A couple of days ago Fintan O’Toole (or Fintan O’Foole, as one of my interviewees for my new book called him) came up with an idea which, he said with his usual modesty, would stop a no-deal Brexit. Since most of us have taken to hiding behind the sofa with our hands over our eyes trying not to think about no-deal Brexit for some time now, this was seen as a bold and imaginative plan.
Which was? That the core of the problem was the Sinn Féin policy of abstentionism from Westminster. With Boris Johnson down to a single MP majority, even with DUP support, Sinn Féin MPs should – no, not march into Westminster and swing things to block no-deal – that would be too crude. They should resign their seats.
EH? They should vacate their seats and seven agreed candidates with no political party connection should be voted in as MPs in their place. These people would then swing the vote against no-deal in the British parliament and, having done the business, resign their seats again and Sinn Féin could win them back.
Heeeeey! Super idea, with many advantages beyond the obvious. It’d mean Sinn Féin didn’t have to break the abstentionist mandate on which they were elected, yet the no-deal Brexit horrorshow would be avoided.
So let’s examine Fintan’s cunning plan.
The ingredients for this particular cake involve getting seven respected-on-all-sides candidates to stand in for the Shinner MPs. One of the names Fintan suggests was Baroness Nuala O’Loan. The Baroness is not politically affiliated and is a fine woman, but her husband decidedly is or was an SDLP councillor. And I’m confident if you researched Fintan’s other suggestions, you’d find links one way or another to political parties.
Another lumpy ingredient is that Sinn Féin would have to regain their seats through a by-election. Fine, except would you resign your job, and then be happy to go through the process of fighting to recover it? What would there be to prevent seven more ‘agreed’ candidates to stand against Sinn Féin and in at least some cases win the seats permanently? Insofar as anything in politics is permanent these days.
But the main reason Sinn Féin would be screeching crazy to follow Fintan’s plan is that it wouldn’t work. There are Tory MPs – and some Labour ones too – who, if they saw the Sinn Féin proxies trooping in to vote a particular way, would immediately withdraw their own support from that vote, since they’d see the seven proxies as Sinn Féin stooges and recoil in horror.
But here’s the thing: I think Fintan himself knows that his cunning plan would never work. In fact, that’s why he’s proposed it. He knows the SF people would say no, which allows the public to roll their eyes and say “Those damn Provo-Shinners! They could save us all from a no-deal Brexit and they refuse to do so.”
And so Fintan would have achieved his real goal, which is to put Sinn Féin in a spotlight where people could fire rotten tomatoes at them.
You clever clogs you, Fintan. You’re nobody’s fool.