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Tribalism or something more? November 8, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Thought this was a bit irritating, Newton Emerson ignores entirely the issue of Brexit in trying to make a case about tribal politics in the North, and in particular North Belfast. Indeed in a very Emerson like way he manages to miss the dynamics informing why the SDLP would have stood aside for SF to try to take that seat. And he contradicts himself, complaining that the UUP won’t contest the seat…

In his statement on Sunday, Aiken wrote: “It is better to elect Nigel Dodds in North Belfast and hold him to account than to elect an abstentionist MP.”
How can the UUP hold Dodds to account when it will not run against him?
Aiken added: “We are a party that believes first and foremost in the union, and secondly in the importance of representative democracy.”
Country over democracy is a dubious enough position if you feel your country is at risk. When the DUP is the risk it makes no sense whatsoever.

Except that if like the UUP you essentially support Brexit as is then it doesn’t make much sense to stop a DUP candidate when your own candidate would not have a hope of winning the seat and in running said candidate you’d be gifting the seat to a Remain candidate. This is the thing about democratic elections, there are multiple strands, it’s not just about tribalism. Because again Brexit is the key issue here. Emerson argues:

The SDLP ran a no-profile so-called “paper” candidate in North Belfast in 2017, giving Sinn Féin a free run without making it official. On Sunday night, the SDLP formally withdrew from the constituency, its first such act anywhere since in four decades. The party’s claim of doing so to oppose Johnson’s Brexit is nonsense. Dodds is opposed to Johnson’s deal and in Westminster arithmetic every abstentionist MP is another half-a-seat towards a Conservative majority.

That’s not really true, and he should know it. If the SDLP won then it would guarantee the election of a DUP candidate who was pro-Brexit. By not standing it assists in the possibility of an anti-Brexit MP being elected. Sure, that MP isn’t going to sit in Westminster, but they can and will be part of a political bloc (including Alliance, and possibly the SDLP itself) who can speak as representatives of those who are against Brexit.

Emerson goes on to complain that:

In a video circulated online last week, [ John Finucane candidate in that constituency] – now Belfast’s mayor – repeatedly refused to condemn the IRA. Asked to condemn the Shankill bomb, he would only condemn “all violence”. Were these tired evasions the best he could muster after two years in politics?

I’ve looked for that video and only found this (I’m open to correction), . Interestingly the spin the Belfast Telegraph report at that link had when the video was taken was not that Finucane would not condemn the Shankill bomb, which he did clearly but that he would not condemn the IRA (which is a big ask of an SF candidate and in any case makes little sense in the context of the peace process and GFA/BA itself given the IRA participated fully in that process). But wait, when was the video take? 2017 according to the Belfast Telegraph. So perhaps not the outcome of two years in politics, as Emerson seems to think. But shouldn’t Emerson have checked this out rather than taking as read its contemporary provenance – he is after all paid to do so.

The point is that all this – as noted in comments BTL the GP is standing aside in South Belfast – is activity between and around parties that take completely different positions on Brexit, not some sectarian tribalism.

And there’s a deeper point which one commentator on Slugger noted in relation to this article and issue, it’s simply not possible to applaud those in the UK who vote tactically against the Tories by gifting their vote perhaps to the SNP, or GP or BLP depending on constituency and say how ‘grown up’ they are, when this is precisely what is being sought here. Because Emerson ignores on further aspect of all this. The DUP has played a particularly pernicious role in Brexit – in making a deal with the Tories and in presenting itself as the only legitimate voice of NI despite voters there voting first at the referendum and later at the EU elections for Remain or anti-Brexit candidates. Only by voiding those meanings can Emerson come close to having an argument.

And the problem with Emerson’s argument is not that he is entirely incorrect in the specific, though he’s far from entirely correct, but rather that his piece attempts to shape matters to fit his thesis by jettisoning significant aspects of the overall dynamic. Brexit is messy, all this has contradictions, but he wants it to be simple and clearcut. That, unfortunately isn’t the reality that one has to work with and to pretend otherwise does his own argument a huge disservice.


1. benmadigan - November 8, 2019

Still haven’t read the Emerson article but your critique shows it is somewhat out of focus on these issues.
Here’s my view https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2019/11/07/kaleidoscope-voting/


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