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