After #AE17, Sinn Féin…

Sinn Fein has delivered an object lesson in how to do disruptive politicsA classic example of Tzu Sun’s famous aphorism that: “If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.”

No one, outside the party, expected or was prepared for what followed.

There were two aspects to the success of its campaign. One was seizing the prime opportunity out of the DUP’s RHI difficulty, then moving quickly and decisively. The other was the enormous preparation and work put into making sure that disruption provided a maximum yield.

After last year’s 5% drop nationalist ratings, the sleeping crocodile roused and grabbed most of it back. Posters, billboards, canvassing teams, cars with loudspeakers. Voter registrations were done, and big numbers of proxies offered to many who hadn’t voted in a while.

Their record in government may have been by their own admission poor, but when Sinn Fein takes elections seriously in Northern Ireland they play the sort of Total Politics we first noted on Slugger back in the bitterly cold election of November 2003.

In terms of results, Sinn Féin’s lowest gains come in places (like North Down and East Belfast) where nationalists are as rare as hen’s teeth. But this is not where the party focused the bulk of their resources.

Where they did they either had specific rivals in mind whilst maximising seats. Where properly surged it is as important as the overall size (+3.9%): Foyle (+8.2%), South Down (+7.2%), Newry and Armagh (+7.4%),  West Belfast (+7.3%), Mid Ulster (+6.1%), West Tyrone (+6.1%).

As a result in Foyle and South Down for instance, Sinn Fein would now be well placed to take two seats off the SDLP. A 4% drop in the unionist turnout in FST sets up similar with the UUP. Although with the UK opposition a driverless vehicle, Mrs May is presently under no pressure to do so.

All of this is about the home game, but perhaps even Sinn Fein was surprised at the scale of their score against Unionism at large (even with this huge surge the DUP remain ahead of them, if only by the smallest of margins). For that, they have the DUP leader to thank.

Even before the split, Mrs Foster seemed confused and discomfited by the controversy over RHI. Sinn Fein’s ‘defection‘ from government with that letter from McGuinness the night before Arlene was due to give her account of the RHI scandal threw her completely and she never recovered.

What drove the final scale of the swing in the vote towards Sinn Fein was the huge surge in the audience for the BBC’s leaders debate two days before polling day. The urge to give Foster a kicking led many to cast a first-time vote for Sinn Fein as the most effective way to ‘put manners on her’.

It was a remarkable turnaround.

As Brian Feeney notes  “Sinn Féin were almost too late walking away because their voters were walking away from them”. As it happens, they weren’t too late. Two months after Stormont borked Sinn Fein has levelled things up with the DUP in the Assembly.

And the party is back where it is always most comfortable. Out of government, in negotiations, and endlessly in the public eye as the main party of protest. Quite an achievement for a party that’s been in government for all but a few months of the last ten years.

It’s time for the DUP and Unionism at large to learn some harsh lessons (but more of that tomorrow). Another government will have to be formed out of the wreckage of the last one. An uneasy proposition when its chief opponent, the DUP, has been wounded rather than killed.

There are plenty of recommendations on how to get out of trouble cheaply and fast. Most of them come down to this: Deny your responsibility.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    Just pointing out you have to be a bit suggestible to be taken in by him. He lacks the skill of Ali Bongo in that regard.

  • Obelisk

    Recently he has led Nationalism to it’s best ever electoral result in the north and caused complete panic within Unionism. Given his age and increasing speculation that he may be retiring, it’s getting late in the day for him to show he has fooled us.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Perhaps Dr Who could oblige. But as I recall, those who analysed the 1991 census (in the Guardian, Telegraph, etc) did specify that the changeover would not be that soon.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    He is unionism’s biggest weapon. I do sometimes wonder if he is actually working for us.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The apathy that develops in voters who for decades have achieved nothing tends to disappear when there is a real possibility of gain.

  • burnboilerburn

    Recent lucid talk poll showed 44% in favour of unity including 10% of Protestants.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    It kind of makes sense Liz joining the rail station and bus station into the main transportation Centre for Belfast There is also going to be a big student population going to be living in major developments being built around this part of the city Centre sometime you should take a wee visit to Belfast City Hall and see the plans that they have for the city Centre. it is pretty impressive although I believe the planners need to show more support for existing inner city communities

  • Paddy Reilly

    I wonder Granni, do you walk out of mass, when the epistle is being read, because St Paul, once having been a wrong’un, must always be a wrong’un? What about the grieving families he left in his wake?

    When we buy Gino D’acampo’s olive oil, it is because we wish to encourage his later career as a tele-broadcaster, not because we applaud his earlier one as a burglar. Someone elsewhere said that SF had in 1992 a vote of 175,000 and now is looking at more than half a million island-wide: those extra votes come from people who do not wish to encourage the earlier activities, but are pleased to endorse the actions post-GFA.

  • Granni Trixie

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I think we ought to all take seriously what I thought we signed up to in this he GFA – a new start of the everybody and new political relationships. So I try not to cast up the past. What makes this difficult is the absence of remorse or acknowledgement that the tactics of violence were wrong and not justified d any cause.

    But we’ve been here before.

  • Obelisk

    Unionism’s biggest weapon backfired then. Maybe they should try something else?

  • Jollyraj

    You could stand yourself, GOM. Sinn Fein might have need of a new Education Minister at some point – and you’d fit the profile for them 🙂

  • Madra Uisce

    Do you want to try and address the points he made rather than indulge in man playing.

  • grumpy oul man

    Pity im not a Shinner isnt it.
    But thank you for the sugfestion.
    Now have you managed to get a news paper yet and looked at the news bit ( thats the bit without the ccomics) try it you might learn something.
    Read this twice.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    sorry 🙁 Couldn’t resist it. It was naughty.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, he’s good for us, we’ll stick with Gerry

  • Obelisk

    Sorry but did you watch the last election? It was all about Adams and the results were not good for Unionism at all.

    Actually never mind. Ignore me. Yes, keep at it, stick with Gerry. Go for it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Once again, no it didn’t. It asked a different question, which left it open / undefined as to when the united Ireland was to happen. If you ask any nationalist, do you want a united Ireland ever, and even some unionists, it’s one of those hypothetical, pie-in-the-sky questions respondents get all speculative about and it’s easy to nod that through. Ask them if they *really* want it, like some time quite soon, and it is markedly different. Quite a number effectively say, “Well of course the time isn’t right yet, I was thinking in the next generation or the one after”. And this is the thing – the time never is right. It probably never will be right, because a united Ireland is a nice idea to some in theory but one they realise in the cold light of day would be, at best, an extremely high risk change for the Province in reality, even from a nationalist point of view. It’s like the difference between keeping a nuclear deterrent and actually pushing the button.

    And even then I’m not wholly trusting the Lucid Talk figure, it’s well out of line with other polling.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m sure they were more rational about it. But Adams is not a statistician or a demographer, or capable of listening to one. He was confidently predicting unity by 2016, I seem to recall. Before that it was supposed tobe the Year 2000. There’s a pattern here and it’s that nationalist wishful thinking consistently over-estimates the growth of support for Irish unity.

  • Neilo

    You’re pushing against an open door here: Adams is a personable fellow, but I would disagree profoundly with him on every issue you might imagine.

  • lizmcneill

    Well, they’re already joined together, and the plans have the new hub beyond where the railway station is now – at the minute walking from the city centre you’re under cover from Great Victoria St all the way through to the railway station, then you’d have to walk down Glengall St and across “Station Square” to reach the new Hub. I’m a bit dubious about the prospect of putting a big open public space between the Lower Falls and Sandy Row, too!

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    The Shinners enjoyed this election and by that I mean you could see their activists on the ground enjoying themselves and willing to engage with people. Another big test looms with the next southern general election. Southern activists were on the ground in the north quite regularly this time round and I expect that to be reciprocated fairly soon whenever a GE is called in the south. Say what you will about them but there isn’t a party in Ireland who has an election machine like SF. They’re capable of hitting 35 seats in the next Dail, maybe more if Adams stands aside

  • Paddy Reilly

    Rest assured, I did nothing for PIRA or Provisional Sinn Féin other than buy their raffle tickets, so I have nothing to be remorseful about.

  • Skibo

    MU the SF vote has been increased by turning away from violence, by holding out the hand to Unionism and the Queen, to seeing a middle road to a future reunited Ireland, an agreed Ireland.
    They have managed to take some of the old guard with them but the majority will be the younger generation.
    Unionism need to recognise this. Stop preaching about the past, hold out the hand to Nationalists and start accepting that they are Nationalists and not failed Unionists.
    Accept that there is a place in NI for Irish culture AND their flag.
    In the following years, I believe this will be the only way that Unionism will be able to delay the inevitable.
    I had thought at one stage that Ireland would have been reunited through the EU with closer cooperation and an overall realignment across the continent, an ever decreasing recognition of borders.
    I believe the Irish love the idea of being Europeans. The British however do not and have turned their backs on it.
    That action alone does more for the fast tracking a reunited Ireland than anything SF will ever be able to do.

  • Skibo

    Mick I think it would be a bit condescending for the Irish to dictate to the English and Welsh to stop Brexit completely. The English and Welsh have made up their minds. Who are we to say we know better for them.
    All that we ask is to allow us to remain, whether that is as a special status or as a reunited Ireland that they will assist for the first few years, is yet to be confirmed.
    If the Brexit negotiations do not leave open the possibility of a special status then reunification will be the only game in town.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    With Gerry there will be a fair and equal Ireland for all, an Ireland that brings together our two great peoples: the Irish and the Catholics.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I could list all the reasons why people should not vote SF but it is kind of obvious and has been said. If he really thinks a party with a legacy of smashed knees, bodies in lay-bys, terrified people in hiding, amputees and broken families making weekly visits to the cemetery is worthy of his vote, that’s his lookout. Though I’m sure they are jolly nice and chatty.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree on the last point!

  • Granni Trixie

    Giving tacit support is nothing? Did you approve of the violent campaign or protest against it? Or stand idly by whilst your countrymen killed each other? These are questions That everyone who lived during the troubles ought to be asking themselves in my book.

    And before you come back with whataboutery I think people ought to be asking themselves if they had done their bit to reform the justice system too.

  • Madra Uisce

    Again for the umpteenth time,Unionists are in no position to lecture anyone given political Unionisims love of the gun. As for weekly visits to the cemetery I will remind you again that there are over two hundred families visiting cemeteries as a direct result of the actions of Ulster resistance a paramilitary gang formed by the DUP. So spare us the holier than thou lectures, from your glass house.

  • Skibo

    MU there was only one party poking anyone on sectarian grounds in this election. It actually worked as they not only held their high vote take but increased it slightly. Unfortunately it stirred the Nationalist community to come out and vote.
    It seems to me that all SF have to do to poke certain Unionist politicians is say hello!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s not the same, as you well know.

  • Madra Uisce

    Some disturbing rumours circulating on twitter about Martin MCGuinness

  • Madra Uisce

    The families of the 200 people murdered by UR guns would beg to differ

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well, one’s sympathy goes to all victims but if anyone is claiming the DUP supported the murder of people using UR guns, that’s just not true. The DUP didn’t support the importing of the guns and when it happened it cut off ties with UR. The DUP was silly to play around with these kind of things like the “Third Force” and UR, but to pretend they can be talked of in the same breath as the UVF or IRA is risible.

  • Madra Uisce

    If as you claim the DUP didnt support the actions of loyalist terrorists then one would expect them to distance themselves from same and they certainly would not have terrorists as party members. However the parties history from its inception to the present day tell a different story. Your continued attempts to whitewash this history is nonsense.

  • Madra Uisce
  • johnny lately

    Indeed there is Madra and not only on twitter its being passed around republicans. Im sure Unionists and the British government will quickly change their tune about having another election soon.

  • Paddy Reilly

    My countrymen, and others, are always killing each other. Generally before doing so they do not seek my approval or permission. Fortunately the murder rate is now comparatively low, but even at height of the troubles it didn’t get as bad as New York’s.

    An increased murder rate is merely one symptom of the malaise: the cause of this is the unilateral partition imposed on the area.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Some DUP *flirted* with the paramilitaries *at times* as Robinson shows here. SF were the same organisation as the paramilitaries – it was beyond flirting with them, beyond dating them, beyond even being married to them – they actually very were *the same people*. You also miss that despite flirting with Loyalists on occasion the much more common DUP response to Loyalist terror was to straightforwardly condemn it – for which they made themselves unpopular with some Loyalists. SF to this day has never criticised the IRA because how could it? They are different sides of the same coin.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They certainly don’t get top marks but let’s get this in perspective. If their level of sneaking regard for the paramilitaries registers at 1 or 2 out of 10, SF are at 10. It is simply not possible to be any more on board with paramilitaries than SF.

  • Paddy Reilly

    2016 was in fact substantially right: it was in December 2016 that Catholics began to outnumber Protestants for the first time.

    But of course that is only the death blow: the Orange body politic will continue to bleed for some while before time of death is called.

    I don’t recall any mention of the year 2000 as significant to Republicans, but there were so many other millennarians expecting the world to end I may have been distracted by the need to jeer at them.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    They’ll both be a minority before too long, I hope.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So Irish unity it sounds would be basically Catholic victory over Ulster Protestants?

  • Paddy Reilly

    Inasmuch as Irish disunity is basically Protestant domination over Ulster Catholics.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So as you see it, that’s a yes?