Friday was a good day for bad hair.
In Scotland, at one of his magnificent golf courses, Donald Trump kept his mane in check under a cheesy-looking “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
In London, Boris Johnson, maybe the next prime minister of Britain, or what’s left of it, smiled broadly beneath his unkempt blond mop.
Johnson, the former mayor of London, led the charge for Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union. Trump cheered the Brits on, mostly because the leading argument for the Leave camp fit his anti-immigration maw. Trump congratulated the Scots for “taking their country back,” perhaps unaware that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU.
But, seriously, how is a guy who wants to be the president of the United States supposed to appreciate the differences and nuances in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, aka the United Kingdom?
On the other side of the Irish Sea, Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, saw his opening and took it. He said the decision of the British electorate to exit the EU, while a healthy majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay, showed that it was time to hold a referendum on whether Northern Ireland and the pro-EU Republic of Ireland should merge as one.
McGuinness is an Irish republican, and the goal of his Sinn Fein party is to reunify the island of Ireland. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a border vote just yet.
Theresa Villiers, Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, poured cold water on McGuinness’ idea immediately, saying there was nothing in the Brexit vote that suggested a need to vote on Irish reunification.
The bookies will place better odds on the Scots getting a second vote on independence before the Irish get their first. Two years ago, the Scots voted 55-45 against independence. But things change. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, said it was “democratically unacceptable” that Scotland will be forced out of the EU even though Scottish voters backed staying in the EU by a 62-38 percent tally.
But that logic would hold true for Northern Ireland, too, where the vote was 56-44 percent to stay in the EU. Overall, UK voters went 52-48 to leave.
British and Irish government officials will not be rushing to embrace the McGuinness call for a border poll. In fact, they are deeply worried about what Brexit means for the peace process in Northern Ireland.
If anything, that peace process has made the border between the north and the south irrelevant. The Brexit result suddenly makes the return of some sort of border almost inevitable. The Dublin and London governments stressed that the Common Travel Area agreement, which allows unfettered access for people between north and south and predates the EU, will remain in effect. Moving goods over that border will be messier.
But, like everything else in the wake of Brexit, who knows? Other EU states may have to sign off on the Common Travel Area, and few are probably feeling charitable toward the Brits at the moment. Hopefully, the good standing of the Irish in the EU will mean more.
I was in Donegal a few weeks ago, a part of northwest Ireland that has only just in recent years hit its stride, after being physically and psychologically isolated during The Troubles, that quaint euphemism for a time when people were killing each other. People there, and in Derry, just across a border that didn’t matter anymore, were deeply worried that a Brexit would make travel there more onerous.
So many people pass between the non-existent border -- to go to work, to go to school, to play sports, to visit family and friends -- that the prospect of a real border returning is seen as horrifying.
McGuinness was right to point out that the 56-44 divide in Northern Ireland meant that it was a bipartisan result -- bipartisan in the context that both Catholic nationalists who aspire to unity with the Irish Republic and Protestant unionists who want to remain part of the UK voted to stay.
But polls showed that a majority of unionists, especially those who vote for the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in Northern Ireland, voted to leave. The so-called two communities in Northern Ireland have something else to disagree about.
The great irony in all this is that, besides concerns about the open borders within the EU that allow citizens of EU countries to travel freely between member countries, a driving force in the whole Leave campaign was the sense that the UK had surrendered too much of its sovereignty to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels.
But in their determination to give two electoral fingers to the EU, the majority who voted to leave the EU may have undermined the future of the UK as something more than England.
It is the ultimate affirmation of democracy, and maybe unintended consequences. The British have voted to leave the European Union. Now a lot of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland who don’t consider themselves British see this as their justification to vote to leave the UK.