Nicholas Whyte is now Visiting Professor at University of Ulster. Professor Whyte is the main man behind the Ark Elections website, a treasure trove of statistics on elections.
So …who cares about Voting and Identity.
Well…about Voting. In 1996 Nicholas Whyte was on a panel of three candidates who got around 1,600 votes in North Belfast “Forum” election.
He mentioned this during his lecture. He jokkingly paid tribute to the 95% of the electorate who did not vote for him, sending him off on a successful academic career. And more so the 5% who did vote him.
And…about Identity…well he stood for the Alliance Party. But I dont think he mentioned that. Apologies if I am wrong.
It is of course a fact that many Norn Iron votes are cast on the basis of “Identity” rather than a raft of policies. It is an article of faith of LetsGetAlongerism that this is a very bad thing. Catholics and/or Nationalists go into a polling station and commit to Sinn Féin or SDLP. Protestants and/or Unionists go into a poling station and commit to DUP, UUP or TUV. Allegedly sensible souls vote Alliance or Green.
For as long as I can recall, Britain has been held as an example of how to do it. In Britain, sensible people study manifestos weigh up what is best for the country and sensibly vote Conservative or Labour…or maybe Liberal Democrat. Are they unaffected by “Identity”?
How do we explain that the Conservative Party and Labour Party cannot even save a deposit in a Westminster General Election in any Norn Iron constituency?
Well we identify ourselves as “Irish” which is a very bad thing ….apparently.
Or we identify ourselves as “British” which is not nearly so bad….apparently.
On the other hand, if we identify ourselves as “Norn Irish” we are absolutely brilliant.
Anyway Professor Whyte started his lecture by pointing out his distaste for the labels
PUL (Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist) And CNR (Catholic-Nationalist-Republican). I share his distaste. It is lazy and a little bit insulting.
Some figures from the 2011 Census.
Protestants 41.6% ….Catholics 40.8% ….Others 17.0%
but the voting figures for 2014 show unionists getting almost 48% of the vote and nationalists around 38%.
Of course 2014 was a bad year for the nationalist parties and a good one for unionists. The “true” nationalist sentiment is around
In terms of Identity.
The 2011 Census… Around 40% claim to be British. And just 25% Irish and 21% say “Northern Irish”
Professor Whyte claims “we are complex” and these figures dont seem to add up. Is Northern Irish a safe, non-contentious statement?
Is Britishness overstated?
Professor Whyte then underscored those wards which are more British. And those which are more Irish.
The lesson he draws is that Identity is “looser”. That our politics has become more “normal” and that the voting turnout in North of Ireland is now surprisingly lower than mainland Britain. Indeed of 650 Westminster seats, only Fermanagh-South Tyrone is in the Top 400 of voter turnout.
Are people turned off by politics in Northern Ireland.
Personally I think the Assembly is where the real action (or do I mean inaction) is.
The Norn Iron five-party choice is now embedded, static for thirty years.
The audience…well academics. Some Masters students, two Sluggerites (Brian and Alan). And a small group of Alliance folks from North Down, including Andrew Muir, the Westminster candidate and wedding cake addict. Quintin Oliver of Stratagem was there. Its never a proper LetsGetAlongerist event until Quintin graces it with his presence.
Questions to Professor Whyte.
Well….probably the most sensible one was the one posed by someone at the back of the room. The audience member pointed out he had been voting for forty five years and in each of these years, people had complained about Norn Iron politics being tribal and that we should look to Britain, where politics were about left and right. Progressively we are moving from Identity to Policy, while Britain is moving from Policy to Identity…”White Van Man”, “Worcester Woman”….UKIP, SNP, Greeks versus Brusells, American Tea Party….isnt everything as tribal as we are?
You may agree this is a sensible question. I think so….but then I asked it. You might wonder about Nicholas Whyte’s answer. Well….pointedly he never said a word.
I cant say that I am surprised. It was after all a LetsGetAlongerist thing. There are certain default “truths” among them. To be so self-declared as “moderates”, LetsGetAlongerists are surprisingly intolerant of others.
You may recall several months ago, I attended a QUB seminar on “Peace Journalism” and I made some self deprecating remarks about myself to highlight my problems with LetsGetAlongerism. The chair….BBC churchy-type, William Cawley held me to ridicule, dismissed me as a “nutter”. My own fault really. I wont make that mistake again.