OK, hands up if you remember Anna Lo? It’s not that long ago – in 2014, to be exact – when she shot into the headlines. In the course of an interview with that Venerable Organ The Irish News, she declared that she was “anti-colonial” and that the partition of Ireland was “artificial”. What’s more, she said she figured a united Ireland would be “better placed economically, socially and politically.”
Wooooaaa. Sound of screeching brakes and smell of burnt rubber. The DUP’s Arlene Foster called on her to apologise for her “deeply insulting language”. Imagine, to suggest that this corner of Ireland, for whom major decisions are made by Westminster, was a colony. Arlene figured this kind of “deeply insulting language and prejudicial view” was the sort of thing you normally heard only from “the extreme edges of republicanism.”
The Alliance Party rushed out a statement that their policy was what it always had been: it was up to the majority of the people here to determine the future status of this NE nest.
Anna Lo is long gone, but the memory lingers. How does a party get away with saying “We’ll go with whatever the majority here decide.” In other words, Alliance will accept the verdict of the people. That’s nice. Or ‘naice’ as Brian Feeney would say.
Still, it seems an odd stance for a political party here, that it has no view on what has always been at the heart of politics here: the right of the six counties to continue to be linked, not to say subservient to, Westminster, or its right to be part of an all-Ireland state. I mean, the elephant in the room doesn’t go away if you close your eyes.
However, the Alliance Party has always been against what they’d call “a sectarian headcount” and so while it might have no view on remaining a part of the UK, it has a very clear attitude to the continuation of the union called the EU: it is very firmly for it – it’s Remain, and wishes lots more people could see it their way.
There has never been anything like Brexit: it has broken down barriers between parties. The SDLP, the Greens, Alliance, Sinn Féin: all of these parties are unambiguously for Remaining part of the EU. That’s why, in South Belfast, you’ll search in vain for a Green Party candidate. Or a Sinn Féin candidate. Both these parties accept that Claire Hanna is the one Remain candidate with a strong chance of winning the seat, and so they’ve stepped aside, given Claire, as a Remain candidate, a clear run. In contrast, the Alliance Party have put up a candidate, Paula Bradshaw. “Not an inch” is effectively the Alliance Party attitude in this constituency.
In East Belfast, you will search in vain for a Green Party candidate, an SDLP candidate or a Sinn Féin candidate. That’s because the Greens, the SDLP and Sinn Féin want to give the Remain candidate there, Naomi Long, a clear run at the seat.
In North Belfast, you will look in vain for an SDLP candidate, you will look in vain for a Green Party candidate. That’s because they want to give the Sinn Féin candidate, John Finucane, a clear run at gaining the seat. And the Alliance Party? Not an inch once more. Nuala McAllister is their candidate.
In other words, the Alliance Party has no position on the union with Britain. It has a very definite position on the UK remaining in the EU. Yet in three constituencies where there is a Remain candidate with a decent chance of winning, the Alliance Party will do what it can to take votes away from the main Remain challenger in North Belfast, John Finucane.
This is destructive politics at its worst. Whether you’re pro or anti union with Britain, you might swallow the it-doesn’t-bovver-us attitude of Alliance, since it’s not yet a pressing issue – we won’t be going to the polls on a united Ireland in early December. But for a party that flaunts its Remain in the EU credentials, which like its sister party the Lib Dems in Britain would happily cancel Brexit, to refuse to stand aside and let a Remain candidate in South Belfast and, more urgently, North Belfast, is baffling beyond belief.
Except you see the Alliance Party as actually opposed to a nationalist candidate winning in South Belfast and a Sinn Féin candidate winning in North Belfast.
Maybe, deep down, the Alliance Party does have a view on the union with Britain. The Alliance Party would probably hotly deny having anything of the sort, but that changes nothing. It’s intent on hindering the one Remain candidate with a chance on South Belfast, and is doing its damnedest to keep a prime supporter of Brexit, Nigel Dodds, in his seat in North Belfast.
So the Alliance Party stands revealed: it has no views on the centuries-old issue of Irish unity, and it is intent on damaging the Remain candidate in two key constituencies.
Thanks, guys. Regarding the union with Britain, your actions show you favour it. And regarding the European Union, your actions show that you are fixated on not-an-inch.
We can only hope that the electorate remember this at best stupid and at worst destructive position : we’re so non-sectarian, to vote for anyone else means you’re a bloody bigot. It’s just that we’re too polite to say that out loud.