Time and results catching up with SF?

More stuff I missed during a hectic week of doing things other than Sluggering. This analysis from Tom Luby is worth re-visiting. He notes one of the less talked about aspects of the election results – that the absolute total of the nationalist has dropped “from a high point of 345,000 in the 2001 Westminster election to 300,000 in 2005?” Sinn Fein certainly made a point of referring to ‘shredded votes’, ie those people who couldn’t vote because of the tighter regulation”.Luby thinks this unlikely:

In such circumstances it might be wiser to avoid unprovable speculation and judge the results as they stand. Accordingly, it is now possible to say that the upper limit of Sinn Fein’s votes is in the region of 170,000 votes while the bottom limit to the SDLP’s decline is in the region of 120,000 votes. Some 50,000 votes separate them but the gap would be even narrower if those missing SDLP votes had turned out instead of turning off.

He further extrapolates:

There are two implications for Sinn Fein from the result. One is that it may be impossible for the Provos to ever rout the SDLP and, denied top dog status, Messrs Adams & Co will have to accept that they need the SDLP’s support to advance the Nationalist agenda. That means doing deals with the SDLP and giving as well as taking. [ed note: this was written before the DI editorial and Jim Gibney’s column both published on Thursday] The other implication is that the surviving SDLP vote can only be won to Sinn Fein by accelerating the journey into constitutional politics and away from the armed struggle era, thereby erasing altogether any difference between them.

The danger facing Sinn Fein is that if there is no engagement with the DUP and politics in the North begin to stagnate the party could be vulnerable to a challenge from an SDLP prepared to cut its own deal with Unionism. At the very least it is a threat that Durkan could hold over Adams’ head. Also worrying for Sinn Fein is the knowledge that any faltering in the electoral enterprise North of the Border could have implications for the party South of the Border.

Either way there is a message here that underlines the need for Sinn Fein to put the IRA to bed in an unequivocal fashion. In some ways the Provos are more vulnerable now than at any time since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. But don’t expect Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair to see that, nor any of their advisers.