A proposed SF election strategy

Many people who know a great deal more about Sinn Fein than myself have commented on the Ard Fheis and such like. I thought I would try to have a look at their Northern election campaign and what I think they should do.

European elections in Northern Ireland were traditionally dominated by the fight between John Hume and Ian Paisley. As such, for SF they were never that huge an issue. Of course that changed at the last European election when they were always going to supplant the SDLP as the leading voice of nationalism / republicanism. Since they clearly were going to win they were able in Bairbre de Brún to run an only average candidate whom they needed to kick upstairs after her poor performance as health minister.

Of course this time round the position has changed a little for SF; because of the intervention of the TUV there is a chance of SF gaining the most first preference votes. In addition, however, there are some concerns regarding loss of support or at least failure to advance. This danger exists on two fronts: firstly some of the middle classes who have started or might consider starting to vote SF (for whom de Brún’s apparently non paramilitary appearance may be a help) may be put off by the Ruane education debacle. Secondly SF may loose some hard line support due to perceived failures to adequately advance the all Ireland cause. This latter loss of support may be over estimated but I do suspect it is a real problem especially in the dreary steeples of Fermanagh though thankfully for SF there are relatively few people out here (though some inhabitants of our graveyards do helpfully continue to vote).

The question then is how should SF run its campaign in order to maximise their support?

The first thing which needs to be done is distract attention away from SF’s problems and look at its successes. That is actually relatively straight forward. Gerry Adams’s interview on Hearts and Minds has been poured over in great detail on other blogs; the only part I will allude to is that he was pursing the suggestion that the DUP have moved a long way from being a party set up (according to Adams) to oppose power sharing and which Adams was congratulating for having moved so far. That sort of line is quite effective as it will undoubtedly antagonise the DUP and also probably strike a chord with SF voters. Furthermore his using quotations from the Hunger Strikers is also of course useful, such comments are always a good way of reminding people of where SF came from and suggesting that they have not forgotten their roots is a useful exercise if SF fear some slippage amongst their traditional supporters.

Adams was also fairly effective in suggesting that policing and justice would be devolved soon (helped of course by Shaun Woodward bringing forward the necessary legislation). His dismissal of the DUP veto may not cut much ice with DUP supporters but it helps imply to his own supporters (and any unionists unconvinced regarding the DUP’s trustworthiness) that behind the scenes a deal has been done. The suggestion that Gregory Campbell cannot block an Irish language act forever is in the same category. Clearly the DUP can dismiss all this but I got the impression that Adams was implying that in the future SF might take the culture ministry and try to achieve some of their agenda.

The strategy of harking back to the supposedly glorious past of the hunger strikers et al. and highlighting the way in which the DUP position has moved is, I suggest, the correct strategy for SF. SF has always known how to play the long game and few are better at it than Adams. Connecting the supposed triumphs of the past with implied confidence of future successes is, I would submit, a good idea. It takes supporters focus off the realities of the current lack of substantial progress and also diverts attention away from the relatively poor showing of SF members in Stormont.

Under the Trimble leadership of unionism when a weak ineffectual unionist leader with poor negotiating skills and the naïve idiot (Tony Blair) both gave SF far more than might be expected. SF now need to stress that few of the successes gained by them then have actually been rolled back and imply that soon a further push will be possible gaining yet further successes. Implying but not stating what these successes will be it allows supporters to create whatever fantasies they choose and allows SF to proclaim any forward movement as exactly what they had predicted would happen. SF did get over excited during Trimble and Blair’s time as things came so easily; hence, the nonsense about unity in 2016. They now need to suggest that although the train has slowed on its progress towards a united Ireland, this is only temporary and it will pick up speed presently. The tide of history is with us would be the sort of helpful slogan one might employ. When the DUP inevitably point to a lack of recent progress the tactic is simply a knowing smile and an explanation that soon concessions will restart.

It is difficult to completely gloss over the current situation at Stormont: as such, much should be made of Conor Murphy as well as Martin McGuinness since Murphy has been a bit less useless than Gildernew who has in turn (until the farm grants disaster) been much less useless than Ruane (that said Ruane makes the Maginot line look like one of the best defensive ploys of the Second World War). Having Murphy (and McGuinness) standing at various road improvements would be a good idea, especially ones with some cross border relevance like the A5. SF need to suggest competence in the current executive and Murphy is a bit more convincing than Gildernew. It goes without saying of course that keeping Ruane away from cameras is an important consideration.

Of course another useful tactic would be to indulge in a bit of worship of the past. Resurrecting the memory of the past is also an important part of what I would propose at the moment. This is important in creating the idea of a continuity of history with of course SF on the winning side.

One might regard these suggestions as negative and backwards looking and I would agree with such a criticism. However, I would suggest that in light of recent set backs a degree of retrenchment in Northern Ireland is necessary. Somewhat more positive proposals in the RoI may have some positive effect in the north. I would suggest, however, that SF may have to bide its time a little in terms of increasing its support in Northern Ireland. The apparent complete incompetence of the SDLP and the seeming failure of their attempted union with Fianna Fail gives SF a while longer to complete the destruction of the SDLP. As such gaining increasing middle class support although important is something which whilst it should not be ignored is a lesser issue this time around than insuring no slippage in the core vote.

The greatest long term danger for SF is of course disaffection amongst their core hard line support and a good campaign to minimise any increase in the grumpy garden centre Taig vote is vital: the middle classes can be collected later, preferably after Ruane has been disposed of and maybe even after Gerry and Martin have left the stage: then shiny leaders with less whiff of cordite may be able to attract these middle classes with enduring scruples for voting for a party lead by a former IRA commander and someone who was never ever in the IRA.

Another issue is topping the poll. This is very likely to happen but it is difficult to tell whether it is better to go on about it or be quiet beforehand as that may make the victory all the sweeter. Making a song and dance about it may increase the likelihood of it happening. However, not doing so can be presented as SF being mature and careful unlike the DUP who could be presented as being shrill on the subject. It also allows for crowing after the event which would take away from what I submit is an equally likely and potentially more serious long term issue for SF which would be a fall in the total nationalist percentage of the vote. I would submit that this is quite likely due to apathy and possible garden centre Taigs (of grumpy and non grumpy varieties). Hence, if SF go on about topping the poll beforehand the DUP (and others) will counter if it happens that the total nationalist vote has gone down. Hence, a victory could be slightly marred. Maybe better to wait and say little and then rub the DUP’s nose in it. Of course the nirvana scenario would be to top the poll and an increased nationalist vote. However, that is less likely and to base things on that would be to give further hostages to fortune.

Republicans are well used to playing the long game: the party which in its current manifestation initially gained electoral success during the Hunger Strikes needs no lessons in long term thinking. Briefly during the Trimble “leadership” and the “naive idioship” of Blair it may have looked as if a united Ireland was a few short years away. Instead SF has had to retrench especially after the last RoI elections. However, much as I would welcome SF’s inexorable demise I think that would be wishful thinking.

  • Bigger Picture

    Not to take away from the analysis (v good as always Turgon) this is the most surreal blog ever!

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    excellent analysis. Only thing I would add is that a review of the last Euro turnout by Westminster constituency would suggest that there is considerable chance of the garden-centre-Prod emerging from the undergrowth if the UU/Tory Alliance can present a coherent/plausible front. This will impact on the Nationalist percentage though it will not prevent (if it is going to happen) SF from topping the poll. SFs project now relies on demographics in the North (and coalition in the South) and although the demographics are probably still healthily Nationalist there may be a blip upwards in the Unionist %.

    Based on Hearts and Minds and the Ard Fheis the SF position will be to talk up the coalition with the DUP thus allowing them to sound statementlike to their own supporters and patronising and extermely annoying to the DUPs supporters which of course will boost the TUV and luck would have it improve their own chances of topping the poll.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Fair play for your attempt to sympathise with SF as far as seeing what they might wish for.

    Your analysis seems to boil down to this:

    1. Boast pre-agreement achievements.
    2. Be vague about post-agreement activities.
    3. Be positive about the future.
    4. Benefit from Southern success.
    5. Keep the core vote.
    6. Top the poll like gentlemen.

    Which I don’t consider exceptionally insightful or visionary. On each point:

    1. Those achievements, alongside the triple lock that is specific to SF negotiation, are now seen as the indefinite protection of the union.

    2. People aren’t fools, and they’re beginning to see the price of the P & J transfer, which required a humiliating trip to 10 Downing St, and has been followed by a) attacks on the Civic Forum; b) attacks on the North-South Ministerial Council; c) McGuinness admitting that the Single Equality Bill has been abandoned, only producing EU Directive-based legislation in its place; d) the Financial Assistance Bill, which will benefit Robinson at the Assembly’s expense; and e) no Maze stadium/memorial. When P & J is transferred, people will realise that MI5/GCHQ and Special Branch still have carte blanche, and even less oversight than before, under a deal that hasn’t been published.

    3. Difficult in light of 2.

    4. Except their Southern vote, according to polls, isn’t rising, and their refound socialism (see Anthony McIntyre on this point) does not square well with implementing Whitehall’s budget, alongside the cuts that are now imminent. As in the UK under Thatcher/Blair/Brown, public services are being killed by privatisation and ideas like £200m for 40 jobs in Shorts/Thales in Robinson’s constituency (SF policy on PFI?).

    5. Difficult in light of 1,2,3 and 4.

    6. Probable, but no achievement. I expect a poor turnout.

    Ireland, North & South, needs to be realistic. In the immediate future, its more important to replace the dependency on arid Foreign Direct Investment with closer European ties. This won’t be achieved by Libertas’s running mates. Uniting as part of Europe is the fastest way forward for nationalism.

    And Stormont needs to look at two priorities:

    1. Tax powers.
    2. Primacy on security (to be under MI5/GCHQ control despite SF/DUP claims).

    Until then, it barely merits the term Assembly, let alone government.

  • fin

    Turgon, although you were trying to blog on SF, you actually give a good insight into the common or garden unionists mind

    It was like ulster-scots, where you need to read it with a Ballymena accent for it to make sense

    Initially I found all the slippages and issues not to mention long and short games abit of a headfuck, not to mention the entire SF executive been useless and supporters needing to be spoonfed slogans.

    But 1/2 way through it clicked and I read it as a unionist………fascinating, and disturbing how you perceive nationalists

  • Silverline


    Do you not feel bad that you are sugesting SF will top the poll and for also promoting them is that what the TUV are about?

  • The fesh was a bit of damp squib – the set was a bit lifeless and that sort of mirrored the speeches….

    what’s up with them anyway????

  • Turgon

    I enjoy politics. I also think it is very useful to try to think about how our enemies think.

    As such the blog was an intellectual exercise with some practical merit. I decided to put it up in order to see what feedback I would get: I am interested in knowing if I am making any sense from a nationalist perspective. I seem to have some quite limited understanding and the feedback allows me to think further about these issues and modify my analysis.

    Remember that Dr. Paisley always took newspapers like Republican News. I am simply extending this idea by deliberately trying to propose nationalist ideas and see how close to the mark I can get.

    Sorry if that sounds too intellectual but that was the objective of the exercise. I intend to do a proposal for each party’s strategy. I am afraid certain parts of the TUV one will remain off the internet.

  • If Sammy McNally, an SF supporter, says that it was an excellent analysis, I believe that to be correct.

    This theatre of politics is, of course, the battle between Sinn Fein and the SDLP for the Nationalist vote. It was interesting to read the comments of Damien O’loan.

    Damien O’loan is making a bit of a meal out of P & J. I actually believe P & J is only an issue to people in terms of tackling crime, not whether the Ministry is here or in London or whether NI should have primacy on security.

    I dont think that the other matters O’loan mentions at point 2 will register very highly with voters.

    What is interesting is that O’loan has made no reference to the 11 plus and academic selection – surely the most likely source of political damage to SF. Dont they think they are going to benefit from it. I think they might but the SDLP cant afford to draw attention to their position. Their best strategy is to keep their mouths shut.

    Turgon has raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of the SDLP. He is right. Mark Durkan just does not have what it takes. What is really annoying is that Durkan has not even bothered to polish up/train himself to be a good speech maker. At their recent conference when he made his speech, he was utterly dreadful.

    They need a new leader with the dynamism who can connect with and inspire people. Do you think you are that person, Mr. O’loan? If you do, maybe Ides of March could really be .

  • fair_deal

    “the garden-centre-Prod emerging”

    Media myth. Do not exist. People who go to garden centres have the socsio-economic profile of those most likely to vote. The drop in the UUP vote has been across all socio-economic groups and the greatest drops in Unionist turnout have been in working class areas.

  • I think in the Trimble era Sinn Fein gained a reputation as hard ballers – tough cookies at the table – and this reputation was obviously helped by Trimble’s weak negotiating.

    However since the change in Unionism’s fortunes it is clear both how unrealistically hyped Sinn Fein’s negotiating strength was and how unbeleivably bad Trimble’s team was at negotiating for unionism – hence their stuttering demise.

    Minus the threat SF are average – exposed and they are trying to find their station from within the British system – hence a low key conference

  • danielmoran

    to turgon…. do you not think that, as i have posted elsewhere, the row over the maze stadium resulted in a propaganda win for the shinners? i’ll summarise it briefly; the hospital prison site is a listed property and as such, cannot be delisted so it is effectively a shrine regardless of whether or not it is dressed up as a reconciliation centre. also, the noise made about it by the dup is a prime example of a trap that the dup fell into, by misreading sinn fein’s reasons for wanting the stadium there [mcguiness underlined the point, by insisting they would veto any other site]. now that the so called culture minister has abandoned the plan, and sinn fein still hold a veto on funds being diverted to windsor park. the shinners have it both ways. ie the shrine still in place and no national stadium[why would sinn fein want such a thing since they don’t accept this colony as a nation].
    duppers left empty handed….. checkmate

  • Thats too narrow a take daniel…

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Fair Deal

    “The drop in the UUP vote has been across all socio-economic groups and the greatest drops in Unionist turnout have been in working class areas. ”

    Now do you square that with the figures below?

    In the last Euro election the lowest turnout was in North Down 38% as opposed to 45% for East Belfast – with the latter only slightly more Unionist and significantly less gardern-centre-Prodish.

  • Turgon

    It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it,
    Firstly thank you for being kind about my blog. On the East Belfast issue I must point out that I lived in east Belfast for several years and had quite a nice garden. I am not really a garden centre Prod, however.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it


    re. “I am not really a garden centre Prod, however”

    more common or garden prod?