Why democracy fails in Northern Ireland

Democracy or Plurocracy?

Democracy works when it makes decisions for a single pre-existing social unit. Two nations overlapping in the same territory is another matter. The norm is for the majority in a given area to predominate, but with a strict recognition that this is naturally two distinct communities rather than one.

One can have “plurocracy” – two or more distinct communities with the largest ruling as it will. It has the same external forms as democracy, but democracy assumes a single people or Demos. In Northern Ireland, the two communities have much more in common with outside groups than with each other. An election in Britain would be a meaningful choice within a single “Demos”. In Northern Ireland, it will merely confirm that Protestants have a majority, which was never in any doubt

Within the United Kingdom, England has a comfortable predominance and sets the tone for British society. Minor nations need allowances as the price for accepting this unequal union. Scotland would certainly be vastly better off if had got away in 1970s. Talk of the “West Lothian question” – the anomaly of Scotland both running its own affairs and playing a part in controlling the destiny of the whole society – ignores the much greater anomaly of several nations of very unequal size in a union with few formal protections for minorities. If Scotland is to stay in union with a much larger neighbour, it needs substantial compensation.


From Newsnotes, April 1996, in Issue 53 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/.