Consumer Choice Democracy


Here is an idea for putting an end to the tug o’ war kind of politics that tears apart societies like Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Bosnia – all countries whose peoples contest their national allegiance and live in fear of ‘the other side’ getting the upper hand. If we adopt it, it can deliver both genuine democracy and lasting peace, and resolve the problems caused by Brexit in Ireland.


It is called Consumer Choice Democracy. And it answers the question:




In NI we are so accustomed to living in a society rooted in fear and suspicion we barely notice it. Fear of one side imposing its will upon the other channels our thoughts, defines our politics and narrows our lives.


We would like to think we have relinquished violence as a means of resolving it. We pass Bills in Stormont only when there is majority support from both Unionists and Nationalists. There is commitment from Unionists, Loyalists, Nationalists and Republicans to democracy and the rule of law. But this is democracy in a strait-jacket and our national allegiances remain split. The problem does not go away just because we have institutionalised it. To remind us, the so-called ‘dissidents’ – their vengeance starved for now of wider support – burst out like boils and threaten a return to violence.


Getting the right answer requires asking the right question. We want to live in peace but we also want to be free from the fear of being voted either into a united Ireland, or into remaining within the UK. So the right question must be ‘Is there another path we can take that will remove the fear?’ After all, if we did not fear these outcomes we would not gear ourselves up against them.


We know, however, that most of us do take one side or the other, out of habit. And in the 2016 elections, had Martin McGuinness become First Minister, for the first time since the signing of the Belfast Agreement he would have called upon the Secretary-of-State to hold a referendum on whether NI should become part of a united Ireland, in accordance with the agreement. As First Minister he would have been able to say, having won the majority position in the Assembly elections, that such a referendum could be seriously contested. The Secretary of State would have to agree. Every Assembly and General election poses this possibility.



While there would also have to be a contemporaneous referendum held in the Republic of Ireland, which would also require a majority in favour, a vote in favour of a united Ireland is a one-way ticket. If it were passed, in another seven years time there would not be another referendum to decide whether the former people of Northern Ireland would like to return to being part of the UK. If it failed, the Agreement says there can be another one seven years later, and another one seven years after that … until a simple majority tips the balance.


So, it is easy to imagine a considerable level of anxiety on both sides in the run up to this referendum for generations to come – and fear of the consequences once the result is known. A close result either way will merely exacerbate our division. Even a substantial majority is likely to leave a hostile minority. And passions will rise. Victory for either side is the worst fear for the losers.


This is not a sustainable way for people to live and, sooner or later, will lead to political breakdown.


Fear is not the only barrier we have to overcome. Its’ twin cousin is hatred – which always grows against the thing we fear. For so long have we lived with them that often it is hard to distinguish between the two. But what is clear is that we will not get rid of the hatred until we get rid of the fear.


Even those who champion reasonableness and the motif ‘live and let live’ – clergy, social workers, and even some middle-of-the-road politicians – contribute to the fear. They appeal to people to ‘see it from the other person’s point of view’. They oppose violence but, because they offer no practical alternative, all their appeals do is reinforce the division itself. By asking people to see it from both sides, essentially they are saying ‘this is here to stay, live with it’. Live with the fear. Be forever suspicious.



So is there anything we can do to remove something that is at the very core of our politics?


Can we move it away from the core – to the outer perimeter?


Displacing it clearly requires a complete change in our body politic, one that brings an end to our constitutional tug o’war and removes the threat of one side even thinking of seeking an edge over the other. We must replace disunity with … unity. We have to find common ground and build on it. In short, we must recognise and accept the need to turn our politics on its head.


I remember some years ago the security man for my office block, who came from the Shankill Road, ending a frustrating conversation with the words ‘If only everyone was a Unionist, we’d have a great wee democracy here’. Of course, the same can be said in reverse by Nationalists. The core of our politics is nationalism, British and Irish. But it got me thinking, that since we all want democracy, what if we prioritised it and put democracy first and nationalism, second?


How could that work?



Before we can move in any direction there is one precondition we must face head on – our sense of national identity. Both sides of our community must feel they can express their allegiance freely and be respected for it. So this freedom cannot feel threatening to either side. Rather, we want it to be an affirmative action that reinforces our common interest. So let’s express it in its most basic form – by where we put our money:


Let those wanting to be Ulster-Irish pay their taxes and receive their benefits according to the fiscal regime in Dublin. And let those wanting to be Ulster-British pay their taxes and receive their benefits according to the fiscal regime in London. In this way we get what we pay for and cannot fault one another for it. And we can change our minds about what we want to be.


Our monies would not actually go to Dublin and London. Implemented by a simple change of tax code, they would ‘bounce’ back into Stormont to be spent according to the manifesto of the party we elect to spend it. These taxes would be supplemented by no less monies than we receive today from London and Brussels – some £14bn per annum. The difference would be that on a proportional basis there would now be supplementary monies from Dublin which would act, along with London, as co-guarantor of our exchequer. So, if 40% of us decide to be Ulster Irish for the term of the next Irish Parliament, then Dublin would supplement our exchequer by £5.6bn per annum, and London by £8.4bn. Dublin might struggle at first to pay it but London would be bound to help, and support  would surely be found could from the EU. As it would be found for the newly intradependent people of Northern Ireland.



After each General Election held in the UK or Ireland, we would be free to change our tax codes according to which fiscal regime best suits our pocket. If anyone were to question whether we were Ulster British or Ulster Irish we would be able to say ‘we change according to whatever suits our pocket’ and all the heat would get taken out of the choice we make. We would have Consumer Choice Democracy – victory for both sides through there being outright victory for neither, ever.


Acting merely as co-guarantors, neither London nor Dublin would claim any jurisdiction over NI, which would become the world’s first Community State, intradependent between Ireland and the UK. The final arbiter of legal disputes would be The Hague. There would be no rationale or support for dissident violence as there would no longer be any UK authority or British military presence for internal security purposes – though an Irish-British agreement would guarantee our broader security needs, much as Nato secures the Baltic states. But no longer would we be able to blame London or Dublin when anything goes wrong in our politics. For the first time we would be accountable to ourselves – in a democracy worthy of the name because we would be electing our government on the basis of how it runs the economy.


Free to give an honest expression of our allegiance, while taking responsibility for ourselves, we would remove the fear and resolve the constitutional position once and for all.


Of course, there would be nothing to stop anyone insisting on putting their nationalism first and designating themselves against their financial interests. That is the meaning of Consumer Choice Democracy. It renders our nationalism as a loyal expression of cultural identity that no longer threatens anyone. It leaves our minds focused on the performance of those running our economy in the genuinely shared, best interest of our community.



So why, if it’s that simple, has nobody thought of this before? Well, actually I have been circulating this idea amongst our politicians and in letters to the press for almost 30 years. The political parties will not pick it up because they are all set on outright victory for their particular party. It does not fit in with their idea of victory and, as they are set in their ways, none of them will take it forward. In the words of one party leader ‘we have our manifesto and our supporters expect us to follow it’. Too frightened to try leading in a new direction, they are left with nothing to fight for but their own corner. They’d rather not cooperate. They put their Nationalism, British and Irish, first.


Then there is the psychological reason. We are so used to ‘the devil we know’ that we struggle to cope with the idea of anything different. And, because it guarantees they will be elected, this is the fear that our politicians play on continually.


So, without an existing party being prepared to take the lead and prioritise democracy, a new force is indeed needed to pave the way. If not a new party – the task is not to beat them but to turn them around – then a new political movement.


Putting Democracy first, before Nationalism, is an idea that is new to voters – very many of whom despair of ‘the same old, same old’. Relieved for now to get by without the violence but knowing we still have the causes of fear, they want to live in a place that can offer a future to their children, a place that can inspire them to take responsibility, where there is local accountability, and where they can see their efforts rewarded.


But as long as our struggle over national allegiance divides us, we can only be at peace when we are tired of war. For now we are still tired of war. But until there is a lasting settlement, there will always be a new generation that thinks it has a mission to prove.


Without a united Northern Ireland, however, there simply cannot be a United Ireland or a United Kingdom. How could either contain a disunited NI and be united? An agreed way of living within Northern Ireland is necessary first before we can successfully make it fit within any wider relationship, and such an agreed relationship may not necessarily be compatible within either an Irish or a British constitution anyway. Squabbling neighbours must make their peace with one another. Charity begins at home.


So it is time to show our political class how to change things, to turn our politics on its head, to put an end once and for all to the constitutional tug o’war that has blighted all our lives, and to bring us into the clear daylight that offers a truly hopeful future for our children, free from fear.



That is why it is time to establish the Intradependence Movement – to incorporate in the Belfast Agreement, alongside the options for a united Ireland or remaining in the UK, the option for Intradependence.  With this will come the first opportunity NI has ever had to put nationalism, unionism and republicanism – all three of them –  to the margins of politics. Only then will we be able to exercise democracy in true freedom from fear.


It is time to think of the freedoms that will come with new responsibilities. For instance, our ability to attract inward investment when able to set our own rate of Corporation Tax, plus the advantages to our farmers of not being bound by policies that suit GB but do not suit us. Then there are the freedoms that come from being autonomous – such as choosing to be a member of the EU, which the majority of us voted for in 2016. This would remove the need to reintroduce the border – leaving NI particularly well positioned to attract GB based businesses and international investors keen to remain in the Single Market and minimise the effects of Brexit.


If even 2% of the GB economy transferred to NI it would double the size of the NI economy – which would have substantial knock-on benefits for the RoI economy in turn. This would completely transform NI and make us financially independent, no longer relying on handouts but standing on our own two feet for the first time. Such prosperity, only available through a querk of history if we seize the opportunity, would also transform our politics – and give our children a future.


Short, medium and long term Consumer Choice Democracy is a policy that is in the better interests of all parties to support. Total victory is for dictators, not for democrats. So, whatever may be your current allegiance – to the DUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the UUP, the Green Party, or to the Alliance – if you want to ensure a peaceful future for yourself and your family based on solid foundations, you will have to set that allegiance to one side for the time being until Consumer Choice Democracy can be established.


This means bringing along your friends and joining the Intradependence Movement to make it happen. Once we achieve Consumer Choice Democracy then normal ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ politics can be achieved for the first time in NI- reassuring investors of long term peace and stability –  and civilised purposeful debate can finally come to the fore.


The Intradependence Movement will lobby the media and alli political parties, in NI and RoI, and pressurise each government to amend the Belfast Agreement and make NI the destination of choice for Single Market investors.



To lend your support please email me in the first instance to and I will put you on a mailing list to make sure you know of and can join in future activities that spread the word. Unless you request otherwise, your email will count towards a petition for amending the Belfast Agreement.


Remember that, as things stand, a referendum held now to determine whether we want to become part of a united Ireland will offer a single choice only – yes or no – with all the anguish that goes with it. Consumer Choice Democracy offers us a third option. But only if pressure is brought to bear on the Irish and British governments to include it. As this petition grows, it will become a demonstration to both British and Irish governments of the democratic support for including the CCD option in any future referendum question.


The only way to be offered this third choice is to pledge your support here. Funding is needed to go lobbying – so I hope you will offer that vital support.  


To our recent dismay, we have lost our government in the Assembly and we are faced with either direct rule from Westminster or fresh elections we do not want. But we can turn this disappointment to good purpose. Instead of listening to them trying to justify their differences, let us wise up our politicians once and for all and get them to support the one policy that will secure for every one of us a fearless democratic future. Tell them about Consumer Choice Democracy. Let us instead show that we can lead them.


We do not have to keep living with a disease just because we have become used to it. We owe it to our children to cure it now that we can.


©Garvin Crawford, Comber

30th June 2017


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