Bright for the Union

The British Westminster election in the North, for which there is no Irish equivalent, took place last week. British Northern Ireland it surely is and just to underline the matter David Cameron, tonight declared the new British Prime Minister, long before the election, in December 2007, told the Daily Telegraph his party had no intention of changing its British status. He left no room for ambiguity, or nudging and winking that he really meant something other than he said. Whether he was playing to the Unionists, whose backing he may then have considered strategically useful to court, or being brutally honest - not a feature common to politicians - people will have to make their own minds up about. But his statement, when positioned alongside another assertion from a different quarter that predicts a united Ireland by 2016, by far sounds the more plausible of the two.

There really was not all that much to look at once the top of the electoral hill was reached and what lay on the other side could be viewed. The Northern political landscape post-election looks pretty much as it did prior to the electorate going to the polls, the notable exception being the face of Peter Robinson disappearing from the Westminster scene. Iris alone can hardly be the cause of that particular downfall even if many rush their fences to saddle her with the blame. Iris, well used to being saddled, will hardly suffer further as a result. Her fall from grace is behind her. And despite the money she made she can’t buy indulgences to raise her stock again.

The big impact in this election was made by two other women, Naomi Long and Michelle Gildernew. Given what both women faced neither should have won. But triumph they did. When my wife told me that Gildernew had lost the Fermanagh/South Tyrone contest by 8 votes to the unionist challenger, my sole comment was that it was remarkable for her to have even brought it as close as she did. There was little reason to anticipate that the SDLP vote in the constituency would collapse to the extent that it did. That Gildernew was later declared the winner merely polished her already considerable achievement.

Naomi Long’s victory over the British micro minister, Peter Robinson, was no less an outstanding achievement than that of Michelle Gildernew. From what has long been regarded as a bastion of unionist bigotry, East Belfast, Long forged a formidable challenge to the unionist status quo. Alliance may be a unionist party, but one of a different order. The important thing is that the unionist electorate made it possible.

In doing so it may have scored a considerable PR coup abroad. Unionism, long considered obstinate and incapable of change, usually fared poorly in the eyes of the international community compared to their nationalist opponents. Now a considerable swathe of unionist opinion has demonstrated its lack of regard for the less that wholesome behaviour of its key leader.

There is no equivalent on the nationalist side. Despite much controversy surrounding the foremost nationalist leader, the nationalist electorate showed no inclination to break the mould. One former republican prisoner made the point in less than parliamentary language that the’ unionists got rid of their rat bag while the nationalists kept theirs.’

Setting the stridency of that particular comment to the side, the essential kernel within it seems clear: unionism has been considerably strengthened by seizing the moral high ground. Coupled with the Tories being back in office the future might not look orange but it certainly looks bright for the union.


  1. Getting the impression in recent years it's the nationalist vote that is blinkered and cemented in it's intent.
    United Ireland by 1916?? has someone been to see the 'Hot-tub time machine'...? 2016 we were assured was it not? lol
    I'm off now to do the first of my exams..if i fail im blaming you mackers+marty lol

  2. Larry, thanks for that. 1916 - a mistake I frequently make. Corrected now.

  3. The very selection of a unionist 'unity' candidate in F/ST seat automatically turned it into a sectarian headcount. One would imagine that the posterity effect that Bobby Sands died on Hunger Strike for this seat may well have been the decisive factor. As for the SDLP a majority of their would be voters sided with SF due to the 'unity' opposition. But the question is that whilst the constituency was the focus of SF's electoral efforts in order to retain 'Bobby's seat' (who gave the ultimate sacrifice for 'The 5 Demands') will the SF leadership, as the self-proclaimed head of the Irish Republican family, show similar enthusiasm to resolve the escalating situation in Maghaberry????

  4. Macker, I doubt if many people were surprised by Cameron's election victory.
    Many Labour voters had begun to appear apathetic in relation to Brown. The expenses fiasco was still raw, and then there was the double jobbing to boot.
    Bizarrely, the people chose the frying pan fire outcome. They opted for someone who will not only benefit the Union, he will also benefit the rich. The poor and the needy are the real losers in this scenario.

    No surprises on our side either. I commented to my other half that I believed Adams would do well.
    Not because he has an ounce of integrity, not because he is an honest politician (I know that is a contradictory term) Certainly not because he has produced one constructive piece of his so called, "revolutionary change."
    but because our people seem to be perputual forgivers.

    I watched them (Sinn Fein) from my home on Election Day. Knocking on doors (not ours, thank God)
    Doing their best to mingle with with the ordinary people. The people who they left behind years ago and not just geographically.
    Watching them with their insincere smiles and their phoney handshakes. I wondered, why can people not see through this?
    How come, our people are not apathetic to the Sinn Fein leader?
    Why do our people not object to their over expenditure?
    Why do our people not complain, when former proclaimed socialists who are current MLAs, Sinn Fein community activists and the rest
    Now have housing portfolios, the odd villa abroad, apartments in Portugal and their country houses?
    Mr Adams double jobs! He might not take the seat but he takes the money!

    The future may not look entirely "Orange" Mackers, but for those in the upper echelons of the "Mainstream Republican Movement" it certainly looks rosy.

  5. Fionnuala,

    Like you I stood watching the election carnival unfold and like you I asked the question 'why do our people not see through this?'

    I can only conclude that they can but don't care. They are being led by the nose to still vote with the old orange and green card and get so caught up on this that they choose to ignore the real issues of poverty, social deprivation and lack of inward investment that's worsening year on year - particularly in north and west Belfast.

    Those who choose not to ignore it and open their mouths are isolated, intimidated from their homes and jobs and basically cast out from their communities so perhaps those choosing to ignore are afraid to stick their necks out.

    But I know which camp I'd rather be in.

  6. Belfast Bookworm, It's not easy being a "dissenter" the name for anyone who dares disagree. But you are so right, and I know which camp I would prefer to be in.

  7. What a lot of people seem to overlook regarding PSF's electoral success is that, besides the 'vote for us to keep the Unionists out' tactic, there is also the fear among Nationalists that if the Shinners are rejected politically they could go back to war.

    We know this is nonsense but try telling that to the ordinary person on the street.

    There is also the fear that a bad election for PSF could be seen by pro-armed struggle Republicans as a green light to continue.

    The vast majority of people don't want to go back to the 'bad old days' as the war is now often described by shinners and they will ignore the stink coming from Adams and his disciples and send out a message that they want peace.

    And while there are Republicans who choose to ignore the wishes of the people then Adams will lead them like the Pied Piper to the ballot boxes.

  8. Fionnuala

    Far be it from me to defend Adams or the Shinners, though I have to admit to believing the political path should be trodden, but I constantly hear that all the Shinner elected reps take only the "average industrial wage" and the rest goes to party coffers. Are you suggesting that some don't do this?

    Sure Gerry has written a few books about his journey, maybe he should have invested the profits into his political future but is that up to you or me?

  9. DaithiO, apologies that I have not put the fada over your name, can never seem to do it.

    In relation to Sinn Fein and the industrial wage. I would say their lives styles answer that question a lot better than I could.

    Two of their MLA's in Stormont now have their own housing portfolios, do you think that was the result of earning an industrial wage?
    One of our senior Sinn Fein representatives here in Clonard also has quite an extensive amount of properties. Where did all the money come from?

    To be perfectly honest it does not bother me that they earn over inflated incomes in Stormont.
    Betrayal can often fetch a high price, and if you are prepared to sell your principles, well then I expect they are entitled to be paid the going rate.
    Whether they give it to their party or not is their own business.

    I know Gerry wrote a few books and if he was well paid, so what.

    My problem with people like Adams is the fact, that he was quite happy to turn a blind eye to all the pilfering going on within his own organistation.
    He knows how they acquired their lifestyles.
    He also knows, that people within his own organisation, were on the make and on the take from dodgy builders and exploitative employers for years.
    He knew what was going on, because Brendan Hughes has actually documented that he for one told him.

    How many of his constituents do you think enjoy his or his disciples in Stormonts lifestyles?
    There are three industrial wages coming into our home and we could never live like them.
    Holiday homes and apartments in luxurious destinations, aaahhh. Who said betrayal doesn't pay?

  10. Rebels Yell,

    When the 'Bobby seat' was freshest in the memory of those in 1983 who had voted for Bobby in 1981 they let it go and gave the SDLP opposition to Carron a strong vote. There has to be another reason

  11. AM,

    As regards the 'other reason' you mentioned, I think that there is a culmination of various factors at work. Michelle Gildernew's victory was no doubt aided by the selection 'unity'/sectarian candidate which galvanised the Republican/nationalist pre-election mind set.

    Given the elctoral history of gerrymandering, Bobby Sands, etc tribal politics returned with a vengenance, and the 'them' and 'us' mentality took a firm grip. Also the potential fall out from the socio-economic crisis in the area that is the Quinn Group weighed heavy on people's minds. All these things as well as the fact that she was the sitting MP worked in her favour. Had it not been for these extenuating circumstances specific to F/ST, then the story could have been very different. In Sinn Fein's favour, Rodney Connor's selection had the dual effect of both sidelining open discontent among grass-roots Republicans and causing a collapse in the SDLP's vote due as they were automatically portrayed as vote splitters due to their failure to reciprocate SF'S gesture in South Belfast.

    As regards SF's votal supremacy throughout the occupied 6 counties, I think Dixie's comment has hit the nail on the head as regards one of the main one's:

    'What a lot of people seem to overlook regarding PSF's electoral success is that, besides the 'vote for us to keep the Unionists out' tactic, there is also the fear among Nationalists that if the Shinners are rejected politically they could go back to war.'

    The seeds of Sinn Fein's electoral dominance were sown with the first whispers of an end to the 'war'(John Hume's involvement in bringing them to the table). Their broader electoral support gained momentum as the murmurs of a potential IRA ceasefire became reality. With the eventual signing of GFA, Sinn Fein were effectively part and parcel of the establishment which is the State of Northern Ireland.

    The 'BIG' irony is that due to the geographical constraints of Ireland's partition only one republican/nationalist party could prevail pseudo-effectively here. And with Sinn Fein receiving worldwide 'plaudits' for being the architects of bringing this phase of the struggle to an end, coupled with the promises of a bright new future, the pendulum of political support swung massively in their favour.

    Moreover, the fact that we were becoming a secular society during the 80's & 90's played a heavy toll on Irish patriotism. The sweetners of British/Irish/foreign money that was pumped into the North following GFA also had a positive effect in aiding the elaborate political illusion that a Partitioned North was socio-economically viable.

    But the current economic global crisis has well and truly burst this feel good 'bubble'. For decades the North's economy had been artificially propped up by a huge over reliance on the civil service and the associated inflated incomes had the desired effect in fueling the North's economy.

    However, the forthcoming Conservative Emergency Budget will definitely address this imbalance between the public and private sectors. Osborne's iminent axe wielding will exert economic pressure that has never been experienced here before!

    It will be these economic failures (including the inherent ones due to partition) and how/or if the new coalition British Government's austerity measures remedy them, that will re-focus the minds on the 'Irish Unity' debate in the near future!!

  12. The Rebels Yell,

    a very thoughtful presentation which gives us something to think about at length. Appreciate you taking the time to put that together