Some absolutely astonishing results from the UK general election so far, with the stand-out story being the sweeping of the electoral board in Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP. The Scottish nationalists look set to take 57 or 58 of the country’s 59 seats in Westminster, the greatest number in the organisation’s history, and by a huge margin. Scottish Labour on the other hand has been reduced to a party of regional and local government north of the border, while south of it Ed Miliband may well be in his last days as the Labour leader unless he is willing to cobble together some sort of anti-Tory alliance with the SNP, and the likes of Plaid Cymru, the Greens, and of course our own away-team over yonder, the SDLP. He has pretty much ruled out such a scenario, and in any case the numbers required for that option may well not pan out. So did the Conservative game-plan of stoking English animosity to the Scots and fears of a Labour government with SNP support spook shire-voters into swinging behind the more explicit party of Greater England? It certainly seems like it. However what will the long-term effects of that be?
UKIP has done remarkably well, taking second position in numerous counts across Britain (mainly England), however because of the UK’s archaic voting system a party recording electoral support in the 10%+ range will only gain one or two seats in the parliament. Whatever one thinks of Nigel Farage’s right-wing grouping that is a remarkably unfair and frankly undemocratic outcome. Thank god we do things differently over here. PR, for all its faults, continues to trump its more esoteric rivals. Plaid Cymru seems to be fairing as expected in Wales, which in real terms, given the electoral turmoil in Britain, is probably a sign of stagnation. If ever the party had a chance to make a significant breakthrough this election was it. There are still results to come in so lets hope things improve for our Celtic cousins. The Greens probably have one seat, may gain another, and all in all a good night for them. Of note is the loss of George Galloway and his Respect Party in the north of England. Or rather, George Galloway and his Respect Party were no loss.
So the likelihood – at the moment – is another Conservative or Conservative-led government, possibly with Lib Dem support (or what’s left of them now that the party’s left wing has been pretty much stripped away), or – and this is where the trouble begins, for Irish national interests, at least – the British ultra-nationalists of the DUP and perhaps UUP.
Ah yes, the north-eastern vote. What can one say? The UUP back from the dead, proving that leader Mike Nesbitt was perhaps more cunning than his critics gave him credit for when the DUP-UUP voting-pact was announced. Or maybe he was just plain lucky. The “Official Unionists”, as we used to say, now have two MPs (what hope of Sylvia Hermon returning to the fold?). The DUP are down a representative but they will have the satisfaction of taking back East Belfast from Naomi Long and the Alliance Party after a nasty campaign, and seeing Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew loose her seat in FST after an even nastier one and in co-operation with the UUP. Nothing quite like some voter intimidation at the polling stations to keep the opposition numbers down, as Arlene Foster of the DUP and Tom Elliot of the UUP can now attest. The culture of colonial supremacism is well and truly alive in Fermanagh and Tyrone.
Though one awaits the statistics for the overall turn-out the loss of one nationalist MP makes it a bad night in the north-east for the majority community on this island nation, whether SF or the SDLP; though thankfully the latter held on to all of their seats (albeit with significantly lower votes). The ideological determination of the DUP-UUP axis, supported by the TUV, etc. to institutionally and culturally “de-Irish” the north may well be reflected in any agreements made with the Tories in the UK over the coming days and weeks. These could include the imposition of new local government rules or legislation on flags, parades, bilingualism, citizenship and criminal justice, as well as potential DUP and UUP support for a “Britexit” from the EU in order to harden the “border” between the north-east and the rest of the country (a return of fortified check-points and customs-posts?).
Such a doomsday-scenario and the risks of it destabilizing the fragile peace on this island nation must be resisted and the government of Ireland must play its role in that task. In the second decade of the 21st century we cannot return to a situation were Irish men, women and children are living as second-class citizens with second-class rights in their own country. Something that the vast majority of the Irish people were liberated from in the first two decades of the 20th century. Whatever the extreme of political British unionism may think, 2015 will not become 1915. We will not allow it.
On a final note, I greatly enjoyed the discomfiture of the Unionist panellists on the BBC’s local TV broadcasts in Belfast last night caused by the presence of Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin vice-president. They visibly squirmed every time she spoke, especially as she pointed out SF’s overall objectives and how she thought the events across the water in the UK would effect them. The more she said “…this part of Ireland“, “…this part of the country“, the angrier Arlene Foster grimaces became. On the other hand, Bríd Rodgers of the SDLP seemed to be taking part in some bizarre contest to see how many times she could fit the phrase “Northern Ireland” into one sentence. The more Mary Lou said the “north“, the more wee Brídín proclaimed “Northern Ireland“. It surely says something that a former SDLP deputy-leader looked more comfortable and at ease chatting with nouveau-aristocrat Reg Empey, a former UUP leader, than she did chatting with a fellow Irish nationalist.