In the Belfast Telegraph, Dr Peter Shirlow expands on his comment, reported by Henry McDonald on Sunday, about “the emergence of two political movements rather than parties” and paints a less than rosy picture of the political landscape the Process™ has presented us with.From the Belfast Telegraph
Firstly a clarification of the political movements
Sinn Fein and the DUP are not political parties, but political movements that seek to develop broad electorates around popular and uncomplicated ideas.
The SDLP’s flirtation with post-nationalism and the Ulster Unionists’ promotion of multi-ethnic Britishness was admirable, but too complicated, in a society emerging from conflict. Ditching more vociferous notions of identity politics meant that they undoubtedly did the lifting work needed to get us to the political place that we are now in.
But taking political risks early was not appreciated by the electorate, or more accurately, those who vote. Both should now reject ministerial posts and stand in opposition. This will provide a more normal government and possibly ensure that somewhere down the line we will have politics that is about governance, as opposed to the sterility of electoral tribalism.
Neither can we, as most commentators do, explain the rise of Sinn Fein and the DUP by simply studying their effective vote management, as it obviously helps if you have a vote to manage in the first place.
More important is the reality that the Big Two have shown that there is no effective opposition to them from those trapped in less fashionable ideas of democratic unionism or Irish patriotism.
Independent republicans, UK Unionists, and other angry former friends who stood against them, came nowhere close to denting their combined electoral good fortune.
And the political landscape ahead
In trying to ‘control’ Sinn Fein the unionist electorate has put Sinn Fein in a premier position concerning Unionist support for devolution. If Sinn Fein does not whistle to the DUP’s required tune, and devolution is not restored, then we are in a position in which Sinn Fein can simply state that unionists do not wish to share power.
The DUP, on the other hand, will state that Sinn Fein is not a true democratic party, and its electorate will be happy enough with that. If, on the other hand, it enters power with Sinn Fein, it will present itself as having put manners on Sinn Fein and its electorate will be happy enough with that.
The truth of the matter is that the truth does not matter, and that suspicion and mistrust remain as politics in Northern Ireland.
Can such politics ever be more important than better social services, not paying for our water twice, challenging the growth in drug use, challenging failing schools, working against social exclusion, stopping a private housing market that is stretching beyond first time buyers, helping the elderly who have to sell their homes to pay for care and repairing a society dislocated by a violent past?
We know that the British state is unlikely to enforce deadlines as it seeks a local solution to what it sees as a parochial problem. An Assembly dominated by Sinn Fein and the DUP is the only way that devolution can be restored.
Ultimately, they are intertwined until the end, whatever that end may be.