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The numbers game

By Squinter

PICK a number – any number… That’s normally the line of a TV magician about to pull off a card trick, but in the wake of this week’s Belfast Telegraph poll on the issue of a border referendum, it’s been the number crunchers and analysts in the newspapers and on the airwaves who have been zeroing in on certain digits only.

The key figure for the Belfast Telegraph is the 7.7 per cent of people in the north who told the pollsters that they would vote for a united Ireland tomorrow if there was a referendum. That led the Tele to report in the first paragraph of its super soaraway exclusive that “there is still no significant appetite for a united Ireland”. And indeed if there were only that number of people polled who want to do away with the border right away then that might be a major blow to republicans, and a major boost to unionists (or indeed, dare we say it, to unionist newspapers).

But in fact the number of people in favour of a united Ireland sits at over 40 per cent mark, according to the Tele poll, because 32.5 per cent of respondents said they would vote Yes to a united Ireland in 20 years, which is to say that the poll found that 40.2 per cent of all people in the north are united Irelanders, with most of them wanting to wait a while before the border is removed. And while 20 years may seem a long time, remember the 20th anniversary of the first IRA cessation was celebrated in August, when most of us were saying, good grief, how quickly did those years go by?

And when we consider that when the Scottish referendum began two years ago the Yes vote was somewhere around the low 30s, we can begin to see that the key figure in there might not be the 7.7 per cent one after all.

Some unionist Twitter users have begun to put the 7.7 number triumphantly on their account pictures, as if the 40.2 number didn’t exist, or as if loyal Ulster is of one mind on the future. But in fact 30.8 per cent of Protestants polled had no opinion on the border; 1.8 per cent were in favour of a united Ireland tomorrow; and 9.6 per cent are in favour of a united Ireland in 20 years. Throw those figures into the ‘open to persuasion’ mix and that 7.7 becomes even less significant than unionists think it is.

So you begin to see that while the bookies would lay short odds on the likelihood of the border staying, the picture is a lot more fluid and uncertain than some would have you think. In fact, as already touched on, without the referendum even having been agreed to, much less a date set, loyal Ulster is in much more of a constitutional tumult than Scotland was. And that’s before we even start to consider the 56.2 per cent of people in favour of a referendum at a time when it is vigorously opposed by all the major unionist parties.

And after considering all that, now we get down to wondering which side is going to perform best when it comes to performing the lost art of mass personation.

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