Observe the sons of Ulster, marching towards the bin

It was the best of campaigns, it was the worst of campaigns. Arlene’s decision to meet the three letter problem of RHI with the three letter solution of IRA worked masterfully in terms of holding the DUP’s vote together; despite three months of unremitting negative publicity and a collapsed government, DUP losses were kept to just 1.1%, with the drop in seats not much worse than the five likely to go with the shrinking of the Assembly. The DUP actually gained 23,000 votes on the surging turnout.

That success for the DUP as a party, however, came at the price of cannibalising Unionism as an entity. Being as generous as I can in defining Independents and minor parties as Unionist, only 45.7% of first preferences were cast for Unionist candidates on Wednesday. This is the lowest ever. By far.

You see, it turns out that if you spend an entire election campaign shouting “Gerry Adams” and “IRA”, you end up inadvertently acting as a party election broadcast for Sinn Féin. Nationalist turnout surged, especially in the rural West. North Belfast has a majority Nationalist Assembly delegation, which seemed impossible on Thursday morning. Abortion, gay marriage, and Brexit pushed soft Unionists towards Alliance.

Beasting Mike Nesbitt about transferring to the SDLP and Alliance probably won thousands of crucial votes at the end of the campaign – although it should be borne in mind that the UUP vote share is actually marginally up, it was the reduction in seats per constituency that killed them – but it comes at a terrible strategic cost to Unionism.

It seems improbable that the next UUP leader will be talking about how much he loves Colum Eastwood or about his support for marriage equality and the EU. I bet the UUP will panic, and select a leader who will circle the wagons, seeking to stabilise the party’s share of a declining market. That is very dangerous for Unionism.

Circling the wagons is always tempting at a time of strategic peril. But there is no cavalry going to ride in to save Unionism from demographic reality. The perception will be that Arlene’s strategy worked and Mike’s failed. What we’re likely to see is a narrower Unionism across the board, more thoroughly socially conservative, more concerned with internal solidarity than reaching out. (Minor footnote – in the midst of DUP scandal, the PUP failed to raise so much as a growl.)

That narrow Unionism is likely to be in a Northern Ireland which looks like a place ever more apart, with virtually complete criminalisation of abortion, without marriage equality, where a suspicion of Eastern Europeans and Muslims too often breaks out into a snarl. Tactics that allowed the DUP to remain, barely, the largest party with a unilateral right to trigger Petitions of Concern will be celebrated, and so deeper strategic questions will go unanswered.

The DUP is somewhere between complacent and contemptuous about the very people whose votes will be decisive in any border poll that could swing either way: detribalised Prods, liberal-left cultural nationalists, and ethnic minorities.

Detribalised, socially liberal, people from Unionist backgrounds are unlikely now to ever have a comfortable political home unless they step outside the tribe to vote Alliance or Green.

The 2011 Census revealed huge numbers of people in Nationalist areas, including traditionally Republican rural areas West of the Bann, who defined themselves as Northern Irish. Arlene’s campaign ensured these people trooped out in epic numbers to vote Sinn Féin this week, including many younger people who had never voted before. Make no mistake, the demographic swing against Unionism will be vicious for the next 20 years; just look at those 2011 Census figures by age cohort.

As for ethnic minorities, let me introduce a little anecdote. In the early 2010s, I was dropped home from a cultural event by a Turkish couple, long settled into a Belfast periphery middle-class area next to a big Loyalist estate. As we turned off North Queen Street on to the New Lodge Road, I spotted in the mirror the usual nervous glances at the murals. “Is this a Republican area?” she asked. I replied that it was indeed. “Oh, that’s alright”, she replied cheerily, “We never get trouble in Republican areas. It’s Loyalist areas where bad things happen to us.”

Now, I’m sure Unionist commentators will be itching to remind me that there have been some appalling racist incidents in Republican areas. And they would be correct to point out that the vilest racial prejudice is not the preserve of any one section of the community – even a former IRA active service member, born and bred in West Belfast, is not immune in his home district.

But there is a difference. Anti-social teenagers are vile in any context. But there are no Nationalist politicians murmuring agreement to “we should get the ethnics out” (Hiya, Sammy!) just as, on an the subject of another border poll vote-loser, there are no Nationalist politicians regretting that “God’s law” does not apply to homosexuals. Unionists used to assume that ethnic minority votes were overwhelmingly theirs in a border poll; I’m far from sure that’s the case anymore, especially among the Northern Ireland-born.

Then we come to Brexit. BME and Eastern European voters are hardly a monolith on this subject or any other (note Ben Lowry’s meeting with Zimbabweans who were voting DUP on abortion and homosexuality), but a clear majority of those who had votes opted for Remain and the mood music since has hardly been encouraging. If you’re a Polish- or Turkish-born naturalised UK citizen, it’s very easy to read Northern Ireland as a place where the pro-Irish people want you here and the pro-British people don’t. This is a small but growing segment of the electorate and one which will be decisive in a really tight border poll.

Nobody has a crystal ball about how the UK will fare after Brexit, but the UK government is clear that it will not only exit the Single Market but also the Customs Union. The government argues that the UK will make a success of this through seizing ‘global’ opportunities, not a view that I share, but regardless Brexit will have a specifically destructive impact in NI, whatever happens across the UK. No matter how snazzy the e-border – and that will cost many billions in IT infrastructure – a customs frontier will mean a horror of online forms and on-the-ground enforcement, particularly targeted in areas which are strongly Remain and predominantly Nationalist. The people who turned out at 80% in Roslea and Ballygawley are going to find lots of reasons to keep voting and to vote to leave the UK.

The economic impact will be severe, even in Greater Belfast. Why locate a facility in Belfast – isolated geographically from a market of 65 million – when you can locate it Dundalk and enjoy access to a much bigger market with no more regulatory burden? And that’s before we even consider the intense economic and cultural isolation for NI that might result, especially if Scotland leaves the UK and stays in the EU.

Few Unionists can conceive of a future where, on purely functional issues, a United Ireland offers Northern Ireland a better future than the United Kingdom. They take it as a given that a vote for a United Ireland is a vote to cut one’s nose off to spite one’s face. That is no longer an assumption deserving uncritical assent. Unionists probably should start planning for what is, in their terms, a nightmare scenario, one where the economic indicators suggest a United Ireland would be a logical goal.

For a brief moment in the mid-2000s, both the UK and the Republic were booming. The increase in support for reunification in polling from SDLP and SF supporters was startling, but faded post-2008. But what if Brexit goes badly wrong in Northern Ireland, even if the UK as a whole survives reasonablly well?

I reiterate, this is not exactly a far-fetched scenario. Hard Brexit will kneecap NI in all sorts of ways, even if Scotland stays in the UK. What would happen if the functional arguments on the constitutional question are completely reversed?

There is a huge political incentive for the EU to shore up the Republic post-Brexit. In fact, I would argue that it is politically impossible for the EU to allow a Eurozone member to be ruined by Brexit. It costs little to subsidise a country with less than 1% of the EU population. The Republic will retain, in any eventuality, the huge advantages of a low red-tape economy with a highly educated English-speaking population under Common Law but also within the EU. The Republic has built up huge political capital in Brussels, Berlin and Paris by being the star pupil of the post-2008 PIGS remedial class.

After the autumn elections, Germany will either be run by Merkel at the head of a centrist coalition or Schulz at the head of a centre-left coalition; don’t get over excited because the AfD is polling at 10-13%. In France, Macron is now a clear favourite. Wilders will shock the Dutch political establishment but will still do well to poll 20% and won’t be in government. The EU will survive the current crises intact, although it will then need to reform radically or run into worse trouble in the 2020s. But in the short-to-medium term, the Republic is safer from Brexit consequences than is given credit for and NI is in deep trouble.

Unionism no longer has an argument for staying Northern Ireland staying in the Union in any future border poll that takes place where the Republic is doing well and Northern Ireland is doing badly economically. Worse than that, after this week’s results, it may will conclude that doesn’t even need one. That would be a mistake.

The huge demographic shift underway in NI will not guarantee a United Ireland, but it radically changes the context in which the constitutional question will be debated. This shift was eclipsed electorally for a almost a decade by poorly performing Nationalist parties at Stormont and post-fleg Unionist enthusiasm.

Arlene Foster just woke everyone up to that shift by spending an election campaign shouting, “Gerry Adams! Gerry Adams!”

45.7% of the vote for all Unionists. I’ll leave that with youse.

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  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gerry, of course its perfectly credible, I’ve even had similar experiences with visitors.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But who will bankroll this? The money angle will always be decisive.

  • Croiteir

    They just behave like one

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    There is nothing wrong with standing firm. Once you start appeasing and always assume that there always has to be a destabilising compromise, the more you change expectations that only more and more appeasement should be offered, and more is then demanded. It was not the DUP that started nor maintain that spiral.

    Dogooders like you do not stabilise Northern Ireland, rather your continual attacks help legitimise, give excuses to, and invigourate those viciously campaigning to eradicate Northern Ireland from existence. It is the media dominance of the liberal appeasers and endless walkover compromisers which has given the traitors unreasonable expectations of what Unionists should do — the most recent absurd example being the BBC demanding that the leader of this country is at fault for not attending another country’s football match — utterly preposterous. Then moronic commentators dominating discussion, such as Newton Emerson, making out that it is now apparently wrong to speak about the Provos on any negative terms and that we should “feed the crocodile”. Those with your mindset are our greatest enemy.

  • Katyusha

    Some useless pedantry, AG, but it’s harakiri, or seppuku to be less vulgar. I’ve seen several people make the mistake around here, so there’s a contagion in the wild, I guess.
    腹 = hara, “stomach”
    切り= kiri, “cut”
    therefore 腹切り, harakiri = “belly-cut”

    The proper Japanese word, seppuku, uses the same kanji but the other way around, and is read with the on-yomi readings, so, 切腹 = setsu + fuku = seppuku.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Not useless in the slightest! !! Thank you!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You don’t actually listen to anyone do you?

    You flatter me by calling me a do-gooder when the reality is actually more selfish;

    I wish for an NI flag, an NI anthem, an Ulster Gaelic act (of sorts), a behavioural code for band parades, a separation of unionism and Protestantism and non over the top attitude to flying the union flag from public buildings*.

    These are the things I wish for.

    The existence of Sinn Fein and nationalism is irrelevant to this list.
    It would still exist even if they were to all magically disappear.

    If you see any of the above as ‘appeasement’ then you are mistaken.
    If you still see any of the above as ‘appeasement’ then you are worse than mistaken because you are ignoring that which is in plain view having been told categorically what you are wrong (and you seemingly pride yourself on ‘reality’).

    I do not agree that the first minister NEEDS to go to watch the republic’s games, though if there is political capital in doing so then it shouldn’t be off the table altogether.

    I don’t recall Newton saying that we should feed the crocodile. I do however recall him giving some sort of support for an ILA of some type.

    Again, in the interests of fact and ‘reality’ the supporters of an ILA (of sorts) range from Sinn Fein types, to Linda Ervine, to academics, to Scots living in NI, to Fitzroy Presbyterian church and (if I may) a fair whack of unionists on here.

    That is a BROAD spectrum (equally, not everyone opposed to the act is an anti-Irish bigot, there is an Irish Gaelic academic opposed to it, the point is not to generalise).
    The only way one could generalise the above is by employing the desperate tactic of ‘disenfranchisement’ e.g. “he doesn’t count because he’s an idiot, she doesn’t count because I don’t like her and he doesn’t count because of some makey-uppy reason that I have invented….”

    If you have to resort to the disenfranchisement tactic then it speaks volumes as to the hollowness of your argument’s foundations.
    Finally, YOU were commenting recently how few people were interested in a united Ireland (presumably based on the pre-Christmas polls) yet since Christmas we’ve had the RHI and the ILA and lo and behold there’s been a surge in support for SF.

    How can you not grasp that very simple correlation?

    Those with your mindset are the greatest threat to Northern Ireland’s existence.

    *I am prepared to compromise on the flags issue, but that’s for another day

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    But surely the idea was sound?
    Basil did some very bizarre things at the last minute to scupper it and they were only around for a very short period of time.
    How many independents are there in NI that have been around for years that you barely hear of?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Where they have led unionism is not so much a cul de sac, more a colostomy bag.”

    If ever Northern Ireland has a tombstone then that should be the engraving etched on it.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    But JR, his stated aim for the past few decades was the retention of NI within the union, he states clearly that it was the actions of unionism that caused him to jump ship.

    You claim that his status upon said ship causes unionists to become even more hard-line (?), but if the hard-line attitude of unionism is what causes people to become non-unionist then this is surely a counter-productive vicious circle?

    Why not be less hard-line and stop people from jumping ship?

    Apologies if I’ve confused avoidance of a UI with hard-line but the lines are somewhat blurred.

  • Starviking


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thank you for revealing how little you actually understand.

    My aims (and that of many other ‘do gooders’) are simple:

    A flag and anthem for Northern Ireland

    A Gaelic language act of sorts (even a cursory glance would show it’s not just Shinners that want it, but why bother with facts?)

    A British mainland approach to the flying of flags from public buildings*

    A code of conduct for parades

    A clamp down on poppy abuse

    A separation of Protestantism and unionism

    These aims are valid with or without the existence of SF and nationalism in general, as far as principles go they are decent and denying them ‘because themuns’ is childish and ultimately detrimental to unionism.

    If you see these aims as appeasement after being told that this is not the motivation behind them, then there’s not much more to be said, if you can’t see what’s in front of then you can’t see what’s in front of you.

    People like you are the greatest threat to Northern Ireland’s existence.

    *I am prepared to compromise on the flags issue as I’ve stated elsewhere.

  • Biftergreenthumb

    I certainly think it’s a good idea. But do unionist voters?

    Perhaps NI21 would have done better if it wasn’t for all the Basil related weirdness.
    Who knows? But we do know that Mike Nesbit’s moderate unionism failed to make
    much head way this time round.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    Most of those are not important issues relating to essentials for life. You spend so much time endlessly berating Unionists for not taking the Nationalist line on petty things. We also already have a flag you idiot – that Fenian zealots have censored it on Wikipedia doesn’t alter that fact – their aim is to destroy Northern Ireland and will never support ANY NI flag.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    You fail to understand the dynamic with regards to immigration. The only reason Fenians support mass immigration is because they want to use it for their openly admitted accelerated ethnic minoritisation agenda of the Prods. The loyalist response is normal for a citizen trying to conserve his own stable homeland anywhere on earth, including influence, its finite resources and territory (normal to the average person, but not to the spineless libtards in charge who are destroying every last western European nation through sheer complacency and fear of being called nasty words by an editorial in The Guardian). Why exactly does a Turk (a country with much more territory and lower population density and drastically different culture) think he has a right to be here and how did he migrate so easily? I assume the benefits system is the main attraction.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Most of those are not important issues relating to essentials for life”

    Great, then they’re hardly unreasonable or the stuff of ‘appeasement’ then are they?

    “You spend so much time endlessly berating Unionists for not taking the Nationalist line on petty things”

    Hardly, I berate them for not taking the Northern Irish line on things, hence my list.

    “also already have a flag you idiot – that Fenian zealots have censored it on Wikipedia doesn’t alter that fact – their aim is to destroy Northern Ireland and will never support ANY NI flag.”

    Incorrect, I have approached every relevant organ of the devolved government and all have told me that we have no NI flag.

    If I recall correctly one might have concurred with Jim Allister’s conclusion that as NI DOESN’T have it’s own flag it in theory defaults to the Union Flag.

    Either way NO Norn Iron flag.

    Secondly the feelings of ‘fenian zealots’ on the matter is irrelevant, the main impediment to progress on the matter are the DUP and loyalist Billy Boys who would cajole and intimidate the IFA and Commonwealth team into forgetting about an alternative to the Ulster flag (and indeed GSTQ in the IFA’s case) as they’d rather we were little Britain than Northern Ireland.

    Were the DUP and the other unionist parties to give their blessing for a new NI flag then the grassroots could start to sprout.

    It’s that simple.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    For such minor issues you certainly spread a lot of hate towards Unionism.

    Wrong, we all know we have a flag as any NI sports event will show you, and it is still flown by several branches of local government and I recall see it being flown recently by royals. In the UK such things are normally defined by practice rather than law, and direct rule ministers simply forced the Union Jack on Stormont to avoid wasting time on flags.

    I have seen your blog. You got a reply from some civil servant doing a boring day job who gave you a quote word-for-word from Wikipedia because they didn’t actually have a clue, and most probably couldn’t be @rsed wasting time on your unimportant questions.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Feel free to highlight any clear signs of hatred to ‘unionism’.

    Strongly criticising demonstrably wrong strategies and behaviour is not hatred.

    If your bench mark for the flag is what is used by sporting bodies then you’d presumably accept that the Ulster flag is not the flag of the land if the IFA stop using it?
    Or will you just call them names and continue to deny reality?

    Have you noticed how often you use the word ‘probably’ in your arguments, it hardly makes for convincing arguments.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Gopher, very much to the point.

  • Katyusha

    There was NI21 (before their 腹切り hari-kari)

    Hahahaha. You made the same mistake again!

    Look, it’s my fault for trying to correct spelling / grammar in an alien language that I’m familiar with almost by accident. I promise I won’t try it again 😉

    Forget about the kanji for a second.
    It’s not “hari-kari”, it’s “hara-kiri”.

    “-kiri” is the verb “to cut”. “-kari” would be something else entirely.

    Japanese is very sensitive to vowel sounds, and if you change them slightly you alter the entire meaning of a word. You can’t just bend every vowel sound like you can in broad Scots, and expect people to understand what you’re saying. Unfortunately!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I was keeping my mistake in to show my ignorance, lo it’s been highlighted again…

    To be honest I nearly pasted your correction on Jude Collins’ website, i must spread the word.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    All your highly vocal and incessant criticism on a public forum mainly does is to bolster the position of Unionism’s opponents by shifting expectations of what is reasonable. You do not defend the notion that in the overwhelming majority if cases maybe, just maybe, existing and past Unionist positions might actually have been legitimate in the given circumstances. As it stands you might as well be the Provos’ #1 propaganda agent.

    As for the flag, it is that of the supporters which is relevant, not the IFA.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “All your highly vocal and incessant criticism on a public forum mainly does is to bolster the position of Unionism’s opponents by shifting expectations of what is reasonable”

    Reasonable doesn’t come into it when dealing with big ‘U’ unionists. By adopting a not-an-inch support they push nationalists towards SF.

    It’s plain for all to see;

    When Norn Iron were doing well at the Euros there was a relaxed atmosphere and even some people from the nominally nationalist side were softening their attitudes, it was then that unionists on here were very content to throw around poll figures regarding the small appetite for a UI (not unlike yourself a few weeks ago).

    Since then the DUP’s high-handedness has made many nationalists think that they (and unionism in general) can’t be reasoned with and as such have flocked to Sinn Fein.

    That wasn’t me or any other Lundies that did that, it was the DUP.

    They were warned before and during their slow-motion-train-wreck that this would be the case.

    It was the case.

    It is the case.

    “You do not defend the notion that in the overwhelming majority if cases maybe, just maybe, existing and past Unionist positions might actually have been legitimate in the given circumstances.”

    I criticise unionism when it does something harmful to the union and Northern Ireland’s position therein, I seldom pat it on the head for doing something decent should it do so.

    Decency should be a given, it should be expected.

    In the latest case the DUP’s actions were to blame for the ascent of SF, this deserves criticism of the highest order and an admission of failure and that it is time for fresh thinking.

    “As for the flag, it is that of the supporters which is relevant, not the IFA.”
    That sounds like something you just made up. I’m pretty sure if the IFA moved to have a new flag it would be of major significance.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    No, there has already be significant concessions over decades and it has only made the situation worse — there can be no more concessions for stability. Making concessions only increases demand for more and there is nothing we can, or should, give. The current situation is a hissy-fit after realising the border is being strengthened by Brexit (as it should be), not weakened, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Show that the Provos aren’t going to get any concessions the more the whine and it will die down again. The only way to reduce support for the Provos is to show they can’t deliver anything.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    There’s your problem right there; conflating the desires from a broad section of the community as exclusively the ‘demands’ for concessions of SF.
    You seemingly can’t tell the difference.

    As for the border, your loose grasp of reality is alarming.

  • Guilty of Wrongthink

    It doesn’t make a difference whether its Provo supporters or the Provos themselves — they’re still demands to promote the nationalism of another country and to promote the eradication of Northern Ireland. If it is known they aren’t realistic demands then eventually they won’t be demanded any more, but it seems there are too many stupid people about who have been conned by Fenianism and by those with vested interests in it telling us that somehow promoting a destructive nationalism will somehow make it settled and the desire will somehow go away — it won’t — promote more nationalism and all you will get is more support for that nationalism — the usual suspects here know this, and that’s why they love foolish lundies like you — not for the reasons they will state, but because you are doing their work for them.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Wood. Trees.

    YOUR strategy of ‘not compromising’ has pushed people from the ‘non Provo camp’ to ‘the Provo camp’.

    And wrt things like an Ulster Gaelic act that’s not the nationalism of another country, its the nationalism of Ulster.

    You say I do their work for them when this past week has shown that people like you bring out the nations list voters.

    Your theory vs proven trends.

    And furthermore you’re conflating things again; if a broad spectrum of people includes people like SF on one extreme and unionists in the other then logically they’re not ALL out to promote the destruction of Northern Ireland.

    And how do you tally up this sweeping generalisation with your golden statistic that 80% of people are against a UI?
    Either your generalisation is wrong or your stat is, which is it?