Some years ago during the Silvio Berlusconi era I visited Giorgio a friend of mine in Sicily. During his younger days he looked at the North of Italy as model as to how the whole country was run and was very despondent because rather than the Northern ethos coming to dominate Italy, it seemed that corruption and the Sicilian way had taken over the entire country.
Of course the UK is not Italy but it does have a substantial section detached from the British mainland in Northern Ireland. There are many great things about the people of Northern Ireland and I have friends on both the Nationalist and Unionist side, but there are three very negative characteristics which seemed absent (or at least rarely obvious) from the British mainland.
Whataboutery, sometimes called whataboutism is an attempt to deflect criticism by calling out the failures of the other side. In a Northern Ireland context if a Nationalist was challenged about the behaviour of the IRA he/she might retort how about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? It was a technique used extensively by the Soviet Union to deflect criticism from their own atrocities by pointing out the failures on the other side. And also now a technique frequently used by Trump (most often by claims he makes about Obama or Clinton).
Siloing and Confirmation Bias NI
In NI there are two very separate communities referred to as the CNR (Catholic/Nationalist/Republican) community and the PUL (Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist) community. These rarely talk to one another and live in their own communities often with minimal interaction from those of other communities.
Zero Sum Game Mentality NI
There are two communities in Northern Ireland ussums (we) and themmuns (they). Denying themmuns any sort of victory is imperative. If themmuns get any advantage out of a negotiation clearly it must disadvantage ussums. A prime example is the Irish Language Act (ILA) agreed to in the Saint Andrews Agreement 2006 by both the DUP and SF. The Nationalists were and still are keen to have an ILA. It is as much to do with culture and feeling valued and not being treated as second class citizens in their own country as the actual language itself. The agreement says:
The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.
Clearly from the DUP’s side such an ILA would give themmums some sort of victory so there is another clause in the St Andrew’s agreement:
The Government firmly believes in the need to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture and will support the incoming Executive in taking this forward.
I had never heard of the Ulster Scots language, a dialect perhaps, but if it makes the PUL community happy I have no problem with it! Unfortunately however, the support base of the DUP smelled a rat in that an ILA was clearly more significant than the plans for Ulster Scots and after 11 years we seem to be no further forward. Themmuns can’t be seen to win! Indeed this seems to be one of the major sticking points for the reforming of the NI Executive.
Of course we are more grown up in GB. Or at least I thought so until the recent Brexit debacle.
When I have a rare debate with a pro Brexit person they do not to seem to care that blatant lies were told on the Leave side e.g. the £350M and Turkey’s imminent joining of the EU. I get what about the recession that was predicted immediately after or George Osbourne’s emergency budget? In other words, your lot were just as bad!
Siloing and Confirmation Bias GB
Pro and anti-Brexit people seem largely entrenched and convinced they are right. I’m guilty myself; I see Brexit as an abomination and think that the Brexit leaders should be tried for treason. I’ve stopped reading any right wing press – I used to look at the Telegraph a few times a week to see what the other half were up to. Almost no one I know voted Brexit. What is interesting is that the opinion polls are still about 50-50% Remain and Leave with a slight remain majority. People on the Leave side read different press and respond to very different arguments, and it therefore seems to be more difficult – or even impossible – to have meaningful discussion.
Zero Sum Game Mentality GB
A zero sum game mentality has driven Brexit negotiations. I think Chris Kendall puts this very well on his blog:
“Language matters. Tone is important. Ever since the EU referendum and throughout the negotiation process, it seems that everyone on the UK side has been using the language of conflict and confrontation, sport and gaming, winners and losers. This fundamentally colours the UK’s approach to the process, and in my view handicaps us. By seeing this negotiation as a contest, with winners and losers, the UK sets itself up to fail. A confrontational, zero-sum approach rarely makes sense in a negotiation, and never when you are the weaker party, which the UK is”.
It’s interesting to note that Sicily and Northern Ireland are both among the poorest parts of their respective countries and are not good role models to follow. Indeed Northern Ireland, despite being subsidized by the UK central government by an estimated £5.5k per head of population is now the poorest region on the Island of Ireland. There is sadness and disbelief amongst my Dublin and continental friends and colleagues that the UK has lost its reputation for pragmatic negotiation and levelheadedness. There is a worry that the UK as a whole will get much less attractive and poorer and a hope that this this “Sicilianisation” phase will be short lived.