by Frank Schnittger
Thu Oct 31st, 2019 at 01:28:47 PM EST
Newton Emerson has a very interesting take on how the general election may play out in N. Ireland. The DUP currently hold 10 seats to Sinn Fein's 7, with one independent Unionist. Essentially Northern Ireland has been re-partitioned East West between unionist and Nationalist representatives with a nationalist enclave in West Belfast.
By Furfur, Brythones - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Every general election in Northern Ireland features a key constituency where the battle between unionism and nationalism is seen to be playing out. For decades these battles were about nationalism encroaching steadily on unionism - the "greening of the west", to use Sinn Féin's phrase.
For the past 20 years much attention has been stuck on Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where unionists held out by forming a unique electoral pact, usually involving the Democratic Unionist Party standing aside for the Ulster Unionist Party. It was presumed both parties would try this again in the next election, now set for December 12th.
Last week, new UUP leader-designate Steve Aiken ruled out any pacts with the DUP under his watch, saying the larger party had "besmirched unionism with its corruption and sleaze".
He also vowed to move the UUP to "an unambiguously pro-Remain position".
So the key constituency in this election will be North Belfast, where DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is defending a 2,000-vote majority over Sinn Féin's John Finucane, currently serving as the city's mayor.
It would certainly be a sea-change in N. Ireland's politics if the divisions over Brexit where to over-ride the traditional unionist-nationalist divide resulting in a split in the unionist vote and a gain for Sinn Fein. Instead of fighting the election on its own record on Brexit, the DUP are already campaigning vigorously using the classic flag-waving tactic of demanding tribal solidarity and stopping the other side getting in.
But the DUP is also defending other seats against the Ulster Unionist party, the SDLP, and a resurgent Alliance Party where the sectarian dog whistle will not be as effective. It's overall vote was down from 36% in the 2017 general election to just 24 and 22% in the local and European elections this year but that was mainly because these elections were fought on a multi-seat constituency, single transferable vote, proportional representation system where a vote for another unionist party doesn't mean you might be letting a nationalist win the seat.
So much of the DUP vote is a purely sectarian headcount designed to keep unionism in power and nationalist out. Now that the DUP is seen to have put the Union in play through its ridiculous Brexit policy it will be interesting to see whether at least some Unionists look elsewhere for their representation. An estimated 40% of unionists (along with c. 90% of Nationalists) voted Remain in the 56-44% Remain vote in the 2016 referendum, and it is clear the Ulster Unionist party is now going after that Remain Unionist vote.