This week there has again been calls for a referendum on a United Ireland. Unionist politicians such as Jeffery Donaldson a.k.a Mystic Meg tell us there is no need to call a referendum as neither the South nor the North will vote in favour. Some Nationalists tell us that we should have a referendum but now is not the right time to have it, as there remains a Unionist majority in Stormont and because of the current economic climate.
In my opinion these Nationalists are correct. Now is not the right time. I do not really think Sinn Féin want a referendum in 2013 or in the short term either. But this is not the point. They know the only way of getting a Green Paper on Irish Unity is to have a referendum called. And when it is called or agreed to, there will be alot of work to do before a date for the referendum can be set. You can't expect people to vote for something in the future if you do not know what you are voting for. How would 26 County voters have voted on the Lisbon Treaty before the terms and conditions of the treaty were set out? If around 30% (as some estimate would be the percentage in favour of a UI if a referendum was held today) were in favour before they even read the treaty, the bookies may have stopped taking bets by the time terms were published.
A series of talks should begin bewteen the Irish government, the British govenment and all parties in order to trash out the Green Paper. An agreement could take several years! So in this light Sinn Fein are correct to call for a referendum now as it needs to be set out what a United Ireland would entail - Federal arrangement?, Fiscal policy?, Health? Education?, Welfare?, Commonwealth membership? etc.
The British government will have an important role to play and they will need to be careful. If they maintain that they have no strategic interest they will agree, should the people vote for reunification, to subsidise the transition period as the North's economy is rebalanced (1 public sector job cut for every 2 private sector job created anyone?). Otherwise disidents can argue that the British purposely positioned the North as a welfare dependent economy in order that the South could not initially afford reunification.
I say initially becasue it is not yet known whether the sum of savings from synergies, removal of duplication of servies etc and the extra revenues from suitable fiscal policies, economies of scale etc that would occur in a UI are greater than the current British subvention to the North of Ireland.
And speaking of the economic argument. To those who suggest that people will not vote for a UI for economic reasons, let me ask them this. Say in a UI, the OAP of the South is to be maintained. How many Unionists (and there are alot of them over the age of 65) will vote No to having their weekly income doubled from £97.65 to €230.30 at todays rates?