Unlike in the US or Ireland, abortion has not been a political issue in the UK for a long-time. And one suspects most people – whatever their view on that most sensitive of subjects – quite like it that way. But that’s all changing now, following the resounding vote in Ireland to remove the constitutional bar to abortion, which will soon leave Northern Ireland as the only place in the British Isles where it is not allowed, which has immediately prompted campaigning in both Ulster and Westminster for that to change.
Putting aside one’s views on the subject in question, this raises profound questions about the concept of devolution. Campaigners on one side argue that this is an issue of fundamental human rights and that Northern Irish women should have the same rights as those elsewhere both in Ireland and Britain, whilst on the other side is the argument that this is a matter for Northern Ireland and the democratic majority in the (now defunct – complicating things further) Assembly do not wish to see change.
For more than 20 years, devolution of decision-making has been seen almost universally as “a good thing”. More decisions, taken more locally to reflect local priorities. That has to be right, yes? But what about when we don’t like those decisions? The real test of belief in something like devolution is when it leads to decisions you personally don’t like.
We’re about to find out if the public and the political class believe in devolution as much as they say they do.