Why does nationalism run away from Irish Unity at election time ?

Shortly after the announcement of the general election, I noted over in Scotland that both the SNP and Alba (Alex Salmond’s hardline pro-independence breakaway) were straight out of the blocks, seeking a mandate for Scottish independence.

SNP leader John Swinney characterised polling day, July 4th, as “Independence Day”. In a press release which mentions the word “independence” seven times, he said :

.. So let’s unite to win the powers of independence to strengthen our economy, tackle the cost of living and bring about a fairer country ..

In an independent Scotland never again will people here be subjected to an unelected Tory government.

Alex Salmond :

In the coming election the votes that count for independence will be ALBA ones.

ALBA stands for Scotland and this election is an opportunity to make every cross count for independence.

Meanwhile, back home, neither of the nationalist parties have made any kind of reference to Irish unity in their first comments on the election.

Sinn Féin’s release emphasised a domestic message :

By voting for Sinn Féin people are endorsing strong leadership, positive change, and a commitment to work for all.

People have an opportunity to vote for the decisions about their lives and their future to be made here, at home, to support better funding for our public services, and to reject years of Tory cuts which have targeted workers and families.

Similarly, the SDLP talked of a “mission to remove the Tories from power” :

The mission of the next six weeks could not be clearer – it’s time to remove the Tory government from power and install a new administration that understands the value of investing in public services and communities that have been left behind.

Compare with the Alliance messaging :

It has been a long time coming and finally presents a real opportunity for people to remove the failing Conservative Government from power,

Our positivity, progressiveness, responsibility and record of delivery is what we will be standing on, and I am confident people will back us on that platform.

Setting aside my concern about a lack of differentiation between three major parties, there is one thing I find puzzling. In between elections, the same parties criticise Alliance for not taking a position on Irish unity – that is their right, of course. They insist that other people make preparations and join debates to deal with the topic. Yet, come polling day, somehow this topic goes on the back burner, relegated to a bullet point buried on a list on an election address.

I’m not personally in favour of advancing constitutional change at this stage. But if I was, I’d want a political party actively and continuously seeking a mandate to make it happen. The Secretary of State has not, and will not, set out the criteria for calling a border poll. But a pro-unity majority mandate would be impossible to ignore on either side of the Irish Sea.

Why is it that, at election time, the SDLP and SF seem to be scared of talking about their ambition for Irish unity ? Why can’t they do what the SNP are doing and seek a mandate for it ? There is a clear way to prevent there ever being a Tory government in NI ever again – why aren’t they highlighting it ? Irish unity as an idea is securing interest across the whole community; aren’t these new votes that they can win ?

Is it because they’re afraid they’d lose ?


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