Sinn Féin’s impressive vote harvesting technique shows up as zero gains for the cause of a united Ireland in 25 years.

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect . . .”

-Jonathan Swift

Newton Emerson had an intriguing theory in his column yesterday, one I’m not sure can be proven but it fit with a lot of evidence. I never subscribed to the idea that that SF were strategic in their mission, but they are geniuses at the tactical game.

Almost everyone still believes a vote on Irish unity would be lost. A win is certainly not “likely”, the threshold set by the Good Friday Agreement. Although unionism’s decline appears irreversible, nationalism is barely growing. Its 40 per cent total vote last week is about two points better than usual but there is no prospect of it exceeding 50 per cent.

So Northern Ireland remains in stalemate and change can only be secured by wooing the centre ground […but] There is quite a difference between proclaiming a triumph over unionism and a triumph over Northern Ireland itself.

If we can say defensive unionism is receding (it’s a little premature to use the term dying), it’s because the fear which led to the collapse of liberal Ulster and consolidated opinion behind the Conservative party from the 1880s onwards is quietly dissipating.

But the numbers of those who are broadly content with Northern Ireland’s current status is remarkably robust in spite of the fact that political unionism has never been more unpopular. Newton gives a good account of why that might be:

Grandiose rhetoric about a supremacist, colonialist construct bears no relation to most people’s lives, even if they agree with the republican analysis of history. Centrist voters and young people are most inclined to cite a Northern Irish identity.

Across a much broader swathe of the population, Northern Ireland is simply home, with all the complexity that entails. Declaring this to be invalid because you have won would be a guaranteed way to lose. [Emphasis added]

This is more obvious when you look below the waxing and waining fortunes of party politics. Claims that we are seeing the twilight of the Union seem to me to the equivalent of late stage capitalism. Both rely on something more than plain foresight.

It anchors the present at some point in a (and therefore knowable) linear future in what we know is a deeply non linear world by squeezing complex problems into preferred cause and effect templates, while excluding any inconvenient fact that doesn’t fit.

As Fintan O’Toole mentioned in recent column we are living in an era were ‘Bullshit’ abounds (See Pete Baker’s link post from 2005 for detail). Fintan cites AI, but in fact according to Tristan Harris of the Centre for Humane Technology:

…social media was actually humanity’s first contact moment between humanity and AI because when you open up TikTok and you scroll your finger, you just activated the super computer, the AI pointed at your brain to calculate and predict with increasing accuracy the perfect thing that will keep you scrolling.

This has exaggerated our propensity to believe what suits us and ignore or alienate that which doesn’t. So, in a way, it really doesn’t matter that what you think is happening isn’t as long as enough others share your view. There’s safety in numbers.

But it also condemns us to a tactical universe in which every action is taken only with thought for the near term which often means consuming what might have been strategically beneficial options that lie unseen much further down the road.

Sinn Féin’s impressive vote harvesting techniques (82% in Brandywell) and smiling photos are great for short term tactical headlines, but check the strategic dashboard and it shows up as zero gains for the cause of a united Ireland in 25 years.

The next 25 will be more important, both for Sinn Féin and the rest of Northern Ireland…

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

-Sun Tzu

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