Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crisis? What Crisis?!

The 2010 General Election was not a good one for the nationalist forces in the three devolved parts of the UK.

Westminster isn’t dancing to Mr Salmond’s tune, the rashly predicted 20 seats have transmorphed into the less than dramatic 6. Mr Cameron may be respectfully listening to the SNP administration but he sure ain’t been forced into a tango with them..

In Wales, although Plaid Cymru manage to maintain its standing in terms of MPs, once again winning three seats for the second successive election, their share of the Welsh vote was down, to 11.3%. The fact that it is the Conservatives who capitalised on the anti-Labour vote must have surely rubbed the salt into the wound.

But in Northern Ireland the assumed narrative is different – Unionism did *bad*, by the rules of nil-sum, Irish nationalism in the form of the SDLP and Sinn Fein then did *good*?

No, it didn’t. This is the underlying theme of Arthur Aughey’s piece on Open Unionism, but a closer look at the comparative figures from almost 10 years ago, from the 2001 election, shows exactly where a fundament of his argument is coming from.

In 2001, Sinn Fein and SDLP polled a total of 42.7% of the total votes cast, in real terms, a total of 345,257 people voted for pro-Irish Unity parties.

Near enough ten years later, they polled 42% and had 282,912 people voting for them in total.

A ten year period at the end of which political Unionism is in disarray, a ten year period during which (if the ethno-nat number crunchers are to be believed) sectarian demographics have moved in their direction, a ten year period during which we have seen a SF deputy First Minster and the outworkings of the social/culture aspects of the Belfast Agreement have started to take effect. Oh yes and that’s not even taking into account the sterling overseas efforts by the Irish Reunification Advocate.

Yet 63,000 less people are now voting for the SDLP and SF and they are actually further from that magical 51% than 10 years previously. The slow, but steady, march to 2016 appears to have ground to a halt. Why?

Partly (minus the gory infighting) it‘s a mirror image of political Unionism’s core problem, ie the inability to move out of the communal straitjacket. Partly it’s the dearth of real debate and innovative ideas within Irish nationalism: check out this table on Dale’s site; Shinners may crow at the lack of competition resulting in them romping home in almost all of their seats, but competition is what keeps you on your toes and keeps the electorate interested. Finally, Northern Ireland is, by and large at peace and by and large, the majority of its residents are content with their economic lot, the odd world recession notwithstanding.
Irish nationalism simply isn’t delivering a believable alternative, promising better than what we’ve already got.

Which means, that we, its opponents, can sit back, pour a metaphorical Bushmills, light a cigar and have a quiet chortle and finally realise that it’s a time not for panic but some sustained quiet reflection and contemplation about the future of of our nation.


Update

Toque has done a critique of both Arthur Aughey's article and some of the issues raised here.

24 comments:

menaiblog said...

Noswaith dda.

The 2001 election was fought using a very different electoral register to the 2003 Assembly one & the electorate was very much reduced. This was the result of a tightening of registration rules.

The electorate was greatly reduced for both communities, but there was a far greater reduction in Nationalist constituencies. Since 2003 the Nationalist vote has resumed it's slow upward trend.

Diolch

tris said...

I expect it's because the British Government has done such an incredibly sterling (lol, that was unintentional) job of making the UK the best place in the world to live. Great employment prospects; wonderful social services; economic bliss; education second to none and not just for the elite; health service that the rest of Europe can only dream about. Why, under Labour even the birds sang louder, the grass was greener and the sun brighter... there wasn't even any wind!!

Nope, that's not it...

Next?

:-)

O'Neill said...

menai blog

It's not clear whether you're talking about Wales or NI. If it's Ni then the data here proves you wrong:

http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/
The SDLP/SF vote is flatlining along 40-42%, 2001 was in fact a highwater mark.

If it's Wales, the fact that you talk about nationalist/unionmist communities is slightly disturbing but I'd be interested to see your data sources.

O'Neill said...

"Nope, that's not it..."

Well if it isn't (btw not sure about the sun being brighter under the Union) then what is it, what are the nats doing wrong?!

Toque said...

So are the forces of nationalism confined to those in nationalist parties, or those who vote for nationalist forces?

I'm an English nationalist but the only nationalist party I've ever voted for is the SNP, and that was more of an anti-Labour vote than anything.

The most illuminating part of Arthur's pice is this bit:

The only moment that I felt the Union was in danger recently was when credence was given to the absurd proposal for a ‘progressive coalition’ which would have put the fate of the United Kingdom government into the hands of the nationalist parties and made the Union a bazaar – or bizarre – of Celtic bargains which would have outraged England and provoked disaster.

It wasn't just Professors of Politics that noticed this threat to the Union. The bigger picture is now more apparent to greater numbers of people in England - and it's that fact that paints the bigger (non-party political) picture.

This is not a problem that can be solved by "English Votes on English Laws". The threat of the "progressive alliance" highlighted the fact that it is the ability to form a government, and for that government to be able to claim an English mandate, that is more important than whether non-English MPs can vote on English education bills.

menaiblog said...

Sorry - I'm not making myself clear.

The 2001 register in Northern Ireland had 1,192,136 names on it, whilst the register published in December 2002 contained 1,072,346 -a reduction of some 10% or 119,790 names. This was the result of the so called Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

The numbers fell far more in Nationalist Areas than in Unionist ones.

Diolch

kensei said...

2001 was also a period of intense competition between the SDLP and SF, so that will drive up the vote. Additionally votes were needed to secure seats for Nationalism, again driving up the vote.

If you are interested in the sectarian carve up, it'll be councils and assmebly elections you need to keep an eye on, and seats as well as total votes. Nationalists tend to turn out if they can win seats for Nationalism.

Things are defintiely drifting slower. And given boundary changes, there is a good chance taht unionism will take some seats form Nationalism and not the other way.

But two things: if you want to know the state of the Union, you need a border poll (and in my opinion, Unionism would be mad not to go for one now and kill things for twenty years) and secondly, politics would look very different if Nationalims is 45%, Unionism is 45% and other is 10%. You made a comparison with Scotland recently and what Salmond would do with similar Nationalist numbers; it's not directly comparable because Unionism will vote a solid block and there is no uncertainty.

O'Neill said...

menaiblog,

OK, got you now. If it fell immediately post 2001 purportedly due to a tightening up on fraud, it doesn't explain why the gap hasn't narrowed since then, check the last graph on this post:

http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/05/18/any-graphic-trends/

There's a growing disconnect between the traditional demographic and voting patterns, that's one thing. The second is the inability of political Unionism to sell the Union hasn't translated into a rise in a pro-Unity sentiment (and the best way to evidence that is not opinion polls but actual election results).

If either or both of those facts is only because of a cut-down in fraud then there is a bigger problem for both SF and the SDLP than ven I've outlined.

O'Neill said...

Toque,

"So are the forces of nationalism confined to those in nationalist parties, or those who vote for nationalist forces?"

It's the easiest way to measure their strength but the answer is "no". And in a democracy it is very hard to change the political status quo without the driving force of a party behind you.

It wasn't just Professors of Politics that noticed this threat to the Union. The bigger picture is now more apparent to greater numbers of people in England - and it's that fact that paints the bigger (non-party political) picture

I did do a post about how disasterous the "rainbow coalition" would have been for the Union on a number of levels but I also think the composition of the present government may make your job harder (ie in terms of mobilising newspaper and public support). If at the end of this parliamentary period you are nowhere nearer your aim (when handed a govt where the overwhelming majority represent English constituencies) then I'm really not sure where or what your next step can be.

O'Neill said...

2001 was also a period of intense competition between the SDLP and SF, so that will drive up the vote.

The effect real competition has on policy and idea generation can be ven more beneficial than a temporary rise in votes in the longterm and its one of the main weaknesses Irish nationalism is suffering from at the moment.

Additionally votes were needed to secure seats for Nationalism, again driving up the vote.

I'm not sure that changed in the intervening 10 years with the possible exception of S Belfast (ie it is probably the only extra marginal seat now compared to 2010.

If you are interested in the sectarian carve up, it'll be councils and assmebly elections you need to keep an eye on, and seats as well as total votes. Nationalists tend to turn out if they can win seats for Nationalism.

More a 'constitutional" or "national carve-up" than a "sectarian" one now I think, but your main point works out in the opposite direction for Unionism in places like S Down and Foyle. having no chance of winning 8 of the parliamentary seats must stop people fropm voting in a Westminster election, the promise of 1 or 2 in an Assembly will persuade them more to vote.


I agree on the Border Poll and the fact that neither the SF or SDLP is pushing for one is telling, thye are writing off their chance of persuading non-voters over to their cause in event of a referendum.

You made a comparison with Scotland recently and what Salmond would do with similar Nationalist numbers; it's not directly comparable because Unionism will vote a solid block and there is no uncertainty.

There have been occasions in opinion polls (up to a year or so ago) where there was a singlke figure difference between pro and anti-Union sentiment in Scotland.
It meant thta there must have been voters for the Unionist parties (more likely Labour or the Lib Dems) who were happy to vote for independence. I think there is much more fluidity there between party and constitutional preferences than we have.

kensei said...

I'm not sure that changed in the intervening 10 years with the possible exception of S Belfast (ie it is probably the only extra marginal seat now compared to 2010.

Precisely. North Belfast is probably still not close enough, but if it looks possible next time watch turnout go through the roof. Imagine Belfast with no Unionist representation.

More a 'constitutional" or "national carve-up" than a "sectarian" one now I think, but your main point works out in the opposite direction for Unionism in places like S Down and Foyle. having no chance of winning 8 of the parliamentary seats must stop people fropm voting in a Westminster election, the promise of 1 or 2 in an Assembly will persuade them more to vote.

Which is why it's the place to look. As I said, there is the possibility of some gains, particularly with boundary changes. If they don't get any of them and Nationalism picks up in East Antrim, Strangford and West Tyrone, Unionism is going to be having a bit of a problem.

I agree on the Border Poll and the fact that neither the SF or SDLP is pushing for one is telling, thye are writing off their chance of persuading non-voters over to their cause in event of a referendum.

Chances? None of them try! There is pathetically little real republicanism about. The "KAH" I saw on Slugger recently depresses me. I know how intimidating the "KAT" can be when you are a dude on your own in somewhere you aren't familar with. No one provides leadership on eradicating this crap. If you can't even do that, how can you ask for a vote?

The bigger problem is the state of the economy in the South. Fear and the status quo are powerful forces in this case. Should have went for it circa 2002. We wouldn't have won, but the result would have been destabilising, is my guess.

There have been occasions in opinion polls (up to a year or so ago) where there was a singlke figure difference between pro and anti-Union sentiment in Scotland.
It meant thta there must have been voters for the Unionist parties (more likely Labour or the Lib Dems) who were happy to vote for independence. I think there is much more fluidity there between party and constitutional preferences than we have.


Obviously. It's a legacy of the Troubles. Had they been stopped 20 years before, the republic's boom would have had a much bigger affect here.

Toque said...

I also think the composition of the present government may make your job harder (ie in terms of mobilising newspaper and public support). If at the end of this parliamentary period you are nowhere nearer your aim (when handed a govt where the overwhelming majority represent English constituencies) then I'm really not sure where or what your next step can be.

Whether the composition of our new government makes my job any more difficult than having a majority Tory government (which looked on the cards) is a hard one to call. There is a lot of uncertainty, and probably much disagreement, about how the coalition will approach the 'nationalist insurgency', as you like to call it. And there is uncertainty over how the 'nationalists' (the people of England, Scotland and Wales) will react to what they are offered. If English Votes on English Laws is off the agenda, then that is probably a good thing for the Union, but it leaves the question of England completely unaddressed, and with further devolution to Scotland and Wales a seeming certainty the English question will need to be addressed - if not in this parliament then at the next general election (I fully accept that they will probably try and kick the English question into the long-grass, a tactic that plays into my hands in the long run).

An English parliament and government will be arrived at by a withdrawal of the fringes from the centre - the rationale for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish involvement in English affairs decreasing with each increase in devolution until the Status Quo becomes an absurdity. Combined with the increasing strength of English identity and the diminuition of 'Britishness' (which means different things to the different nations of the UK) in England, this will result in English government through a combination of pragmatism and nationalism.

Of course, I am relying on the selfish behaviour of the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish to help fulfil this long-term vision of how things will turn out, but let's face it, they never fail to disappoint England in putting their own interests before the interests of the Union.

menaiblog said...

Mr O'Neil

Two quick points:

If you compare elections you need to compare like with like & not mix them up.

Westminster 92 SDLP + SF 33.5%, 97% 40.2%, 01 42.7%, 05 41.8%, 10 42%.

Assembly 98 39.5%, 03 40.5%, 07 41.4%.

The problem with anti fraud legislation is that it disenfranchises far more people than it prevents from cheating. Nobody (I assume) believe that there were 100,000 fraudulent voters on the register up to 2002.

Diolch

O'Neill said...

menaiblog

I didn't think I'd mixed them up, but your figures surely prove my point ie in the last ten years a stagnation of the % round the 40-42% mark.

Re the other point on elctoral fraud. I dug up this from the Deputy Returning Officer in 2003, I can't for the life of me see why this legislation penalised especially those pro-Irish Unity people legally entitled to vote.
I doubt very much 100,000 fraudlent voters were on the register prior to 2002, however, you would surely concede that legislatoon was required to deal with what was a real problem of voter impersonation and fraud prior to that date?


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/3227836.stm

O'Neill said...

Toques,

"An English parliament and government will be arrived at by a withdrawal of the fringes from the centre - the rationale for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish involvement in English affairs decreasing with each increase in devolution until the Status Quo becomes an absurdity"

How far off is "the tipping point" where it becomes a mainstream issue? At the minute the reason that it can be kicked into the long-grass is surely that there isn't sufficient public opinion or anger on the subject?

"Whether the composition of our new government makes my job any more difficult than having a majority Tory government (which looked on the cards) is a hard one to call."

My thought was coming from the fact that the new intake of Conservatives are less "Unionist" by inclination than previous, if that ConHome Survey was to be believed, Also the vast majority of them are obviously representing English constituencies and without needing Labour's reliance on the Scottish and Welsh MPs to get legislation through. Finally the Lib Dems' belief in a federal state. So, the potential parliamentary cards are stacking up in your favour before overwhelming public opinion is in place.

O'Neill said...

Kensei

"Precisely. North Belfast is probably still not close enough, but if it looks possible next time watch turnout go through the roof. Imagine Belfast with no Unionist representation."

But it's the only seat afaik which may become marginal (and aren't there proposals for the amalgamation of the 4 constituencies)? Regarding Belfast with no Unionist MPs, it's had 2 SF Lord mayors and survived!

Re the rest of the post, nothing to argue with there. An interesting and potential scenario is that at some stage within the medium term, a majority of nationalist MPs, Assembly members or councillors are elected whilst the majority opinion (evidenced by a Border Poll which would inevitably take place in that case) showing a pro-Union majority. What then?

menaiblog said...

What you see is a gradual increase in like for like elections- which is all that I claim is happening. The 1% drop between 01 & 05 in Westminster elections was almost certainly caused by changes to the register. Also I haven't looked at the drop in the Unionist vote which I think slightly exceeds the increase in the Nationalist vote.

On fraud the point I'd note a couple of things. Firstly voting has been made absurdly easy in most of the UK despite considerable evidence of electoral fraud. This is especially true of postal voting. This is because acceptable parties (ie Labour) are responsible for much of the fraud.

It was made difficult in vote in NI because it was thought that so called 'extreme' parties were responsible for fraud. As it turned out the 2002 measures waere followed by a drop in the UUP & SDLP vote. I'm not suggesting that this was because they were primeraly responsible for fraud, the probable reason was that parties with big electoral machines were better able to overcome the difficulties in getting onto the register by identifying supporters & helping them register. The whole effort defeated it's own purpose.

menaiblog said...

BTW - check the reduction in the electorate in (for example) East & West Belfast - the difference is marked. Or if you like consider Nationalist & Unionist wards in South Belfast - again a huge difference.

O'Neill said...

"The whole effort defeated it's own purpose"

You're starting to contradict yourself surely? If SF (and the DUP to a lesser extent) had the party machinery to overcome the disadvantages suffered by primarily their core support then...

Also, whilst you've pointed out what you see as the result of the Fraud legislation (a higher drop in nationalist turnout) you still haven't said why that should be so; both East and West Belfast are largely working-class constituencies, why would one be more adversely affected by such a law?

menaiblog said...

East & West Belfast aren't comprable in socieconomic terms. There's no equivelant of Stormont, Ballyhackamore, Cherryvalley, Gilnahirk the residential areas adjoining the Knockbreda Carriageway in West Belfast.

We do know that the anti fraud measures significantly reduced the numbers on the electoral register & the result of this is that there are far fewer people intitled to vote in NI than there are people of voting age - the difference far exceeds that of the rest of the UK.

The question of why the measures had more effect on Catholics is an interesting one. The huge difference in people of a voting age & those entitled to vote indicates that the answer is more complex than a greater inclination to commit electoral fraud among Catholics.

The insistance on people regestering individually would have an effect on working class people, those who live in houses with more than two people living there, those who are working away from home, students & possibly those of a younger age profile (these people are less inclined to take an interest in electoral matters than older folk).

I'm not contradicting myself. All I'm saying is that those who designed the anti fraud legislation have fallen victim to the law of unforseen consequences. They (probably) thought that the legislation would result in a reduced 'extremist' vote, but the bigger political machinery & greater commitment of the said 'extremists' ensured that the effect was the reverse of that expected.

100,000 people have been disenfranchised to deal with a very limited fraud problem & the electoral effect of this has been to weaken the centre in NI politics.

Diolch

O'Neill said...

"The insistance on people regestering individually would have an effect on working class people, those who live in houses with more than two people living there, those who are working away from home, students & possibly those of a younger age profile (these people are less inclined to take an interest in electoral matters than older folk)."

If it comes down, as you seem to imply here, to an issue of havimg to register individually, I still don't see how that would impact more on the nationalist than unionist vote.

"I'm not contradicting myself."

The contradiction was that you blamed the fall in the nationalist vote on Fraud Legislation. But if that legislation enabled to SF to build its vote amongst those whom you say were most affected by its measures (the nationalist wc)then there are other factors at work surely?

menaiblog said...

"If it comes down, as you seem to imply here, to an issue of havimg to register individually, I still don't see how that would impact more on the nationalist than unionist vote".

Individual registration means having to take greater trouble to register. We can assume that this additional trouble will effect different groups to a differing degree. I'll give you a couple of examples from my neck of the woods.

Working class people are less inclined to take the trouble to vote or to register. I live in a very affluent ward in a Welsh speaking town in North Wales, but I do a lot of canvassing in a staunchly working class ward in the same town. Roughly a third of the households in the working class ward are unregistered, 10% at most of the households in my own ward are.

If I were to make regestering more difficult, the difference would grow. If there was a corrolation between being working class & being Welsh speaking (which there isn't in this area) then such a move would reduce the number of Welsh speakers from the register, which would in turn have an effect on voting patterns.

Likewise it's fairly rare to find people in the 60+ age group unregistered in either ward. Perhaps 40% of the 18 - 25 year olds in the poorer ward are unregistered. Again a move to make regestering more difficult would probably widen the gap & have an effect on voting patterns (older people are more inclined to vote Labour, younger ones tend to vote Plaid).

I'm not implying that what happened was a deliberate attempt to reduce the Catholic vote - it simply had a greater effect on the Catholic demographic & thus reduced the Nationalist vote in relation to the Unionist one.

"The contradiction was that you blamed the fall in the nationalist vote on Fraud Legislation. But if that legislation enabled to SF to build its vote amongst those whom you say were most affected by its measures (the nationalist wc)then there are other factors at work surely?"

I thought that I'd made myself clear, but as I don't often write in English nowdays perhaps I'm deluding myself.

The measures did reduce the number of Catholics on the register, but, for reasons we've already looked at, the SDLP vote suffered more than the SF one. Thus although the Nationalist vote was somewhat reduced, the SF vote grew in relation to the SDLP one - but it didn't grow in absolute terms.

kensei said...

Re the rest of the post, nothing to argue with there. An interesting and potential scenario is that at some stage within the medium term, a majority of nationalist MPs, Assembly members or councillors are elected whilst the majority opinion (evidenced by a Border Poll which would inevitably take place in that case) showing a pro-Union majority. What then?

I think we are a bit off that; there a few potential gains for Nationalism, looks like maybe quotas in East Antrim and Strangford, pick up in West Tyrone but after that I can't see where the additional quotas come from for a while. Unless Alliance starts doing dramatically better, which will eat Unionist votes far more than Nationalist.

In any case, it depends on the margin. Close and there'll be a period of reflection then constant pressure again. More than about 55-45 and I dunno, too many intangibles.

O'Neill said...

"Working class people are less inclined to take the trouble to vote or to register.'

If it was purely a case of class or age, then those factors range across the board, ie it's not limited to nationalist potential voters. Just as a side-issue, the non-registration of working-class voters in Belfast and urban parts of NI is something certain members of the DUP have also mentioned as needing remedied; I'd be interested if you can find comparative figures for different Belfast wards as I can't.

But the fact that SF vote grew (in real terms and not just in relation to SDLP), I think, disproves your point- their support was and remains overwhelmingly younger and more working-class than the SDLP's.

I'd also use this as evidence that the stagnation or fall of the SDLP/SF vote is not attributable to voter registration:

http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/

In the Europeans, Council and Assembly elections the same pattern is recognisable.

The overall importance of this stalemate (which I think we've wandered somewhat from) is that communal background or sectarian demographics is no longer 100% proportional with voting patterns.
That creates as big, if not bigger (after all, it's always more difficult to change than defend a comfortable status quo)a dilemma for nationalism than unionism.


(I'm away for the weekend as of an hour ago!, so any further comments will go up on Monday).