Nationalism: If your vision is thwarted then it may be time to redraw your parameters…

If the first three years of this blog was largely about charting the crisis in Unionism, the last four have undoubtedly been and locating and examining the (corresponding?) crisis in Nationalism. It seems my mildly provocative piece suggesting that Gerry Adams find some way of making his position as leader of Sinn Fein contestable, even suggesting this may be the right moment to retire has brought a firm reply from the man himself, with one of his most focused posts on Leargas to date:

This activist has no intention of resigning. There is much to be done. As citizens face greater economic punishment at the hands of an incompetent Dublin government and as rejectionists in the north gear up for more negativity our duty is face the future with confidence and to stand up for decent politics, fairness and equality. And a reunited Ireland. That is what leadership is about. The time for republican politics is now.

Adams accepts there has been a back draft though, particularly in the south:

Sinn Féin certainly faces challenges. But that is what struggle is about and the party is debating the issues involved in an open and thorough way. I am absolutely confident that we will conclude that debate over the summer and face into what will be a winter of discontent in the wider political systems on this island, in a united and intelligent way.

The resignations of a small number of Sinn Féin councillors has also been seized upon by our detractors in a futile attempt to promote their flawed analysis. Sure these resignations are disappointing. But that’s politics. Those involved have their own reasons for resigning, mainly sited in local issues. That is their choice – the wrong choice in my view but that’s the way it goes and it’s hardly the end of Sinn Féin.

Niall O’Dowd also takes issue with my line of argument, and echoes some of those articulated in the original Slugger thread that:

Adams needs to stay for the future of Sinn Fein and the peace process. Right now there is a determined challenge from a hardline republican group to the peace process. Adams is needed, as always, to steady the grassroots and show the way forward.

And:

The fact is that with Eirigi and others like them around the peace deal is not yet cemented; the last nails have not been hammered in the coffin of the bad old days.
You only have to go back to this month’s marching season incidents to see how fraught it can become so quickly. The Sinn Fein leadership has navigated through far harder shoals than this but you never know what could cause the seams to start ripping apart. This is no time for Adams to go.

Adams promises product from his party’s internal review by the end of the summer. My own modest observation is that democratic renewal is tough for any party charged with holding the reigns of power. It is doubly, even triply tougher to launch a coherent political project which successfully straddles two jurisdictions, not least of two such differing and diverse polities as the Republic and the UK.

However the party manages it, Adams needs not simply to bring on new voices (he’s widely credited with his party’s strategy for bringing women in to senior roles) but to encourage, for a time at least, a diversity of thinking and ambitions for the future within, to give the party the licence to think outside the box it’s currently in, precisely so that it can successfully find a back out of it. And then, perhaps, to move resolutely in a single chosen direction regain some of the momentum the party has lost since June 2007.

That’s a tall order for a party that’s come from the hard place Sinn Fein has come from, and where in many ways it still resides…

I’ve no easy answers. Except to say that this morning one of my work colleague mentioned (in a completely different context) a particular quote from a book by the English born conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander and his wife (I think) Rosamund, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. In it they note that if your vision for the future is thwarted, then it is best to withdraw and ‘redraw your parameters’ (the readers’ reviews – pros and cons – are here)…

Given that no particular branch of nationalism is exactly flourishing at the moment, that might be fair advice for nationalist parties at large, and not simply Sinn Fein…

  • Greenflag

    guest ,

    ‘you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow.’

    Really ? Machiavelli was of course pre Stalin, Hitler ,and Kim Il Sung etc all who combined and one who still combines good arms with non inevitable/inevitable certifiably insane i.e not good laws ?

  • Guest

    Greenflag,

    As stated above in response to Dave,I disagree with the classical realism of Machiavelli, and it is the basis of his argument.Maybe Dave is machiavelli, and lines up his toy soldiers every night , marching them along the road to great war.His political philosophy is Newtonian and Neo-conservative.He wants everything to stop.And for everything to remain just as it is, because he’s afraid of the future.

  • Greenflag

    guest,

    Fair enough but there is some truth in Machiavelli’s dictums just as there is in Marx’s analysis and just as there is in some tenets of the neo conservative ‘creed’ . My favoured ‘solution’ for NI i.e a fair repartition is in a sense Newtonian 😉 . You line up the histories , the visibles , the recent and not so recent political histories of both sides and their respective sovereign backers , the economic arguments , the religious biases and the geographical and demographic spread of population and you just line up all the dots and presto not a perfect solution but as near as possible in an imperfect world where life was/is notably unfair for many and more than fair for a few and lethal for poverty stricken billions .

    Human beings are not perfect creatures anyway -there is none . Why then should our political solutions wait for the ‘perfect ‘ to somehow materialise from the imperfect ? There is nobody claiming that the current Assembly is perfect not even it’s most vocifereous backers .

    Opposition to the very idea of ‘repartition’ ranges all the way from -it can’t work- it’s been tried and failed already – a UI is on the way anyway etc and then there are a few defenders of the ‘unionist ‘ minority in the south and west of the province who claim that hundreds of years of their place and position in the UK is all that matters and then there are the 50% plus 1 crowd.

    Attitudinal changes take a long time to be fully absorbed by the the body politic as well as by individuals . Sometimes it appears as if there is no change and yet beneath the visible surface movement takes place and then there is a period where direction is uncertain and then perhaps by reason of circumstance or sheer random chance a new departure in a particular direction seems not only possible but desirable .

    Case in point being President Obama . Two years ago had you asked any African American ‘would there be an African American elected President of the USA with a 10 million vote majority ‘ they’d have said ‘not this century’ Had whites or other ethnics been asked the same question their replies would have been similar . And then it happened . It happened because the groundwork for it to happen had been laid down decades ago in the Civil Rights reform Acts and in many court cases . And it happened because of the juxtaposition of certain political and economic circumstances . An incompetent administration – an unpopular President -an economy in turmoil and even the opposition to Obama within the Democratic Party was seen to be (sorry Hilary ) the same old faces with not a lot of new on offer)

    And so it may be with NI .The great passion has died down bar a few small groups and within the body politic ‘quantum’ (dare I say it) changes are taking place . They may or may not lead to a UI or to Repartition or to some changed form of what presently exists but the ‘future ‘ is coming one way or another .

  • otto

    “Opposition to the very idea of ‘repartition’ ranges all the way from -it can’t work- it’s been tried and failed already – a UI is on the way anyway etc and then there are a few defenders of the ‘unionist ’ minority in the south and west of the province who claim that hundreds of years of their place and position in the UK is all that matters and then there are the 50% plus 1 crowd.”

    I’ll add another objection Greenflag. The more secure protestant people are in their numerical superiority, the more open they are to liberal ideas and the less they cling to right wing defensiveness. North Down is our most prod heavy constituency. At the euros the non-aligned Alliance Party look to have taken 20% of the first preference vote and the Green candidate was/is a Bangor man.

    Our all-Ireland Green Party has its only MLA here.

    So if you’re applying a utilitarian “greatest aggregate happiness” kind of approach to your partitioning idea, by leaving out the regions of greatest protestant domination you may capture those mid-Ulster prods most threatened and upset by the potential ascendency of their republican neighbours and lose those happy and self-satisfied east-Ulster prods most comfortable with the idea of potential reunion with Wicklow’s seaside towns, South Dublin and Malahide

    I’ve a feeling it’ll be all or nothing.

  • Guest

    Greenflag,
    re re-partition.
    Lots of truth in what you say but I think it would result in further enclaves of very unhappy minorities.Would you propose the new to be drawn on a county basis,council basis or Crazy boundary commission,lets get out a pencil and do the ouija board basis.There would have to be an organised displacement of large numbers of unionists and republicans.It just cannot fly in the same sense that republicans cannot be convinced to move to the 26 counties nor the unionists to Britain.The trouble is in the land as much as between the people.We only have to look at the marching issue to see the problems of any such Newtonian dissection.Otto has made some other points along the same lines.

    The rest of your post is(honestly) in rhyme with much of my thinking on political change.
    Especially this paragraph.
    “Attitudinal changes take a long time to be fully absorbed by the the body politic as well as by individuals . Sometimes it appears as if there is no change and yet beneath the visible surface movement takes place and then there is a period where direction is uncertain and then perhaps by reason of circumstance or sheer random chance a new departure in a particular direction seems not only possible but desirable .”

    If we can keep the quantum mechanic theme going for a little more, let’s say that change seems to resemble the electron that is everywhere and nowhere before being anywhere.A more common metaphor would be breaking point or boiling point.
    Obama is indeed a case in point.
    And sure why not keep the quote theme going aswell-

    “Most people think that there are only two are three big things that ever happen to them throughout life.They are probably right.But those two or three things are happening to them all their lives.”

    .

    Either way, like you say, the future is coming.

  • Greenflag

    otto ,

    ‘The more secure protestant people are in their numerical superiority, the more open they are to liberal ideas and the less they cling to right wing defensiveness’

    That doesn’t just apply to ‘protestant’ people -it’s a universal phenomenon amongs all kinds of ‘us’ and ‘them’ situations . When Belfast had a 10% Catholic minority the United Irishmen (predominantly protestant) were the most ‘liberal ‘of all people on this island .

    However much depends on the type of society in which people live and the ‘economic ‘ stressors on communities . The relative ‘liberality’ of your North Down’s and Malahide’s versus the ‘relative ‘ illiberality of say North Armaghhas more to do with their releative economic affluence than their ‘religious ‘ denomination -as well as t

    The ‘trick’ of course has to be to stop people seeing each other as them or us or reduce the political significance of such divisions and that is a difficult task to accomplish in NI given it’s local history.

    ‘I’ve a feeling it’ll be all or nothing.’

    You may be right as certainly there does not seem to be any build up of political pressure for ‘repartion’ among any of the Unionist parties and for it to work that’s probably where it would have to come from .

    I guess just as Newtonian ‘physics ‘ has it’s limitations so too has ‘newtonian ‘ political solutions 😉

  • Greenflag

    otto ,

    ‘The more secure protestant people are in their numerical superiority, the more open they are to liberal ideas and the less they cling to right wing defensiveness’

    That doesn’t just apply to ‘protestant’ people -it’s a universal phenomenon amongs all kinds of ‘us’ and ‘them’ situations . When Belfast had a 10% Catholic minority the United Irishmen (predominantly protestant) were the most ‘liberal ‘of all people on this island .

    However much depends on the type of society in which people live and the ‘economic ‘ stressors on communities . The relative ‘liberality’ of your North Down’s and Malahide’s versus the ‘relative ‘ illiberality of say North Armaghhas more to do with their releative economic affluence than their ‘religious ‘ denomination -as well as t

    The ‘trick’ of course has to be to stop people seeing each other as them or us or reduce the political significance of such divisions and that is a difficult task to accomplish in NI given it’s local history.

    ‘I’ve a feeling it’ll be all or nothing.’

    You may be right as certainly there does not seem to be any build up of political pressure for ‘repartion’ among any of the Unionist parties and for it to work that’s probably where it would have to come from .

    I guess just as Newtonian ‘physics ‘ has it’s limitations so too has ‘newtonian ‘ political solutions 😉

  • Greenflag

    Guest ,

    ‘But those two or three things are happening to them all their lives.”’

    I know of two – one is death and the other is taxes ;)?

    .