A surprise. Even a shock.
In 2010, Sinn Féin won with a majority of just four votes. Tactical voting by SDLP voters saw them defeat a unionist “unity” candidate. I was actually in London for the 2010 Results, flying out just after voting. By lunch time on Friday, there had been overnight recounts and I only knew the result about 3.30pm, in an Internet cafe in Queensway.
Although I would have voted SDLP in 2010, I felt a sense of relief that Michelle Gildernew had defeated a pan-unionist pact.
So why was it that….last week….. at 6.30am on a train with with wifi connexion, I was completely indifferent to the fact that Tom Elliott (UUP) had just defeated Michelle Gildernew by over 500 votes. After all, UUP and DUP had entered into a blatant sectarian pact.
Worse “Lord” Morrow of DUP had been dismissive of Michelle Gildernew as the “girl from the Brantry”.
In part, the difference between 2010 and 2015 is that I am actually a member of SDLP. But I dont think it entirely explains it. After all, fewer people voted SDLP (John Coyle) than voted SDLP (Fearghal McKinney) in 2010.
A lot of nationalist voters stayed at home. They were indifferent to the result. Phil Flanagan MLA of Sinn Féin have resorted to blaming the SDLP for standing. An odd stance, particuarly as Phil was (to his credit) unhappy at online bullying of SDLP candidate, John Coyle.
The online bullying continued after the Election.
Barry Doherty…a Sinn Féin councillor ….has since apologised for this Facebook post.
But Fermanagh-South Tyrone shows up one Sinn Féin problem….loss of manners. And a contempt for those standing for SDLP and people voting SDLP. Worth remembering when they want to “borrow a vote”.
And Fermanagh-South Tyrone shows up another Sinn Féin problem. Lack of political awareness. They were in Fantasy Land. Michelle Gildernew had won by just four votes against a single unionist candidate in 2010. The SDLP had not polled well. The candidate Fearghal McKinney deemed to be a celebrity (TV journalist) imported from Belfast.I
Sinn Féin thought that with better Demographics in 2015, Michelle Gildernew was safe. She lost by over 500 votes. Nationalists did not show up at the polling booth. For public consumption, Sinn Féin will be blaming SDLP but really their internal post-mortem wont mention SDLP.
Incumbency is a big asset. Sinn Féin have lost it. And wont be regaining that seat for a long long time. Nationalist voters will be free to vote, without the call to tribal loyalty.
What about 2016? Well, a look at the 2015 figures would say three Sinn Féin seats and three unionist. But that doesnt take account of those non-voters, loaned votes, the loss of Sinn Féin invincibility, the dignity of John Coyle, the transfer potential of Green and Alliance votes and the 2014 Council Election results which were a welcome piece of good news for SDLP.
This is a constituency I am extremely optimistic about. No doubt tweets and Facebook posts showing the nastier side of Sinn Féin will feature strongly at Council meetings, newspaper reports and hopefully in election literature next year.
Sinn Féin lost Fermanagh-South Tyrone….ironically …thru Abstention. Their principle on not attending Westminster backfired against an Electorate who decided to abstain. Policy (Welfare Cuts) played a part. But there was an arrogance….a swagger. SF simply miscalculated. For years they have not made mistakes or did not get punished for those they did make. In 2015, they stopped being lucky.
Hubris. Karma. Schadenfreude.
What goes round comes round.