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In his book, Ringside Seats: An Insider's View of the Crisis in Northern Ireland , former civil servant Robert Ramsay supports manufacturing an "Ulster Scots" ethnicity that would be "fashionably in harmony with the zeitgeist of today's European Union". Ramsay is correct that the identity politics-obsessed EU would welcome just such a development, but such a move wouldn't be without problems for unionism.

Culture and Identity Politics in Northern Ireland

For a start, it would be a tacit admission that the union was, as a political force, completely moribund. Creating a backward-looking, cod-aboriginal Ulsterish identity is a long way from Margaret Thatcher's declaration that "Northern Ireland was as British as Finchley," or, indeed, the Ulster Unionist party's former campaign slogan , "Simply British.

In this sense it is an odd project for a liberal, British establishment figure such as Ramsay.

Hitherto the Ulster Scots movement was associated largely with the fringes of loyalism, something Ramsay and his ilk have little time for. Liberal nationalists have long claimed that the EU would make the Irish border an irrelevance.

For the DUP, the border question is raw identity politics

There was more than a little bit of wishful thinking in this — neither the ballot box nor the bullet had delivered Irish unity, so perhaps the EU could act as some kind of deus ex machina. However, even if the Irish public is dragooned into voting "yes" to the Lisbon treaty this October , sovereignty will remain with the member states, not pass to the EU. Even if it did, unionists now face a similar wait for Godot — replacing a distant colonial master in London with a dull and even more distant one in Brussels neither makes the Ulster Scots an actual nation, nor does it point to a self-confident and forward-looking culture.

So horrified is Ramsay at reintegration with the rest of Ireland he would prefer his countrymen became subjects of an EU superstate — but surely distaste for Ireland isn't all there is to unionism, is it?

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Belfast Burning: Religious Divide in Northern Ireland Between Protestants and Catholics

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