THE ramshackle, largely unwritten and vastly out-of-date constitution of the United Kingdom was broken by Brexit. All we saw on Wednesday was further confirmation that it is no longer fit for any sort of purpose, not for any part of these islands.

I spent Wednesday night in Belfast, where I managed by the skin of my teeth to get to the historic and impressive Ulster Hall in time to be the keynote speaker at a packed meeting organised by the “Ireland’s Future” organisation.

Some 1000 people had gathered, mostly from outwith political parties, to support the case for Irish unity – and the ongoing energy, commitment and hard work of this civic body are impressive. It wants to explore the issues with a view to the eventual holding of a border poll, which is explicitly provided for in UK law as a result of the Good Friday Agreement (which also incidentally gives the necessary elapsed time between such referendums as seven years).

Those attending such events – there was an even bigger one in Dublin last month – are moderate and responsible people from all backgrounds and traditions who are looking to the future, not rehashing the arguments of the past.

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They are the type of people with whom any sensible government would wish to engage, yet currently, the main obstacle they face is the absolute refusal of a UK Tory Secretary of State to indicate the criteria by which he would judge if and when such a poll should take place. So although there is an exit from the UK available in law, Westminster won’t say how that exit can ever be brought about.

In other words, there is a constitutional Hotel California in Northern Ireland, as well as in Scotland.

The desire to consider an alternative future for Northern Ireland has been boosted by a range of factors, including societal changes south of the border, but Brexit has supercharged the argument.

Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted decisively to stay in the EU but was also dragged out against its will. However, given the absolute necessity of ensuring there was no hard border on the island of Ireland, there were special arrangements made (in a formal annex to the EU Withdrawal Agreement) which preserved Northern Ireland’s place in the EU single market.

This has been, for the most part, a considerable economic success, which is why hardline Unionists oppose it and are trying to have it scrapped with the enthusiastic support of Tory Brexiteers.

However, it has also whetted the appetite of many for a full re-entry to the EU – which is guaranteed if there is a single Irish state.

The decision on that must lie with the people of Ireland, north and south. Each must decide, in the majority, that this is the right way forward. It is their business, and no-one else’s. That is democracy and the role of any government is to enable and enshrine democratic principles and practice.

Yet what has happened in the UK is the opposite. Democracy has become whatever the sitting government at Westminster decrees it to be, and the reason is Brexit itself.

The National: SNP President Michael Russell speaks during a rally for Irish unification organised by Pro-unity group Ireland's Future at the Ulster Hall in BelfastSNP President Michael Russell speaks during a rally for Irish unification organised by Pro-unity group Ireland's Future at the Ulster Hall in Belfast

ALL the UK parties have now signed up to the continuation of that massively detrimental change to our lives which was purchased by self-interested dirty money and motivated mostly by a backwards-looking indulgence in nostalgia with no factual, societal, cultural or economic arguments in its favour.

Most importantly of all, it was never endorsed by Scotland and Northern Ireland and quickly repudiated by Wales, yet it was imposed upon them. To have one’s democratic choice in such a fundamental matter – approved by a majority of one’s fellow citizens – negated with contempt means that democracy is no longer functioning.

“Getting Brexit done” was the imperative which took its place. Now “Making Brexit work”, though that is an impossibility, has become the mantra. And if that too requires the negation of democratic decision-making in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, no matter the will of the people, those areas will just have to – in the actual and appalling words of the Secretary of State for Scotland – “suck it up”.

Equally appalling is the attitude of Labour, who, on Wednesday, instead of defending democracy and proposing the one-sentence bill that could cure the wrongs in the Scotland Act, gloatingly rejoiced alongside the Tories.

Brexit is the antithesis of democracy yet – even though there is now a majority even in England for admitting it has failed – it will go on poisoning the politics of these islands until the United Kingdom is dissolved.

The plain fact is that there is now no alternative but dissolution. Those who still back Brexit won’t give it up, but it is equally certain that the pressures from those who want to restore democracy in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not abate either.

The more the law is used to try and quell a desire for normality, the stronger the support for change will be.

Democracy is like a river. It will flow no matter the obstacles put in its way, finding a new path if the old one is blocked.

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In Scotland, that means a plebiscite election, with the details to be worked out, I am sure, by the SNP working with like-minded people in the wider Yes movement. The unity at the impressive rallies on Wednesday night needs to be built on by those who are willing to do so.

That wider, peaceful, constructive but determined desire for change will also, I think, be the continuing and growing hallmark of politics in the north of Ireland and Wales too.

Even the people of England will not be immune from it but what they choose will be their affair. They, too, have the right to make their own decisions about how they are governed.

They just don’t have the right – and must never again be allowed the right – to make them for their neighbours. That ship has finally sailed.