Unionism reorganising to deal more urbanely with ‘culture war’ pressures?

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…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • There’s an obvious remedy for the nationalist parties being starved of competitive voting which those stay at home ‘garden centre’ catholics can see the margin of the missing votes for both SF and DLP. Go out and vote even if there are just two choices. Allliance aren’t really seen as fertile ground by nats voters, being essentially a small u unionist party. The bigger problem for the DUP is not shredding of unionist votes, but rather, whether they should stick with Robinson as he has been caught on poor judgement on flags and the party has paid for it in 4% drop.

  • Outforawalk

    I voted for TUV. Very good party and I hope they continue to grow. The PUL community unlike the Republican side of life could learn a great deal from the media savvy of SF. The DUP are a blunder of a party. Peter is always threatening to resign. Creationism, backwardness, protesting over plays and some horrid politicians who clearly only play for the cheap sectarian card.
    I drove past Short Strand on my way to North Down the other evening and whilst sat at the lights was greeted with some very bigoted women and kids who were screaming up and down at the PSNI and shouting over to the residents in the SS. It was horrible to witness that. I support the flag being flown inline with the rest of the UK. Loyalism is constantly being exposed with the most backward nonsense. Only yesterday I read a post where a Loyalist called for English people to be kicked out of East Belfast. Can you get more British than being English?
    Point is, you do not see SF carrying on like this. The DUP encourage these people. Egg them on then wipe their hands clean.
    A vote for me as a Unionist and as a parent is to give my vote to a party that can do more than low level tension raising. I want education, health care and companies investing in NI. A flag or a parade is of no concern to me. I do not attend either.
    I honestly believe that the DUP need to go. They hold the Unionist community back. I almost gave a vote for Alliance but really do not like the fence sitting to please both sections. Ana Lo is always a turn off.

  • Zeno

    “Go out and vote even if there are just two choices.”


    I’d say the opposite. If you can’t find a party that represents you don’t vote at all. That is what is actually happening. On the current figures over half of the electorate are neither Nationalist nor Unionist and that is good news. The people are leaving the tribes.

  • Morpheus

    I wouldn’t call rallying the loyalist cannon-fodder behind a call of “themuns tore ar fleg down so they did” a reorganisation of urban unionism. 🙂

    The flag flying policy was a very lowbrow attempt to remove the balance of power at BCH and get the working classes back into the polling booth to vote for their parties. For the most part it has worked ven if Willie Tazer is scowling about the DUP’s lack of transfers already. The end result however is not a change in the flag flying policy but the addition of a few new – and judging from Facebook comments, “colourful” – faces to the trough.

    This is the start. There will be an increase in the Protestant vote then an increase in the Catholic vote, then the Protestant and so on…not for love of who they vote for but for fear of those they don’t vote for. Our politicians just needed a catalyst and funnily enough they found it in time for the Westminster and Assembly elections where the big boys ‘earn their crust’

  • Joe_Hoggs

    DUP are waning a little bit and that is difficult to disguise – they’re in trouble in Fermanagh at least with an MLA seat in danger.

  • Johnny Boy


    TUV or Alliance doesn’t seem like a choice many voters would be wrestling with. I’m intrigued.

  • Morpheus

    Zeno, Slovakian turnout at the elections was 13%

    Meet their 13 MEPs here:


    Disengaging with the political process means nothing – those who sat it out are still governed by those selected by those who didn’t sit it out.

  • Zeno

    Zeno, Slovakian turnout at the elections was 13%

    Obviously very smart people. Let’s get our turnout down to that and see what happens.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    ‘……Creationism, backwardness, protesting over plays and some horrid politicians who clearly only play for the cheap sectarian card…’

    Mmmm, throw in a few flegger types and it sounds like the TUV to me.

  • aquifer

    Their latest elected member Jolene Bunting it seems:

    Unionism’s dedication to making Sinn Fein look respectable is astounding.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Unionism showing the world an unreconstructed, bigoted face which refuses to negotiate merely benefits republicans. I’m wondering at what point unionists are going to learn this lesson. It doesn’t matter who you vote for or how crazy they are – the choice of either negotiating with SF on your own terms, or having terms forced on you, will always be the same.

  • belfastboyo

    The nationalist vote was complacent this time while the unionist turnout was boosted by the flag issue.
    Still, unionists didn’t regain control of Belfast or knock SF of the top spot. This must be disheartening for the loyalist registration push.

    This is election one of three and I wouldn’t be surprised if the turnout figures changed next time as nationalists become less complacent due to sectarian unionist pacts.

    The bottom line is that the average nationalist voter is younger than the average unionist voter and thus they have more scope for future growth.


  • Mc Slaggart


    “I voted for TUV. Very good party and I hope they continue to grow. ”

    My they grow from strength to strength.

  • Neil

    Ha. Culture war. The pressure of this culture war is so great that Unionist culture is everywhere and proliferating. More parades, bands, flegs and from a pretty high baseline.

    When Nationalists attempt to gain recognition of their identity it is a culture war. When Unionists do the same thing it’s policy. The most flegged, paraded culture in Europe is certainly downtrodden by this culture war.

  • watermelon

    SDLP should be the ones holding Sinn Fein to account. They should be Nationalism’s Jim Allister. There’s their gap in the “market”. Re-organise, volunarily go into opposition if they’re given the usual one seat via D’Hondt (as expected) next term, and start to make themselves relevant.

  • Politico68

    Breen has a point; Nationalist politics is missing a character to whip up the crowd. But the question is, do we really want one? The price for an increased Unionist turnout is being paid for by the police on a daily basis as Unionist tear up the streets, Alliance also are paying the price as they are attacked and petrol bombed. The Jim Alistair’s of this world that like to whip up fear and hatred in their communities are not matched on the Nationalist side, if that means a subdued nationalist electorate; then fair enough, I for one can certainly live with that.
    This election saw a fall in the nationalist electorate turnout. Again Breen is correct here when she describes the SDLP as being the big losers who seem motionless and directionless. Sinn Fein may have a solid support base, but the nationalist community it seems is not overly anxious to get to the polls.
    I don’t believe it has anything to do with holding SF to account in the executive, nor is it anything to do with SF’s ‘past’. All the evidence suggests that nationalists as a community are pretty content. Unlike their Unionists neighbors, there are no issues dragging them onto the streets, the working classes appear to be doing well in education, the Catholic middle class continues to grow gaining greater positions of power in civil and public institutions, they seem to be happy to sit back and watch the all-Ireland SF agenda take a great leap forward. It seems nationalism is politically a bit sleepy. It appears to live in a parallel society content with itself; running alongside that of Unionist society obsessed with the flegs, marching, lundys, Muslims and the dirty gays.
    Unfortunately Breen then does the ‘Unionist’ thing and gives us the standard ‘whataboutery’ which is just how some sections of the media simply fall into the ‘themes’ trap. Rather than deal quickly and swiftly with the accusations against Jolene Bunting, based on substantial evidence. We are served the usual ‘dogs on the street’ style of reporting to try and sneakily deflect from the issue… quote…
    “Last week Deirdre Hargey topped the poll for Sinn Fein in south Belfast’s Botanic ward. ..Speaking to RTE shortly after Robert McCartney’s murder in 2005, Hargey said: “Republicans have nothing to do with that…”
    Breen then goes to state …”We all now know how inaccurate her account was regarding republican involvement in the brutal killing.”
    She tries to suggest that Hargey should be hassled to a greater degree on unsupported allegations while Bunting’s minor sin of which there exists ample evidence should be dealt with more leniently. Upside down justice again.
    Social, Political and media Unionism just do not seem to be able to come to terms with current realities. It always has to be on the attack, or the defensive, it never seems to be happy with itself. The last thing Nationalism needs is a JA mark two or anything like him. Let Political Unionism alone to re-organize under hatred and sectarianism; they do it so well.

  • latcheeco

    “Nationalists as a community are pretty content” With the most deprived wards being predominantly nationalist, I’d say rather than “content” quite a few might have just given up hope for political change and that is dangerous for the Sinners in the long term.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Nationalist politics has no Jim Allister.’

    Thank Christ for that – The sight of TUV members turning their backs to Martina Anderson as she gave her victory speech is just another example of how childish and pathetic these TUV people are . Infantilism in a Union Jack 🙁

    Boors they are , were and always will be -the begrudging losers of orangist imbecility . For all Allister’s vaunted one man opposition his political members manners are those of unreconstructed neanderthals who can hardly wait to return Northern Ireland to a one party state .

    Sinn Fein have come far in recent years whereas the TUV are heading back to the past . By the looks of it they don’t have far to go 🙁

  • Politico68

    Latcheco, it is very hard to improve the lot of deprived areas across the North when the DUP won’t even allow for houses to be built to accomodate those that need them for fear a Catholic might get one.

  • latcheeco

    If you run to deliver change then sooner or later that has to mean more than just changing your image. And if the DUP are stopping the delivery of change is it not kinda pointless to share government with them?

  • Politico68

    Latch, if only life were that simple but it’s not. Particularly in the case of NI’s makey uppey government. Sharing power in Stormont is merely a PR exercise to show the outside world how well behaved we are. It doesn’t really matter if it produces nothing because it really is all about the optics. It will be down to the councils to deliver for the people.

  • latcheeco

    Nah it’s simple alright. If you look ineffectual you’re creating fertile ground for the next chap; see Derry.

  • Occasional Commentator

    Posted by Greenflag :

    “Thank Christ for that – The sight of TUV members turning their backs to Martina Anderson as she gave her victory speech is just another example of how childish and pathetic these TUV people are . Infantilism in a Union Jack 🙁

    Boors they are , were and always will be -the begrudging losers of orangist imbecility . For all Allister’s vaunted one man opposition his political members manners are those of unreconstructed neanderthals who can hardly wait to return Northern Ireland to a one party state .”

    To be honest, I’m not surprised at the above behaviour, given the quality of their councillors.
    This article appeared on thejournal.ie earlier today


    What a classy politician….

  • USA

    Culture war? A unionist term for opposing mutual respect when expressing identity. The place is awash with statues and symbols of unionism. Not to mention unionist flags, bonfires, parades, xenophobic anti-intellectual pastors, burning Alliance party offices, attacks on immigrants, need I go on, and all with a blind eye from unionist “leaders”. That sir is a culture war.

  • New Yorker

    Suzanne Breen has a good point about a nationalist Allister. There is no real competition on the nationalist side. And, in politics fierce competition sharpens parties and their people. Without it things slide and parties don’t really care about the people because they have their vote if they do nothing for them and only feather their own nests. Compared to politics in Britain and the Republic, competition on the nationalist side is negligent or non-existent.

  • USA

    SF have plenty of opponents in Ireland. There are the unionists of all shades (except the gay unionists), there are FF. FG, what’s left of Labour, the SDLP etc. Plenty of opponents and most of them are nationalist. The problem for them is the electorate keep voting SF in increasing numbers. I would expect this to continue. I would think SF are now serious candidates for minority partners in a coalition government within 10 years. There is no need for a green Jim Allister, SF already are the Jim Allister of nationalism. Oh the gay irony of it all 🙂

  • abucs

    The great preponderance of Unionist political splits and movements over the years have been movements formed because the existing parties were deemed to accommodating with Nationalists.

    Do we really want that on the Nationalist side of politics also?

    You can either favour smashing and denigrating existing structures in the futile dream that somehow unity will emerge; or you can work with existing numerically strong communities to forge understanding and mutual respect.

    The first viewpoint is a destructive pipe dream, the second a mature progression of community.

  • Comrade Stalin

    latcheeco – your comment is more insightful than most people here realize. Dissidents are gaining traction in some neighbourhoods and basic things that are not being solved – youth unemployment, housing and so on – are not helping.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Agreed Comrade, that’s why the TUV are finally making their mark due to the ineffectiveness of the DUP and UUP.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “Ha. Culture war. The pressure of this culture war is so great that Unionist culture is everywhere and proliferating. More parades, bands, flegs and from a pretty high baseline. ”

    Reminds me of the Chris Rock sketch about whites in the US mourning the loss of ‘their’ country:

    ” lf y’all losing, who’s winning?!”

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Am Ghobsmacht,

    A compromise agreement relating to flags was proposed in that they were to be removed from all lamp posts etc during the main part of the year provided the flag could fly continually on public buildings This offer was rejected and you’re now seeing the fallout from this.

  • Morpheus

    Ha, that’s a compromise is it Joe?

    “We’ll stop festooning our area with Union Flags if you
    1. go against what the majority of councils all over the UK do,
    2. go against the Equality Commission Advice,
    3. go against the legal advice from Senior Counsel,
    4. go against the recommendations from The College of Arms and
    5. especially go against the democratic wishes of Belfast City Council”

    Yeah, great compromise.

    All shared space should be neutral and welcoming to all (and yes, that includes playparks before you say anything)

    Have you stopped to think for a single minute to look at the whole sorry saga from a non-Unionist perspective? Or do their wishes in their own country not count?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Joe Hoggs

    With all due respect that’s a flimsy compromise.

    We’re seeing the fall out from the failure of our leaders to sit every body down and explain to us the concepts of numbers and demographics.

    20 years ago someone could have looked at the trends, looked at the fleg and thought:

    “man, if we start a PR campaign now we could either make the flag acceptable to Catholics or make it acceptable to have the flag flying policy similar to Britain’s. What to do what to do?”

    But they didn’t.

    What we got instead was “from my cold, dead hands!”

    And now the zombie-in-a-Rangers-top has woken up and is going on a rampage.

    I know what the flag means to many people, but, I’m a meritocratic, I praise vision, hard work and pragmatism, not hysteria, backwardness or tunnel vision. (or MOPEry, sorry, I had to get that one in there…sorry Morph…)

    Evolve or go extinct. (unionism, not you Joe).