I’ve just dragged myself away from the television, having watched as Mark Carruthers set up a small ding-dong between Gerry Adams and Alban Maginness. It came out of Mark suggesting to Gerry that Sinn Féin hadn’t encouraged its followers to put the SDLP next on their list as they went down the ballot sheet. Gerry said he had…I forget the exact words but it amounted to no faith in the SDLP. This got Alban a bit pink about the gills. He declared himself outraged and said it was due to the efforts of the SDLP that Gerry and his party had been led away from violence. Gerry was speaking from Belfast City Hall where he’d been received a few minutes earlier with the kind of reception normally reserved for One Direction by a gaggle of teenies. So the Sinn Féin man was in City Hall and in pretty good form; Alban was in the studio and and a bit apoplectic.
So much for that bit of cut-and -thrust. What does one make of the election so far? Well, one has to first of all take off one’s hat to the DUP. They know how to get their voters out and they show no signs of flagging – no, that’s the wrong word – they show no signs of wearying in their efforts. After that you have to hand it to the Ulster Unionists, who’ve had a much, much better election than they dared hope. A lot of people (myself included) thought Mike Nesbitt was leading them up a cul-de-sac by trying to be more hard-line/reactionary unionist than one would have expected from a man of his intelligence. But clearly the hard line pays off, at least in the short term. For the foreseeable future, the Ulster Unionists don’t look like going away. Which must make the DUP feel a bit apoplectic as well. Especially as that stubborn thorn in their flesh, Jim Allister, has acquired a TUV councillors total that’s in double figures. It’s hard to bate the unionist hard line, it seems.
Sinn Féin have done OK in these northern elections – Martina Anderson is a certainty to top the poll for Europe, and they’ve managed to keep their super-council numbers up by careful managing of supporters’ votes. Yes, Virginia, they cocked-up in Newry and South Down, which cost them a seat they could have had. But otherwise it was steady as she goes. The Alliance Party have done OK too, particularly in East Belfast with Naomi Long’s husband topping the poll. Guess which party was made feel apoplectic by that? And the SDLP …alas, with the new council boundaries Derry has stopped being the jewel in their crown. In fact their crown is looking a bit blingy too.
But in a way the very existence of these elections was a double-wrapped gift to Sinn Féin. Firstly because they took place on an All-Ireland basis, even if the south voted a day later. That allowed Gerry Adams to talk about how pleased he was with his party’s showing throughout the country; until his intervention the studio conversation had been exclusively about the voting trends north of the border. The second part of the gift to Sinn Féin was that while their southern performance may not have hit the percentages promised by some opinion polls, they can point to fairly spectacular progress. They’re home and hosed with at least two and maybe three MEPs south of the border, and they’ll at least double their number of local councillors – and when Sinn Féin win seats, whether they’re council or Dail or Assembly or Westminster, they have an irritating habit of holding onto them. Plus as Mark Carruthers pointed out, they’ll probably end up being able to say they’re the biggest party in the councils of Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Cork.
The fact is, Sinn Féin wanted to do well in the south a bit more than in the north, because while they’re firmly established in the north, they’ve been a relatively minor grouping in the south. Until now, that is. After this election, all that has changed, changed utterly.
The fly in my personal electoral ointment is that it looks as though I’m going to be parted from £50, to be donated to a charity of choice. That’s because I foolishly suggested the Shinners would increase their representation north of the border this time out. Damn. You wouldn’t get Chris Donnelly making that kind of blunder. It was a bet I made with someone who commented on this blog and whose name I now must apologise for not remembering. OK, OK – don’t ALL chorus “It was me!” together…