Bright for the Union
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.