A VICTORIOUS Sinn Féin’s first significant announcement post-election was that it would continue to respect the d’Hondt system of equitably allocating positions in councils which they control. The first significant announcement by the DUP was to claim that the result had given them a renewed mandate for the boycott of the Stormont institutions.
Rarely have political philosophies been so starkly and so cruelly juxtaposed. As Sinn Féin vow to share out plum jobs that they would be entitled to hog for themselves (as unionists have always done at every council they control) Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is claiming another electoral setback as a vindication of his decision to keep devolution in cold storage during a time of unprecedented need.
Le’s be very clear about exactly where unionism’s largest party stands after the final result was called. They crowed pre-election about a succession of polls which suggested that their Stormont boycott was extremely popular with unionists. They have been telling us non-stop that the Irish Sea border is the biggest threat to the union in a century. And yet against that background, their vote fell even as the vote of the biggest party advocating a return to Stormont rocketed. And the DUP ran furiously to stand still in terms of seats, returning with exactly the number they had.
Far from being a vindication of the DUP’s political nihilism, this election can at best be seen as marked indifference to it, at worst an expression of frustration or even disgust. In order to persuade Westminster to renege on its recent announcement that there would be no further negotiation of the Windsor Framework, Mr Donaldson required a ringing and unmistakable statement of support from unionist voters; instead he limped over the line, breathing a sigh of relief as the last count allowed the party to break even while the cheers of new Sinn Féin councillors echoed around count centres across the six counties.
Not only will Downing Street be utterly unimpressed by such a lacklustre showing by the DUP at a time when they were claiming unheard-of popular unrest and support, it will be emboldened in its clear determination to push ahead with the UK-EU deal which keeps the North in the Single Market and the border in the Irish Sea.
And sure enough, at a meeting with business leaders on Wednesday morning, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris again called for the Stormont institutions to be reinstated. And he pointed up the financial benefits of the Windsor Framework, the prospect of whose implementation was one of the reasons why previously dire forecasts of the UK’s economic performance in the coming year have been amended upwards. If the prospect of the British Government revisiting the Windsor Framework were vanishingly small before, a positive reaction to it by the financial markets means that prospect has now disappeared.