Sinn Fein’s Demographic war for constitutional change is useless without middle class

Interesting take from Denis Bradley on Friday on the current impasse. In it, he accurately describes the model as I suspect SF see it:

While an unreformed DUP occupy one of the corners in the boxing ring, Sinn Fein are in no danger of being removed as their opponent in the other corner. Our history and our divided loyalties have tied us into an incessant battle of numbers – the majority living in fear of becoming the minority and the minority patiently looking forward to the day when they become the majority. The two governments signed up to being the oil in the joints to keep some movement possible and to unlock anything that seized up completely. Unfortunately, we have inherited two governments who had little skin in our peace and who seem to have forgotten or never understood their role. As a consequence, we are politically paralysed.

I doubt this is how either the British or the Irish governments saw their role, even if it’s a fair description of how Blair and Ahern handled it in earlier days. It implies a permanent permanent infantilisation (and, I’d argue, dependency) in which the baby that throws their toys out of the pram most effectively wins.

Bradley continues:

But no matter how disappointed or disillusioned people might be, the percentage of the vote that Sinn Fein gets from nationalist/republican voters will remain roughly the same and in a tight contest, where a bloodied nose could be delivered to the DUP, that percentage is likely to be augmented by floating voters. it is not the percentage of the vote that scares Sinn Fein, it is the number who are thinking of not voting at all. If the disillusionment and cynicism grows and more and more people stop going to the polling station then Sinn Fein are left with the exact problem that unionism has been living with for many years.

The number of non-voting unionists increases election after election. When people give up on voting in a number of elections it become very difficult, if not impossible, to get them back into the political fold. If that trend were to become as severe among nationalist/republican voters then Sinn Fein’s strategy becomes even more difficult. They have plenty to be nervous about.

This is where I’d quibble, and where Robinson’s analysis that in effect SF is only running a skeleton operation at Stormont these days is a rather more accurate description of where SF’s larger ambitions lie.

Almost all of Sinn Fein’s mind, presence, money and human resources are in the south right now. For example, if there is a SpAd being paid to mind the Culture Minister, it’s pretty clear they are working on something other than the minister’s brief.

Falling turnout in fact is good for Sinn Fein, because it indicates no one is looking too closely at an incumbency which – in seven years and well into its third term – has failed to deliver anything other than large amounts of internal resources for its big push in the south. It keeps the interest of its own base alive by the serial tweaking of the DUPs nose.

All of which is fair game for a party which sees both jurisdictions as temporary way stages for the new Republic it has in mind but the details of which it prefers not be drawn on. Delivering anything tangible in current Northern Ireland is not the point, as Mitchel McLaughlin hinted back in 2006...

…asked to explain exactly what Sinn Féin had achieved for its supporters, media-disaster Mitchel spluttered for a moment before blurting out: “The degree of uncertainty and the lack of confidence in the unionist community!” Oops.

Mitchel’s faux pas reveals something important about the party’s demographic strategy. Natural change is not going to work quickly enough to satisfy that populist itch. Destabilising whole communities implies you want people to move or even better to take the boat.

The unacknowledged paradox is, as Bradley highlights above is that such a bleed to death stratagem switches off the very middle class Catholic voters needed for such transformation from seeking change in almost any area that would narrow the widening political gap between north and south. >

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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