Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why is Unionism in Crisis?

The storming of Belfast City Hall, anti-democracy flag protests/rioting, Loyalist rioting in Ardoyne and Royal Avenue in Belfast, Castlereagh and the dramatic U-turn by Peter Robinson and the DUP on the Maze Peace Centre. It is clear that Unionism is in crisis.

Why is Unionism in crisis?


  1. Most of the current problem is Belfast orientated. I think you need to redo both your graphs to show what is happening in Belfast. The 2011 census has the community background populations at 49% catholic and protestant 42% and the 2011 council election had 49% voting Nationalist and 36% voting Unionist. These figures show why some are in a frenzy. Ofcourse the whole blame lies squarely with the leaders of political unionism who have failed to prepare the loyalist communities for the reality. Even in yesterdays BT there was an article about boundary changes and Tom Elliot was blaming the DUP for changing the boundaries of the councils with the result of handing over BCC to Republicans. Its this time of nonsense that starts riots. Tom seems to want to ignore the facts that BCC is only one election cycle away from being Nationalist (not republican) controlled anyway. Similar scaremongering by the DUP and UUP over the fleg and those notorious 'Alliance' leaflets were only going have one end result looks like some never learn

  2. Over on An Sionnach Fionn poster Sion asks

    "Interesting …but not for the reason I expected. In the second graph it seems the Nationalist vote has barely increased since about 1998. In the first graph it seems the Catholic population is increasing at a much slower and smaller incline than I expected whilst the Protestant population seems to be decreasing faster.

    … and what happened in c1985?!"

    OK I was expecting this. The second graph does indeed look like the Nationalist vote has stalled on 42% from the turn of the century. Firstly turnover has declined significantly over this period. The turnout in Nationalist constituencies has declined at a faster rate than in Unionist constituencies, yet the Nationalist vote has held it's ground. Also people are living longer these days and this is significant in voting terms. The Unionist vote is heavily reliant on the 'grey vote'. Over two thirds of over 65 voters are Unionist.

    As for the first graph not showing the Catholic population increasing as fast as you expected. It's pretty incremental to me to go from one third to nearly a half in a relatively short period of time. Yes it could have been faster but for widespread discrimination and emigration but that's a different story.

    What happened in 1985? The Anglo Irish Agreement happened. The 1986 Westminster by-elections were as a result of the resignation of all Unionist MPs in December 1985 in protest to the Anglo Irish Agreement. As Nationalists did not resign their seats there was no by-elections for these seats. Nationalists did stand in the marginal constituencies held by Unionists, hence the 18.6% of the vote.

  3. Some excellent points there boondock. I don't have the data do replicate these graphs in terms of Belfast. If you look at my post Belfast City Hall I have linked a graph from Nicholas Whyte's Ark website which show the voting patterns in Belfast.

    Of course Belfast is of huge strategic importance to Unionism. How many of the Unionists in the North live within a 50 mile radius of Belfast? Must be at least 80%.

    As for the scaremongering of DUP/UUP I suspect it will get worse as demographics change the City from Catholic plurality to catholic majority. We are seeing the Loyalist reaction now and this will probably escalate as they fail to come to terms with the changes which will continue to take place. Unionist leaders need to prepare them for the reality now not spur on the mob.

  4. Yeah all boondocks points are valid ones. Its what we call a 'shoulder' in a bell curve. It'll be there this once as an offset and then the trends eill carry on as normal.

    Under the current Belfast City council boundaries there ate almost a majority of councillors and that is likely to come from north Belfast were in both wards the weaker unionist is barely holding on to their quota.

    Under the new rules large parts of Newington are included in the old duncairn ward meaning that it is likely to produce an extra nationalist councillor anyway.

    The main story id that apart from new wards coming in, new wards are beibg created out of thin air due to the fact that unionist court was over represented and will lose a seat and nationalist upper falls was under represented and will gain a seat.

    The goal next year must be to push for a nationalist majority council in Belfast and for 2 nationalists ij Europe. The kicker nowadays is that in places were alliance ro well, particularly south Belfast, there transfers fall disportionately for the SDLP. So when their candidate and the greens goes out I'd expect the SDLP candidate to be extremely close to the UUPs Nicholson by the end.

  5. The local and Euro elections in May 2014 will be very interesting given the backdrop of the Unionist crisis resulting from the census results and the removal of the 'fleg'.

    Certainly you are spot on with the nationalist goals for these elections.

    Turnout will be key. The Unionist turnout will most certainly rise given the choice of parties available and the "mobilisation" of the working class loyalists and their new found awareness of the importance of the democratic process. The behaviour of PUL politicians and their supporters is also bound to motivate Nationalists who have been becoming more apathetic in recent elections.

    Can Nationalists take two seats in the Euro election? I just don't see the numbers at the moment.

    An outright Nationalist majority in Belfast City Council is more realistic. Interest article below in which Nicholas Whyte states that while a nationalist majority is possible a nationalist plurality is likely. "The balance of power quite likely remains a hung council with neither nationalists nor unionists having a majority. But at the same time, it is possible that nationalists might get an overall majority, given that the boundaries favour them more than unionists.”

    The new council will have 60 seats and nationalists will need 31 for a majority.

    Unionist estimates suggest their ranks could be between 24-26 seats, while they estimate nationalist parties coming in with between 27-29 seats, and the remainder going to Alliance.

    Nationalist sources vary, but place unionists as low as 24 and nationalists as high as 31, with Alliance taking the remaining council positions.

  6. Good post Enda.

    Short answer, it's all about demographics! That's my opinion. Is it coincidental that most of the trouble we see is in Belfast? Is it coincidental that in Belfast most of this trouble appears to be concentrated in East Belfast where Robbo or whomever follows him wants to decapitate APNI there or how about in North Belfast where Dodds may be in some fight to the death with Gerry Kelly for his seat? There is every chance that after the next WM Election there will not be a single unionist MP in Belfast (though I do count APNI as unionist, but with a small 'u' tbf, as opposed to Protestant Nationalist which the UUP/DUP/TUV/PUP are).

    I also think that consideration of the age of voters needs to be kept in mind. The young are notorious for not voting in as great numbers as the elderly which in the case of the North will have a skewing factor on votes cast and probably accounts for the massive discrepancy we have in unionist representation in the North being so right wing and evangelical and out of touch with the populace in general that is below the age of 40.

    Shameless plug time Enda, Cleenish has a new post about SF which you and your readers are more than welcome to comment on if you would like.

  7. We all know it..
    Demographic change is the elephant in the room with regards the local media.

    What is difficult to understand is why unionist politicians act in the sectarian ways that they do? (particularly over the past year)
    Surely they realise that over time as older generations leave the stage and younger ones take over, unionism will fade to a mere remnant of what it once was.

    Do they really care about the medium/long term or just their own selfish short term interests?

  8. It is a very interesting question. Why is sectarianism and bigotry so prevalent in so many Unionists? Is it supremacism? insecurity? fear? I honestly don't know.

    The problem with medium and long term strategic thinking within Unionism is it creates space for attacks from right wing extremists. Look what happened to Trimble and the UUP. Look at Robinson's U-turn on the Maze. For Unionism it's all about the here and now. Getting the UJ back up on Belfast City Hall, using their veto to stop any project or policy goal of Nationalists. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.