Friday, 11 December 2009
Why are there two nationalist parties? Why are there three unionist parties?
Some would say the big dividing line between the SDLP and Sinn Fein was the question of violence. Sinn Fein’s links to the IRA were always anathema to the SDLP who, like Daniel O’Connell in the nineteenth century, didn’t believe that Irish independence was worth the spilling of one drop of Irish blood. Sinn Fein disagreed and so the gulf between the two was established.
But that was until nearly fifteen years ago. Now the IRA appears to be truly a thing of the past, why aren’t the SDLP and Sinn Fein uniting to present a common front at, say, the next elections to Westminster? Three reasons, probably: one, few smaller firms want to be taken over by a bigger firm. Second– and perhaps more importantly – the SDLP are a middle-class party. They live in middle class areas, they put forward middle-class candidates (lawyers, doctors, accountants) for election. Sinn Fein’s core is working-class and their candidates tend to be the occasional teacher but more commonly men and women who look, sound and are working-class. The third reason the SDLP and Sinn Fein stay apart has to do with power. If you’ve got machinery and organization in place, it’s hard to dismantle that, because the new dispensation will mean change and change is always a threat.
As for unionism, the Alliance Party don’t want to merge with either of the two other parties, because it sees itself as a cross-community beacon of hope. Besides, they’re more refined than the rough-and-tumble DUP or even the slightly less rough-and-tumble UUP. And what about the DUP and the UUP – might they come together? Only yesterday there was a call from Ian Óg Paisley for an agreed unionist candidate in South Belfast and Tyrone and Fermanagh. “Think of the major boost it would be to the confidence of the unionist community to see Gildernew turfed out in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Alasdair McDonnell given his marching orders in South Belfast” he says. Mind you, Ian Óg’s daddy built a political career by running against majority unionist parties, so it’s a bit rich for Ian Óg to now wring his hands at the effects of a split unionist vote.
So why is he doing it? Because the DUP in general is worried that it may suffer at the Westminster election in May, particularly at the hands of Jim Allister’s TUV. And because Ian Óg in particular is worried that he may suffer in the Westminster election at the hands of TUV top dog Jim Allister. Don’t forget, Allister plans to stand in North Antrim – the constituency currently represented by Ian Paisley Snr and long thought of as Ian Óg’s rightful inheritance.