Should Sinn Fein take its Westminster seats?

Interesting comment in the Constitution Unit’s briefing for Gordon Brown today:

A bold gesture by the new Prime Minister would be to announce a wide-ranging review of the relationship between government and Parliament. In practice this would require a comprehensive review of Commons Standing Orders and how they enshrine government versus parliamentary control. The extent of government control can be traced, in part, to the difficulties governments faced in the 19th century with the blocking tactics of the Irish Party. (Towards a New Constitutional Settlement)

It’s ironic that this piece should appear on the same day that Liam Clarke calls for Sinn Féin to enter the Commons. It highlights an important counter-argument.Could Sinn Féin, with less than half a dozen seats, really expect to succeed where Parnell failed?

There are serious arguments on both sides of the question, and the
boundary between republicanism and constitutional nationalism has often
been very fluid on both sides.

Nevertheless, my own view is that Sinn Féin should not take its seats in the Commons. The place where it needs to lose the vestiges of the abstentionist tradition is Dublin, not Westminster.

One of the lessons of the Irish election was that Sinn Féin doesn’t have a monopoly on republicanism, which is why it was vulnerable to jibes like these:

Why is Adams – a British MP and member of the Stormont Assembly – leading the
election campaign, rather than Caoimhghin O Caolain, Sinn Fein Dail party

…the Sinn Fein leadership still
a dependency culture that views the British treasury as Santa Claus. (Ruth Dudley Edwards)

Of course, if Sinn Féin were really that British, Dudley Edwards would no doubt be backing them in her capacity as a supporter of the Reform Movement. Nevertheless, the line of attack she chose in her eve-of-election piece is instructive. Why give her more ammunition?






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