The role of Britain, under the guise of Empire or Commonwealth, has been a powerful force in World history since the Industrial revolution and while it is no longer the superpower of before it is most certainly still an important player in general terms.
In Ireland Britain has, for better or worse been a part of our history for hundreds of years; even after Independence the relationship between Ireland and the UK has been an important while not always cordial one.
Of course the majority of Northern Ireland is still pro-Union; they wish to retain their link to Britain for various reasons, ones that they hold quite seriously in their hearts. The problem is that since the death of British Imperialism and the creation of the ‘United Kingdom’ the concept of Britishness has slowly been eroded.
Three of the four states of Britain, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all capable of devolving Governmental control to varying degrees, even though some are less willing than others. England itself is now facing the question of its own devolved Government as the reality hits home that non-English MP’s voting on bills that influence England only is somewhat democratically questionable.
The Unionist population in Northern Ireland see this as a negative move; they feel that such a system would damage British unity, and they would probably be right; another point their less likely to publicise is that any devolved English government would take significant sway away from Unionist MP’s hoping to hold the balance of power in future elections.
Interestingly Unionism’s historic ally, the Conservatives are the ones pushing for this reform the hardest, albeit as a weapon against Gordon Brown. The problem is that should the concept find support in England and carry the Conservatives to power down the line they would have a hard time reneging on their promise, even if it did anger the likes of the UUP and DUP.
Next years Scottish elections should be an interesting one for the future of Britain too; the SNP are promising to negotiate greater independence for Scotland once they are put into power. Electoral success for the party is quite unlikely but the possibility still exists; any rise in SNP support should prove enough of a victory for Scottish Republican’s even if Governmental control does not come as a result. The Wikipedia article on the elections currently states that the SNP is probably in the best position to gain from shifting voting patterns and cites a possible SNP, Lib Dem and Scottish Green Party coalition; that would put two overtly pro-Independence parties in power. The SNP website also references a poll which gives support for Scottish independence 54% of the vote although details on this survey are sketchy.
Of course if Scotland was to break away from Britain, even just as far as Commonwealth or federal co-operation, it would have significant resonance for NI Unionism; the West-East link has long been an important factor in the debate and if the Eastern equation were no longer a part of Britain questions would certainly be raised.
The real threat that faces Irish Unionism over the coming years is not from Nationalism; if anything the more Sinn Fein call for a United Ireland the more Unionists dig their heals in and rally support. Should the body they are fighting so hard to stay close to begin to crack and splinter, however, their cause may be undermined.
Of course the real outcome of a less unified Britain, should it happen, all falls down to one question; are Unionists in Northern Ireland more supportive of UK unity or simply against Irish unity?; that is to say that some may support the UK link because it makes more sense to them and some may instead retain an ABI (anyone but Ireland) mindset. Who knows what way the dice falls but I’m sure in many cases individuals don’t have a single answer to that question either.