The Dromore by-election victory for the UUP has led to much discussion on Slugger and elsewhere about the significance of the TUV vote. Is it a threat to the Executive? Can TUV deliver a stronger deal for Unionism? What were the reasons for the TUV vote?
Of course, there are numerous unionist posters on this site with an informed opinion of the thinking within the various branches of unionism. So here’s my take on the significance or otherwise of today’s result from a non-unionist perspective.
Firstly, to answer the questions above. The TUV vote, while providing food for thought for the DUP, shouldn’t affect the running of the Executive nor the Assembly. The DUP- like everybody else up there- has committed itself to working the institutions and is fully aware that there is no alternative path to the future. Sure, the DUP may be tempted to sabre rattle over policing and justice, or indulge in more petty sectarian ranting against the Irish language, catholic schools or even the GAA (all traditional favourite targets), but in the end up the party will know that the deal has been done and that every step forward is one taken with Sinn Fein a la Victims Commissioners and Long Kesh/ Maze (which answers the second question.)
In that regard, this vote should send the message to the DUP that the type of reckless goading of nationalists indulged in by far too many of their MLAs should be replaced by more measured comments, in full knowledge that future deals the party will have to make with Sinn Fein will merely provide the TUV with ample ammunition to target the DUP. The party needs to begin educating their base as to the need to respect the nationalist identity, so that when decisions are taken down the line their support base does not react to TUV complaints that the DUP are changing their position.
From a nationalist perspective, the TUV vote merely confirms the continued existence of a chunk of the unionist electorate which has set its face against power-sharing with their neighbours and against recognising the divided loyalties that exist within this community. The furore over the ‘Town Hall’ symbols illustrates starkly the need for the DUP to begin legitimising the Irish nationalist identity within their own community. It’s hardly surprising that this vote should surface, given that the former home of the TUVvies was the DUP, which spent far too little time preparing and educating their activist and electoral base for the volte-face the party performed in 2007 regarding power-sharing with Sinn Fein.
The result today suggests that Sinn Fein may be much closer to becoming the largest party in the six counties than most observers would have believed. The Sinn Fein candidate comfortably outpolled the SDLP candidate in an electoral area (Dromore) which has traditionally been strong SDLP territory- indeed, the SDLP even outpolled Sinn Fein there in 2005. Taken with the comfortable by-election victory in Moyle in December 2007 (which received very little media coverage) the result confirms that Sinn Fein continues to strengthen its electoral appeal within nationalism as the SDLP’s slide into the margins continues.
The DUP are now in a battle with the TUV that will peak during the Euro elections next year, when, ironically, a Sinn Fein poll topper may steal the thunder of the rival unionist parties and commence a battle for the top spot in the next Assembly election.