There is a hell of a lot that divides Northern Ireland. Rangers vs Celtic, the way we pronounce “H”, where you went to school, Paddy’s vs the 12th, Falls vs the Shankill, where you keep your toaster, rugby vs GAA, QUB vs UUJ, holidays in Portrush vs a trip to Carlingford, ministers who can get the ride vs celibate priests, the right length of the “Our Father”, cash for ash vs wearing ash, walking vs marching, Alistair vs Padraig, Aine vs Alison. But as I stood outside my front door with my mother last night at 8pm, it occurred to me that there is one standalone institution that has brought all of the North together, regardless of persuasion or political conviction. The NHS.
A border poll is inevitable. It is coming. Republicans and Nationalists alike have got the bit between their teeth and Unionism is busying barricading the entrances to keep the wolf from the door. But sooner or later, Unionism’s 6 little piggies Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone will be exposed. An all-out charge will be made to reclaim Ulster. And what friends will Unionism have? It is abundantly clear that the Tories do not care about us. We are the rotten limb of the Union, the runt of the litter. They have already robbed us the best Secretary of State we have had since Mo Mowlam and put in place a member of the old guard, Brandon Lewis. They may turn to the south to look for reasons why we would be a burden, “do you really want us? Look at all the trouble we cause and the risk your economy will be taking by adopting us!”. But the surge of SF in the south has this covered. FG and FF would be taking a massive risk if they came out in support of the status quo, obtaining the slur of being an anti-Irish party in the process. Political suicide. Even here, the UUP and DUP have been unable to present a brand of Unionism sellable to young, educated Unionists who are socially left wing. This has resulted in Alliance nicking unionist votes, showcased by Stephen Farry taking North Down. North Down not being a unionist seat? What is going on? Belfast’s Catholic population is outgrowing the Protestant one, SF’s Daniel Baker now the Lord Mayor, the light tinge of green over the capital city will only grow darker in time. It will join the likes of Derry and Newry. The writing is on the wall for unionism and they seem paralysed to stop it. They simply cannot trust the Tories, with such a big majority under an English nationalist, to come to their aid.
The Unionist parties need to adopt a policy that will cast major doubts in the minds of nationalism and boot the fence sitters quietly onto the side of the Union. The “uncertainty” argument that would be presented could be rubbished quickly as the Brexit debacle has cast the Union into enough economic stress as it is. Surely uniting with the South and being nursed at the teet of the EU would be more appealing than the chuntering rhetoric of “Rule Britannia, we won the war, long live the Queen and our newfound sovereignty”. So, unite NI under the NHS. The one thing that gets people from the Short Strand to Sandy Row, from the Waterside to the Bogside to stand outside their front door and applaud as one. If Robin Swann calls Arlene and asks for revenue raising initiatives such as a rates levy, redistribute funds and put pressure on the Treasury. An all-out effort to pump money into the NHS. It would fuse NI under a purely British institution. A health service that the Republic simply cannot offer.
And the Shinners wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it. A socialist party coming out and arguing against an increased funding in health would be an insurmountable faux pas. They would have to sit on the passenger’s side and watch Arlene, with little Robin in the booster seat, slow right down for the speed bumps on the road to a United Ireland.