Progressives need to co-operate urgently

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?!



10 thoughts on “Progressives need to co-operate urgently

  1. Toby P Baxter says:

    This blog seems to be written with a fundamental lack of understanding of how voters fill in their ballot.

    Just because someone doesn’t define as unionist or nationalist, doesn’t give the alliance party any entitlement to that individual’s vote.

    Conservatives prefer a low tax, smaller state society; greens tend to be statist, anti austerity and environmentally concerned. The idea that they should transfer to another is enough to make one spit out one’s muesli.

    The idea that they should then be absorbed into the alliance piles because Apni hates unionists and nationalists equally, is unbelievably arrogant.



    • Hi Toby,

      It doesn’t frankly matter what agenda you want, you won’t get it if you don’t cooperate. It just leaves the field clear for the DUP and Sinn Féin to deliver their wonderful agenda of gridlock and pettiness.

      Until we remove the DUP and Sinn Féin from their perch, everything else is irrelevant. We will deliver nothing.

  2. Joseph Bagstock says:

    Perhaps there needs to be an independent think tank of some kind to advise Progressives on this a little better, and ensure better coordination and vote management:

    “Set against our published Priorities for Election [insert year], analysis of the candidate profiles, and in the context of previous voter preference in this DEA, the Northern Ireland Centre for Progressive Politics advises voting in the following preference order….”

    Such advice might also choose to make recognition of those individual candidates in parties such as the SDLP and UUP who represent in their persona better politics (e.g. Hanna, Dudgeon etc).

    You may be a little conflicted in your interests to conduct this service personally though Ian!

  3. Joseph Bagstock says:

    In general though – I think there should be much more of this approach to election candidates in Northern Ireland.

    “How the candidates score on environmental politics: The Belfast Telegraph asked each of the European candidates 3 questions about their views on the environment. Below we reveal their answers. Tomorrow, their views on the future of the European economy…”

    “The Mid Ulster Mail asked the Assembly candidates 3 questions about their approach to the rural economy and scored their answers out of 10. See our commentary on their positions below…”

    But that would require a local media who took their 4th estate responsibilities seriously.

    In the words of Ozzie Osbourne, “I’m just a dreamer, who dreams of better days”

  4. Parson says:

    There was me thinking that ‘pacts’ and ‘inter-tribal’ co-operation was somehow regressive…silly me. I forgot that only Unionist pacts and co-operation.

    • Because Unionist pacts are tribal – open in practice only to Protestants (and seemingly, as of this evening, only to Protestants who don’t trust Muslims).

      • Toby P Baxter says:

        It does seem a bit ridiculous to argue unionists shouldn’t try to unite while at the same time saying that it’s ok for ‘progressives’

      • I’ve answered that before.

        Unionist Unity is sectarian. All-Protestant.

        Progressive Unity is anti-sectarian. Mixed/integrated.

        The objective is a future in which all politics is progressive (mixed/integrated).

      • Toby P Baxter says:

        Unionist unity = Protestants uniting to keep out Catholics and others

        Nationalist unity = catholics uniting to keep out Protestants and others

        Progressive unity = others uniting to keep out Protestants and Catholics.

        Progressive unity buys into a broken system – it doesn’t try to fix it.

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