The Way Forward for Cooperation between Pro-Remain Parties?

This could be a watershed election, in the local context it could be the most important at a Westminster level since 1918.

Northern Ireland holds just 18 out of 650 MPs and even in a hung parliament environment it can be difficult to get gain traction. What we lack in voting power, we have a potential to make up for in a strong signal being sent by the wider electorate.

The dynamics of the race here are actually relatively simple, we have a DUP (pro Brexit) and UUP (formally Remain but now going along with the crowd) coming together to fight seats on securing the maximum Unionist representation at Westminster.

On the other side we have the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Greens and Alliance parties, who are preparing to do battle with each other if the current arrangement continues. This could hand seats such as Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast to pro-Brexit MP’s. Moreover, it could keep East Belfast, North Belfast and Upper Bann in the hands of pro-Brexit MP’s hands if some form of cooperation does not take place to make these races competitive.

I know Chris is examining this from a purely Nationalist perspective, but there is a wider point here that goes beyond the SDLP and Sinn Fein and it is our collective voice in this election.

In 1974, the UUUC who were opposed to Sunningdale, rightly observed that winning the most seats at Westminster would send a powerful signal to the British government in the February 1974 election that the Sunningdale Executive was not welcome in Northern Ireland. Whilst, those in favour of the Executive foolishly fought each other, ignoring the ballot question and the anti Sunningdale forces won 11 of the 12 seats.

There are moments (1918 and 1974) where ballot questions go beyond parties or winning a single seat.

The Remain coalition contains Nationalists, Environmentalists, Economic Unionists and many others; there is a moment here to construct a new political coalition in Northern Ireland that could yield big changes in our local political dynamics.

How to build this?

Abstentionism; Some figures within the SDLP and the Green Party do have concerns over the issue of Sinn Fein abstaining from the House of Commons.  However is this a reason to scupper something? Sinn Fein’s 4 seats are relatively safe, they are open about this policy and there is not likely to be a hung parliament after the election where a few votes will decide a Brexit deal.

A vote for Sinn Fein in these areas is still a vote against Brexit and the plans of the Conservative government. If those parties are still concerned about taking seats, Sinn Fein could do a DeValera like “empty formula” arrangement to agree to take their seats for key Brexit votes only and agree to only do this for this parliament. If they are doing this conjunction with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP, it would be a powerful signal about the regions opposing the British government. Regardless, this is not a deal breaker in certain areas.

Agreed candidates; In North Belfast for example, where neither the SDLP, Sinn Fein or the Greens have held the Westminster seat, they could come together on an agreed candidate to oppose Brexit. This has been done before in local elections with some degree of success. Also the symbolism of taking on the DUP Deputy Leader & Westminster Leader would have significance locally.

Ultimately, parties say they don’t like pacts, but this is an election that local parties did not seek and nor did they frame this as a Brexit referendum, the Prime Minister did this. Northern Ireland and parties on the Remain side in particular need to fight battle that is already being fought, not waste time navel gazing about the virtue of electoral competition in an electoral system that doesn’t reward splits.

This will not be the last General Election or battle, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future to fight other like-minded parties.

It’s time to be creative and not get hung up with virtue or semantics that focus on how you played the game, rather than the end result.

We have just 18 seats and this is Northern Ireland’s final change to speak to the rest of the UK before 2019.

 

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  • Nevin

    Some might have more than one vote if they know how to impersonate by post or by proxy.

  • StevieG

    Yep, I get your point MU, but I am still anti-Brexit in that I am now more pro-EU than pro-UK (and will advocate and vote for a chance to get back in and it looks like the best option is a border poll eventually). I do believe we in NI will have little sway over May (other PM) regardless, and having pro-Brexit representatives for an Anti-Brexit region seems warped to me when May wants to make this election about Brexit. I am generally despondent about the situation here in that the ‘best’ Brexit will still be much worse than pre-Brexit (and especially so for NI) and I cannot but see those who are optimistic as delusional (or maybe trying to fake it to make it). The best I can muster for an English (and Welsh – weird!) nationalistic desire is non-servitam while in the UK, and push for a better life for my kids outside – we are going to get eaten whole.

  • Granni Trixie

    It is reported that they are “strongly considering” signing up to the pact.

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes it might be more comfortable to pretend to fit into the categories ascribed to you but it wouldn’t be honest.

  • mac tire

    You look at it as breaking the country up – I look at it as bringing it together again. 😉
    Of course those who want to leave the Union will use Brexit to their advantage – mostly because we believe we will be less better off, less secure and possibly with less rights as a result of it. Genuine fears.

    The ref didn’t magic anything up, MU; everyone knows Irish Republicans and Nationalists want to end the Union. These people are saying they believe we are going from a position they don’t want to be in to a position that may well be even worse than that.

    Being in the UK (even as part of the EU) isn’t something these people want. Being in the UK, not part of the EU, is definitely something they don’t want, so they are correct to point out that Brexit has changed things completely.

    So, as an example, from my own point of view, before Brexit I would vote for a UI in a jiffy when the time came. Since Brexit I want that vote soon.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Since the UK government controls both ends of this trade, it is not beyond the capabilities of man to ensure that any such trade barriers would not be more significant than having to ship stuff over the Irish sea. That is not the problem, it is the destructive intent of those involved that is the problem.

  • file

    I know where I am from (Pluto) and where I am going (Andromeda 6), and it is a great help in my daily struggle with your civilisation and its weird ways.

  • file

    No. I am unhappy with anyone casting aspersions about why did SF not do more to get the Remain vote out, on the grounds that getting every single one of them out could not have made a difference to the overall UK vote.

  • file

    Write down the population of Northern Ireland that voted in the Brexit referendum. Now write down the difference in votes between Remain and Leave in the overall UK vote. Compare the two figures. Realise that even if a) all the Northern Irelanders had voted Remain, or b) all the Northern Irelanders had voted Leave … it would have made no difference to the overall UK result.

  • Devil Éire

    On the one hand, we hear that an executive must be formed so that Northern Ireland can have its say on Brexit. On the other, we are told that everyone must row in behind Mrs. May until the deal is secured.

    Something of a contradiction there, I fear.

    In any case, the interests of Mrs. May are not necessarily aligned with the interests of Northern Ireland, since she has to consider the UK as a whole.

    The presence or absence of NI MPs in Westminster will be a minor perturbation on Mrs. May’s mandate to argue for the UK in Brussels.

    It is right, therefore, that local politicians continue to argue for the best economic and social outcomes for NI, as they see it. That includes those whose ‘anti-Brexit’ instincts lead them to promote an exit which tends towards the softer end of the spectrum.

  • Nevin

    “It’s time to be creative and not get hung up with virtue or semantics”

    David, perhaps you and Colum could take a moment and give a little thought for the feelings of the victims of the Provisional Republican Movement.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So what? You could say the same about the city I live in now, which was more Remain than NI. Our votes counted on the Remain side, wherever we lived. We just lost.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I understand that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Already a bad move.

  • file

    The point is that mathematically, making up 3% of the UK population, the NI vote could not ever affect the overall result. It is too small a speck to make a difference … therefore expending effort and money on persuading people to vote one way or the other in the referendum did not make sense. Of course you can feel some satisfaction from taking part in the referendum (even if you lost), but there was no point in any party here spending any effort on it with the idea that the effort could actually affect the outcome of the vote.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think we put too much onto this idea that N Ireland somehow voted as a region, that it is a Remain area. It was a national vote and it matters very little how that is tallied up as regions. It’s an interesting footnote but no more than that. In any case it wasn’t exactly a landslide for Remain in NI, it was pretty close, like in many other parts of the UK.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Your mathematics must be better than mine. I don’t see your logic at all.

    All it amounts to saying is that we are about 3 per cent of the UK population, which is true. And we have the same influence in votes as every other 3 per cent of the UK. No more and no less.

    By the way, Ireland as one of 27 in the EU has a similar proportion of the vote in the European Council. Surely that’s fine? In both cases we are part of a bigger whole.

  • file

    and the difference in the EU referendum was 4%. Therefore …

  • Trasna

    What difference does it make any way, pact or no pacts? 18 MPs from NI will be even more irrelevant than ever if May comes back with 100 plus majority as predicted.

    NI is out of the EU, shouldn’t your poticians be planning for a hard border instead?

  • Fear Éireannach

    Not all parts of the UK were colonies, not all parts of the UK have a land boundary, not all parts of the UK had civil disturbance within living memory, so NI should not be compated with England.

  • Fear Éireannach

    NI is not England and it should not be plunged into crisis by the delinquent actions of little Englanders.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Quite right. One side had been the victim of a 500 year occupation by the other, there is no comparison in morality between the sides in NI.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You seriously think the IRA Party has the moral high ground?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It has little Irelanders to do that

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Therefore votes of people living in NI made the same impact as everyone else’s

  • Gopher

    What would be the point of the executive broadly not supporting May? It is vital that local politicians get the best deal for the UK and NI. Given the size and nature and the tidal wave that is forming behind May billigerence is the single worst option. I repeat again its not just the left May is fighting over Brexit but the right which is why the strongest possible support is vital.

  • Nevin

    Gopher, I imagine those in Foyle who vote unionist in regional and local elections would prefer an SDLP interpreter to a SF one eg a Mark Durkan type to a Martina Anderson one. Should these voters stay at home or vote for other parties then IMO the SF candidate would be home and dry. Should they vote unionist then this would give a small boost to the regional vote share – and that’s why no hope candidates are sponsored by the parties.

    As I’ve already said Colum Eastwood appears to have caused great hurt to the victims of PRM violence by even suggesting such an alliance – and Steven Agnew for even toying with the idea.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m only speculating but could it be that they are thinking seriously about it because the Greens in England called for electoral cooperation with Labour and Lib Dems? (A proposal which has been turned down).

  • file

    (bangs head against wall in desperation and blames the incredidly bad teaching of mathematics in the curriculum …)

  • grumpy oul man

    Still going back in history Nevin,
    Strangly while every statement or suggestion from nationlists you drag up the past, but you never drag up unionisms past.
    But maybe this time you will explain yourself and let us know how a call by the SDLP leader is related to what a organization the SDLP was opposed to done 30 years ago.

  • grumpy oul man

    Again Nevin, do you care about the hurt of the victims of unionist violence when the founders of UR and those who worked so closely with loyalist terrorists form pacts,

  • Nevin

    gom, I read the victim’s letter last night. The victim was reacting to conversations with other victims after Colum announced his proposals.

  • grumpy oul man

    It is worth commenting on that yourself and unionism in general only accept votes when it suits, from from Carson’s army up to sunningdale and most latly Flegs, history shows that unionists are willing to resort to the most extreme violence when democracy’ produces a result it disapproves off.
    But your selective memory chooses to ignore this tendency.

  • Granni Trixie

    I agree with David that some things go beyond ballots or parties and in the context of Ni pacts – coalitions if you will – tend to be perceived as usuns against themuns and feed sectarian impulses. And after an us and them election it would be even more difficult for parties to form new kinds of relationships conducive to doing a deal and getting Stormont up and running.
    The “ends justifies the means” kind of case appealing for unity is therefore flawed.

  • John Collins

    MU
    Forget the ‘pretty close’ argument, because if that was to be taken seriously nobody need accept a result they do not agree with. And anyway what is pretty close? Lets not go there- dangerous territiory

  • John Collins

    That works both ways. It it is quite possible liberal Unionists are disclined to support the Unionist Party entering a pact with the DUP.

  • Granni Trixie

    Two wrongs…?

  • Fear Éireannach

    Perhaps they should plan to leave the UK instead.

  • Granni Trixie

    My understanding is that Alliance accept the Ref result but will argue for a vote on the actual proposed deal.
    Also, whilst I completely agree on the need to work towars stability in times such as Brexit we will all have to adapt to life as a bumpy ride.
    It could make us more resilient!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Main point is that N Ireland wasn’t actually voting as a region on this, we were all voting as UK citizens in a national U.K. vote.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I dropped Maths after AO level but I did get As …

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Could be right there GT. But of course the Greens have different parties to think about in NI and an ethnic divide that isn’t a factor there. The Greens in NI have to avoid ethnic politics like the plague.

  • Obelisk

    In this case two wrong very much make a right.

    Pacts are horrible and anti-democratic, yet there is no point clinging to the moral high ground when your opponents applaud you afterwards…from the comfort of the green benches in Westminster.

    Unionists do pacts because they have been shown to work, in the absence of a countering pact the Unionists take the seat. It has become normalised.

    I support an anti-Brexit pact in the hope that it will remove the incentive for Unionists to do this in future.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I must say I’m not sure what Alliance is playing at with that

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Not holding breath

  • file

    Dear God! You are only a youngster! you should go and play wiht people your own age … but do not enter into any financial arrangements with them that require an understanding of numbers.

  • Alan N/Ards

    The same could be said of de Valera and his followers.

  • Alan N/Ards

    As someone who is pro union, and anti Brexit, I can actually see the benefit of an anti Brexit alliance. The problem I have is SF. I genuinely could never give a candidate (who is from SF) my vote. I can imagine that many unionists would be of the same mind.

    I can think back to the day after the Brexit vote and feeling pretty deflated by it but, after listening to Martina Anderson in a tv debate, I really regretted that I had voted remain. Of course, the feeling of regret went when I turned off. Yet for that moment this SF spokesperson (maybe, it’s just her) really raised my hackles.

    I would say that many pro EU unionists could support the Alliance, Greens and SDLP, but very few would vote for an anti Brexit shinner.

  • Nevin

    ” If they [SF] are doing this conjunction with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP, it would be a powerful signal”

    These are all anti-UK parties and the only one with a significant signal is the SNP – currently 54 seats:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ecd1856c628cdb5c354b7e82521827af725d2c6e7279b56d12433696afa75c19.png

    The next election was scheduled for 2020 so perhaps Theresa decided to go the country now rather than take a risk on losing by-elections during the course of the negotiations with the EU-27.

  • Gopher

    I am talking about this election, what they do in any other election is just fine with me but in this election *your* opinion need to be clear beyond intereptation action therefore I can’t understand what tactical voting will achieve except the detriment of your democratic voice.

  • John Spence

    That group exists and has probably already moved from “unionist” parties. There’s been a pact at most Westminster elections, and until the last Ass. election, a recommendation to transfer to other unionists, so those who felt that way have already acted on their feelings.

    The point is that this type of pact, with a nominally centre party, entering an electoral arrangement with an abstentionist party, would be very likely to encourage some of that same group, and indeed others to return from the centre party.

  • Mark Petticrew

    I think it’s merely a reflection of their own electorate, for they are after all a particularly pro-EU lot; 83% of Alliance voters having voted to remain in last year’s EU referendum according to a 2016 QUB study.

    It’s also worth stating that Alliance aren’t unionists in the nationalistic sense of the word, and so – in taking an overtly anti-Brexit standpoint – they’re going to be less hung up on differentiating themselves from Britain.

  • Granni Trixie

    So your hope is that each ‘side’ might enter into a gentlemans agreement in future elections? I don’t think so.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It does seem a departure though from the idea that Northern Ireland is too precious about itself. It’s also just nonsense, how can you have one part of a country with a different relationship with the EU from the rest. And where’s the mandate for that? All a bit odd.

  • grumpy oul man

    Be honest, if give you the chance to say Provisional Republican movement again, and you have never give any indication of the victims of unionist violence when Unionism announces a pact.
    maybe i missed it but when the DUP unfolded its plot to unseat the Alliance party in East Belfast did you speak out for the victims of unionist violence when the UVF and UDA came on board.

  • grumpy oul man

    Indeed it could Alan, but my point is that the very people who are insisting we cannot oppose Brexit or the Tories version of Brexit (peacefully and legally) because it is the will of the majority, have a long history of opposing the democratic will of the majority violently and illegally.
    It is this blatant hypocrisy i am commenting on.
    The Ability to ignore the role that the two main unionist parties had in supporting and working with loyalist terrorists is one of MU little tricks,
    He Has this wonderful belief that Unionist violence is of no consequence and was only ever a reaction to Republican violence,
    The state of affairs in the old NI and the unionist violence between 1966 and 1969 made no contribution to what followed.
    this is the little game he plays,
    So pointing out that unionism ignores democracy when it suits is a valid response to his claims that both Unionism and Himself have a chequered past when it come to accepting the democratic will of the majority.

  • Obelisk

    So the alternative is we should play nice while Unionists crow about their seat tallies?

  • Mark Petticrew

    Just as Sinn Féin and the SDLP have done since June, I assume Alliance would herald the 56% vote here to remain in contrast to the UK-wide vote to leave as their mandate to lobby for special status. As to how it could work, it would likely involve pushing the border out to the Irish Sea.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Except that the 56 per cent weren’t voting for “special status”. Quite a few were unionists who envisaged nothing of the sort and would not support it now.

  • Charlie Farlie

    But David, it’s not just a simple case of turning up to vote for this issue and this issue alone. For the Sinn Fein electorate it is about having to swear an oath to the British Monarchy, which essentially bears witness to the fact that we are Monarchical subjects.

    Analysts always fail to see the importance of this to Irish Nationalists. SF exist on an abstentionist stance, it would contradict all aspects of their ideology and contravene everything they have stood for. That can’t happen, and it won’t!

  • Mark Petticrew

    I don’t doubt that; the attitude of most remainer unionists since Brexit has seemingly been one of let’s-get-on-with-the-job, as opposed to engaging in any sort of “Gerry Adams-speak” as Reg Empey recently remarked of Stephen Farry’s talking up of special status.

    One thing of note, however, is that Alliance’s “Gerry Adams-speak” doesn’t appear to have done them much harm in the recent Assembly election; the party having their best election performance since 1982 and their share of the vote increasing by 2.1%.

  • grumpy oul man

    Seriously, if by some chance the election results in a Parliament with a majority of MPs with a anti Brexit stance, and remembering that referendum is dependent on the approval of Parliament, then I’m sure the government could rescind article 50.

  • Deeman

    The debate has now evolved into whether it’s a hard brexit or soft, it is all to play for.

  • Fear Éireannach

    And as the SNP plan to keep the Queen, who is independently monarch of Scotland anyhow, the oath isn’t such a big issue for them.

  • grumpy oul man

    The discriminating voter,yes indeed unionists do have a habit of discriminating, it what started the whole thing off in the first place.

  • Devil Éire

    What would be the point of the executive broadly not supporting May?

    Because (I repeat) the interests of Mrs. May are not necessarily aligned with the interests of Northern Ireland, since she has to consider the UK as a whole.

    It is vital that local politicians get the best deal for the UK and NI.

    Mrs. May will be seeking the best deal for the UK. It is the job of local politicians to fight Northern Ireland’s corner. Giving Mrs. May carte blanche is a bad idea.

    (By the way, the number of MPs supporting Mrs. May in Westminster will be an irrelevance in Brussels, according to the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator).

    The worst possible outcome for Northern Ireland will be a hard border with Ireland and that is precisely the instinctive direction of travel for unionists. This has been evident in their outright dismissal of attempts to secure any kind of ‘special status’ for NI.

    Nationalists, on the other hand, will naturally prefer a softer border, which aligns with Northern Ireland’s economic interests. It is therefore vital that they are able to be clearly heard on this matter and performing well in the coming election can only help with this.

  • kergo57

    I don’t think mr Swann and the UUP will be missed out of North and west Belfast Foyle and South Antrim.The votes they gained in the last election were very minimum .As for a free run in FST This can only be apurely sectarian reason and not in line with all those along the border than strongly oppose Brexit

  • Trasna

    Why would I do thatL

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But there are limits – and they can’t be seen to be in bed with SF.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    People didn’t vote for that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Their ideology is a fantasy though and already sits at odds with their Good Friday Agreement commitments. Would it really be such a disaster for them to take a further step into the real world?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Arthur Griffith supported a monarchy too did he not.

  • Charlie Farlie

    That ‘real world’ is a subjective entity isn’t it though? The real world for Nationalists is one where an undemocratic decision taken nearly 100 years ago is finally overturned through a democratic decision. When demographics finally put this small island back together. One way to do this is certainly not to swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign monarch.

    See the problem with the ‘real world’ thing?

  • Charlie Farlie

    The British/Irish dual monarchy idea with separate but equal Governments was a proposal made as one possible methodological route around the Irish problem in 1904.

    Thankfully we are in 2017, where the idea of Monarchy for most people is a ridiculous sectarian elite system where modern citizens are no longer held by subjection. Times have changed, Arthur Griffith is dead, hell, even the Irish are starting to dissociate Church/State. Who’d have thought eh?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I know, I’m a British Republican myself.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Where do the votes north and south in 1998 fit into that story? Were you anti-GFA?

  • Charlie Farlie

    On the contrary, I’m happy enough to let demographics begin to determine the end of the Union, as laid out and made provision for in the GFA.

    The issue of consent is what was enshrined in GFA. Consent depends on demographic changes which has effects upon the democratic process. Therefore how would I be anti-GFA when the votes North and South decided democracy could change things?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You said “the real world for Nationalists is one where an undemocratic decision taken nearly 100 years ago is finally overturned through a democratic decision” – so were you referring with “democratic decision” to the votes in 1998? If not, you don’t seem to have allowed for the Good Friday Agreement at all in your analysis of the situation the nationalist community is in now. Remember all the leaders of nationalism agreed the legitimacy of Northern Ireland in 1998 and nationalist voters overwhelmingly voted for it. Pretty cut and dried, no?

  • Charlie Farlie

    Not when the principle of consent is embedded into the GFA, that allows for the return to a United Ireland. Hardly a raging endorsement of the legitimacy of a state when the legislation is set up to allow demographics to kill it now is it?
    Nationalists knew at the time of signing the GFA, that it would only be a generation before the numbers weighed in its favour. Thats why articles 2 and 3 ceased to be so important because with consent embedded in law, Nationalism saw that is was just a waiting game, before we could decide for ourselves where we wanted to be. The GFA agreement wasn’t blindly voted for, it was tactically voted for. There is a difference!