A word to the voters of Ulster from the mainland

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The Independent Online
DEAR undecided voter of Ulster,

You are a pretty important person this week: not just in deciding how things will be for yourself and your children, but also in determining what they'll be like for me and mine. The big difference is that you've got a vote, and I haven't. I am not complaining about that, just asking you to remember that there are 50 odd million of us over here who don't have a say tomorrow, and that this maybe adds a bit to your responsibility.

We haven't, of course, suffered as much as you have. Most of you know a family that has had a son, a dad, a sister or an uncle killed or terribly wounded in the 30 years of the Troubles. It's different here - though at times many of us have wondered whether we should take our kids to the mall at the weekend, or had partners anxiously telephoning to find out whether we were close to that explosion mentioned in the radio newsflash.

And when our relatives have died or been maimed, we haven't comprehended the intricate background in the way you might. What, after all, had an Asian newsagent on the Isle of Dogs to do with the Battle of the Boyne, Bloody Sunday or the beating of the Lambegs on the road to Drumcree? Over here, we cannot tell the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant (though all too often we manage to discriminate between a black person and a white one), and we aren't clear on why we occasionally have our city centres rearranged because someone else can.

If we did have a vote, however, we would probably split about 95 per cent to 5 per cent in favour. Not that this statistic will necessarily impress you. It's probably bad enough to have Bill Clinton attempting to feel your pain; Richard Branson selling you peace; William Hague flopping about your streets (the sun glancing off his baby pate); and Paddy and Tony doing their sensitive action men bit, without people like me telling you what to do. I wouldn't like it.

Perhaps, also, you're wavering precisely because the spooky breadth of the Yes coalition concerns you. There's old Trimble (whose last concert was a Vaughan Williams piece) and Hume, jacketless and paunchy, shaking hands at televised rock concert, both seemingly convinced that the agreement mostly favours their very different visions of Ulster's future. And - worse - over there are Adams and McMichael, blithely assuring their balaclava- ed shadows in the IRA and the UDA that the roadblocks to Irish unity have variously been demolished or fortified.

Maybe this unreliable coalition explains the strange attraction of the Noes, of those unbending men of principle, those stern patriarchs, those tough lovers. Their certainty, their constancy is so attractive - a moral pole in a shifting world. There's old Paisley - the last man in the decadent West actually to use the word "apostasy" - and old Molyneaux (old since the age of ten), and old ramrod Bob McCartney reminding you that the worst a No vote could lead to is another 30 years of what you have already (for the most part) managed to survive. So perhaps your kids can survive it too. Perhaps not.

But just look at how they insult you! DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson says, "Only those who side with the terrorists or are intimidated by them will vote yes. Self-respecting democrats and opponents of terror, will emphatically vote No." Well, you are undecided and therefore unemphatic, so clearly you are already a bit soft on the bombers. We can only wonder into which camp he put the doctors from the Royal Victoria Hospital who - sick of patching up bodies - appealed this week for a Yes vote. Are they traitors or just cowards?

Just as big a lie is told about us - the English, Welsh and Scots. It is that we wish to walk away from Ulster, leaving it to its fate - and that this agreement is about washing our hands. We could have done that, of course, many times over, not least after the Ulster Workers lockout of 1974, and at the height of the IRA bombing campaign on the mainland. But (please reflect on this) there has never been - even at the worst and darkest moment - a serious mass movement that mobilised British people around the slogan Troops Out Of Ireland. Despite our amazement at the seeming intransigence of the politicians that you Ulster people elected to represent you, we have neither given in, nor wavered in our view that change could only come about with the consent of the majority. Your consent.

And that is exactly what the agreement says. Period. So Gerry can argue that he thinks he will one day win that consent, and David can say that he thinks that you will never give it, and meanwhile you can ignore both of them, and can get on with the business of governing yourselves.

As for decommissioning and the question of whether terrorists can reform, well arms can always be replaced, so it is not their existence but the readiness to use them that really matters. As to the latter, the answer appears to be yes, terrorists do repent. Sections of the IRA now recognise that they cannot win an armed struggle, and that's that. It was a terrible waste.

So do we want more of it? Dear undecided, we do not get many opportunities like this. There's sometimes one moment, one magic conjunction, as there was in Israel before the men of certainty murdered Yitzhak Rabin and the men of constancy let off the Tel Aviv bombs. And then, bang, it was gone. And how are they going to get it back now?

At the moment polls show that you represent a quarter of all voters in Northern Ireland - the difference between a tepid and unconvincing Yes, and a firm, historic Yes - which is a very big difference. Even if you vote No, we will not abandon you. But vote Yes anyway.