So…9am. The Morning After the Day Before. Everybody is saying that “something” happened but nobody is sure what it was.
I wonder how many times I have voted since June 1970. I was 18 years old. It was the first time that 18 year olds could vote. I looked like I was 15 years old. The polling clerks looked at each other and one said “do you mind if I ask how old you are?”.
I said….”yes I do mind” and he handed me a ballot paper. He is probably dead now but in so far as he ever thought about it (unlikely) after that day in 1970, I suppose he thought I was a West Belfast “personator”.
From my perspective, he only asked because I looked much younger and it felt “size-ist” and I knew that I had the Law on my side. I think if they had disqualified me from voting that day, I would have received £10 compensation.
Personating? I had heard stories. Themmuns did it more than Usunns and SDLP was never really into that kinda thing and then the Law caught up with “photo ID” and all that.
Of course I heard stories. Clerks in Belfast Corporation earned a few quid extra as polling clerks. One was on duty in a school in Sandy Row. And a loyalist band marched down the street and into the polling station….and voted. Some hesitatingly read their own names (????) from their own polling cards (????) and got their ballot papers and voted.
It would be a brave polling clerk who challenged a loyalist band. Of course there was a game of bluff going on. It is good fun to be asked your name in a polling station, fake panic as you fumble for your polling card and read it out “Joseph James Murphy….sorry I mean my name is Francis Joseph Murphy”.
By way of balance, I should mention the queue at the nationalist polling station on the Falls Road and fifteen minutes before the polls closed, the unionist agent shouted out “I challenge that man”…..and half the queue ran for the door.
I am not actually sure that this is a true story but in Blogging, “balance” is more important than “truth” so it SEEMS true and it “balances” the loyalist band story, which is really true.
Of course, it wasnt all fun and games. There were two Westminster Elections in 1974 (February and October). I cant remember which one…but I was standing in St Aidans School on the Whiterock Road and about fifteen minutes before the polls closed, some Provos burst in and shot the place up.
That’s odd….I was there and I went home immediately….across the road and within minutes the news story was on TV and to this day, I dont really know what happened. Some said it was an attack on the police….some said an attack on the democratic process …some said an attack on the men, women and children in the polling station.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Those masked men were probably my age or just a little older. Did they spend the 1970s interned? Or did they outlive the Troubles? Or like me…are they grandfathers fond of nostalgia with their own anecdotes? Where were they last night? Sitting watching TV as dissidents and ignoring the election? Or….handing out Sinn Féin leaflets at a polling station in West Belfast? Is St Aidans School still on the polling station list?
I digress. I was in Strabane yesterday. Not much to see. A lot of activity round one large modern school and the Sinn Féin caravan….Sinn Féin must own a lot of caravans.
I went from Strabane to Belfast.After 6pm, I was in St Josephs School in Slate Street…my first primary school and the place where I first voted in 1970. About five or six Sinn Féin people at the door handing out those “dummy” ballot papers. It was raining cats and dogs. I refused the offer of a “dummy” ballot paper…I said that I always voted Sinn Féin but “never again”. There were a few “dummy” ballots around the polling station. The car park was pretty full. One voter joked with a canvasser that he was losing a lot of business because of the rain…clearly he was a taxi driver. And I just went into the polling station and looked around.
Then on to St Peters Youth Centre. About half a dozen canvassers. Same story. I told them “not voting Sinn Féin this time”. Had a few words with the People Before Profit canvasser.
Then the bus to St Theresas, a walk to Holy Child and a “Big Mac” at Kennedy Way and a walk in the rain to St Kevins. Lots of SF canvassers and spirits high. Did my spiel about “not voting SF ” at two of them and a bit annoyed that nobody tried to canvas me at the third one.
Childish of course. I am not a West Belfast voter but when you go into a polling station with the polling card you used twelve hours ago and 25 miles away….people assume you are voting.
Canvassers dont really mind a response that “I never vote Alliance/DUP/ Green” whatever but it really pisses them off to hear “I always vote Alliance/DUP/ Green” whatever but “not this time mate”. They hate thinking they lost a vote.
If Sinn Féin canvassers gathered in the Felons last night, one might say “I talked to a wee old fat baldy man who says he has voted for us for years and didnt this year” and maybe a couple of other Sinn Féiners will join in….”aye I talked to a wee old fat baldy man….”.
Like I say….its childish of me. But just my way of shoving a spanner …a very small spanner….in the well-oiled machine.
Well-oiled machine? Is the overwhelming presence of Sinn Féin canvassers “intimidating”? They would say “no” and be offened and others …a minority…would say “yes”. If an innocent SF bystander saw this amount of activity in a polling station in Dee Street or Tigers Bay, they would squeal victimisation.
Do Sinn Féin supporters intimidate? No…well only when they have to. They own West Belfast. And no point owning it, if you cant demonstrate it.
There might be a hierarchy in any Party …MP, MLA, Councillor, member. But Sinn Féin has “activists” and a structure…almost an alternative hierarchy to the visible hierarchy. Sinn Féin has a website and a “who’s who” but the great thing about elections is that you can see “who is really who”
There is an inter-connexion here. The Troubles simply went on too long. The comradeship formed in the trenches, the H Blocks, the funerals, the language classes, the graveyards span generations. The Troubles defines them in a way that does not define me…there is a networking there that pre-dates Facebook. “Sometimes its good to be ….where everybody knows your name and theyre always glad you came”. Hi Norm, Hi Cliff, Hi Frasier….nobody is lonely in Sinn Féin. Thats the secret of their success.
Theres always someone who carried your fathers coffin….or was on the blanket with your auntie in Armagh….whatever they think they “won”, they actually “lost” and at election time they need to kid themselves and each other that it was all worthwhile.
There was no wifi on the bus from Strabane to Belfast. The first real “catch up” was on the train home. Turn out high….very high. The middle class voted. Nationalists voted.
Sinn Féin will do well. Alliance will do well although the twin effect will be SDLP will do ok. DUP will do badly. Schoolkids will vote Green cos Greens are “cool”.
To be honest, I much prefer the Past to the Future. I have no time for this daft “I voted Green/SDLP/ Alliance/ UUP”. Those voters who voted til they boked make me want to boke. But a cool hashtag and if we cant have Politics in Politics, then we can have hashtags.
Taking Politics out of Politics and dressing it up as the “New Politics” just doesnt interest me at all.
Thats one election less for me to worry about.