A guest blog by KenFerm
It is with no pleasure that I must say that whilst I was disappointed, I was not surprised, that FST was lost to nationalism, with Unionism once again donning the triumphant cloak of righteous entitlement.
Human nature being what it is, hope swirled expectantly in hearts even though the cool mind said otherwise. It’s still a bitter, hard pill.
A number of factors combined the last time that enabled Michelle to grab the seat, and a number of factors combined this time to reverse the position.
The dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone still stand proud and strong, the mist has swirled and, for now, cast an orange glow…… until the next time. All Change and No Change.
The factors that combined in 2010 were:
- Michelle was popular, with a high profile and seen as an effective Agriculture minister with a human touch
- Soft SDLP voters were able to vote for her without too many qualms,
- She didn’t raise the hackles of some unionists, with some farming unionists, perhaps being open to support her given what she achieved as minister.
- The unionist candidate was an unknown, and gave the appearance, however cruelly of being a lightweight but with a pro-union rosette pinned onto his lapel. That went down badly with a number of unionist voters.
- The SDLP candidate was centrally imposed and regarded as an outsider. This backfired and made it easier for SDLP voters to switch to the candidate with a chance of winning.
I would argue the factors this time that combined were:
- The unionist vote was more energised, given the closeness of the previous vote, and the delight of nationalists upon winning. It stuck in their craw and was an extra motivating element.
- The feeling amongst unionists this was a last stand pivotal moment, lose now and lose forever.
- Tom is high profile, well known and with little, if any, negative connotations for unionists.
- John was a local SDLP candidate and could be expected to maintain the rump SDLP vote, given the debacle of the previous imposition. These are people who cannot bring themselves to vote for the ‘dirty Shinners’. The SDLP vote was not going to collapse.
- Michelle is likeable, well regarded but had a much lower profile, certainly in her first number of years as MP, with little to point to on delivery and with a lack of a campaigning focus.
- Politics, as in many rural places, can be personal and the lack of persistent visibility told.
- SF relied on demographic change to provide a buffer, a false dawn that sapped their focus.
- Since 2010 a large number of young voters have left for pastures new, near and far afield.
- Emigration combined with a lack of a jobs drive & inward investment paid dividends for the unionists.
- There is a significant number of ‘traditional republicans’ who did not, and will not, vote for SF now. These are less ‘dissidents’ but rather voters who feel betrayed by SF and have mostly walked away from politics. South Fermanagh would have quite a number of such voters. It crosses families, friendships and such feelings are now bitter & deeply held. SF typically reacts as a stung porcupine rather than engaging, reaching out. It compounds the issue for the future.
- There are also ordinary nationalists who have simply switched off from politics, the squabbles and the apparent pettiness.
The electoral cycle turns and the dreary steeples shall remain unbowed, waiting for the next chapter of our placid yet deeply earnest contest.
The next contest for this Westminster seat starts now. The clock is ticking for Tom.
The campaign must start with an honest and detailed look at the underlying reasons behind the voting pattern & turnout.
The defeat can in turn be a motivating factor for nationalists; any misstep on fair play, equality, and triumphalism should be noted and stored for later use.
Engage, with honesty, voters in all their complexity, building consensus and alliances, across the broad range of nationalist opinion.
Campaign relentlessly on local issues, be seen to deliver on local needs and to offer hope and a desire to expect better.
Some other points that I think are worth mentioning.
With a Tory majority there will be a boundary commission that will recast the number and boundaries of constituencies. The realignment will not be kind to nationalism. It is in the common interests of Unionism and the Tories to ‘finesse’ the outcome.
Both SF and SDLP should or more importantly, need, to work together to counter this common threat. SF must not be tempted to play the ‘bash SDLP’ card. The Westminster boundaries and number of NI seats will determine the future shape of the Assembly. It was a strategic mistake to agree in a reduction of MLA’s per constituency before the review was concluded. SF’s over-riding objective should be to maximise the nationalist number of MLAs not just their own numbers. Both parties need to work together, on closely detailed policy and effective number crunching to ensure the best result for nationalism (and both parties).
With an English Tory majority, we now have English rule. An English rule that is harsh, right-wing and tied to a neo-con agenda. The Irish are naturally fair-minded, socially responsible with a desire for social solidarity.
It is an opportunity to shape opinion and sentiment.
The union has so far failed and will continue to fail all of us.
We deserve a better future.