MANY and varied were the words written about BBC Ulster’s poll last week on Irish unity. Personally, Squinter wanted to know whether this was the first time anybody had ever done a poll about whether anybody wanted a poll, but that question must sadly be set aside for later consideration.
Predictably, unionists fell on the BBC headline figure ‘More than half in Northern Ireland “opppose border poll”.’ The ‘more than half’ being 52 per cent, and given that the status quo has always a massive advantage when it comes to referenda, another headline might have been ‘Nearly half in Northern Ireland in favour of border poll’, but it wasn’t to be.
Perhaps the most interesting figure for the statisticians to mull was the five per cent increase in support for Irish unity overall – interesting because it was large enough to fall outside the generally accepted margins of uncertainty inherent in every survey.
The headlines of the Belfast News Letter and the Irish Times the next day (above) fell on that figure, but boy did they see it differently. The News Letter interpreted the jump from 17 per cent in favour of unity in 2013 to 22 per cent in 2016 as ‘virtually unchanged’. If anyone thinks five per cent is insignificant in terms of any vote, well there’s not much Squinter can say about that except perhaps Ulster’s paper of record might want to consider putting its sports editor in charge of its politics. Because a voting process is very much like a game of snooker in that the beauty of racking up the points yourself, as any student of the game will confirm, is that because there is a finite amount of points available, you’re also denying them to your opponent. If snooker’s not your game, think of a six-pointer in soccer, a less satisfying analogy for sure, but possibly more easily understood: with a win not only have you added three points to your tally in your battle to avoid relegation or win the title, you’ve taken them off the board in the other dressing room marked ‘points possible’. In the voting booth, as on the green baize and sward, movement means displacement. That’s not hard to understand, is it? It is? Fair enough, then.
The Irish Times’ headline is considerably more accurate than that of the News Letter, in that it shows a keen awareness of the importance of a five per cent shift in any voting contest, never mind a binary one, but even so, a ‘sharp rise’ is probably overdoing it a bit. If we can understand why the News Letter will never be found wanting when it comes to defending Ulster’s interests, it’s not just as clear to Squinter why the Old Lady of D’Olier Street should be getting so excited about any move in the direction of a border which its haughty Anglo-Irish sensibilities have done so much to strengthen down through the years.
The best guess there is that the paper is making a play for the younger purchaser, who is nowhere near as likely as the paper’s more traditional readers to choke over his/her cornflakes of a morning when coming across the words ‘republican’ or ‘northern’.