One of Northern Ireland's claims to fame is that it is home to the the highest concentration in the world of TWGOOFBTO's. In fact, Michael Copeland's tweet was part of a wave of reaction from TWGOOFBTO's to comments by Anna Lo, in which she expressed her support for the idea of a united Ireland, and said that perspective stemmed from being "anti-colonial". (That being so, more than anything else, it is an indictment of the SDLP that they couldn't attract her into their ranks.)
Now, it is fair to say that not all of Ms. Lo's party colleagues are happy with her comments, particularly those running in more unionist areas of Northern Ireland in the upcoming council elections, due to be held on the same day as the Euros.
Political commentator Alex Kane noted the potential problem with the comments:
Anna Lo was chosen to 1) appeal to soft unionists 2) minimise NI21 impact and 3) maximise vote for trickle down to council candidates. Hmm!
— Alex.Kane (@AlexKane221b) March 20, 2014
(though he subsequently stated that he doesn't think it will, ultimately, hurt Lo's Euro vote; as for the trickle down effect, who knows? I tend to agree).
Ms. Lo also gave a feisty defence of her comments at the Alliance Party conference this weekend, meaning she has effectively doubled down on them.
So what's going on? Alliance's Naomi Long, despite serving the people of East Belfast in a far better capacity than Peter Robinson was ever able to, was always going to struggle to hold on to the seat that she won in the biggest shock of the 2010 general election. In fact, even without the flag controversy (which was whipped up by the DUP and UUP with the express purpose of depriving Naomi Long of her Westminster seat), I doubt Alliance would have held onto East Belfast. Anna Lo's comments will make no difference to that.
As a general rule, I adopt Occam's razor when it comes to parsing events: the answer that requires the fewest number of assumptions is the most likely, which is another way of saying that I am not a conspiracy theorist. My experience as a historian has taught me that cock-up and incompetence are almost always the real origin of X, rather than conspiracy or grand plan.
However, if I set aside my instinct that Anna Lo was just professing a personal opinion with no other objective than answering a question, my mind turns to South Belfast, where she was the Alliance Party candidate in 2010, and managed to double the party's vote. Were her comments an attempt to syphon off some of the soft nationalist SDLP vote in the constituency, to position her to make a serious run at the seat in time for the 2020 general election?
That would be a cunning move, if she managed to pull it off. But then again, the Chinese are a cunning and manipulative race.
(That's an ironic self-referential joke by the way!)