When people are playing political postman's knock, it's always interesting to see what you can see. Most of the comment assumes that it's a done deal. I don't. The idea that an abstentionist FF could organise effectively in the north as an all-Ireland party is as proven as Sinn Féin’s ability to organise effectively in the south. They may try, but I'll wager that they won't succeed.
Yet if Sluggers’ comments are to be believed, the SDLP have already resigned themselves to the certainty of FF success and have agreed to decommission their party. All units have – if you go along with what you read here – been instructed accordingly.
On the other hand, the UUP’s Reg Empey says that FF’s move is “the last thing we need.”
“It will fuel demands from unionists to seek further links with mainland parties as a counterbalance to the Fianna Fail move.”Reg shouldn't worry. Here's why:
- I can’t think of an example of where a political party from one territory – at a time of political change – has successfully exported itself to another one. Labour didn’t stand in the six counties – not only because the didn’t want to (though some of us did), but because it would be fruitless. We would have lost. FF have long claimed to be a 32 county organisation, but (and this may be true of FF more than most) it’s defining features have always been bureaucratic and personal, and it’s occasional ruptures are rarely ones based upon principle.
- When you think about the concept of a pragmatic centre-right party practicing abstentionism in a multilateral political environment, it will probably make your head hurt. And if an enterprise is complex enough to make your head hurt, it stands to reason: It probably isn’t going to happen.
- FF isn’t enterprising in that way. The incentives for standing in the north may not be that enticing. The SDLP or SF may roll over in principle, but their people wouldn’t. It would be a scrap, and no-one really likes a scrap when there’s nothing at stake. They would have to compete with individual representatives – people with careers – for their jobs. Votes would be split and opponents would surge through the middle.
- FF are a successful entity with their own internal templates. They may not have one for governance in the north - either in Stormont, or in any of the reformed local authorities that are planned. The tail would have to wag very hard to get the attention of this particular dog, and FF may not always bask in the electoral sun as it has with Bertie in charge. They may always have bigger fish to fry.
The idea of ‘Unionist’ parties seeking some kind of acceptance and dialogue with any political party that is part of any other patch of The Union would do Norn Irn (and Unionism) no end of good.
There are other potential benefits. In the unlikely event of FF actually running credible candidates in the occupied six, it could – hopefully – clarify what many of us have suspected for some time; that the SDLP are not suitable partners for Labour in the Party of European Socialists. If the SDLP seek an accommodation with FF, it may turn out that the SDLP are, objectively, the moderately right-wing catholic national populist party that some have suspected them of being for a while.
On another front, I would welcome a merger between the Labour Party on both sides of the Irish Sea – and organising in the northern six counties of Ireland. The logic of devolution is of more decentralised political parties – less rigid alliances of the kind that the European Parliament enjoys.
Either way, throughout the 20th Century, Ireland was cursed by political parties that eclipsed the wider historical factors that affect everyone’s lives. A future where the Irish people of all stripes can vote for a non-sectarian pan-national party of democratic socialist inclinations is a good one. Admittedly, it is a future that will probably never arrive.
On a more prosaic note, as someone who has always been left a bit cold by the competing nationalisms in these isles, the idea of an emerging decentralised entity of semi-autonomous regions is an attractive one. If Bertie is so ambitious, he could go one step further and invite England to rejoin The Union on new equal terms. He could contest Finchley and Golders Green.
The only problem I can see with it is what we name it. The Caledonian, Hibernian and Anglo-Saxon Archipelago is a bit of a mouthful, innit?