That ‘invisible’ unionism vs nationalism black magic trick…

I was asked on Thursday by Seamus Martin on Tipp FM who would be the winners and losers in this battle. I, honestly as I could, told him ‘no one’. And indeed, in terms of pure numbers, there has been very little in the way of significant change.

As I argued in the Mirror last week, there was little for the electorate to go on any of the party’s records.

If it was anything it was a reward to both SF and the DUP for keeping stability and exuding an air of competence and unity.  There was not much more, not much less. But there’s another story here , which I will try to trick in detail through the afternoon. In a seat for seat contest, the designation totals came up thus:

Unionist 55

Nationalist 41

And the lead party totals:

DUP 38

Sinn Fein 29

So, even allowing for messy vagaries of the STV system, neither under the old rules nor the new did Martin McGuinness stand a pup’s chance of getting the First Minister’s jobs… But the trick of raising it as an issue on the doorsteps undoubtedly worked like a dream, particularly for the DUP.

So, as an issue, it wasn’t one either Sinn Fein and the DUP wanted to talk about in public or to the media. And it wasn’t necessarily one they raised directly on the doorsteps either. In the case of the DUP they were rather more canny than that, as you can see from one of their key election communications,

it was alluded to rather heavily on the doorsteps…

It came with a clever pitch for assets generally, more MLAs means more Ministers (here, I suspect, Caitriona was a more than useful asset) and getting the senior title (as opposed to job) at OFMDFM…

This may be why the UUP canvassers did not pick up the concern about McGuinness until right at the end as waverers were preparing to vote.

There will now be a strong force applied to the two smaller parties to conform to norms set for them by the two larger ones. These will carry a single message, don’t be negative about your politics, remember the tribe is the most important tie that binds and, more importantly as we head into difficult era of implementation of cuts, keep quiet and don’t cause us any trouble.

The smaller parties have been corralled into a blind tribal canyon escape from which is not going to be quick or easy, when tribalism is seen both to work and bring sustained electoral success. The sheer lunacy of Tom Elliot’s attack (which would probably have got him a red card on Slugger, or at least during the election campaign) on Sinn Fein was a dysfunctional political act that will consolidate rather than disrupt the current, stifling status quo.

The other phantom memes of the election campaign were the UUP ‘meltdown’ and Sinn Fein’s bounce from their electoral success in the Republic, both of which failed to materialise. That’s not to say the UUs don’t have serious trouble, disguised somewhat by the fact that too many of their survivors only just just made it through the door.

But more of that later…

  • “did Martin McGuinness stand a pup’s chance of getting to First and Deputy First Minister’s job”

    Surely a typo, Mick. It does give a new angle on double-jobbing.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Nev, amended now.

  • “a strong force applied to the two smaller parties”

    Mick, can you clarify this please? There are more than two smaller parties which can expect the wrath of the DUP-SF ‘coalition’ if they rock the boat. You’ve not mentioned the SDLP. I presume you are referring to the UUP and SDLP.

    The ‘coalition’ and the public will be under pressure from the build-up to commemorations as well as the economic cuts; potentially very stormy waters ahead.

  • Alias

    The British government engineered the PSF/DUP axis for powersharing between unionism/nationalism as a more stable alternative to the previous SDLP/UUP axis. It was claimed that if the ‘extremes’ could work together where the ‘moderates’ could not due to the background shennanigans of the extremes, then there would be no extremes left to upset powersharing.

    It achieved this by doing side deals with the extremes, thereby showing the electorate that extremism is rewarded through appeasement and pacification. Since these side deals benefited one tribe at the expense of the other, this was designed to make the elecorate vote along tribal lines, with the electorate then voting for whichever party from their tribe demanded the most and conceded the least. That meant that moderates and concensus merchants were out of vogue among both tribes.

    It is hard to argue that the tactic hasn’t worked. So, stable powersharing between unionism/nationalism is the primary purpose of the exercise, and not good governance.

    The question then is how do you undo the tribal mentality that sustains the powersharing arrangement without undoing powersharing itself? I don’t see how that can be done.

    Tom Elliot might resort to tribalism in a desperate moment (too late) but it is the wrong sort of tribalism. What is needed is the paradox variety of ‘unified tribalism’ that is now in vogue via the Blair-engineered PSF/DUP axis for powersharing, and not the devisive sort that Allister likes to engage in.

    That said, impending public spending cuts are always a blessing to an opposition, but as the UUP will be imposing a pro rata share of those cuts and are not in opposition, they have no way to outflank the Blair-engineered PSF/DUP axis. So, if the smaller parties must seek reform of the system that would allow them to form an opposition, and thereby create an alternative to the powersharing and the two tribal elders that share it.

  • DC

    Very good point Alias about power sharing between nationalists (orange and green) at the expense of good governance.

    Of course a strong, healthy and just society comes about as a result of having a strong economy and good governance. NI lacks the strong economy and good governance, so we must also be lacking a healthy and just society.