Given the amount of noise created by Sinn Fein one could be forgiven for believing that they might have some type of political point to make. Along with their brothers in arms they used to condone killing people to achieve political ends. But now they just cause annoyance, and act as agents provocateurs.
But, for once, they have believed their own PR just a little bit too much. Sinn Fein’s demands for a “border poll” ring somewhat hollow when, according to BBC NI’s Spotlight opinion poll, hardly anyone here wants Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland.
Sinn Fein tends to describe the Nationalist Community as one that, pretty much by default, wants Irish unity. It doesn’t. In fact, according to the BBC poll, just 17% of those who could be bothered to vote would vote for Irish unity. Oh, and just 35% of Catholics.
In fact there are now as many Atheists in Northern Ireland as genuine Irish Nationalists.
Let that 35% figure sink in. After the mayhem of near civil war that resulted in thousands of violent deaths and billions of pounds of economic loss, and despite decades of political screaming and shouting, Sinn Fein has failed to convince 2/3 of the people it claims to represent. It has failed to convince the people it calls Nationalists. In fact a clear majority of Catholics aren’t Nationalists at all.
And most Unionists are sick of Unionism.
Because here’s the other clear message from the BBC poll: most people who want to remain part of the UK don’t really have any political party to vote for. Sinn Fein clings to the notion that people who vote for it do so because they want Irish unity. In fact around 1 in every 4 Sinn Fein voters would prefer to remain part of the UK. Most DUP and UUP voters don’t want flag protests to continue. And most people feel that Peter Robinson made a mess of handling the flag issue.
In fact Northern Ireland’s electorate is moving away – and very rapidly – from what passes for party-politics here. The political parties operate in a void where, by default, “Nationalist” parties ramble on about identity and Irishness – when, in fact, most people couldn’t care less. And most of their voters are really quite happy with their Britishness (even if they have no intention of waving Union flags or toasting the Queen). Next to no-one takes any offence at a British flag being flown over a public building – most people don’t even notice (apart from Sinn Fein activists).
Peter Robinson is right that the constitutional issue is done – in fact it’s done to death. It’s time to move on. But the political parties that we have here are simply not fit for purpose. Even around 30% of those polled by the BBC couldn’t say which, if any, political party they’d vote for. The reality is that closer to 50% can’t be bothered to vote because the political discourse appears completely stale, and the political personalities completely disconnected from the real world.
Our society is normalising – but the political class just isn’t getting it. Party politics will be re-shaped as more and more evidence is collected, and as our society re-orients itself outside of the tribal feeding trough. But that’s good. And well done Spotlight for shining a spotlight on it.