So why do nice people vote Sinn Féin? I suppose we should ask one. Take the case of a Man who describes himself as ……a socialist, republican, moderate and nationalist. And skeptical of Journalism and Conflict Resolution.
He first voted as a 18 year old in West Belfast for Republican Labour and Gerry Fitt. A straight fight with Brian McRoberts a Unionist. Hardly a choice.
As a 21 year old in 1973, he did not vote in the Council Elections as a gesture of support for the “internees”. Strange as it may seem now Father Dennis Faul (who would later be highly critical of the Provos) had called for a boycott of the Election.
But just a month later, the Man was voting SDLP in the Assembly Elections. And did so thru the 1970s.
In 1981 he was living in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and did not vote for either Bobby Sands or Owen Carron (he spoiled his vote on both occasions as SDLP had no candidate). Married in 1982 and living in a third constituency he voted SDLP consistently until 1993 local council elections when he voted DUP.
The reason …he and his wife had been in a dispute with a SDLP figure and he could not bring himself to vote Sinn Féin and DUP was a safe protest vote. His wife who is a much nicer person than he is, always voted SDLP and thru the rest of the 1990s and well into the 21st century he voted Sinn Féin.
Which was actually a neat little compromise because essentially his family is “pan nationalist” in its outlook. With two sons now on the Voting Register it was a simple fact that younger folks vote Sinn Féin..so he switched back to vote SDLP in European Elections in 2009, to give a 2-2 balance to the “family vote”.Family is everything to him.
There are three power blocks in Norn Iron. The Unionist community may feel they are in a worse position than they were in 1966. The Nationalist community certainly feels they are in a better position. The 59 year old Man remembers the 1960s and the 1970s. You might think that both the SDLP and Sinn Féin like how he votes but actually he irritates them.
See the simple and uncomfortable fact is that the SDLP believe it was them “wot won it” with Politics and Peace. But they didn’t. And Sinn Féin believe that it was them “wot won it”. With the gun and bomb. And it wasn’t. Effectively it was both….and they both hate to hear it.
But why should the SDLP be surprised by that? John Hume did after all talk to Gerry Adams. And why should Sinn Féin reject that view.?Did they even notice that THAT Bobby Sands mural says “everyone ….republican and otherwise has a part to play”. And that’s what happened.
In the 1980s the Voter might have thought that unionist talk about a pan-nationalist front was their usual paranoia. In fact with hindsight, they were absolutely right. In 2010 and 2011 the household vote was 3-2 to the SDLP.
Understandably our Man will never be a unionist. Nor does he expect any unionist to be a nationalist. Its an ongoing dispute but he gets on surprisingly well with unionists. Unionists get on surprisingly well with him.
Alliance folks don’t like him much. Which is okay because he wouldn’t vote Alliance if he was paid. Not that he has ever seen one in either Fermanagh-South Tyrone or his post 1982 constituency.
SDLP people are nicer than Sinn Féin people. Not to mention all that “unfortunate” 1970s and 1980s stuff, much of which he seen up close and personal in West Belfast. And he doesnt much care for the Sinn Féin way of doing things, their ruthless efficiency and the fact that they have activists and not members.
He is not nearly energetic enough to actually join Sinn Féin (besides he doesn’t like all that baggage). And a few months ago came very close to joining SDLP but frankly even they are more energetic than he is.
And worse…..they are just totally inefficient. They have a hopeless and hapless leader, Margaret Ritchie who led them to a state where they have fewer seats and an almost impossible chance of making a comeback.
It’s likely but not certain that SDLP will decline further and eventually split with about two thirds of voters going to Sinn Féin while the other third mostly around the Belfast suburbs goes to Alliance……..or into a short lived leftist Party.
Thats how he sees it. Politics is about high ideals and low self-interest and a basket of philosophies… in his case nationalist, republican, moderate and socialist. Throw in democracy and efficiency…..and the understandable human emotion that things get better for him and his…..and you might get some idea how a “nice” person votes Sinn Féin.
They simply tick more of the boxes than a rival in the nationalist community.