Neil Wilson was a candidate for Belfast East at the 2016 Assembly election, and fought the Westminster seat at the general election last year. He is Campaigns Director of Conservatives for Liberty
In the symbolism of modern politics, there is little as depressing as the relaunch, and Sinn Fein’s continual relaunch of the cornerstone of its political existence – a 32 county socialist republic – is as tiresome as the relaunch gets.
That Sinn Fein have called for a border poll at least three times since June’s referendum result betrays their lack of confidence that such an event could ever happen, and it’s starting to look a wee bit desperate. So much so, in fact, that their most recent press conference on the issue was relegated to page 13 by the notionally nationalist Irish News.
Seemingly reaching out to people like me – unionists – they are now telling us that our status would be protected in a United Ireland and proclaimed that we would have more influence as 20 per cent of the Irish population rather than two per cent of the British one. Gerry Adams has even gone as far as to say the Irish constitution will be changed to ensure that there is no single dominant faith.
On the surface, it seems that, after all this time, republicans still haven’t got their heads around what unionists want, which is simply to remain British, They instead prefer to believe that they can convince a significant number to separate with the UK through fanciful economic theory and surface-level inducements. But in reality, none of this is really about us.
Sinn Fein are caught in a bind. Still far-and-away the biggest nationalist party, they are, however, under considerable pressure on the ground from various dissident organisations, from the insurgent and inherently Marxist People Before Profit, and also from the Irish Republican Socialist Party in certain places. This discomfort was obvious when they dispatched people in 1916-period uniform to canvass for them prior to the Assembly elections in May – so determined were they to be regarded as the true heirs of the 1916 legacy that self-awareness evaded them completely.
The constant application of jump leads to their raison d’être is targeted at nationalists who have tired of seeing Sinn Fein ministers supping with the Queen, and at those who have just given up on the cause all together. The latter form a considerable number. The most recent figures reveal a 22 per cent support in Northern Ireland as a whole for joining the Republic.
Running throughout Sinn Fein’s various proclamations was one standard assumption – that when a United Ireland happens, they will be the ones running it. In the utopian land that will follow the dismantling of the British state, a citizen’s every need will be catered for.
But unlike the SNP, and as much as they wish they were, Sinn Fein are not a dictatorship in waiting. Both the north and south of the island of Ireland are far more pluralistic than Scotland right now, and the idea of an Irish National Health service receives the ridicule it is due amongst the Republic’s residents. But when you’ve nurtured the idea that all the historical grievances felt by nationalists are the fault of someone else, then you have to continue the myth when it quite clearly no longer applies.
Sound familiar? The Holyrood grievance factory has been in overdrive since June to the extent that the Scottish Parliament has moved only a single bill since May’s election. While Sturgeon attempted to curry favour in Brussels and put indyref2 in motion, people in her own backyard complained about living with rats – an issue she hasn’t seen fit to deal with in five years.
And that is the worst thing about nationalism’s inherent complex. In continuing to instil in the people that vote for it the belief that their problems are someone else’s fault they neglect the most vulnerable. In the West Belfast heartland of republicanism, unemployment stands at a whopping 7.8 per cent. A male can only expect to live until 73. Almost half of people over 16 are in receipt of benefits. In Nicola Sturgeon’s Glasgow backyard the picture is only marginally better.
Real life problems are swept under the rug for the sake of impossible dreams. The only relaunch required is one of nationalism itself.