So General Election.
I am not tempted to say that this is eighteen different elections.
At best it is maybe 50% elections and 50% coronations. The usual suspects…analysts and number crunchers on Slugger O’Toole will tell us that if these results are replicated in an Assembly Election… but of course these “First Past The Post” results will not be replicated in a “Proportional” election.
In other words, Sinn Féin supporters too cold and wet to vote on the Antrim Coast Road are not signalling that SF will lose their Assembly seat. Likewise indifferent SDLP supporters on the Glenshane Pass are not signalling the loss of the seat at Stormont. Meanwhile Alliance are on a roll, they will be better motivated, even in places where their representation is not good.
They did well in the local and Euro elections earlier this year and strutting about like roosters. Yet they end the year slithering about on their bellies like snakes in the grass.
Alliance do better out of Tribalism than any other political party. We will look at that in another post.
But where is Unionism today?
Well Unionism is up when Nationalism is down and vice versa.
And Unionism has been “down” before. The Fall of Stormont in 1972, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement.
But I don’t think I have ever seen them more down than in the last month. Is it terminal? Is it the Fall of Unionist Berlin? The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down? The US Embassy in Saigon? Or the Ceasescu Moment?
It depends. Will Unionism nearly drown next month? Or will Unionism nearly be saved? It depends on a few hundred votes in very few places.
Thanx to what everybody knew already and what Journalism has recently chosen to confirm, it is now a simply a fact that loyalist paramilitaries and some elements of the “Security Services” were on the same side. “Collusion” is really the wrong word as it suggests an overlap of interests. It is much more than Collusion. It is not about “bad apples”.
But the interests of some elements in RUC, UDR extended into loyal orders, church halls, “big” houses in rural areas of Norn Iron. The loyalist paramilitaries in Armagh for example were very different from the more obvious thugs in the backstreets of Belfast.
For years now, mainstream unionism has presented itself as “respectable”. Even when a vicious party, the DUP became the market leader, the DUP form of unionism was presented as mainstream by people who really should know better. When a mainstream party moves to the right, it loses the right to be considered acceptable…eg The American Republican Party has lost its right to be considered mainstream.
But after making far too much of their accidental brush with Power, after supporting the Tories in 2017, the DUP have been sold out by Boris Johnson. Do I feel sorry for them? No.
So DUP, the front line of unionism is in retreat and moves back towards the UUP and the UUP retreat in disarray and move towards the third line of unionism, the Alliance Party. “Liberal unionists” look to Alliance for rescue.
The Alliance Party was always a coalition. If you look at the three Alliance ministers in the first Stormont power-sharing government in 1973, the clues are there. Oliver Napier was what we considered to be a “Castle Catholic” (American readers will be familiar with the term “Uncle Tom”), Bob Cooper was a liberal unionist and Basil Glass was a churchy (Methodist I think) nice guy.
The Alliance Party personifies “letsgetalongerism” but they can only be understood thru this coalition. LetsGetAlongerism is not, as it might appear benign nice people just getting along. Rather it is an acceptance of doing nothing to rock the political boat, an acceptance of the status quo. And the status quo is unionist.
Despite protestations that the Alliance Party is “agnostic” on the position of Norn Iron, it is unionist. That is the bottom line.
“Liberal” unionist voters deserting UUP and rushing to Alliance is a mixed blessing because it distorts the carefully crafted ambiguity.
LetsGetAlongerism is the last refuge of unionists.
Short term gain as in the local elections and Euros. But a “liberal” unionist (Paula Bradshaw) defecting to Alliance is good for Alliance. But five Bradshaws or ten Bradshaws…now that is a problem.
Coalition is at once a strength and yet a potential weakness. So that a coalition of liberal unionists, castle Catholics and churchy nice men and women is already joined by a fourth member …self-styled “progressives” who actually want to see some change in Norn Iron and even beyond.
The great success of the Alliance Party has been to persuade people, including of course a friendly media that they are above the tribal politics of Norn Iron.
But the truth is that they are the third tribe.