The impending electoral victory of the Tories in next year's general election in the UK has started to awaken hopes (or fears) of an acceleration in the breakup of the UK.
The UK is not Europe's only shaky state, though. There are a number of other states where people actively discuss options for 'after the divorce'. We have already seen peaceful divorces (the old Czechoslovakia) and incredibly bloody divorces (the old Yugoslavia). Spain is another example of centrifugal forces at work, though so far without breaking the state up.
But another, smaller, and less news-worthy example is perhaps a better analogy for Northern Ireland – Belgium. The history of Belgian governance is a case-study that people in Northern Ireland should be aware of, because its parallels are interesting and it has so far managed to conduct its communal squabbling without a single death.
For many years Belgium was dominated by French-speakers (parallel: unionism), who imposed their symbols on the state and country, and seriously attempted to impose their language on the Flemish. In the last half-century the Flemish community has enjoyed a resurgence, and now enjoys a comfortable (60%) majority of the population, with a proportionate membership of the Parliament. But, in a spirit of power-sharing (parallel: GFA) the constitution reserved exactly half of the cabinet positions for members of the two communities (parallel: two main communities in both Belgium and NI).
The good news for unionists is that despite having achieved political dominance after over 100 years of struggle (parallel: how many years is it since 1922?), the Flemish community have not sought to break up Belgium and create a 'Greater Netherlands' comprising the Netherlands and Flanders.
The bad news for unionism, though, is that debate on "post-Belgium" is not over, and it is now the 'losers' – the out-voted, out-numbered, previously-dominant French speakers who are debating what to do if, or when, Belgium is dissolved.
On Saturday, in Liége in Belgium, an informal gathering called the Etats généraux de Wallonie (EGW) discussed options for post-Belgium, with the outcome being that the majority (75%) of the participants opted for an orphan Wallonie to seek unification with France – called rattachisme. Only 16% voted for an independent Wallonie.
Although the meeting, and the result, have no official importance, it is nonetheless interesting to note that public opinion tends strongly towards unification with a larger and historically 'significant-other' state next door, rather than attempting to go it alone, with the risk of becoming the new Albania.
In the light of any 'post-UK' discussions, it is clear that the same options would face Northern Ireland – and hopefully public opinion here would be as pragmatic as in Wallonie.