The Belfast Telegraph rightly ran a few articles over the past week (I am sure others did too, but those were the ones I happened to see) noting that Syriza’s embarrassment at negotiations following its “anti-austerity” referendum contained “harsh lessons” for Sinn Fein.
This is true. Syriza ran a referendum asking its people to endorse its view (at that of its Neo-Nazi coalition partners, a lot of liberal lefties seemed to forget…) that it should be allowed to spend as much German, Slovak and Latvian (and, ahem, Irish) money as it liked without penalty. The Greeks endorsed this wholeheartedly of course (who wouldn’t?), but forgot to note that the Germans, Slovaks and Latvians (and, ahem, at least some Irish) might not be quite so keen on the idea.
The Greek Ministers (and people, frankly) made many mistakes but the core one was to believe that, in a group of 19 countries, only their own interests counted. They enjoyed taking to Twitter and CNN to tell us all about how they and their people saw it – but they forgot to consider even remotely about how the other 18 might see it…
The practical result was that the Greek Prime Minister was taken into a room and humiliated. He signed a deal which was worse that the one on offer before the referendum, which will break apart his own party, and which he will never be able to implement anyway. Having taken over a growing Greek economy on the road to recovery, he has merely succeeded in taking it in a distinct lurch south, in every sense.
The lessons for Sinn Fein on both sides of the border are obvious; but there are lessons for Unionists too. As with the Greek Ministers (and people), it is a notable feature of Unionist political comment that they discuss at length who they are, what they want, and how they feel. However, they take almost no time to consider anyone else.
Unionists represent, at best, 1.5% of the population of the UK; as I have written many times before, those ticking both “British” and “Protestant” in the census were just 48% in 2011, a minority of Northern Ireland’s population – and I was among them. Unionists have every right to tell us who they are, what they want and how they feel – but they have no more right to dictate to the rest of us than Greece had to dictate to 18 other fellow Eurozone members. Not just that, but Unionists (like the Greeks) would do rather better if they spent more time considering who others are, what others want and how others feel before making their fanciful demands from a minority position.
In other words, the Greek mistake was not just that they made ludicrous demands from a position of numerical and economic weakness; it was that they considered only their own position and objectives, not anyone else’s. There are obvious lessons there for Sinn Fein on both sides of the Irish border – but also, broadly, for Unionists in Northern Ireland.