new poll said it was 50/50 for independence. At the same time, North Sea oil tax receipts fell off the cliff – from several billion to around £100m this year. Despite this financial chasm, and despite the fact the SNP government have problems in the day-to-day of running a country effectively, the desire for self-determination is not diminishing.

While focus is elsewhere, fundamental cracks are appearing in the bedrock, and the tectonic plates under the Union are moving, probably irrevocably.

Doughnuts won’t be enough to get Britain through this.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan
Sudan conflict protest
Nick Beales

Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards
John Bird

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling
The Glasgow studio of the Duke of Wellington
Robin Ince

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit
Homelessness

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know