Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Green Fields

As the dust settles on the Local and European elections, it is clear that the story of the elections has been the rise in Sinn Féin. A rise that manifests itself with triple the number of SF councillors and the election of Lynn Boylan, Martina Anderson, Matt Carthy and Liadh Ní Riada to the European Parliament in each of the four constituencies. A rise that dramatically changes the Irish political landscape.

We find ourselves in a new political landscape not because Sinn Féin has a monopoly on Irish Nationalism, far from it. It is because we now have a situation where we will have proper left and right politics. No more will we have a mish mash of coalitions from opposite political spectrums. We will either have a conservative government or a left leaning government.

Already in Kerry County Council we see for the first time ever an alliance formed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If it can be done in Kerry where some of the most hideous events of the Civil War took place, it can be done at a National level. The next government will be a FF/FG grand coalition. That will only be replaced by a left leaning coalition headed by the Shinners. The rise of Sinn Féin has ended the Irish Civil War!

The rise of Sinn Féin also poses serious questions for the SDLP, Labour and Fianna Fáil. The SDLP vote has virtually collapsed from it's hay day of the John Hume and Seamus Mallon era. As the party struggle to stay relevant their support continues to decline. They have now been overtaken in their heartland of Derry as the largest party by Sinn Féin. However their loss in support to Sinn Féin occurred in previous elections. This time their voters stayed at home or to a lesser extent lent their vote to the pro United Ireland Alliance candidate Anna Lo.

Alliance's resolve under sustained attack from Loyalists furious with the party's decision to remove the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall except for designated days has also led to more green votes for Alliance at the expense of the SDLP. The removal of the flag is significant as it led to a surge in the turnout rate of Unionists. Combined with a continuing trend of apathy among Nationalists and a greener Alliance vote (70% of their transfers in the European election went to the SDLP) the result was a combined Nationalist vote of 38.5% the lowest for many years.

Labour as expected were annihilated in the Local and European elections. The party promised the sun, moon and stars to the electorate before the last General Election. Given the economic climate and their status as junior party in the government coalition they were never going to be able to deliver. They sold their soul. The electorate took their revenge. The space they once held is now occupied by SF and other small left leaning parties. Their is no way back. Or is there?

To me the solution for both the SDLP and Labour is obvious. The two should merge. "Labour, The Social, Democratic and Nationalist Party". It makes sense the more you think of it. Both occupy the same left of centre sphere in the political spectrum. Both are in decline. The SDLP are accused of not being Nationalist enough. What better way to highlight Nationalist credentials by becoming an All Ireland Party. Labour reeling from an annihilation in the elections need to dosomething radical to recover.

Fianna Fáil performed well at local level. Given the fact that they were the party that killed the Celtic Tiger by overspending to the extent of eroding competitiveness and spearheaded the economic collapse of the country by fuelling a property boom without regulating the banks, I would say they performed very well. However the party failed to get a candidate elected to the European Parliament other than Brian Crowley in the South. The Nationalist vote has gone to Sinn Féin and it is hard to see how they will get it back. I mean how can a party call itself "The Republican Party" yet organise on a 26 county partitionist basis. It's a walking contradiction. They need to follow through on their commitment to organise and contest elections in the North.

In the North the Nationalist voter turnout is in decline. The Unionist voter turnout is increasing. This is counteracting the demographic change that is occurring. Before the election we had the obligatory Unionist scaremongering about their being too many Unionist Parties which would split the Unionist vote. Rather than split the Unionist vote it maximised the Unionist vote. Voters had more choice, more people knocking on their doors and more publicity.

Nationalists on the other hand had only two left leaning parties to vote for. An invisible SDLP and a Sinn Féin struggling to shake off the shackles of the Troubles. Who are the Catholic Nationalist Republican community conservative in outlook to vote for? Who are CRNs with a strong business ethic to vote for? Who are CRNs who hold strong Catholic beliefs on same sex marriage and abortion supposed to vote for? Nationalism need more choice, more parties and more focus on addressing voter apathy. It needs more cooperation. The SDLP refuses to cooperate with SF in marginal seats in Westminster and Assembly elections. SF discourages voters from transferring to the SDLP. The result is more Unionists in a position where they can dominate.