It’s about more than tribal head-counts…

FORGET shifting demographics – not only it is a glacially slow movement, but may never result in a nationalist majority – argues academic Peter Shirlow. Instead, the “political tradition that first gains significant votes across the divide will be the one which inherits and shapes the future”.

And that may be more about delivery on issues other than Northern Ireland’s constitutional position:

Politics must be about delivery and persuasion is about effectiveness and the removal of threat. People on this island want the North to work and a future generation will be able to make more reasoned judgments about the constitutional future if that decision is based upon a politics that begins to work and is relevant to them beyond the fact that they were born into any particular community.

Just today, in the Irish News, the importance to tribal politicians of attracting support from ‘themmuns’ was seen in Diana Rusk’s interview with Martin McGuinness. She writes:

He tells a story of how while canvassing in Magherafelt, a woman invited him into her home after telling him she wasn’t “a co-religionist” and then informed him she was going to vote for him.

“That happened on a number of occasions and I have to say ity had an immense impact on me that people were prepared to make it clear that they could cross what was at one stage an unbridgeable void.”

It might be anecdotal and exceptional, but McGuinness obviously has reasons for viewing it as significant.

Even Paisley recognised the importance of delivery and by many accounts worked hard for Catholic constituents, although whether that convinced many of the benefits of the Union is another matter.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    I’d say the above example is indeed anecdotal and exceptional.

    McGuinness comes with a huge amount of baggage, as does his party, and no-one with even a passing interest in the Union could realistically consider voting for him. SF are essentially a one issue party — if they really think that they can garner significant votes from ‘the other side’, they’re set for a big disappointment.

  • Driftwood

    It’s not always about policy either.

    I’d vote for Caroline Flint regardless of party or issues.

  • Judging by the likes of the results in East Belfast and FST not everyone has such an urgent interest in the Union? In FST some ‘unionists’ resisted the appeal to come out and turn it into a tribal head count. What happened in East Belfast when they were faced with three flag waving unionist candidates (are any unionists NOT single issue parties in the same sense)? The electorate in East Belfast said no and chose an alternative. Elsewhere shoring up SDLP candidates didn’t seem to be beyond ‘unionist’ voters. The converse, that SDLP voters didn’t come out and tactically vote for Connor in FST, hasn’t really been discussed. So, the picture is a bit more nuanced than you are presenting. In some cases, more people are making measured judgements about how they use their vote and some, who no doubt do have a passing interest in the union, don’t seem to have it too high up their priority list.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Agreed John Joe — there is a long history of SDLP/Unionists ‘lending’ each other votes. Rightly or wrongly many Unionist voters have viewed the SDLP as moderate nationalists, as opposed to the militant in your face republicanism of SF.
    A tactical vote for SDLP or an ‘admiration vote’ for Naomi Long via Alliance is a very different thing to a vote for SF.

  • Wiseabap

    I agree with Shirlow’s assertion – and whilst the numbers of protestants voting for Sinn Fein will be miniscule a more significant shift in tribal patterns is possible around the SDLP (as witnessed in South Belfast) – and would be around the UUP if they were to clearly distance themselves from the Orange Order – for example by appointing a new leader who is not an Orange Man – but with a lot of additional effort also needed. For the SDLP – quietly dropping the ‘National Question’ would go a very long way. Not many want that debate now, fewer will want it a year from now when the recession really bites – what we need are local politicians who can show that they can take the difficult decisions, get deals done, and produce real community benefit.

    Naomi’s vote in East Belfast is also very interesting – as a lot of working class prods voted for her – probably more on the basis of her record on the ground than as a conscious switch to Alliance.

    I believe these are interesting times – and the big battle is now for an ‘equal’ but separate society, and a genuinely shared future – this choice has to be put to the electorate in clear and unambiguous terms. Those promoting the latter also need to clarify the significant economic nonsense of the former!

  • Newt

    All the evidence that there has been has shown that the unionist / nationalist split bears little relation to the % support for a united Ireland, which in every survey conducted has always been well below the total nationalist vote. In principle it should therefore be much easier for a pro-union party to get Catholic votes than a pro unity party to get Protestant votes.

    All four main parties here are de facto sectarian vehicles. The SDLP and Sinn Fein are not really garnering votes for a united Ireland. They may say they are but in reality they are parties to represent the largely Catholic ethny, who then happen to mostly want a united Ireland. They are like the Russian minority parties in the Balkan states, or the Party of the Roma in Romania, as opposed to parties like Plaid Cymru or the SNP whose vote can go up and down other than through changes in the ethnic composition of the electorate. There is a natural ethnic limit to their expansion. They are therefore stuck in a kind of bind. In order to sell a united Ireland to Protestants they have to water down the Gaelic ethny nature of any such proposed united Ireland (for example that in such a united Ireland children won’t be forced to learn Irish or be discriminated against in public sector jobs if they don’t, or that there won’t be bilingual signs on Royal Avenue or the Shankill Road), while at the same time they are vehicles for the advancement of the Gaelic ethny, for whom bilingual signs and removal of Queen Victoria statues and the like would be all good, at least if the “other side” happened to not exist or have legitimate interests. This isn’t even so much riding two horses at once as riding two horses galloping in opposite directions.

    To promote a multi-ethnic state such as a united Ireland coming about through Protestants voting for it would require a decoupling of Gaelic ethny concerns from the issue of a united Ireland. In effect it would require a “Prod” pro-unity party or group which would at once argue for a united Ireland while at the same time representing one side in a balance for the interests of the British ethny, or at least non-Gaelic identifying ethny. I don’t think that Sinn Fein, by it’s very nature could possibly be that, even a ginger group within it.

    Or to sum up, Sinn Fein’s problem is what is the point in voting Sinn Fein even if you want a united Ireland but you happen not to be a Gael and not to want your children to learn Irish etc.? These days similar comments would largely apply to the SDLP. Your closest party to vote for would seem to have to be Alliance.

    Protestant support for a united Ireland would require an “ethnic Prod” pro-united Ireland vehicle, like the pro-unity Turkish parties in Northern Cyprus such as the Republican Turkish Party. Nationalist parties in NI are in a very poor position to pick up Protestant votes, other than tactical preferences dependant on the voting system, because they are just too linked to ethnic interests of one side. Even one of the unionist parties switching to a united Ireland position (not likely) would seem a more likely vehicle for Protestant pro-united Ireland votes than Sinn Fein ever getting any of a notable magnitude.

  • As would I, Driftwood 😉 Though she could possibly get the gaps in her teeth fixed. She is soooo hot until she opens her mouth. Suppose she’s the best looking MP though.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Excellent post Newt and a compelling argument for the national question being parked for a generation.

    SF behave electorally as if there is some mythical tipping point where they get an automatic UI if they get enough votes. Likewise Unionism remains huddled in a corner sweating over a battle which has to all intents & purposes been won. Both are entirely wrong-headed. NI as an entity will remain for the forseeable future — there are compelling arguments both for and against either a UI or the union continuing, but neither side are listening or likely to be convinced in the forseeable future. For most, economics are irrelevant to the national question — they simply don’t ‘feel’ British or Irish, largely through nurture and that’s the way it’s always been.

    Both sides fought each other to a standstill during the ‘troubles’, a similar situation looms electorally. The DUP have hit a glass ceiling, SF are approaching the same position. Both sides need to face up to ‘real’ issues and give the orange & green a rest.

  • RepublicanStones

    In FST some ‘unionists’ resisted the appeal to come out and turn it into a tribal head count.

    John Joe I wouldn’t think it was their disapproval of a sectarian headcount which kept them all away. More the thought the sectarian headcount was in the bag, so no need to miss the snooker.

  • RepublicanStones

    I think most people would look past the colour coding ingrained in our politicians and indeed in eachother, if we dealt on an individual basis, as evidenced by Paisley’s helping of his catholic constituents. And one wonders if the little old lady would have voted for Krusty if she hadn’t met him.

    The problem arises, in part, when we perceive themmuns, be it a group or a recognisaeble face (politician) as being unfairly critical of a group/someone we identify with as sharing the same colour coding we were saddled with at birth. Then the wagons are circled and barrels kicked over, something most if not all of us are guilty at least once.

  • socaire

    A vote for the SDLp is a vote for a catholic party. And … they have already dropped ‘The National Question’.!

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Although SF’s attempts at winning over Prods is little more than party-political-political-correctness and something they feel they have to be seen to be doing there may be more fertile ground for SF in the ovelap in attitudes of Nationalists and Unionists to the British government. The DUP repatedely told it’s supporters that however unpalatable the STA was with SF getting their much sought after prize of the transfer to Irish soil of Police and Justice that it was much better than the alternative of Dublin rule by the back door – Unionists in other words simply could not trust the British with the union and the best path was the Unionist version of ourselves alone. SF need to tap into this DUP desire, based admitedly on decades of ‘betrayal’ by London, to find common political purpose if admittedly for entriely different reasons – one to save the Union and the other to destroy it – as well as keeping a close eye on next years census results which still seem to keep going surely (and perhaps slowly) in the right direction.

  • Driftwood

    Kevin
    ‘Girl next door’ view can vouch for the tooth gaps. She came across as a ‘ballbuster’ though. Her ‘readers wives’ photoshoot a few months ago exposed her arrogance. Still, she’s pretty OK for an MP, and being Labour, probably make you a fry the next morning. She won’t know you’re going to vote Tory anyway so it’s a win win.
    Agree that you leave early the next morning.

  • smellybigoxteronye

    Who’s also the leggy blonde sitting behind Cameron here?!

  • smellybigoxteronye

    here, sorry:

  • Newt, surely, though the question here isn’t that all of the issues you raise are even real anymore – if anyone set out a clear UI vision, I’d imagine (if they were being realistic) they’d have to explicitly build in the concept that much of the social and cultural characteristics of Northern Ireland would require legal protection and regulatory measures – some requiring reciprocal movement in the Republic (e.g. removal of the option of doing an Irish language test to get extra points in civil service recruitment etc) or a (local, i.e. six county) methodology for determining whether billingual signs should be erected. Do you really think that SF or any sane pro-UI core policy is the erection of street signs, promoting the Irish language and pulling down statues?
    What you are really saying is that ‘Protestant’ voters don’t trust SF, which is hardly news. You then draw helpful analogies between Catholics in the North and introduced populations like Turks in Cyprus and Russians in the Balkans. This implies that you consider (or at least want to subtely present the idea that) either a Catholic or Gaelic ethicity (you interchange them above) is somehow alien to Northern Ireland. I’m afraid that that hints at a much broader gap in perception (nevermind wholescale disregard of reality) that is never going to be bridged by sane arguments.
    Definitely, I think that SF have almost insuperable problems in attracting Protestant voters. In many respects it hard to see what type of position SF, with its history, could adopt that would attract them. Any advocate of a UI need to listen to them and try and construct a vision that Protestants will buy into, if the issue is to be resovled by any way other than a 50%+1 headcount which notably han’t worked either way.
    But if people continue to peddle blatant nonsense about ‘Protestant British Ulster’ then it is no wonder. After all, who would want to swap a blissful fantasy for hard facts?

  • Wiseabap

    Isn’t a United Ireland as presented by both SF and the SDLP a 19th century solution to a 21st Century problem? It is time to get real politically – the greatest task is to make Northern Ireland work – and in particular to make its economy work.

  • Eire32

    I think its more independence from the Brits than anything.

  • Eire32

    Scratch the word more there.

  • Wiseabap

    So do you include your neighbours in that definition? What if they do?

  • PaddyReilly

    Hmm. Nationalists are precisely 2,225 votes short of being the majority designation among the Westminster M.P.s and yet there is only glacially slow movement in the shifting demographics and we won’t see it happen before 2035!

    People believe what they want I suppose. Not that I am much impressed by McGuinness’s anecdote: when I was young I used to reproach my parents for their dishonesty in telling every single candidate they would vote for them, but now I’m older I find myself doing the same thing.

    What will happen is not that former Unionists will convert to the SF gospel, which is asking too much, but that they will, when it becomes obvious that the Unionist cause is lost, switch in droves to “post-Unionist” parties like Greens and Alliance and accept the new order without any fuss. SF’s charm offensive will not get Protestants to vote for any Nationalist party, but if it persuades sufficient Methodist Ministers’ wives that it is safe to switch from UUP to Alliance and abstain when it comes to a vote on a United Ireland, it will achieve its object.

    South Belfast is the model: a Nationalist MP, and 3 Nationalist MLAs against 2 Unionists, all done with just 41% of the vote plus 15% of Alliance voters who refuse to rally around the Unionist cause.

  • PaddyReilly

    In FST some ‘unionists’ resisted the appeal to come out and turn it into a tribal head count.

    They keep saying this but there is no evidence that it is true.

    In the 2007 Assembly elections for FST the total DUP + UUP + UKUP vote was 11,838 + 9,134 + 388 = 21,360.

    For the General Election Rodney Connor got 21,300 votes. All right he was 60 down. I suggest that those 60 were dead or had left the constituency. He got the Unionist vote out in its entirety, I would say. There might be other names on the electoral register, but they could be 17 year olds short of their 18th birthday, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Reformed Presbys whose religion prevents them from voting, students who voted in their college town, people in a coma, dying, or dead, people who never vote because it encourages them, and so on.

    SF won. End of story.

  • Paddy – I had ‘unionists’ in quotes for that reason. Apparently if you don’t vote for a nationalist party you are assumed to be pro-union: if you don’t vote at all, you are pro-union as you didn’t come out to vote against it. The converse – the possibility that if you don’t vote for a candidate on a unionist platform, you perhaps don’t share their high value of the union is not even considered.

  • Greenflag

    paddy reilly ,

    Rodney Connor got 21,300 votes.
    True

    Also true

    Michelle Gildernew got 21,304 votes

    Whats also true is that approx 21,000 of the electorate did’nt bother to vote of whom at least 7,000 would have been from a unionist community background

    While it’s true SF won -it could so very easily have gone the other way .

  • PaddyReilly

    Whats also true is that approx 21,000 of the electorate did’nt bother to vote

    This we do not know. You have not proven that these people exist and are entitled to vote. Non-Nationals get put on the register, as well as children, and people are retained on it after they have died or moved away. That they didn’t bother is not something that you can say.

  • PaddyReilly

    Very thoughtless example of Orangey bolshiness here.

    The effective function of the Irish language in Irish public life is not to discriminate against Protestants, who are just as capable of passing examinations in this subject as Catholics, but to secure employment in adminstration for the native born and educated, rather than recent immigrants from elsewhere.

    So the ultimate effect of adopting this worldview of separate ‘ethnys’, whatever they might be, would not be to secure employment for Ulster Protestants, but to enable it to pass expeditiously to immigrants from Pakistan or such places, no doubt encouraged by the re-entry of Ireland into the Commonwealth.

    So just shut up and get your book out and repeat after me, tá mé, tá tú, tá sé. It’s for your own good.

  • Greenflag

    We know the turn out was 68% . For Fermanagh that’s low -very low even if it was still the highest turnout in the province. I’ll accept that the register is not 100% accurate and that the ‘deceased ‘may still be on the register who in former times may have miraculously reappeared to cast their ballots 😉

    Given the turnout figure 68% it’s statistically highly probable that thousands with a unionist community background did’nt vote and that even more thousands of a nationalist community background did not vote either .

    Even had the turnout figure been 90% there would still have been found the half dozen or so voters from a uc background who could have changed the result or double the number from an nc background who could have increased the SF majority .

  • Greenflag

    ‘It’s for your own good.’

    This is true at least . Learning another language regardless of which one , not only makes it easier to learn several languages but research has proved that it’s good for the ‘brain’ and promotes longer term mental performance as people age .

    So whether it’s Mandarin or Irish or Serbo Croat it’s good for you .;)

  • Comrade Stalin

    Yup, you’re definitely a Tory.