"Like most Unionists, I am relaxed about the concept of mutually beneficial cross-border arrangements, provided that they are of benefit to both jurisdictions and do not impose the will of one on the other. However, motions such as the one calling for acceleration towards enlargement of North/South opportunities are really not needed. This is particularly true in the case of the SDLP who should not feel they need to out-green Sinn Fein. Doing so places political expediency above what is beneficial to the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland."
"If parties treat the North/South bodies not as an opportunity to improve relations and services between the two jurisdictions but as a political vehicle to promote narrow agendas, there is a danger that the bodies will become meaningless. This is why it is vital that we ensure that the ongoing review which is looking into the functionality of North/South bodies is allowed to run its course unhindered by political wrangling, and then proper scrutiny can be given to the conclusions it reaches."
The simple fact is that it does not matter if the SDLP are trying to 'outgreen' Sinn Féin, and are trying to 'enlarge north/south opportunities'. There is no rational reason to object to as much north/south cooperation as possible. Any rational person living on a small island knows that the more they cooperate with the other inhabitants the better off all will be. Duplication of services, structures, infrastructure, administrations, laws, regulations, bureaucracies and commercial channels costs everyone dearly. The sooner these duplications and their costs are slimmed down the better for the taxpayer, ratepayer and customer.
Of course the SDLP's calls are inspired by more than just economic rationality – they are politically opposed to the very existence of the border. But that does not mean that they are wrong in any practical economic or administrative way. On the contrary, they are right – and their political position happens to rhythm with economic and administrative rationality. Unionism, however, is also motivated by its political position – despite Elliott's plea to leave "political expediency" out of the argument the unionist argument against north-southery is entirely motivated by politics, and owes nothing to rationality.
Unionism has nothing to fear from the maximum in north-south cooperation. Only a border poll will end the Union – not trade or shared services. What Elliott and other unionists are afraid of is that north-south cooperation will expose the illogicality of their position. They are prepared to reduce the standard of living, and access to goods and services, of their own voters rather than engage in cooperation with the rest of the island. This, surely, is both utterly political and utterly irresponsible.
So what, if the SDLP are shown to have been right?
If north-south cooperation is extended in every area possible, and if it becomes clear that it benefits everyone, then this will undoubtedly weaken the unionist position of separatism. Still, though, if a majority continues to wish it, Northern Ireland will remain in the UK. So what does unionism fear?
Does unionism really have so little faith in its own arguments that it fears cooperation because it knows that its arguments are likely to fail when exposed to real examination – even by 'its own' people? Are they afraid that when people see the benefits of cooperation they might start to question the whole existence of the border?
It is becoming increasingly clear that the unionist arguments against north-southery are threadbare and are based upon nothing more than anti-southern and anti-nationalist prejudice. Their footdragging is costing everyone, and is ensuring that resources that could be spent on rational provision of services are instead being spent on parallel bureaucracies.
Elliott, and most other unionists, are reacting against north-south cooperation in an entirely political and irrational manner. Luckily though, as time passes rationality tends to win arguments. They are on the wrong side of this issue, and they will lose it. What a pity they are trying to deny everyone a better life in the meantime.