Over the past month we have heard about the impending election that seems to never be coming. Whether it is next year or in a few weeks there has been a debate not just locally but in other parts of the UK about some form of pro-remain cooperation taking place. Now, I know Alliance have ruled this out from their end and that is their right to do so. The Greens, Sinn Fein and the SDLP have expressed some sort of interest in working together.
In Northern Ireland where we have a mix of some elections being conducted using a PR-STV system and another with the First Past the Post System it can be confusing as to why we would find it normal for parties to fight each other in one set of elections but cooperate in another. However, in this election, if it is held in the coming weeks, could be a vote that will change over lives and relationships on this island for decades.
People here from the remain side have lamented the DUP’s approach at Westminster arguing that they don’t speak for a majority in Northern Ireland and that this should be taken into account. However, the DUP, whether you like them or not, are going to naturally press their advantage and sorry but they’re not going to back away from Brexit. People forget that they’ve been at this project longer than Nigel Farage. They were the original leavers and have been so since 1973. This will not change.
The DUP also enjoy their strength due in many cases to vote splitting. South Belfast is one of the most pro-remain constituencies, yet it is a represented by a pro Brexit MP. Why? Because the pro remain parties in 2017 thought it would be a great tactic to kick lumps out of one another, allowing the DUP to come through the middle. This also happens in places like North Belfast too. And this self indulgence almost saw North Down fall too. Just imagine what the last two years would’ve been like without somebody like Lady Hermon defending the Good Friday Agreement.
This isn’t the first time that parties on one side have failed to grasp the importance of a moment. In February 1974, the anti power-sharing parties united together to fight the election, the pro parties all fought each other, splitting the vote and all but one seat was won by anti-Sunningdale forces. That election was then used by those forces to claim that the Executive had no mandate and should be abolished.
Power begets power in politics. When remainers can transfer in elections, we win them, However we need to recognise that we don’t have that luxury at a Westminster election. The candidate with the most votes wins and they don’t need a high share of the vote to do so.
As a Nationalist who voted remain, i can see that North Down should keep Lady Hermon due to her excellent work since 2016. Other pro remain parties should not make it easier for her to be defeated and i couldn’t care less that she supports keep NI within the union.
This isn’t about border polls or the union, it’s about what we want those broadcasters to say the day after we vote. Is it that the pro-Brexit forces have consolidated their position? Or do we want it to be that the remain forces have gained back lost ground from 2017. We will see one of these two headlines and make no mistake, the DUP (I don’t mean this as an insult) will use their influence to make sure we leave the European Union. Because they understand, power begets power. They wouldn’t let a little thing like doing something because it has always been done a certain way get in the way of advancing their objectives.
As remainers we can no longer protest this influence when we willingly fight one another and split votes in critical elections. This cooperation is not about a border poll or securing the union, it’s about what voice we want to project outwards to the rest of the UK. That’s the choice that these parties face. Where there is no chance of a pro-Brexit candidate winning, then belt away, but in the handful of critical seats that we have in Northern Ireland, it would be a folly to not seek for this election some form of cooperation that might help project that remain voice.
We are running out of avenues to make our voices heard on this issue, if there is an election let’s not waste a moment and keep the forward momentum that was achieved in previous elections going.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs