DUP 8 seats (-2), 30.6% (-5.4%) SF 7 seats (nc), 22.8% (-6.6%) Alliance 1 seat (+1), 16.8% (+8.9%) SDLP 2 seats (+2), 14.9% (+3.2%) UUP 11.7% (+1.4%)
Let’s say it clear. This is a great result for Northern Ireland. It’s simplistic to call it a victory of nationalism over unionism. It shows that voters on both sides of the divide are capable of breaking out of the monolithic duopoly. The DUP and SF have been punished for Stormont deadlock and the DUP for the double whammy of also messing up EU withdrawal. Alliance is the coping stone for a new centre ground. The massive swings from Sinn Fein to the SDLP in Foyle where the contest was between SDLP and SF and in South Belfast where SF was absent were surely emphatic verdicts in favour of an Assembly return and against general absenteeism. That verdict might have been expected in south Belfast with a substantial middle class constituency, but less so in mainly working class Derry where the swing in two years was nothing short of sensational. Cross community voting featured in both constituencies.
These results should not be wasted. Sinn Fein and others will claim the presence of three non-nationalist MPs will make no impact against such a big Tory majority; but influence depends on a lot more than votes. Eastwood, Hanna and Farry stand to make a considerable impression on anxious debates on the future of the Union and relations with the EU if they avoid knee jerk opposition to the new government. In the forthcoming debates to complete the withdrawal agreement they are are bound to seek clarification on the operations of the frontstop and help shape a system of Northern Ireland accountability. Like Hume and Mallon before them, Eastwood and Hanna will be able to encourage greater awareness of all Ireland interests at a vital time.
Primary legislation on a range of NI matters on the withdrawal agreement and to do with the next stage of Brexit will be brought forward before too long. And their voice on dealing with the past and social reform will end the distorted impression of Northern Ireland opinion given by the DUP.
At home, we’re back to a multiparty system and have one more chance to make it work. Looking at the Foyle result in particular and Sinn Fein’s share drop generally, this is no mandate for an early border poll. Concentrate first on a policy deal on the NHS and welfare mitigation. The shape of Stormont reform will become clearer after an Assembly election. Will the results help or hinder the return of Stormont? I see Eamonn Mallie has speculated that they might cool the DUP’s ardour for a return to Stormont. This presumably refers to fears of a bad DUP outcome in an Assembly election.
Best hope is that they get the public’s message. If not, Johnson’s new government should pile on the pressure by threatening an election whether they like it or not. Will Johnson in the euphoria of victory pay much attention to the new round of interparty talks? One indicator is whether Julian Smith who has been a Johnson critic keeps his job as secretary of state. Having shown commitment to the place, he deserves to. This is no time to change horses.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London