If hard work and conviction were all that mattered in politics, Sinn Fein would be ruling most of the western hemisphere by now. But it seems that whilst their one stop policy is good for taking votes off their friends, family and neighbours, it’s not great for the wider nationalist cause.
Nationalism’s problem is put pretty succinctly and clearly by Suzanne Breen…
Nationalist politics has no Jim Allister. No-one holding Sinn Fein to account. Nobody keeping the party on its toes. No presence on the green benches willing to shake up the system. The election results show that the SDLP provides no real opposition at all.
In the same paper, Sam McBride demonstrates the broader effects of this same problem…
While there is truth in the DUP argument that nationalists, with just two main parties, are concentrating their resources, such a duopoly is not conducive to innovation, and can leave voters feeling they are taken for granted.
This election suggests the fact that while pro-Union voters tell unionist parties on the doorsteps about wanting them to all come together, when those people come to vote they actually respond more favourably to competition.
After all, if unionist voters overwhelmingly wanted more unity (or less choice), the logical course of action would be to support the DUP. Many unionists are doing that, but plenty are not.
DUP analysts will no doubt be soaking up the broader post match analysis.
Unionism have a structural advantage over nationalism which has been somewhat played down by committed peace processing and a broader tendency within journalism to “shunt aside serious commentators and investigative reporters in favour of the talk show host.”
Fragmentation happens in Northern Ireland because it is facilitated by STV PR. It’s a safety value against inequality and presumed eternal dominance by one player. That’s why it was dumped so quickly by the old Unionist Party.
Given more freeplay, STV is releasing the TUV radical’s energy to, perhaps, resculpt the unionist landscape allowing it to: challenge the DUP’s rising sense of entitlement; and allow Mike Nesbitt to follow his own more liberal instincts without getting too dirty.
The One Big House model of nationalism is no longer a serious long term runner in the south, nor will it be if nationalism has any serious ambitions to shape Northern Ireland’s future.
Unionism is not collapsing under what is at time the immense pressure of Sinn Fein’s culture war. It may simply be reorganising in order to deal all the more urbanely with it…
And it all comes at political (as opposed to cultural) nationalism’s aggregate loss…