The New Boundaries are a stark Reminder that the path to a Unity Referendum probably passes through the Assembly...
The New Boundary Commission Report yesterday for Northern Ireland mostly made for bleak reading for nationalists.
Already, there has been some detailed analysis on each constituency and how it impacts the future composition of Northern Ireland's Westminster seats.
It almost certainly ensures that the Democratic Unionists will win the most seats in the next General Election, with the exception of a black swan event occurring that no one can forecast today.
I now think that most paths to a Unity Referendum will have to go through the Northern Ireland Assembly. There are several reasons for this.
The New Boundaries, if passed, will almost cetainly act as a nationalist vote suppressant. There will be almost no competitive seats outside of Belfast and the first past the post system (FPTP) renders many votes meaningless.
However, in this tempest of constitutional turmoil, every single election result will be judged on the basis of a referendum on Northern Ireland.
Currently, the only way to secure a Unity Referendum is for the NI Secretary of State to indicate that he/she believes a majority would vote for a United Ireland in the North as set out in the Good Friday Agreement below;
“the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”
The consensus around this definition seems to be that it would require nationalist parties to receive 50%+1 of the first preference votes in a Northern Assembly Election or 50%+1 of the total votes in a Westminster Election.
Unfortunately, and despite the current impasse over the Irish Language, it is hard to see how pro-Unity advocates will be able to get to 50%+1 without a Northern Ireland Assembly.
Recent polls have shown us that any future Unity Referendum will be decided by small nationalist and union voters, Alliance and Green Party voters and nonvoters at recent elections.
Naturally, it is illogical to assume that Alliance or Green party voters will switch to nationalist parties. However, the “small n” nationalist and the non-voters who would come from a nationalist background will need to be motivated and energized to vote.
The Northern Ireland Assembly elections in February 2017 proved to be a very strong result for nationalists and indicated for the first time that an energized nationalist electorate could over take the unionist vote.
There are a number of widely discussed impediments to getting the Assembly back up and running and both the DUP and Sinn Fein believe they have legitimate reasons for meaning their current stance. However, if Sinn Fein are serious about forcing a Unity Referendum they must realise that nearly ass paths to it pass through both votes for and votes in the Assembly…
Next Sunday, Swedes go to the polls of the first time since 2014. I see it as one of the most important elections in the European Union in 2018. The far-right Swedish Democrats have risen significantly since 2014 and may be able to derail, if not replace, the centre-left minority government led by Stefan Lofven and the Social Democrats.
It is impossible not to look at the election through the prism of immigration as it has been at the forefront of political discourse in Sweden since the Swedish government decided to loosen its immigration policy in 2014, in the face of a major refugee crisis.
Four years later and the impact of that decision is still sending shockwaves across European politics and Sweden in particular. Despite a buoyant economy (growth was 2.3% in 2017 and is set for 2.4% in 2018), there is a sense among a proportion of the electorate that Sweden has done too much and needs to pushback and further reform.
Crime rates have risen and many Swedish commentators have attributed this upsurge to immigrants. The data to back this up is very difficult to ascertain and there have been many accusations of “fake news” by both sides in relation to crime reporting.
This feeling and political train of thought has been seized upon by Jimmie Akesson and the Sweden Democrats. They have a enjoyed a prolific surge in popularity since the 2014 election, when they received 12.9% of the vote, today they are polling at approximately 20%.
The party combines elements of nativism and anti-immigration in their platform that is often disguised in “cute” Swedish outfits and a very innocent looking party logo.
The incumbent Prime Minister, Stefen Lofven also faces a significant challenge from the centre-right Moderate Party, led by Ulf Kristersson.
The Moderates had previously been in government from 2006 to 2014 as part of the Alliance for Sweden, which also contained the Centre, Liberal and Christian Democrats. In most polls today, this coalition is polling behind the potential centre-left coalition of the Social Democrats, Green and Left parties.
The Left Party is not currently part of the minority coalition but they have been polling at approximately 10% and have made it clear they would like to be part of the next government. Prior to 2010, the Left party were also part of the centre-left coalition though it is not yet clear if they will be included in talks after the election. It seems highly unlikely that the Social Democrats can choose to exclude them and remain in power.
However, both coalitions regularly fail to reach 40% in polls and at best can hope to lead a minority government. The current polling numbers look chaotic and as mentioned, it is very difficult to see a majority government if any hue without the Sweden Democrats being included.
One further point when looking at the polling numbers above is that parties need to gain at least 4% of the votes to be included in parliament. This could have a big impact on the two coalitions if any of the smaller parties slip below this threshold.
So far, the notion of working with the Seden Democrats has been rejected by all the major parties but there are voices in the Moderates who would prefer dialogue with Sweden Democrats than to simply accept a further premiership led by the Social Democrats.
On that note, I do predict the Social Democrats to be returned as the largest party, despite their challenges mentioned previously. They have consistently led in the polls, with only an occasional poll giving the Sweden Democrats the lead while the last poll that showed the Moderates returning the most seats was on the 21st June 2016.
Perhaps the best thing for Social Democrats would be if the Swedish Democrats actually finished with more seats than the Moderates. There is no way the Moderates could support a government led by Jimmie Akesson. A lead of more than 5% points for the Social Democrats over the Moderates may also increase public pressure on Ulf Kristersson to back, or at least accept, a Social Democrat led government.
However, even if the Social Democrats claim the most seats, there is little chance they will equal their 2014 performance of 31% and Stefan Lofven may come under intense pressure to resign if the Swedish Democrats and Moderates both vote down the left coalition.
The final week of campaigning will be crucial in Sweden as one or two % points away from the left to right or from the Moderates to the Sweden Democrats or vice versa may drastically change the final composition of the next Riksdag and the political arithmetic.
I will write a follow up review of the election on the Friday after, when results are known and the first political overtures have been made…