The End of (Westminster) Nationalism

The Tory Chief Whip was in Belfast this weekend to meet the DUP leadership. It is believed that they were discussing all options for co-operation at Westminster, from coalition to confidence and supply .

The outcome is the outline of a Confidence and Supply arrangement.

“Who are the DUP?” is being googled on laptops across Britain. The former Chancellor George Osbourne’s Evening Standard newspaper published a cartoon of a large dour Orangeman with Theresa May tucked into his breast pocket.If the DUP agree an arrangement with the Tories they should expect even more scrutiny of their current actions as well as their past. Already the endorsement from loyalist groups before the election is being heavily frowned upon .

The DUP will think carefully about their next move. Too often in politics today we have seen actions that have sparked off a totally unintentional reaction and Arlene Foster knows this only too well. The arrangement with the Tories could last 5 years or it could last 5 months so bypassing the Stormont negotiating table on issues such as parades or a military covenant could prove successful or it could provoke a significant political response from nationalism.

Ben Lowry in the Newsletter is right to say that whilst this is a political opportunity for the DUP it also is a difficulty for them.

Already we have seen high expectations expressed by Orangemen in Portadown.

There has been a reawakening in nationalism. Again they turned out to the polling stations in their droves  but this time the unionist vote was significantly up as well coalescing behind the DUP. However despite the unionist surge this is the first time that Unionism has fallen below 50% of the total vote at a Westminster election in the north.

Moving forward the DUP will (of course) put the union first. They will want to re-establish the Assembly and try to bed things down again at home to try and ensure that the re-awakened nationalist voter goes back into a slumber. A recent Lucidtalk poll shows that some 40% of Catholics see Irish Unity as being a top issue for them. This significant figure is undoubtedly a consequence of Brexit and the collapse of the institutions in Belfast.

The DUP will also need to motivate the unionist and loyalist working classes to get back into the habit of going to the polling station. According to Allison Morris in today’s Irish News loyalists claim to have been given an assurance that an amnesty will be introduced as part of any legacy deal.

Of course these two desired outcomes are likely to clash. A statute of limitations on prosecutions affecting cases such as Bloody Sunday or Ballymurphy, especially if it is imposed by the Tories and the DUP without any cross-community agreement, will cause uproar. Similarly a military covenant that gives any preferential treatment to ex-British Army personnel in an area such as housing will hit a raw nerve with nationalists whose parents and grandparents were overlooked for family homes because of their religion.

I imagine that the DUP shopping list will be mainly economic not social in a Confidence and Supply arrangement. Their social policy and relationships with loyalists have quickly become embarrassing for the Tories and I am sure Jeremy Corbyn will be quietly smiling in the knowledge that the Tories are now being questioned by journalists about UDA endorsements and Ulster Resistance.

The ‘Irish Unionists’ (as christened by the Editor of the Evening Standard) are not the only group within the 328 that will have a shopping list. The 13 Scottish Tories and Ruth Davidson want to see an ‘open’ Brexit. When asked to explain Davidson says that

“It is about making sure that we increase freedoms rather than increase barriers.”

There are a variety of views on Brexit within the Conservative party. The DUP have another vision of what Brexit should look like on this island. Unless there is some cross-party consensus with the opposition an election may soon present as a better option than a Brexit gridlock.

Whenever the Westminster parliament does reconvene it will be the first time in half a century that there won’t be a nationalist sitting on the green benches. The SDLP made abstentionism an issue in this election and it did not work to their advantage. After laying siege to it for decades Sinn Féin even breached the SDLP walls in Derry taking the seat that once belonged to John Hume.

There is a clear message coming from nationalists. They see their economic interests at risk because of Brexit. Their identity and valued connection to the rest of the island is under threat. They look to Dublin moreso than London already so Sinn Féin’s position on not taking seats in England isn’t hard to accept.

Abstentionism has won this battle within nationalism as convincingly as when Sinn
Féin defeated the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in 1918. Ironically one of the only seats the IPP won that year was in South Down.

The loss of 3 Westminster seats, offices, staff and funding will hit the SDLP hard and I’d imagine they can ill afford another Assembly election. However the DUP will be more tempted to head to another election in the Autumn on the back of the Westminster result which could well deliver 30+ seats at Stormont. The only way that the SDLP’s 12 MLAs can arrest their slide is by cashing their chips in and joining with a party from the south. Colum Eastwood is right to say that they may have to consider a future that involves the “unprecedented or the uncomfortable” but it may already be too late for that.