Ninety-eight years after its violent creation, there is still no legal definition that explicitly states whether Northern Ireland is a state, a country, or a province.

It's extraordinary when you think of it. That kind of ambiguity has long created anxiety, pointing up the provisionality of Northern Ireland's hasty emergence and the unsettled and unsettling way that its border is debated even to this day.

Given its unfixed status as a sort of quarter-state or non-country, no wonder Northern Ireland is looking increasingly exhausted. British politicians, frequently dependent on it votes to retain power, now seem exhausted with it too. 

To the great surprise of the DUP, the English prime minister Boris Johnson has just demonstrated that when push comes to shove its unionism that's getting unceremoniously shoved these days. Unique of all his former supporters, they really didn't see it coming though.

Worse, the prospect of an unwanted Brexit has so now galvanized nationalist and republican opinion against leaving the European Union that they have just done the unthinkable, creating strategic election pacts between Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Green Party.

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What this means is that there is now a much stronger anti-unionist pact than there is a pro-union pact. Historic change is in the offing.

This was all quite inevitable, of course. Nothing is more fatal in politics than complacency. It was complacency that allowed the DUP to back Brexit in opposition to the wishes of the majority of their voters in the first place.

It was complacency that persuaded them their ten members of parliament would long hold the key to wider Conservative Party victories, so nothing would really change. 

It was complacency that assured them that an Irish Language Act was not a thing they needed to facilitate or consent to since they held the deciding hand and always would (the UUP have been fatally short-sighted about this too). 

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It was complacency that blinded them to the shifting demographics and the growing pluralism and impatience with their my-way-or-the-high-way governing style in their own back yard.

Critics have observed how the DUP always goes out of their way to not only stymie but cauterize the ambitions of their nationalist neighbors, with the kind of gleeful triumphalism that plays well to their rapidly aging base but that can even offend their fellow unionists.

But the irresistible compulsion to give a black eye to their opponents has not served the DUP well on reflection. Arlene Foster may have been privately willing to do a deal over the Irish language act, but the hard men who are her party's base immediately overruled her. Their reflex was inherited, their inability to share cultural and political space with their neighbors was longstanding too. 

Now Foster has had to resort to talking about pluralism and progress and reaching out as if we hadn't just seen what that really means to her party as if they hadn't just reminded us with their actions and words.

But it turns out that most young people, Catholic and Protestant, don't want to live in a sort of loyalist version of The Handmaid's Tale, with its creaky old male hierarchy and its cold house for minorities of every stripe. It's long passed its sell-by.

Voters used to have little choice, of course. They lived in a place where every political question became the constitutional one. It went on like this for decades, after all.

Making every vote cast a vote for the union used to work flawlessly, resulting in the kinds of sectarian headcounts that kept wholly unqualified candidates and their parties in power in perpetuity. 

But things are suddenly unpredictable now. The old appeals don't echo like they used to. The political reflexes are no longer as sharp. The outcomes now seem dramatically uncertain. 

Unionism was first constructed to resist change, and for 98 years it has performed this basic task with varying degrees of success, but this meant that it never needed to develop any marketing skills to sell itself, or the political skills to contend with real political change now that it has finally arrived. 

In a world where diversity is increasingly seen as an economic and cultural strength, unionism looks increasingly like the reactionary and exclusionist political Model T that it is.

Besides, who in their right mind would want a union with Brexit-era basket case that is England under Johnson right now?

Young people in the North are utterly exasperated by the DUP's truly extremist policy positions now and they simply don't want to get into its ailing DeLorean time machine on an endless journey back to 1690. 

So what the DUP is very slowly discovering, on the eve of the 100 anniversary of this historically sectarian quarter state or non-county, is that the self-destruct sequence was actually written into the operating system from the very start. 

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