Tonight the Telegraph have a typically sage and balanced op ed from Paul Bew on what meeting the Queen means in real political terms…
…what is next for Sinn Fein, given that the most recent poll in Northern Ireland shows support for a united Ireland at a new low of 7 per cent? It is now clear that Sir Patrick Mayhew’s prediction in the early Nineties that Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom would come to a crucial test before that of Northern Ireland was justified.
So before any credible move can be made towards Irish unity, Sinn Fein has to entertain itself and its supporters. It is a top-down organisation, with a leadership strengthened by the cult of the collective personality. It has found it relatively easy to cast dissidents into the darkness, but even so, something must be done to maintain interest.
The royal handshake was a psychological hurdle, and Sinn Fein has overcome it. That indicates a tactical flexibility and a willingness to come to terms with the British Establishment. It does not detract from the gesture Sinn Fein is making to say that if the Coalition was to break up and we were to enter a period of Conservative minority government, this flexibility could be significant. Surely the next move must be to end the abstention of Sinn Fein’s five MPs from the House of Commons.
It should not be forgotten that the Callaghan government lost the fatal vote of confidence that ushered in Margaret Thatcher thanks to the critical role played by Irish nationalist MPs.
Now, I’ve heard this endlessly speculated about in the past, and it has never come to pass. But Bew has a point. Once you’ve met the Queen on foot of your status within the Stormont administration, what’s the block with Westminster? You might, for instance:
- create a little tactical space to allow you to put a move on some future UK government;
- remove the final reason for hold out nationalists to vote SDLP, ie SF’s abstentionism.
Stranger things have happened at sea…