Newton Emerson argued strongly in favour of my long-standing contention that you can be “Liberal” or you can be “Unionist” but you cannot be both.
I also argued before the election that “Progressives” (by which I mean people who reject the communal politics of “Unionism” and “Nationalism”) needed to vote down the ticket. Implicitly, this was an argument for Progressive unity of some sort – inclusive of everything from Hanna-Social-Democracy to Ringland-Liberal-Conservatism with all stops Green and Yellow in between.
I would now argue this further, because the simple fact is the argument that “Ah well, you can have plenty of candidates because they all transfer” does not stack up. I noted at the time that my warnings that really only about 75%-85% of votes transfer reliably within parties, and only about 50% reliably between Progressives, went unheeded.
Frankly, it is time those warnings were heeded. For example, in the Botanic DEA of Belfast, the total bloc vote was:
- Progressive 36.4%
- Unionist 32.1%
- Nationalist 31.4%
But, of the five candidates elected, only one Progressive (Alliance’s Emmet McDonough-Brown) was elected – alongside two Nationalists and two Unionists. My good friend Duncan Morrow – perhaps the most articulate and learned Progressive advocate there is in Northern Ireland apart from Naomi Long – was one of four Progressive candidates missing out, despite all five receiving a respectable first-preference vote.
Newton also nailed the reason for Progressive disunity – essentially that Progressives think too much! Where non-religious-zealot Unionists are still content to vote DUP to ensure a Unionist First Minister, or Catholic Social Conservatives are still content to vote Sinn Fein to top the poll for Nationalism, it actually concerns Progressives (at least to some extent) if the candidate they are voting for disagrees with them on a priority issue. This may appear to be a reasonable position for Progressives to hold – until you realise it actually costs them votes against their real opposition, namely the combined communal forces of Unionism and Nationalism who deliver nothing but petty arguments and gridlock.
If Progressives wish to put the big issues on the agenda – promoting jobs, reforming health, tackling educational under-attainment, protecting the environment, delivering on key social issues like same-sex marriage or whatever – they have to deal with this direct quote from Duncan himself: “16 years after a peace agreement, the fact that over 95% of the voters of one party are of one sort and 95% are of another is the core fact and that services and discussions are still targeted in the same way [is profoundly shocking].”
To be very clear, the initial objective for Progressives has to be to unite to put their issues on the agenda regardless of their own position on them. Until they do that, they will simply not be in a position to change anything, and will leave all the power with the forces of Communalism to maintain their divisive, sectarian agenda.
We may come to how they do that in due course – but can we first agree that they need to do it?!