Why you should still vote Left

Image Credit: Ellen Nugent

'At least two sides'

Economics tends to make one a centrist. You are trained to evaluate options and see what both sides can deliver and often the way in which you decide on them is to evaluate their positives and negatives and assign values. So, it is normal for policies from the left and the right to come up short in different ways and to have very different positives. Either way, you are trained to see both sides clearly.

I, however, have strong sympathies with the left these days, partly because I think recent government response to the housing crisis has been very poor and so I am hungry for a true left-wing government. What we need is more houses, not rent controls or giving more money to developers. We need government to involve itself in the development of government land, builders training and hiring a permanent government house building department that will build houses in good times and in bad. There is a huge time lag between the start of the house building process and the final construction of the house that makes this a poor sector to be left to private industry alone. 

However, I am strongly anti-nationalist. Nationalism is what leads to Brexit, what leads to Trump, Le Pen, the AfD etc. Nationalism is divisive, creating bogeymen or stirring up memories of bogeymen for political ends. It tends to be anti-immigration, anti-transnational institutions, and often populist and anti-facts. Unfortunately for me, looking at the polls now, any left-wing vote is going to end up with a Sinn Féin led coalition at best. This is not deterring me as it once did. I still cannot give Sinn Féin my first preference, there are too many much better options, but I am coming to peace with a left-wing coalition led by Sinn Féin and here is why.

The people of Northern Ireland are used to a certain level of state intervention, whether that is the NHS or just the sheer amount of money that the UK exchequer pours into the six counties on a yearly basis. In 2018, the UK Government subvention for Northern Ireland was £10.8bn. If we were to see a unification of Ireland, to be able to deliver that level of state intervention islandwide will require a radical restructuring of how we do things in the South. 

We are already moving (slowly) towards some sort of NHS with Sláintecare and other policies supported by most parties, though this is another process that would benefit from some solid left-wing thinking. Our social welfare system is more generous in cash terms than what is present in Northern Ireland currently, so merging both systems will likely end up costing the exchequer even more, not necessarily a bad thing if you are generally in favour of government spending on the people with the lowest incomes, as I am. 

Housing in the North is substantially cheaper than for the island as a whole. This is for various reasons related to the more rural nature of the North, lower GDP per capita and a generally less vibrant economy. This was not always the case and it certainly does not have to stay that way, but if Sinn Féin is serious about convincing the population of the North to join the Republic then it is something that will have to be considered, and lowering house prices is likely the route to Sinn Féin electoral success anyway.

For students, the picture is mixed. Obviously, cheaper student accommodation is a plus, but fees in Northern Ireland seem higher. However, there is a student loan system which might be a worthwhile trade-off. Would you accept higher fees if they were deferred until you could afford to pay for them? 

The counter to all of this is that Ireland will likely have to move to a social model that involves higher rates of taxation, possibly much higher, and that alone would likely cause some pause amongst wealthier members of the population both north and south. However, as we can see from Scandinavian economies, if the services you provide are good, then you can get broad support for these policies.

My point is that despite Sinn Féin being primarily a nationalist party with a central policy of a United Ireland, which may or may not be something you are enthusiastic about, any realistic attempt to convince the North to join us will likely depend on radically altering our current dysfunctional social model to create a set of incentives for a more socialist society. Sinn Féin has a huge impetus to make it work.

I would still give my higher preference votes to the Social Democrats, People Before Profit, Labour etc as they would hopefully be a moderating force on Sinn Féin’s more socially conservative, and anti-Europe elements, but I think the prospect of a Sinn Féin led government isn’t as concerning to me as it used to be.