SDLP should maintain social democratic identity…

Conall reprints an expanded version of his piece fo Fortnight magazine in defence of retaining the SDLP’s credentials as a discrete social democratic party…

  • Stewart

    “My own view is that the SDLP’s social democracy and membership of the PES is more attractive to other parties on this island than many in the party recognise. The big future for the party is to realise it’s ambition for a new Ireland without surrendering the core values that delivered peace to this island.”

    There might well be a truism about this and hence an all Ireland Fianna Fail encomapssing the SDLP might well be within the PES. The formation of the Democratic Party in Italy shows how the PES has become a broader church with Parties not only like New Labour but new centre left parties that have been forged out of parties outside the traditional socialist family.

    Brian Feeney’s article in today’s Irish News rightly shows the emptiness of the SDLP’s claim they are seriously talking to the three main parties in the South. Fine Gael have no interest in all Ireland organisation and indeed many friends in the Alliance and UUP. Labour is content to let the present arrangements continue and if necessary will take a few exiles from the SDLP but do little more.

    The rationale for the FF-SDLP link might well be to keep onside the 20% of the SDLP that consider themselves FF-SDLP. Those who are “SDLP full stop” might find the need to work within new structures to accommodate them.

  • kensei

    There might well be a truism about this and hence an all Ireland Fianna Fail encomapssing the SDLP might well be within the PES.

    I don’t believe 1 voter in 100 could name which European group a party in, much less care.

    The SDLP can continue to be a discrete entity. I am in general for more voices. But if they do so they will almost certainly continue to shrink, squeezed out by both SF and FF. If they are happy with it, sure.

  • Stewart

    The rationale for the FF-SDLP link might well be to keep onside the 20% of the SDLP that consider themselves FF-SDLP

    Who says it’s 20%? We have only Conall’s lacklustre argument to base this on.

    This article stinks of “I support Irish Labour but failed to get the support in the SDLP so I’m going to convince everyone that I got it right and they’re wrong”.

    I can assure Conall that there is no stomach in the SDLP for the kind of sour faced groaning and blaming everyone else that the Irish Labour Party stand for – not to mention the fact that they’re dominated by the Stickies.

    The SDLP is the future of this entire region and the electorate will come back to that view in time. In the meantime the SDLP has to somehow manage to keep itself in the news.

  • CS Parnell

    A point that Conall doesn’t make is that all sorts of fools will rush into the gap left by the disappearence of the SDLP up FF’s back entry – namely the British Labour Party wannabes and the Irish Labour Party wannabes. All they will do is further fragment and destroy what little pro-European social democratic space there is in the North.

    And he’s right about one thing – in, say, greater Belfast, a lot of left leaning catholics have switched from the SDLP to SF (though only once the SDLP had essentially beaten SF on the issue of violence). Those people could be won back to an authentic social democratic position. They will never vote for FF, and who could blame them.

    FF are corrupt to the core.

  • dewi

    The argument’s the wrong way round. If FF really want to break the mould (and their initial tactics seem to be serious) then they shouldn’t touch the SDLP. Indeed they should focus their attention on the Ards peninsula.

  • aquifer

    The SDLP greenward tilt after Fitt and Devlin ended up legitimising the Provos’ sectarian adventurism. By saving the Provos from failure and suppression, Hume rescued nationalism itself from disgrace and political oblivion. No small achievement, but where did class unity and social progress end up? Ireland has been saved for big capital. Better than micro green gangster FF/SF socio-cronyism for sure, and there is still enough UK money in the NI kitty to pay for democratic socialism lite if someone can play political hardball to get it.

    Difficult bunker to play out of though. Allegedly socialist SF competing on the same turf. What class are SDLP voters, where do their economic interests lie? Would the SDLP really cut up rough, put sand in peoples eyes, threaten sectarian game over?

    The current leader does not seem to be able to separate idea from monologue. Where is his Mandelson, his bookish Brown, his left Field, his tabloid attack dog?

    My guess? This will all wait until a Labour party enters the fray. Then people will be surprised at how fast SF withers when people have choices.

  • aquifer

    This will all wait until a Labour party enters the fray. Then people will be surprised at how fast SF withers when people have choices.

    I can’t see the Labour Party denting SDLP voter numbers. The Labour has done damage to its claim to be true social democratic party by its double dealing on the North, legitimising SF and the DUP, violence and intransigence, over other reasonable voices and they will not be forgiven for that shoddy dealing.

  • CS Parnell

    The SDLP greenward tilt after Fitt and Devlin ended up legitimising the Provos’ sectarian adventurism.

    What a load of crap.

    The SDLP did something that no one had achieved at any point since 1916 – comprehensively defeated (in the sense of making irrelevant to the future of the island) physical force republicanism.

    If the alternative was B men and the like then the physical force tradition would remain central to the thinking of the majority of the people on the island.

    Instead while there are obviously some physical force men out there, their ideas are universally regarded as marginal.

    It wasn’t Gerry Adams, Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern that made that happen. They were merely the midwives at the birth of the new dispensation. The idea was fathered by Hume and Mallon and co.

    Unionist fantasies of military victory over the IRA are as old as the Northern state. But none of you could kill the beast.

  • Conall says ‘In the commercial world brands change but they never give up their core proposition.’ Precisely. The SDLP’s core proposition is Irish nationalism, not democratic socialism. Why should democratic socialists who are also unionists vote for the SDLP? (except tactically to keep out SF). In NI we need a democratic socialist party which everyone can vote for.

  • TKMAxx

    Conall has a legitimate point of view given his background with Irish Labour. He knows that he is much more to the Left ( middle class left) than most of the people he knows in the SDLP. His figures are totally skewed. He knows the SDLP has already done a straw poll among members -councillors and Assembly members. He knows the way the wind is blowing the straw.

    The PES argument is a totally irrelevant point but even it is a very, very broad church. With very right wing labour parties through to some very uncomfortable unreconstructed marxists.

    The SDLP did not tilt green after Devlin and Fitt. This is balderash. Time re-cycles politicians -just look were SF are today.
    But for the record – prior to SDLP Fitt always ran as Republican Labour – Devlin was an ex IRA man- early SDLP’ers called for guns ( matter of public record) – they even asked Irish Government to provide for them. Hume called for ‘united Ireland or nothing’ in his early career- then formed a ‘joint’ approach with Adams. Currie jumped South not into Labour but FG- Hendron and McGrady used to vote in the green wing of the SDLP ( see Currie Book – or the excellent Michael Murphy book on Fitt)

    Mc Grady on his election night in 1987 claimed the ‘border had moved from Carlingford lough to Strangford Lough’.
    Mallon was appointed by FF to Senate – Rodgers followed sponsored by FG- no nominees ever by Labour. SDLP founder Paddy O’ Hanlon sought Senate seat with FF backing against Labour Party nominee -another founder Ivan Cooper is actively campaigning for FF merger; also Michael Canavan – Paschal O Hare and the late Paddy Duffy were all very ‘green’. The SDLP did not belatedly come to nationalism – or green after SF growth – it ran through 90% of the members = reflected in its representatives and their identification with the electorate. The SDLP in the search for an agreed settlement – forgot how to articulate its green credentials or perhaps decided it was better to forgo their prominence in the search for peace.

    No one will tell me that at least 10 of the present SDLP Assembly group and at least 50 SDLP councillors known to me personally- would not define themselves as nationalist before socialist -and in fairness to them that is because they undertand -social justice is not the preserve of the Left! Feeney’s article though harsh has elements of truth in it.

  • slug

    If the SDLP disappears and is replaced by a nonnationalist “Labour” option and a “nationalist” option then that is better for voters.

    Including this one who would welcome a non-nationalist left of centre voice.

  • Jenny

    In NI we need a democratic socialist party which everyone can vote for.

    Why? We don’t have it anywhere else in the western world, other than misfit minor parties.

    CS Parnell

    The SDLP did something that no one had achieved at any point since 1916 – comprehensively defeated (in the sense of making irrelevant to the future of the island) physical force republicanism.

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you say, but I caution that it’s not over yet, and it won’t be over until the SDLP are back in number 1 position. The position sustained by the British and Irish governments is that an eye for an eye will get results and is superior to the golden rule of do onto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Old Testament is at present elevated above New Testament simply because SF regard their change in circumstances as part of their strategy. There has been no repentance, and no one is asking for any. Yet for decades they kept alive their campaign by taking human life in the tactical use of human suffering.

    For us to reach the position that you think that we are at, and I have heard senior SDLP people say it too, it is necessary for SF to change their heart. The SDLP should ask them to do so or we are on the road to great ambiguity as to what really dominated the outcome of this peace process.

    Any hint that an eye for an eye won the day will result in mayhem should violence begin again with a defeated SDLP position and a jubilant physical force one.

    We are actually at a very important juncture historically and I believe that the New Testamtent will win the day when this all unravels. But it hasn’t yet.

  • CS Parnell

    Hold on. The SDLP analysis is that the social democratic cause is best served by a united Ireland – a view that historically has been held by the British party (Harold Wilson hated the UUs with a passion – very much a plus mark in my view).

    Of course what people mean by a “non-nationalist Labour Party” is a unionist party – if they want to revive the corpse of the NILP go right ahead, but maybe they ought to also answer why the NILP failed (and NILPers like Paddy D left it).

    The PES may be broad, but it’s not so broad to take in FF.

    Plus, FF are corrupt – indeed any visitor to the Galway races knows they revel in it – and nobody decent would want to join them except out of complete desperation.

  • slug

    “Of course what people mean by a “non-nationalist Labour Party” is a unionist party”

    Since I used the term I wish to clarify that this is not the case.

  • CS Parnell

    Well, what then? NILP pre-1949? Well, that went well!

  • slug

    Also the term I used was ‘non-natioalist “Labour” option’.

    I think it would be valuable for people in Northern Ireland to have a non-nationalist “Labour” option when voting. There are imaginative inclusive ways for this to happen. The way the Green Party in NI has evolved is one option but there are also others.

  • JD

    “If the SDLP disappears and is replaced by a nonnationalist “Labour” option and a “nationalist” option then that is better for voters.

    Including this one who would welcome a non-nationalist left of centre voice.”
    __________________________________________

    I think that is how it will work itself through.

    Those that are “SDLP full stop” have historically worked with those of a Fianna Fail or Labour bent within the SDLP ranks. Now the Fianna Failers and Labourites have new options and the core SDLP have to re-align with this. My hunch is Fianna Fail’s critical mass will impress them more as a partner.
    ______________________________________________
    The PES argument is a totally irrelevant point but even it is a very, very broad church. With very right wing labour parties through to some very uncomfortable unreconstructed marxists.
    ____________________________________________

    I’m sure the SDLP would like to keep the PES link and maybe Fianna Fail would like to use this. Afterall Brain Cowen’s inspiration Sean Lemass used to call Fianna Fail Ireland’s Labour Party – maybe FF-SDLP will be a real realignment. That said if Irish Labour have a veto on this or Sinn Fein taking the SDLP’s place in the PES you can be sure they will use it

  • Thank you all for you comments to date. I wrote teh article from an SDLP perspective. Not that of any other party on these islands.

    I agree with many of the sentiments and am encouraged at the support and commitment to the SDLP’s principles which is being expressed. Constitutional nationalism, true modern republicanism and social democracy are totally compatible. It was after all Connolly who said the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland the cause of labour.

    My figures are based on the numbers of hands showing at conference for motions on this topic and I have witnessed several such votes, most recently at the last annual conference.

    Social justice is a big part of the SDLP and modern social democracy is the best way of ensuring it becomes a reality.

    The PES is indeed a broad church as is the SDLP. My point is that I do not know any members of the SDLP who are not proud to be Irish Social Democrats, new Irelanders and modern republicans.

  • slug

    I think Irish Labour would have a major part to play if the SDLP were to throw in their lot with FF. FF are not a left of centre party.

  • JD

    “A point that Conall doesn’t make is that all sorts of fools will rush into the gap left by the disappearence of the SDLP up FF’s back entry – namely the British Labour Party wannabes and the Irish Labour Party wannabes. All they will do is further fragment and destroy what little pro-European social democratic space there is in the North. ”

    ___________________________________________

    Would the Labour Parties not form a joint organisation in such a scenario? They’re not very dogmatic about the union or a united Ireland – I don’t see why they wouldn’t co-operate.

  • Stewart

    “The PES is indeed a broad church as is the SDLP. My point is that I do not know any members of the SDLP who are not proud to be Irish Social Democrats, new Irelanders and modern republicans. ”

    But is it not the case Fianna Fail is as broad a church and FF-SDLP could well fit into the PES just as many other new centre left parties in Europe formed by mergers of PES and non PES parties? Would that not advance the social democratic cause? It could be the basis of an enduring Fianna Fail-Labour all Ireland Social Democratic alliance

  • slug

    “Would the Labour Parties not form a joint organisation in such a scenario? They’re not very dogmatic about the union or a united Ireland – I don’t see why they wouldn’t co-operate.”

    In fact they are doing the opposite of rushing in. There are two groups of Labour members in NI and I suspect that they will want to join to create somethign exciting, united, inclusive, with labour values at its core.

  • DC

    “I agree with many of the sentiments and am encouraged at the support and commitment to the SDLP’s principles which is being expressed. Constitutional nationalism, true modern republicanism and social democracy are totally compatible. It was after all Connolly who said the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland the cause of labour.”

    Conal, you come across as the SDLP’s version of Alliance’s Ian Parsley except you argue that it can be all for one under the SDLP banner, even though democratic and factual electoral results prove the complete contrary. Especially that the SDLP has greened-out and is not socialist because of the rigid electoral base that is not fluid enough in its current state in order for policy to cross the divide. So there must be a reason for this and the indicators put the SDLP into the communal-zone.

  • The cause of labour may have been the cause of Ireland and vice versa in Connolly’s day, but that’s only the case now if you think Catholics are still discriminated against in the North by the state in a systematic way (the concept of the ethnocratic state) and that therefore it’s a matter of social justice that there should be a united Ireland. (This is different from discrimination by individuals) If this was still the case, it would of course be a matter for the international Labour movement as in other cases of social injustice, but interestingly Ireland doesn’t figure nowadays.

    I think the reality today is that the choice is between two neo-liberal states within the EU, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages, therefore currently there is no connection between Irish nationalism, as the redress for injustice for Catholics, and socialism, the redress for injustice for the working class.

    I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer from either Irish or UK nationalists about exactly how my interests as an ordinary working person would be inherently better served in either the UK or the Republic. A state is a state is a state.

    I wrote about all this last year:
    http://southbelfastdiary.blogspot.com/2007/07/democratic-socialism-in-northern.html

  • Jenny

    I think there is a sizeable difference between democratic socialism, now regarded as a lunatic fringe mentality, and social democratic politics as espoused by the SDLP in a European context.

    The former is, as you suggest, based on class warfare and the latter is based on the social conscience and is about taking care of the poor and the sick, old and children.

    The former assumes that some men are evil and the latter assumes that all human beings are essentially the same, with needs and wants, but are good at heart.

  • Garibaldy

    I think that the state to which one belongs is central to the international labour movement – by which Jenny means the descendants of the second international, who of course proved their attachment to the nation state by encouraging workers to join their national armies during WWI, and whose governments right up to this day see fit to interfere in other nations and which countries they belong to whenever it suits, most recently with the partition of Serbia.

    In terms of Ireland and the working class, the question as I see it goes to democracy. A state is a state is a state is overly simplistic. I’d rather really not have laws made for me by people whose only claim to political power is being descended from a robber baron. But you know, never let minor things like that stand in the way.

  • TkMaxx

    Conal
    Refers to the his accuracy of his claim as being recorded shows of hands at SDLP conferences. It’s rare to record a show of hands- unless its a matter affecting of constitution. Several motions on realignment have been withdrawn over the past nubmer of years or have been neutralised because they occur at private session on a Sunday and many delegates don’t attend. Even if they did attend in total – they are rarely mandated in the SDLP by their branches -and there is no way of recording if they were- and more importantly -at best an SDLP conference is 20% of the membership. If Conal’s assessment is a forecast- I hope he never becomes a bookmaker!

  • TkMaxx

    Meant to say – I guess Conal is being fairly inclusive in all those he knows within the SDLP -and their self definitions – its his percentages that are dodgy and as for social justice – a big plank of the catholic church- modern at least

  • Danny O’Connor

    The problem Conall with standing at a crossroads is that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there ,and if you stand there you will get hit by a truck.
    In the aftermath of the agreement, and all parties accepting the constitutional outworkings of it,there is a new political dynamic ,and a serious discussion with the southern parties is long overdue.If you are suggesting that we stand still and hope that everyone will see the error of their ways ,then I am afraid that the truck is approaching faster than you think.

  • Danny O’Connor

    ps.I reckon you are way off with your estimates too.

  • abucs

    Who would say that the SDLP has more in common and more to gain from an SDLP/SF merger rather than a SDLP/FF one ?

    An SDLP/SF merger would be a huge player both in NI and in any subsequant move southwards.

  • Briso

    Posted by Danny O’Connor on May 08, 2008 @ 02:34 AM
    ps.I reckon you are way off with your estimates too.

    I don’t know about the estimates with regard to the party membership, but I’m sure they’re WELL off with regard to SDLP electorate. I mean, why do SDLP voters, in Derry for example, not vote SF? Because SF aren’t left wing enough? Don’t think so.

    The day the SDLP stand against FF in Foyle is the day the sign their own death warrant. I’m sure they must know this.

    In addition, FF will get preferences from Unionists in even greater numbers than the SDLP, so I would expect SF to be hard hit too. I suspect the days of the Irish Government ‘rewarding’ SF for ending the campaign are coming to an end. Remember what Dermot Ahern said on H&M;(I can’t recall the exact words) about SF being a pure rival of FF.

  • hidehi

    john tomb o connell should take over from durkan. he has leadership qualities unrivalled in the occupied 6

  • hidehi

    Thanks.

    Briso

    I mean, why do SDLP voters, in Derry for example, not vote SF? Because SF aren’t left wing enough? Don’t think so.

    Because they don’t have a clue about politics, are still evolving from a killing machine, and are mainly quite thuggish still. Two SF MLAs are ex-soldiers for example.

  • URQUHART

    Mmm. Conall has been busy lately – both with this article and a greatly increased personal profile more generally.

    What is most striking about this fortnight article is the fact that he has abandoned what I had respected as a fairly rational argument and has now chosen to just make up figures. Claiming that a closer relationship with FF is favoured by just 20% of the SDLP is entirely disengenuous.

    His claim: “My figures are based on the numbers of hands showing at conference for motions on this topic and I have witnessed several such votes,

    most recently at the last annual conference

    .” will leave many of his colleagues with a very bad taste in their mouth.

  • stewart

    “They’ve already ruled that out. No FF people in Westminster, full stop. They won’t even contest the election and then boycott.”

    Now I am confused.
    _______________________________________________
    Its pretty straightforward. The options Fianna Fail Northern Committee are examining are:

    1. Do nothing
    2. Find a “Strategic Partner”
    3. Go it alone

    If they intended to do nothing they wouldn’t have set the committee up. They can’t replicate their structure in the South or contest Westminster elections – so that rules out points 1 & 3.
    Since Fianna Fail won’t contest Westminster elections they need a strategic partner. Dermot Ahern has repeatedly highlighted this option and Bertie’s speech at the FF-SDLP breakfast was in keeping with this. I accept the oath is a bigger issue for Fianna Fáil that many SDLP people think, but Fianna Fail can let the strategic partner take the oath without sullying their consciences. That may not be quite what Alisdair McDonnell wanted in his BBC Radio Ulster interview last year, but he can be linked to Fianna Fail and still go to Westminster (if he can hold his seat).

    There are SDLP people who will continue as SDLP people and I think a strategic partnership is how they will keep their Derry stronghold onside and keep most of the rest of the party together. How Fianna Fail entices some new hungry candidates onside in such a context I am unsure of.

    Conall McDevitt’s description of an SDLP is of a party that cannot neatly break into they southern party system. It is as he describes it a party of Fianna Failers and broad Social Democrats. Perhaps the SDLP should rebrand themselves “Fianna Fail-The Social Democratic Party” to reflect this reality. That way they can form a strategic partner to Fianna Fail and keep their link to other Social Democratic Parties.

  • PaddyReilly

    FF must seriously believe that Unification is only a few years away if they are determined to expand into the 6 counties.

    But what I feel is that no party which represents South Belfast can seriously be Socialist, and no party which represents West Belfast can be not Socialist. Whatever they may have persuaded themselves they stand for, SF stands the poorest section of society in NI, and the SDLP for the opposite.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Paddy Reilly
    Wise up man,the house prices in W Belfast are so high that people are moving to Crumlin and Randalstown for cheaper houses,Your logic must mean that S Antrim is poorer than W Belfast,so singing Willie must be more of a socialist than Gerry.
    Is there no poverty in sdlp represented Derry.

    Everyone knows that there is a “black economy” in the north and it benefits some areas more than others.
    A real test of poverty would not be how many kids get free school dinners,but rather how many homes don’t have sky tv,plasma screens etc…

  • PaddyReilly

    Danny O’Connor

    I refer you to our learned friend Sammy Morse’s pronouncement:

    http://sammymorse.livejournal.com/19579.html

    South Antrim is fourth or fifth in terms of wealth/poverty indeces: West Belfast is eighteenth i.e. bottom.

    Your logic must mean that S Antrim is poorer than W Belfast

    No, your logic. The Governments of the U.K. and Irish Republic have contrived to produce a false market in housing, so that houses sell for vastly more than what they are worth. This does not necessarily enrich the population: to some extent it impoverishes them.

    By the same logic, does the fact that Ballymena is/was the most expensive place in the UK to buy groceries or Colonsay the most expensive place to buy fuel mean that the inhabitants of this town and island are rolling in it?

  • Tirconnellobserver

    At the last GE in the Republic, FF gutted SF. Here in Donegal they got neither of their targeted seats, in fact FG got their seat back in DNE.
    Having destroyed the SF strategy of governing in both states on the island, why would FF offer them the opportunity of beating FF candidates in Northern Ireland?

    Also, having beaten SF electorally, it now looks like Cowan is going to steamroll them out of the culture/Gaeilge debate too. And fair play to him.

  • Danny O’Connor

    You miss the point entirely,It is about how poverty is measured.All thing are not factored in ,there is a separate economy that is being overlooked.
    Judge poverty by the amount of houses who cannot afford sky sports or plasma screens,there are people doing very nicely indeed who are getting their income supplemented by other means.
    Judge poverty by the amount of people who cannot afford to heat their homes or buy enough food.
    I am not suggesting that there is no poverty-just that you need to define how you measure it.

  • JD

    “FF must seriously believe that Unification is only a few years away if they are determined to expand into the 6 counties.”

    I wouldn’t go that far. They don’t want Sinn Fein to have a safe refuge North of the border. They don’t believe the SDLP are serious competitors for Sinn Fein and that they believe they have to re-organise non Sinn Fein northern nationalists.

    Fianna Fail want to play a role in the councils and assembly but not Westmintser. It isn’t a project about overtaking SF in the North, but stealing Sinn Fein’s objective of being in government North & South.

    A united Ireland is another days matter.

  • Brian Walker

    Extraordinary that almost the whole of this discussion amounts to a inward looking dialogue within the traditional bounds of nationalism. Not a Prod in sight. Linking up with Fianna Fail may be a great wheeze for trying to dish the Provos in the medium term. But it may draw FF into political debates where it may not wish to go, like for example the social justice ideal of defending the NHS free at the point of treatment which is likely to become a major part of the next stage of UK devolution and may well appeal to the NI nationalist electorate. This concept of a social justice guarantee conflicts with the mixed health economy of the south. Furthermore, there is the vexing matter of UK “national security” and its implications for Irish neutrality. Finally, will someone explain how the party merger debate advances any version of a shared future? These are just a few of the real policy issues that should be taken into account. There’s a big risk of turning the Fianna Fail issue into a 21st version of misty nationalism for the fourth green field, in a new form of form of escapism. They should spare us that.