The question Ritchie and McGlone must answer: What is the SDLP for?

On Twitter last night Eamonn quoted Martin McGuinness’s quip that the SDLP and the UUs are now the grumpy parties. Certainly his own ‘firm’ has more politicians who pass the fabled beer test than perhaps any other party in Northern Ireland. But I am not sure I would describe the mood at the Slieve Donard last weekend as grumpy. It was, in fact, a party of two quite discernible camps and, by Sunday afternoon, they were both in quite different moods.There were 420 delegates, each of whom cast their votes on behalf of ten other members. I think I heard someone suggest that there were just five people who got away without voting. Unsurprising since they were being watched like hawks by both camps.

It was the party’s first open election, a rare event for any of Northern Ireland’s political parties. And in the case of the SDLP it may prove to have been a kill or cure event.

As well as energizing the party’s activists, it gave younger members jobs and a level of responsibility they would rarely get in the normal run of things. All before a general election in which they are likely to be on the defensive, getting people back on the front foot may prove the difference between getting their three MPs home safely, or not.

The cheers that greeted Margaret Ritchie were pretty ecstatic from those near the front of the hall. Amongst those towards the back the losing team, by contrast, were stunned and silent.

Ritchie’s winning margin was clear enough to be beyond dispute. But it was close enough to raise the possibility that the party’s strength might further diminish through pointless internal politicking over what are for the SDLP right now, utterly inconsequential matters.

In truth, the party is too small to sustain a split. Either a functional or dysfunctional one. The new leadership cannot afford to indulge in abstract differentiation over issues that in the short term have little bearing on the party’s future.

Their scope for further action is pretty limited. But future success depends on two things: winning people back from Sinn Fein; and energising their own stay at home base. Alan in Belfast noted the killer line in Alisdair McDonnell’s speech:

“We have drifted for too long, allowed ourselves to be taken for granted for too long and we have tolerated analysis and further analysis of analysis, in place of action for too long.”

The party’s broadcast from Friday night is a classic case of the nebulous and untranslated ‘overthink’ the party has indulged itself in during the last twelve years which has seen party support decline from 22% to 15% of the vote.

For all that this was a well organised, well managed conference it was, like last year, all about the past. Durkan’s speech was by many accounts the best of his career, but it had people asking why the hell wasn’t he still leading then? It also had the effect of showing up the limitations of the leading contenders.

And most importantly, it robbed Ritchie of the opportunity put what the new SDLP might stand for into the brightly lit, media friendly shop window of the conference. Instead, it raises questions of whether in fact this is a new leadership.

Subsequent events like the manhandling of the party’s first female leader up the stairs at Stormont by her own special advisor on Monday do nothing to subdue such speculation, no matter however unfounded it might be. Margaret must find a way to articulate her own voice beyond those of her no doubt well intentioned advisors and coaches.

So far as I could tell, much of the resentment on the McDonnell side related to the exclusion of their man as Durkan’s deputy. As a Derry Belfast partnership it was as dysfunctional as the relationship between McGuinness and Adams has been a success. That’s a plenary indulgence no party can sustain: least of all one as small and down on its luck as the SDLP.

In Margaret Ritchie and Patsy McGlone, the leadership has passed to two rural politicians, both of whom are much less well known to the party than any of their predecessors: much as you might expect of any party in serious long term decline. Much will depend on their ability to put together a credible fight back.

Ritchie has a good name with unionists for her efforts at outreach and reputation for not shirking a fight, even with the odds stacked against her. McGlone’s inaugural speech as deputy showed a grasp of the need for the kind of simple and positivist narrative which the party desperately needs.

Durkan’s six month long procession into retirement now leaves the new team only a few short months to prepare an agreed message for an April or May Westminster election. After the party conference there are few predictable opportunities for the party to grab the media’s attention in the next few months. Realistically, the Assembly elections next year will be their first big test.

Between now and then, they must keep it simple and talk some honest sense. John Hume, with his single transferable speeches, was a past master of a skill that almost completely deserted his successor.

Although Nationalists generally may not like the way Sinn Fein is treated by unionists, there also is a degree of disgruntlement at the way Sinn Fein have been serially outwitted by the DUP. Three years after being frozen out of the St Andrews Agreement (by SF/DUP), the SDLP are now in a strong position to criticise SF’s abysmal record in Government.

Both factions of the party do agree on one thing. They have been far too nice to their opponents for too long. It remains to be seen whether the fragmentation of the Durkan years continues, or whether the party can coalesce under a renewed nationalist focus.

Above all, they must quit asking rhetorical questions about what the electorate want and provide instead a few coherent and consistent answers on why the SDLP still matters to ordinary people.

Mark Durkan was given a picture of the Craigavon bridge in Derry, which, he quipped on Sunday, was an ‘order’ from the party to go back to Foyle and stay there. That’s good advice. Without an immediate repair to those rapidly degrading internal bridges, the party may gradually disappear in two or three election cycles.

Over the next eighteen months, between them, Ritchie and McGlone have a chance to shape a viable future for the party by making a dignified but focused appeal to the enlightened self interest of the nationalist electorate.

In that task they don’t need any back seat drivers trying to grab the wheel and insisting on taking them back down that obscure bog road they’ve been stuck in for the last twelve years.

,

  • David Crookes

    Yes, it’s a very different world now for the SDLP. Senator Kennedy accepted a knighthood from the Queen before he died, there’s no SDLP hotline to the USA any more, and there won’t even be an SDLP dFM in the White House on 17 March. Then there’s Europe.

    I can understand those SDLP members who complain that when Adams & Co. at Hume’s behest beat their swords into ploughshares, the first thing they did was plough the SDLP into the ground.

    It’ll be hard for Margaret Ritchie. If you’re going to make a dent in the opposition, you need to have an identity of your own. The SDLP troops are still there, and willing to fight, but they’ll need good generalship from now on.

  • They need to get McGlone out into the spotlight more and more to create a series of consistent talking points that the public and press can latch onto. And at the same time, they need to reign in some of the existing spokesmen (mostly male) so that they stop firing in all directions.

  • Henry94

    For Margaret Ritchie doing the same things better isn’t going to work. If the SDLP disappeared tomorrow its place in history is assured and it has certainly done the people some service. But what now is the question.

    It has flirted with FF, thought about the UU but I think it should look at Sinn Fein. Implementing the agreement and representing nationalists is what both parties do. Why not merge? Sinn Fein need to be dragged towards respectability and the SDLP need to be dragged toward relevance. Each has what the other needs.

  • Driftwood

    To (slightly)paraphrase Michael Henchard at the end of ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’:

    “That the electorate of Northern Ireland be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me. “& that I be not bury’d in consecrated ground. “& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell. “& that nobody is wished to see my dead body. “& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral. “& that no flours be planted on my grave, “& that no man remember me. “To this I put my name.

  • joeCanuck

    when Adams & Co. at Hume’s behest beat their swords into ploughshares, the first thing they did was plough the SDLP into the ground.

    Brilliant, David.

  • “when Adams & Co. at Hume’s behest beat their swords into ploughshares”

    I thought Hume was a mere hanger-on in the so called peace process, David. The Redemptorists and the British and Irish establishments will IMO have been far more important.

  • Mick Fealty

    Henry,

    If *this* doesn’t work, I can’t see many other ways.

    But that contains real challenges for SF’s current rigid system of democratic centralism. The kind of people they need to achieve that (careerists in the insider parlance), won’t touch them as things stand.

    Nationalism needs to set up cluster of ‘good behaviour’ to show its efficacy.

  • Mick, SF got to where it is on the back of bad behaviour and with the acquiescence of London and Dublin; goodness didn’t come into it, the good nationalists lost.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I did think it rather odd that the the outgoing leader was allowed to steal so much of the limelight, espically so close to an election, the new leader needs all the publicity she can get.

    Mick,

    “Nationalism needs to set up cluster of ‘good behaviour’ to show its efficacy. ”

    eh? speak english boy!

  • David Crookes

    Yes, Nevin: as the old Chinese proverb says, ‘Nothing in Derry is ever what it seems to be.’ When a man has grown old, he may be tempted by the prospect of a well-defined place in history: and while believing himself to be the principal agent of change, he may in fact be acting as the agent of principals who are much more subtle than himself.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Its odd that the SDLP with its track record of advocating PEACE provokes such negative reaction. Cue the usual SF bloggers with their hilarious “stoops” jibe. cue DUP types who complain that SDLP brought SF into the process. Cue UUP types who complain about sectarian SDLP. Cue the ragbag assembly of “socialists” who want a link up with the Labour Party.
    And even cue the alliance types who never actually advocated change from the days of the New Ulster Movement but only ever took up positions on quangos with David Ford about to get the juiciest quango of all.

    Cue accusations that I am a “stoop” (a juvenile playground word).
    Really if Mick Fealty asks the question wht is the SLp for?…it shows a blind disregard for their proven track record.
    Of course a more balanced question would be where does the SDLP go next. But typically the chosen question is taunting rather than a search for information.

    The biggest problem is the “quality” of the public representation.pale shadows of the original eight (6 Stormont MPs and 2 senators) who were the original men (it was always men in early 1970s).
    A look at the 16 MLAs is not impressive.
    1 Ritchie…..a leader……lightweight
    2 McGlone…..deputy……under rated.
    3 Durkan……semi retirement who presided over Humes legacy
    4 McDonnell…..diminished by failure and likely to lose South Belfast
    5 Magennis…semi detached and I suspect one eye on Chief Justice but happily back in front line as Justice nominee.
    6 Attwood traduced by SF in West Belfast
    7 O’Loan hopefully able to step up to higher profile now that his wife is lower profile
    8, 9, 10, 11
    Dallat, Gallagher, Mary Bradley, Ramsey……party veterans and constituency types
    12 Pj Bradley…..er who?
    13 Dolores Kelly……nice but no Brid Rogers
    14 Conall McDevitt…..oh look hes young!
    15 Tommy Burns…..the man the party did not want in South Antrim (have the wounds healed)
    16 Dominic Bradley…..they didnt see him as front runner in Newry Armagh.

    Theyve lost Hume, Mallon, Rogers,Lewsley Carmel hanna and Denis Haughey and SHOULD have lost McGrady a selfish and pro Ritchie move to stay on. I bet the McDonnell camp loves him.
    And they couldnt get N McClellnad, Marietta Farrell and Ms Haughey elected.

  • RobertNoonan

    A Middle Class Party.It did not learn the lessons of history.it Could re buld , but it would need to root out it Middle Class, They stink

  • Drumlins Rock

    You have it the wrong way round Robert, they do seem to be a middle class party, so stop pretending they arent and be happy as a middle class nationalist party.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Although Nationalists generally may not like the way Sinn Fein is treated by unionists, there also is a degree of disgruntlement at the way Sinn Fein have been serially outwitted by the DUP. Three years after being frozen out of the St Andrews Agreement (by SF/DUP), the SDLP are now in a strong position to criticise SF’s abysmal record in Government.

    Mick
    Good points.

    The SDLP have taken a major step backwards this weekend. They’ve chosen the wrong leader to get them back on the road to relevance, and the party could quickly become mired in a poisonous bout of internal feuding as post-election disgruntlement with Ritchie’s lack of leadership skills begins to hit home.

    Meanwhile, the realisation that the SDLP will continue to pose no threat to Sinn Fein for the forseeable future will only discourage republicans from taking the bold and radical measures necessary to transform Sinn Fein into a party fit for purpose in the new era.

    I’m afraid it’s been a bad weekend for Irish nationalist politics.

  • Henry94

    Mick

    But that contains real challenges for SF’s current rigid system of democratic centralism.

    Absolutely. Democratic centralism must die.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, You’re right, we got no answer to the killer question. I dipped into the BBC videostream and was pretty horrified. McGuinness was kind. Instead of ” grumpy” he might have called them “whingeing” which is nastier but truer. McDonnell and Ritchie were asked the same questions in turn. McDonnell waffled on about wonderful members and telling the truth – but the truth about what, Alasdair? We weren’t told. The uncommitted voter had nothing to go on. He seemed exhausted.

    Ritchie was a bit more substantial. But she sounded weak about the SDLP exclusion from the Justice portfolio and being asked to sort out the rest of the St Andrews agenda with Reg at the last minute. ” I only learned about it this morning” is a poor line from a would-be party leader. Her complaint that SF was excluding “fellow nationalists” from Justice was woefully sectarian and conceded SF’s supremacy.

    The SDLP will never break through by playing mini-me to SF. The only available direction is to go seriously cross community, social democratic, building tactical alliances and seeking policy agreements, while fleshing out a more widely appealing vision of an Agreed Ireland than the dubious calculations of SF’s numbers game.

    To start with last week, why didn’t Ritchie turn the negatives she complained of at Hillsborough into positives? Insist on standing for Justice with an impeccable cross community, fair minded appeal and a detailed penal policy fleshed out by Alex Attwood and others? On the St Andrews agenda, reiterate a HR policy and develop the “process” on the language, removing the republican brand and specifically drawing on Welsh parallels to parry unionist objections? Pobal and Maurice Hayes would be only too happy to oblige with a brief if the SDLP still needs one at this advanced stage.

    Indeed, Mark was full of policy – too full – and that has always been both his strength and his weakness. He never could weave the list into a convincing strategy. Perhaps he feels he can’t afford to admit he flourishes in the wider Westminster agenda of pensions and welfare, the wider economy and foreign affairs for fear of being jeered at as a latter day John Redmond or Uncle Tom.

    Can Ritchie focus up and lead? Others will better judge her natural authority with colleagues. Whether by accident or not I don’t know, but she revealed the glimmer of a strategy when she touched on a shared future.

    “Shared future” versus SF’s “Separate but Equal” is a dividing line that could be built on. Treat it as the litmus test for your whole approach and see what you come up with.

    A shared future doesn’t mean just pleasing Prods. Try applying to breaking the 11 plus deadlock for instance. The political deadlock is unionist v nationalist but the real life problem is rebellion by grammar schools across the divide and the total impotence of the Assembly. The situation is made for the techniques of modern government, a cross community initiative involving local options, planning transparency and consultation, bipartisanship in the Assembly and importing structural ideas, probably from England.

    Applying a shared future test to the full range of policy and politics could get the SDLP somewhere. But is there any sign of it?

  • J Kelly

    It will be horrific TV to watch when Margaret is faced with live tv audiences and other party leaders. Who wants to bet that she doesn’t do them and lets Durkan or McDonnell in.

  • Banjaxed

    Mick’s comment ‘SF’s current rigid system of democratic centralism’ illustrates precisely why the SDLP with its present custom and practice will never be acceptable to to the SF ranks, as Henry94 advocated above. From its inception the SDLP have always operated as a party in name only. Its Westminster MPs behaved as if they each had their own feifdom. Fitt was a loose cannon, Hume a 32 county republican, McGrady a McGrady loyalist and Mallon was perceived as a Fine Gael partitionist.

    While constitutionally it declared itself to be an Irish Nationalist/Republican party, very little, if any, lip service was given to this aspiration – except, one time, when McGrady’s seat was threatened by boundary changs, he ‘wrapped the green flag round’ him – as did Alastair McDonnell in a recent unusual display of nationalism. The party therefore never did speak with one voice and although the former leaders could give voice to whatever was in their mind at the time, any central policy was more or less ignored by the other MPs who just got on with tending their own furrows.

    Why then would such a strictly controlled party as SF, almost Stalin-like in its centrally driven objectives, admit, as it were, a shoal of freestyle swimmers who only occasionally stick to the referee’s rules by staying in their lanes? And, alternatively, would SDLP MPs and MLAs be happy to put their salaries and expenses into a central fund to be doled out at the whim of a central treasurer?

    While I realise that ‘never’ is a word never (!) to be used in politics, I really think that a merger of this sort is pure fantasy. The question therefore remains valid, ‘What is the SDLP for?’ I’m fkd if I know.

    But I do know that the present setup of a DUP/SF oligarchy badly needs an effective opposition,

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Typically Mr Walker believes using a phrase like “fellow nationalists” is woefully sectarian.But being a unionist I suppose isnt sectarian.
    I understand Mr Walker is a unionist.

  • Mick Fealty

    Chris,

    Bang on. I know people think I was raving, but the split character of unionism at the moment is an indication of healthy engagement. The opposite is the case in nationalism.

    Brian,

    That is just one possible point of departure. The ‘good behaviour’ point I was making relates to competent handling of policy as much as anything relating to the sectarian divide.

    Henry,

    On your UU point, the truth is this: Unionist and Nationalist politicians are compelled to work together. It’s a case of whether you plan for government before you go in, or after. Or indeed whether you are committed to doing politics or using the good offices of the old colonial master to manage your poor relationships for you, or you do it yourself.

  • John O’Connell

    The SDLP have taken a major step backwards this weekend. They’ve chosen the wrong leader to get them back on the road to relevance,

    I firmly believe that other factors are at play in the SDLP. Do they know something that the other parties don’t know, per chance?

    In any case, how can any reasonable person vote Sinn Fein if they realise that the only thing that lies ahead is a Bosnia with a repartioned North emerging?

    The SDLP are an honest party designed for its own objectives, not Sinn Fein’s war in politics. The SDLP is doing well at the moment with all parties trying to be social democratic consensus builders rather than live up to their manifesto billings as nation builders or destroyers or whatever.

  • Henry94

    Banjaxed

    Why then would such a strictly controlled party as SF, almost Stalin-like in its centrally driven objectives, admit, as it were, a shoal of freestyle swimmers who only occasionally stick to the referee’s rules by staying in their lanes? And, alternatively, would SDLP MPs and MLAs be happy to put their salaries and expenses into a central fund to be doled out at the whim of a central treasurer?

    Because both models are badly flawed. Unity talks would allow each party to ditch some of its baggage and create a 32 county democratic party run from the bottom up. Sinn Fein has a big problem in the south. It has hit the ceiling previously hit by the Worker’s Party. That’s as far as you can get with Democratic Centralism which stifles the talented.

    The SDLP has a big problem in the north as nobody see a future for them of knows what the point of them is. If we stay on our present course the SDLP will fade away in the north and Sinn Fein will fade away in the south.

  • Mick Fealty

    Brian,

    In fact I would not blame either Alisdair or Margaret to much for that obvious lack of an answer for that. This was Durkan’s hand over gig, not a ‘hail the succession’ gig.

    Actually on the point of telling the truth, I think telling the truth about almost anything would be a good start.

    – Truth about the need for education reform.

    – Truth that political unification with the south is uncertain, but can only be brought about by strong leadership and hard work.

    – Truth that in many non constitutional respects, Catholics and Protestants have enough in common for a broad range of actions.

    And so on. I suspect people would react better than people expect to something approximating what they themselves understand to be the truth.

    It’s my view too that they have simply become too detached from the concerns of real people. The answer to the question what is the SDLP for should not be worked up to fit those concerns, but if the party cannot find some functional response from within its own character then it is as good as gone already.

  • Marcionite

    I agree with Brian Walker’s assessment. There is only way to win a game and that’s by winning. Not like against SF.

    There are however, 2 ways of not losing.

    1- By not playing at all. This is not an option however.

    2 – Playing a different game. SDLP will never overtake SF. Like the board game Risk, once your star is one the decline, there is only a long slow death awaiting as you see your opponents slowly and cruelly, chomp at your territories.

    The SDLP need to stop talking about a United Ireland. This only spooks Unionists and makes them flee to empty Unionist parties whose only policy is to keep the Union but dont have a vision on how to improve life within that Union.

    The SDLP need to cut the nationalist talk and start helping making the NI state work functionally by officially denouncing nationalism as a main plank (or any plank for that matter) and talk to left leaning unionists and Alliance types to create a new Social Democratic Party.

    Leave the executive and set up as Opposition and declare themselves as Non-Aligned.Such an NI-SDP could be a real non sectarian alternative to the Frankenstein Government we have at present.

    This would give the DUP a lifeboat as the poison of the thought of voluntary coalition could now be excised once and for all.

    The TUV would be outflanked and normal right/left politics could germinate. SF would be left in the cold. It would prove their mettle as democrats in NI if their adherence to non violence is only predicated on being in power.

    As I said before, the idea of a united Ireland will only be entertained when the memories of blood and terror fade into history and when people want it because it would make social and economic sense. Until then, lets make NI work functionally but making it work as Irish men/women of the north-east of Ireland controlling as much of our affairs as possible.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Banjaxed is right that Nationalism needs TWO powerful parties and the balance at the moment SF are in the driving seat.
    The problem they both have is that there dont like each other very much.
    Both think it was “us wot won it”.
    Try telling a SDLP person that they have to some extent benefitted from the violence and they get angry.
    Try telling a SF person that they owe something to SDLP and they get angry.
    Point is that nationalist people are where they are because of BOTH.
    Even unionists know that. Not saying it is right or wrong.
    And go to any postcard shop in Belfast and note the Bobby Sands mural that “Everyone Republican or othwise has their own part to play”
    For the narrow calculation of political advance SDLP has to be more “green” targetting “soft” SF votes but also resisting the nonsense of the middle ground.
    Those of us familiar with the 1960s will remember that nationalism/republicanism was marginalised and only partly constitutional. The political consensus has moved.
    Those calling themselves moderate unionists or non-sectarian unionists had their chance…Phelim O’Neill, Basil McIvor, Ann Dickson, Richard Ferguson, Robin Bailey have all come and gone.

  • Henry94

    The SDLP need to stop talking about a United Ireland. This only spooks Unionists and makes them flee to empty Unionist parties whose only policy is to keep the Union but dont have a vision on how to improve life within that Union.

    They flirted with post-nationalism before and it was not well received. Your plan involves abandoning their current support in compete with the Alliance party.

    FitzJames

    Nationalism needs TWO powerful parties

    It may have when they had very different approaches. But why now?

  • John O’Connell

    Henry94

    If we stay on our present course the SDLP will fade away in the north and Sinn Fein will fade away in the south.

    This would suit most SDLP people, I’m sure. The thought of saving the south from Sinn Fein is paramount in the minds of true lovers of Ireland. I can assure you that there will never be a union of Sinn Fein and the SDLP. There is too much baggage and too much distrust.

    The difference between the SDLP and Sinn Fein is the difference between the New and Old Testaments, between going forward and going back, between idealism and political muscle.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr O’Connell,
    my point and possibly Henrys would be that nationalism benefitted from idealism and political muscle (although perhaps “political muscle” is a euphenism)

  • John O’Connell

    Fitz

    I never ride two horses, only one white one.

    Nationalism, like the Bible, has a good side and an evil side, and really we need to choose the good side, as we are doing increasingly, in order to arrive at peace.

  • Nationalism needs TWO powerful parties

    It may have when they had very different approaches. But why now?

    Because a) the electorate need a choice, and b) the politicians need to know fear. The old Stormont system where there was essentially one Unionist party and one Nationalist party meant that all politicians needed to do to get re-elected was wrap themselves in the appropriate flag. The current system of parallel elections, one Unionist and one Nationalist, is at least a small improvement. Going back to Unionist unity and Nationalist unity is just that: going back.

  • Drumlins Rock

    how about we merge the UUP, SDLP, & Alliance, park the border issue for now, contest an election or two and then split the party into a centre left and centre right pary, the Left can have some ties with New Labour and FF, and the right with the Tories and FG, perfect eh? dont know why no-one has thought of this before, lol.

  • Mick Fealty

    Spot on with your point b). Not paralysing fear, just enough to keep them on their toes and innovative.

    One of the most worrying things about this settlement is the reduction of people outside the system to the term ‘dissident’. A term most associated with the Soviet era.

    Opposition is good. The system needs a genuine alternative if it is not to choke on its own inconsistencies.

  • You have it the wrong way round Robert, they do seem to be a middle class party, so stop pretending they arent and be happy as a middle class nationalist party.

    Posted by Drumlins Rock

    Drumlins,

    Your correct in that the SDLP was once a party of the nationalist middle class, but their problem today is that part of the electorate historically does not cling to the centre ground as some ‘nice’ middle class people like to pretend, what they cling to is a winner.

    We witnessed that in England with their support for Thatcher and then Blair, or going back even further the middle class support Hitlers nazi party received which enabled them to gain power. In all three examples a sizeable section of the middle class moved from support for one party to what they correctly perceived as a stronger party, which was more likely to win power.

    The same has happened in the north where a section of the unionist middle class migration from the UU to the DUP, incidentally GD typifies just how opportunist this class is politically.

    I see no reason why at this time the nationalist middle classes will move from SF to the SDLP, so long as the shiners continue to cry up the PSNI, tout on a friend.

    Henry

    With the SDLP on the ropes in the north and a nonentity in the south, I cannot see any reason why SF would wish to get into bed with them, what could they bring to the table which SF cannot take from them for free?

  • Henry94

    Mickhall

    With the SDLP on the ropes in the north and a nonentity in the south, I cannot see any reason why SF would wish to get into bed with them, what could they bring to the table which SF cannot take from them for free?

    That is the most likely outcome in the north but SF’s big problem is in the south. They need to demonstrate an ability to move beyond their traditional base and start to challenge Fianna Fail. Embracing the SDLP in the north would go down very well in the south.

    Mick

    One of the most worrying things about this settlement is the reduction of people outside the system to the term ‘dissident’. A term most associated with the Soviet era.

    The dissidents in the Soviet Union were heros and I agree it is a shame to see a nobel word associated with ignoble deeds. But the TUV are not called dissidents. They have taken the path of legitimate political opposition. There is nothing to stop people on the nationalist side taking the same approach.

  • Mick Fealty

    Neither are people like Anthony McIntyre. The attempt to delegitimise discontent goes more broadly than paramilitaries.

  • Scaramoosh

    Their problem, as pointed out by Gerry Fitt, is that they are a nationalist party rather than a social democratic party. They came into existence to offer nationalists an alternative to
    IRA voilence and now that that violence has stopped the party has become anachronistic. The most basic market research will tell them that there is no way back in their current guise.

    Their only hope is to become a true social democratic party, with little emphasis being put on the Catholic and border issues.

    One suspects, however, that a leopard cannot change its spots.

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, You’re o right about truth telling. But poor Alasdair never spelt anything out. If he had made a cathartic speech with your list of truths, might he have won? He would have deserved to. The fact that he didn’t means he himself fudged the truth.

    Ther fact is, generalised talk about political positioning can only go so far. These NI parties are looking up the wrong end of the telescope.
    They would find it a relief to get down to the specifics of tangible spending priorities and real problem solving. Very soon, there’ll be less British money to spend.

    Right now,they are trying to establish “community confidence” – perhaps not entirely cynically – on the totemic issues first. This can only increase suspicion and distrust. Each main party feels it is owed by its opposite number. But if they concentrated on programme for govenment issues using problem-solving techniques as described, a platform could be built on which to base community confidence. The evidence suggests the public ( remember them?) might even be appreciative. If they fail do that, we can all see fresh deal breakers within a year – 50:50, the collapse of any Justice deal when the present interim deal runs out and a battle for a
    ” voluntary coalition” after next year’s election.

    What keeps them at it in this mode? The fact that they pay no electoral penalty for normal governmental failure. Sadly, communal political warfare is still their comfort zone. At Hillsborough were they losing sleep over failing to agree or from fear of being denounced by theuir own cohorts? To govern in the public interest, we are forced to rely on their sense of civic respobibility.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    I think that’s a useful perspective Brian and I have no clear answer either. Other than pointing again at McGlone’s speech, who unlike the other two knew he was going to be Deputy leader at the end of the conference. It was a little long, but it had some good passages:

    “…we are seeing the failed violence of the past turning into a failed politics for the future.

    “Threatening the stability of the Assembly threatens people’s TRUST in politics working. That approach will not deliver a united future regardless of the shape of the institutions.

    “Our future is together. Because a separate future is not a just and equal future.

    “When I listen to people on the street, or in shops, they may have a brief chat or a yarn about the latest standoff between Sinn fein and the DUP, but you can see when the issue they are talking about really matters to them.

    “When we talk about the bread and butter issues they are our roads, your houses, your son or daughters planning applications, your kids education issues, your parents problems with health treatment, your families social security benefits. It is the need for each and every one of us to know that from dawn to dusk our families and friends are safe.”

  • FitzjamesHorse

    heres a touching naive aspect about unionism (which its adherents believe is not sectarian but nationalism is) that in (I believe) Terence O’Neills words “give a Catholic a house and a job and he becomes a unionist”.

    To the chagrin of unionists it doesnt actually work like that. All the way to the SDLP Conference or the Deputy First Ministers Office.

    DrumlinRocks suggestion that “We” merge the SDLP UUP and AP…..does not seem to be something in “our” gift”.
    Its something the three Parties would have to do.
    But SDLP dont actually want that.
    Which is a pity for “us”….apparently

  • joeCanuck

    we need to choose the good side, as we are doing increasingly

    John,
    Do you have any evidence for that or are you just indulging in wishful thinking?

  • John O’Connell

    Joe

    There is evidence in the nature of consensus building politics rather than in the confrontational politics of the past. But you’re right. Some of it might just be down to wishful thinking because we’re dealing with SF and DUP.

  • Scaramoosh

    Any party that cannot rid itself of its religious and nationalistic/unionist cloak, but yet talks in terms of inclusiveness is mired in a cloud of ideological schizophrenia.

  • joeCanuck

    Scaramoosh,
    Hard to argue with that. So, if you don’t want to be part of that you are left in N.I. only with support for the Alliance Party?

  • PaddyReilly

    While the SDLP does not, these days, receive as many votes as SF, talk of its demise is mere piffle. 2004 Euro elections 15.9%, 2009 16.2%. No sign of a drop whatsoever: in fact a slight rise.

    What also helps is that the SDLP attracts 2nd preference votes: SF does not, except perhaps a number from the Green Party. So the SDLP wins seats where SF would fail, abysmally. 2 of the 3 types of election in NI are PR, and even in the third, Westminster elections, the SDLP has done quite well. It has not been wiped out in the way the UUP was by the DUP.

    The SDLP need to stop talking about a United Ireland.

    Like it needs a hole in the head. Seems like a good way to lose all your Nationalist voters while not gaining a single Unionist 1st pref vote.

    The SDLP’s platform, and one that has proved moderately successful for them, is 1) We are in favour of a United Ireland 2) We are not in favour of using violence to achieve this aim.

    Since the time SF disassociated itself from the use of violence clause 2) is not as powerful as it used to be. I think the philosophy now is more on the lines of “We are against violence and we were thus even when this stance was neither popular not profitable.” This is rather resting on your laurels. It is also not entirely true, because there are elements from the Official IRA in the SDLP membership. As time progresses whether you stopped fighting in 1972 or 1994 isn’t really significant any more. A major part of the electorate weren’t born in 1972 and weren’t aware of what was happening in 1994.

  • st etienne

    what is sf, uup, dup, alliance ‘for’?

  • Mick Fealty

    Paddy, the trend is downward. Cllr Martin Morgan and high profile MLA Alban Maguinness and a much more committed campaign account for a slight push upward in the percentage between those two years. The real damage is indicated by the 12.1% Morgan lost from Hume’s 1999 total.

    Otherwise you are describing a persistent vegetative state rather than a viable passport into the future Paddy.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Andrew Gallagher
    Spot on @ 5;33pm! Competition and a plurality of voices championing Irish unity is required.

    Brian Walker & Marcionite
    I don’t think pretending not to be an Irish nationalist is a winning strategy if one ultimately desires to attain the objective of Irish unity.

    The suggestion that nationalists should be deviously scheming to promote Irish unity behind the scenes whilst publicly disavowing such intentions is a strategy I’d hope few would adopt as it is fundamentally dishonest.

    No, what is required from any nominally Irish nationalist party- SF or SDLP- is a commitment to honestly pursue their aspirations for such unity whilst fulfilling their commitments to work the institutions agreed under the GFA.

    Furthermore, the key for nationalist parties- and also unionist parties- will be to show in an open and upfront manner that their preferred constitutional vision articulated for the long term is one which can comfortably accomodate the various elements of the ‘other’ tradition (political, cultural, social etc.) something that obviously needs to be proved in the more immediate term to begin developing the trust and support to convince others to either actively support the Irish nationalist/ unionist vision, or at least be moved to a stance which is not overly concerned either way about the constitutional question.

    That remains a formidable challenge for all parties, nationalist and unionist. The fact that the two nationalist parties have long since acknowledged that this will require meeting- and accepting- the unionist community for what it is actually puts them some distance ahead of the unionist bloc, which is just beginning to think about finding a place for ‘catholics,’ never mind taking the steps to accomodate Irish nationalists within their vision (and, Mick, that last point is why you remain ‘raving’ for considering the current messy state of intra-unionist discourse as healthy :> .)

  • FitzjamesHorse

    “This is rather resting on your laurels. It is also not entirely true, because there are elements from the Official IRA in the SDLP membership”…Paddy Reilly

    This is a very odd thing to say.

  • Alias

    There is no difference between the SDLP and SF on the increasingly irrelevant constitutional issue, so the only differences are internal to NI and are relevant to snob politics and ‘sectarian’ division. I say ‘snob’ politics rather than (working) class politics because both parties are nominally on the left. And I say ‘nominally’ because SF supports a right-wing government program that the SDLP would never support. So, although SF is theoretically on the left, they are in practice on the right.

    Why then would working class voters vote for a party that is implementing a right-wing agenda rather than vote for a party that remains closer to its socialist values? Probably because the SDLP are seen being on the side of the middle-class, and the working-class (or non-working benefit class) are very snobby towards social groups that are more successful than they are. I suppose the SDLP might be able to use Ritchie’s ‘ordinary’ persona to get across to those SF voters that they have voted for a party that is as close to being a socialist party as the Tories, and that if they actually have socialist beliefs then they should act accordingly and vote for a socialist party.

    However, having several professionals in the party need not be an insurmountable obstacle, since they could always point out that while having no formal education might be good for one’s pseudo-socialist street cred it isn’t a help when it comes to affairs of state – or dealing with a canny operator like Peter Robinson. But then again, they tried the “we’re more able than they are” spiel and it didn’t work. But perhaps they can try it with more practical demonstrations and less implicit arrogance and obvious electioneering?

    That just leaves the ‘sectarian’ issue. Folks are going to vote according to which party delivers the most for their tribe and impedes the delivery of the other tribe’s wish-list. Again, this is best delivered with subtle use of intellect but it can also be delivered by brute force, threats and belligerence. SF are seen to excel at the latter methods, so when the other tribe is seen as impeding the delivery of the other tribe’s wish-list, then the voters might feel that they need some thugs in there to put some manners on the other tribe. This is where it is hard to see how the ‘weak’ Ritchie could be seen by the voters as being able to do “brute force, threats and belligerence” better than the macho men in SF. She just can’t win there, alas. To be honest and at the risk of being called a sexist, I think they made a fatal mistake by appointing a woman in this context. NI politics is still very macho, and you have to know your market. At any rate, showing willingness to compromise is not good politics if the market doesn’t want that product.

    Now it is not impossible in the long run that that the macho dynamic will become less important as internal political issues come to the fore, and that good ideas and good policies related to them will win over more voters if the SDLP can generate these and get media coverage for them. They need to come up with plenty of good ideas here that everybody irrespective of any division is concerned about – related to job creation, health care, education, etc. They should also get a USP that is not attainable to the competition, such as an alliance with The Labour Party in Ireland – they should not touch FF without a 90 mile bargepole and only then to prod them off a cliff.

    But I really don’t have any faith in that party. If it was a company, I’d call in the liquidator. As Henry94 said, they should merge with the Shinners. Then you have dominant party and more united social group – plus, of course, the title of FM.

  • [i]This is a very odd thing to say.[/i]

    I think Democratic Left members were instructed to join the SDLP in Northern Ireland and Labour in the Republic when the party folded. Whether any actually joined the SDLP is another question. There is a prominent councillor, though, who came from Official Republicanism. There must be a few more but I’m not aware of them.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I am only aware of one…..perhaps the same one.
    There was a degree of entryism in 1973 when a “sticky” was actually selected as a candidate. He had been an internee and his story was that he had been picked up wrongly.
    I have alluded to the fact before that the two great working class heroes of SDLP ism (well heroes in the minds of journos and QUB academics) had what I describe as a coterie or inner circle who were not actually members of SDLP.

    But even accepting this and the one person that we both know ….it stretches things to say that there are “elements of Official IRA within SDLP”.

    Most northern stickies came via Republican Clubs, Gardiner Place, Workers Party, Democratic Left to a lonely station in life far removed from reality.

  • PaddyReilly

    Paddy, the trend is downward.

    Don’t try speculating on currency, Mick. Downward trends can be a long time coming. The (British) Liberal Party should have disappeared by 1930 but there is no sign of that actually happening yet.

    There was a turn of the millennium readjustment whereby SF and DUP swopped places with SDLP and UUP in popularity stakes, but since about 2003 there has been absolutely no visible growth or decline in the vote of three of those parties, SF, SDLP and UUP, despite an incredible amount of hype in respect of the last of these.

    There is only one story in NI politics so far this millennium and that is the rise of the DUP at the expense of the TUV.

    The electoral system at Stormont will keep all these parties alive where Westminster type elections would wipe the smaller parties out.

    I expect that South Antrim will at the next election return one each of SF, SDLP, Alliance, UCUNF, DUP, TUV. Perhaps I should formulate a law of politics that parties will inevitably fragment to (almost) the maximum extent the electoral system will allow them to do.

  • Dunumian

    what the SDLP stands for in Ritchie and Mc Glone’s set up is holding onto their jobs and the gravy train
    and to hell with the people on the ground
    the SDLP represents whats in it for me
    the working class may kiss my ass i have a MLA’s job at last

  • Dunumian

    con merchants

  • Spot on @ 5;33pm! Competition and a plurality of voices championing Irish unity is required.

    Thanks, Chris. But I’m with Marcionite – MLAs of all stripes need to shut up about the border. The sole right to determine sovereignty lies with the people, and the power to call a border poll lies with the SOS. MLAs have no more influence on the matter than the QUB student union debating society.

    Every time a political party mentions the border, they instantly alienate half their potential electorate. The party that can find a form of words that lets them sidestep the issue, thereby doubling their potential vote, will go somewhere.

  • PaddyReilly

    Every time a political party mentions the border, they instantly alienate half their potential electorate. The party that can find a form of words that lets them sidestep the issue, thereby doubling their potential vote, will go somewhere.

    That would explain the incredible success of the Alliance Party. Put it this way, every time a political party fails to mention the border, they instantly alienate 95% of their potential electorate. It helps to identify your potential following and stick with them.

  • It is absolutely right that the question is not ‘what is the SDLP for’ but rather where are they going and what does the future hold. They exist, and so by definition they have a function and a role in NI politics.

    Ritchie’s approach to the Justice Ministry makes clear what the next few years is going to be about. She says nationalists shouldn’t be excluded from consideration for the post. But the issue is whether d’Hondt should be applied or not – if unionists were next in line would she be advocating they take it instead of Allaince, on that basis? I think not.

    So we are in for a few years of the old agenda – competing with Sinn Fein for 48% or so of the NI vote, a continuation of tribal politics. As the SDLP are not as good at this as SF, they will continue to decline. However, at some point self-preservation will kick in and a group will come up with a new agenda, which hopefully will be based more building cross-community appeal for democratic socialist politics. this is when serious discussions with one or more Labour parties will begin.

    The alternative is that the SDLP will fade away, but I think they have too much of a critical mass for that.

  • Scaramoosh

    Paddy

    A United Ireland, in the context of the existing political landscape, is an emotional aspiration.

    Any party that ties it sails to a United Ireland mast is one-dimensional; self-serving; myopic.

    Change is possible, as perhaps best demonstrated by the German Social Democratic Party under Willy Brandt. Brandt moved his party towards accepting postwar geopolitical divisions, and won himself a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971.

    John Hume won himself a Nobel Prize, spoke of our divided society, and set in motion a system of government that effectively locks in sectarianism, and that ensured that his own party would be forever lost in the political wilderness.

    There has to be something more to politics than simply preaching to the converted. The SDLP remains in bondage to the Catholic psyche and its emotional aspirations. It’s only unique selling point is that it is the “Good Catholic” party. It makes no attempt to seek cross-community support;

    “It helps to identify your potential following and stick with them.”

    The impasse, status quo and bad government that we currently have, will not be broken, unless the converted are prepared to accept radical change and reinvent themselves. That this will not happen, is down to the fact that the party is incapable of throwing of the Catholic Church.

    Just for the record, do you happen to know how many of the leading members of the SDLP are affiliated to secret Catholic organisations such as Opus Dei, the Catenians, The Knights of Columbus etc; etc??

    It would seem only fair, in that we are quick to ridicule the Unionist population for its membership of the Orange Order and the Masonic Lodges, that such matters are disclosed. For only then might we gain an understanding of the forces that are really behind the divided society.

    From my own perspective, the appointment of Margaret Ritchie is akin to putting a new coat of paint on a sinking ship, whilst forgetting to fix the leak.

  • That would explain the incredible success of the Alliance Party.

    Oh come on, the Alliance Party are just as border-obsessed as the rest of them. Waffle and fudge are not a solution.

  • Mick Fealty

    Good points Jenny and Scara. A clever SDLP leadership has to take account of the national preference amongst their current electorate and seek to build on that by engaging with the wider public interest.

    So that when they go on the attack, as they must if they are to raise themselves out of their current hole, they must provide practical alternatives in education, public finance and healthcare.

    To be fair to Durkan, he has done some of these things, but they’ve not been connected to the party’s general strategic pitch.

    I think they could do well with toning down the exclusive and obsessive emphasis on the removal of the border as a nasty medicine that will do unionists a lot of good that predominates SF’s treatment of the issue.

    They should shift instead to pointing out why it is important that communications the Food Standard Agencies on both sides of the border NEED to be talking to each other, in order to handle important contingencies like the Dioxin scare.

    In doing so however they can also point to the sheer amateurism in the way Sinn Fein handle their ministerial briefs and how the irresponsible job sharing within the party leads to a lack of individual responsibility with a resultant lack of strategic focus in how they do their jobs inside government.

    They cannot and should not try to follow the Alliance party in that respect. If you sky rocket expectations of a future UI, you get two outcomes: the frenetic determination to serially f*** over Unionist partners in government, and a flaking off of people into the dissident Republican paramilitaries.

    The SDLP has to stand for a different more realistic way of achieving what all of those groups want. And then to prosecute their arguments directly to them.

    But in order to make headway they need to draw ‘blood’ from their political opponents. How else are ordinary voters supposed to know they still exist? Being the prissy, middle class, we’re nationalists but we wouldn’t hurt a fly party will not register in normal person’s calculations.

  • Banjaxed

    I am honestly at a loss to understand why several contributors to this thread think that either by toning down or not mentioning an aspiration of a united Ireland the SDLP might appeal to a wider electoral base – presumably meaning Protestants of a soft ‘u’ unionism who would like to bridge the sectarian divide or Alliance-type Catholics of a similar conviction. Is not the aspiration towards the unification of this island enshrined in law and, as such, it remains a perfectly valid political philosophy. Regrettably, while the politics of the North has always been mired in sectarianism, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you either have to be a Prod to be a unionist or a Taig to be a republican. Mind you, the meetings behind closed (Orange) doors of the various unionist parties, in addition to the Conservative Party’s machinations, would tend to contradict the former of my speculative points.

    Nonetheless, why should an aspiration put anyone off either voting for, or becoming a member, of a party which espouses a particular principal? You either agree or disagree. AFAIK, neither SF nor SDLP advocates sectarianism as a principal – obviously, past deeds of SF’s militant fellow travellers flag up a different perception – but I’m thinking of the ‘Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter’ tradition. As a matter of fact, I would strongly suggest that both parties would have damp knickers at the very thought of increasing their votes accross the board. If it therefore says on the tin, ‘We would like to see this island united. All are welcome’. What the hell is wrong with that? Nobody’s hiding anything and, as long as peaceful means are employed, why should it bother anyone, from whatever creed, with a similar philosophy? If you don’t accept it, don’t vote for them.

    Perhaps, in a comparable friendly gesture and as per Basil Faulty, unionists shouldn’t mention the union! (Thinks: Not another tortuous set of name-change acronyms).

  • Scaramoosh

    “I am honestly at a loss to understand why several contributors to this thread think that either by toning down or not mentioning an aspiration of a united Ireland the SDLP might appeal to a wider electoral base.”

    The ship is sinking, and one would have thought that survival was paramount.

  • Banjaxed

    ‘The ship is sinking, and one would have thought that survival was paramount’.

    I understand that perfectly, Scara, but it doesn’t answer the questions I posed.

    If you are suggesting that the SDLP completely abandons one of their founding tenets and becomes another version of the Alliance Party (already declared social democrats in their alignment with the Lib Dems) then the thread question ‘What are the SDLP for’ becomes even more relevant. How could you tell the difference? Not only would they sink but they’d sink without trace.

  • Brian Walker

    Banjaxed, “I am honestly at a loss to understand why several contributors to this thread think that either by toning down or not mentioning an aspiration of a united Ireland the SDLP might appeal to a wider electoral base.”

    My answer is: I think you misunderstand. As Mick explains above, the politics of accommodation requires compromise not surrender. Unity might be better described as a process not a principle. Put community relations first and put pragmatic arguments for integration which can win support. I agree it’s a risky strategy to tell the truth about unity by consent. The consolation is that it’s not so far from the SDLP’s actual behaviour, just that they prefer to fudge when it comes to addressing it directly. I can offer you a paradox about unionists. The trouble with saving the Union is that you need unionists to do it. And with friends like these…

  • st etienne

    The trouble with saving the Union is that you need unionists to do it.
    Highlighting your self-centred nationalist thought stream there Walker – the basic reality is that to change the union you need not just non-unionists, but to get these non-unionists to actively support a separatist agenda.

    The belief that ‘unity’ between people who do not seek it (avg man in the st. north or south) is more important than the unity that people are demanding (between the two polar opposites in NI) is one of the inherent heel dragging exercises nationalism in NI needs to get rid of before we can actually move on.

  • Banjaxed

    Brian, ‘the politics of accommodation requires compromise not surrender’.

    I fear we may be entering into the land where pedants do dwell! What else is a compromise other than an agreed fudge? If the SDLP fudge it, fine, they are not screaming it from the rooftops. It remains an aspiration and if people understand that, so what? Therefore, if by disguising, fudging, compromising, not mentioning or toning it down, I must ask again, what would the SDLP gain and why should anyone vote for them that the Alliance doesn’t already offer?

    In relation to your (cross) community relations argument, I have to confess that I don’t buy into it. For this to work, and for people to fully trust them, I feel that the SDLP would almost certainly have to declare a total decommissioning of nationalist/republican thinking. A ‘surrender’, as it were! So, back to Alliance Lite and ‘Why should anyone….’.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    I dont get why SDLP (or indeed anyone else) needs to “compromise”.
    If it believes in a united Ireland, then pursue it.
    Unionists are longing for a group of Catholics who are….well unionists. The only Catholics that most unionists have any time for are Catholic unionists……like John Gorman. And er………well er did I mention John Gorman?.

    On the other hand Brian Walker thinks that when the SDLP refers to “fellow nationalists”….they are sectarian.
    Well shame on them.
    Compromise (giving up your identity) is not compromise at all. The tragedy or farce of the Good Friday or Hillsborough arrangements is that compromise is confused with merely splitting the difference between two opposing points of view.

    Some people might claim that 2 plus 2 is six. It is not compromise to split the difference and call it FIVE.

    Likewise on say the issue of the PSNI (for example)….
    it is not legitimate for unionist negotiators to say “we compromised on a fair and impartial police service” because it is a RIGHT. It demands no recipocracy.
    Likewise there is no real way the Parades issue can be a compromise. Allowing some and not others wont work. Someone has to actually say this “side” has more right that that “side”.

    It would be great for unionist strategy if they could find or invent a Catholic unionist party.
    There is none to find. Catholics are nationalist/republican and frankly nothing that has happened over 90 years or the last 40 years will convince them otherwise.
    As has been shown at Hatfield, even “nice” unionists are incapable of change. They are not going to re-inent themselves either.

  • Mark McGregor

    I can’t see how a party as damaged electoraly and in public perception, as the SDLP would increase its chances of survival/growth by abandoning or parking the desire for a United Ireland.

    Both they and SF have agreed that for them a United Ireland can only be attained after the consent of a majority of people in the north is freely given. That may seem an almost impossible task as it essentially involves converting Unionists to Nationalism or a concerted campaign to breed their way to victory but the SDLP unlike SF have articulated a semi-plausible road towards that goal.

    SF’s policy of separate but equal or the ‘equality agenda’ will never grow support for unity beyond those who already want it. The SDLP policy of supporting a ‘shared future’ and breaking down community barriers has some outside chance to create space for people to shift across ideological barriers. Admittedly it also creates the space for nationalists to go the opposite direction.

    Having the strongest or loudest voice on unity is worthless if the strategy underpinning it is unformed, wrong or counterproductive. Managing to articulate a strategy that balances current realities with long-term aspiration could see moderate constitutional nationalism position itself as a better bet than those with a battering ram approach. If constitutionalism is the name of the Stormont game, having a plan of some sorts, even one unlikely to succeed, is a better selling point than having none or one that is clearly destined to fail.

    Though in my view both are destined to fail on unity and Stormont has fully demonstrated the futility of reformism for people wanting radical change.

  • PaddyReilly

    Just for the record, do you happen to know how many of the leading members of the SDLP are affiliated to secret Catholic organisations such as Opus Dei, the Catenians, The Knights of Columbus etc; etc??

    Well I can answer this one easily enough: none. No SDLP members belong to secret Catholic societies, because there are no secret Catholic societies, because the Catholic Church does not allow secret societies, even the Catholic Church.

    In the otherwise similar Orthodox Church it is possible to be a secret Orthodox Christian, a status many availed of under Ottoman rule, but in the Catholic Church you were obliged to make a public profession of your faith or you were not held to be Catholic- even when to do so would lead to your financial ruin, under the Elizabethan or Cromwellian persecutions.

    Back in the 70s an Englishman asked me why (NI) Catholics couldn’t adopt English sounding names so as to escape discrimination. The answer was I suppose, in order to hear the cock crow with a good conscience.

  • ardmaj55

    The natural lifetime of a political party is decided by events on the ground, not necessarily by an arbitary declaration of intent to go on forever. The SDLP pushed aside the old Nationalist Party of Eddie McAteer when they formed in 1970. The circumstances of the time made it inevitable. It was logical therefore that in the late eighties when the civil rights issue was , for the most part done and dusted, that things moved beyond them. Wilson said he resisigned in 1976 because he decided that problems kept coming up to which his ideas didn’t change enough to meet and deal with them.
    The SDLP’s natural time is over.

  • Brian Walker

    “On the other hand Brian Walker thinks that when the SDLP refers to “fellow nationalists”….they are sectarian.”

    I’m glad you reminded me to address this fitz.
    Its’ not about referring to “fellow nationalists.” My objection is that Ms Ritchie expected SF to support the SDLP just because they’re both nationalist. Better us lot than the “other” guy on the side, even though we contest the communal vote. That is sectarian. In spades. What’s more, it didn’t work. A lesson perhaps that non-sectarianism might pay if you try it?

  • Wabbits

    Word is that Margaret Ritchie will be panelist on Question Time tonight after it was pointed out to BBC people that the balance of the panle was looking a bit,well,unbalanced and too pro Union and Brit.

    So this will be her first big outing. Will be interesting to see how and if she cuts the mustard and if she has a nice frock on.

  • Banjaxed:

    What else is a compromise other than an agreed fudge?

    Compromise is transparent; fudge is opaque?

    Horse:

    If it believes in a united Ireland, then pursue it.

    But at what cost? I believe in legalisation of marijuana. Am I going to start a political party with this as its declared primary aim? Am I going to make it my shibboleth, mention it in every speech, no matter how irrelevant? The electorate would soon get rightly sick of me. The constitutional issue is no different.

    To understand the SDLP, one has only to read Tennessee Williams’s “The Catastrophe of Success”. The GFA handed them everything they ever wanted on a plate, and now they have no purpose except being Not Sinn Fein.

  • [i]Just for the record, do you happen to know how many of the leading members of the SDLP are affiliated to secret Catholic organisations such as Opus Dei, the Catenians, The Knights of Columbus etc; etc?[/i]

    I doubt any but how would we know? They are secret! 😉 Quite a few senior Sinn Féin members, however, were for a long time members of a secretive Catholic organisation…

  • Banjaxed

    Fitz_JH has nailed it. The SDLP is NOT a unionist party. Asking them to compromise on their bottom line is like asking them to blow their ship up rather than let it sink. Cui Bono? Bloody sure not them!

    In response to Andrew G., ‘Am I going to make it my shibboleth, mention it in every speech, no matter how irrelevant’? — I’d like a penny for the number of times in this past year I’d heard any of them even breathing it aloud. I wouldn’t have enough to buy a pint.

    Let it be their aspiration and get on with your lives.

  • Scaramoosh

    Paddy

    It is also the case that the Catholic Church is morally opposed to contraception and orgasmic acts outside of the context of marital intercourse!

    But kk; let’s for the sake of argument call them quasi-secret 😉

    In Paddy Devlin’s autobiography “Straight Left” p.137-140, we find the following discussion of the political movements of the Knights at the beginning of the troubles:

    “What I learned from a friendly Catholic lawyer was that Hume had been at a meeting in Donegal designed to form a Catholic national party. .. What surprised me was that none of our group [the group which later became the SDLP] were invited to come to the meeting or were even involved with it, which we had heard later, had been attended by middle class Catholics, mainly from Derry. I could smell that the Knights of Columbanus were involved.”

    Then, there is this allegation that John Hume is a member of Opus Dei;

    “GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
    Secret talks between the British government and the IRA, with the SDLP leader John Hume (a member of Opus Dei) as sponsor and broker, led the IRA to a ceasefire in August 1994. Though it broke down for a while in Britain — Canary Wharf and the centre of Manchester were blasted — the ceasefire has held continually for nearly 11 years in Northern Ireland.”

    There are many other rumours concerning present members of the SDLP, and these organisations.

    If it is the case that senior members of the SDLP are involved in these quasi-secret organisations, could/would we honestly expect the party to want to move away from it’s traditional base??

  • DerTer

    FJH
    You say “Catholics are nationalist/republican and frankly nothing that has happened over 90 years or the last 40 years will convince them otherwise.” Apart from the sheer arrogance of that claim, could I remind you of a fact that nationalists generally choose to ignore; as Garrett Fitzgerald reminded us last year, opinion polls have shown with remarkable consistency over the years that a 30% minority of Catholics in NI want to remain within the UK. “With 44 per cent of the [total NI] population Catholic, and with virtually no Protestant interest in joining a united Ireland, this suggests that when today’s children become voters around the year 2025, support for a united Ireland could still be below one-third…”
    You’re also ignoring people like me, who if asked would offer no opinion. Because so long as the majority of my fellow NI citizens (or subjects if you will!) want to remain in the UK, then that’s OK with me; if a majority decided tomorrow that they wanted to be part of an independent united Ireland, then that would be perfectly OK with me too. In short I don’t care, and this mainly because caring seems to demand the abandonment of one’s critical faculties – as regular readers of Slugger will know only too well.
    This is perhaps why Brian’s excellent original post and the contributions that have followed contain a lot of stuff in and around the SDLP – to paraphrase – ‘not going on about the border’. I go with that, while wishing new leader MR well in the huge task she has taken on.

  • Scaramoosh

    DerTer

    Well said.

    The sometimes 30 – 40% of people who do not vote in N.Ireland’s, are seldom represented here on Slugger. Indeed, the fact that many intelligent people simply to do not care one way or the other is often treated as though it were a Sacrilege.

    If somebody, who was not tainted by a zealous belief in God, not weighed down by Clientelism, and not suffering from the superiority complex that afflicts the Alliance Party, had the wherewithal to put together a party that embraced political secularisation through laying stress upon economic issues, it is just possible that we could all move along together, to wherever the future may take us.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Ah Scaramoosh.
    If only half of those who praise Paddy Devlin had actually met the man.
    A legend in his own lunchtime.
    Much praised by the usual suspects……academics at QUB, journos of course and liberal minded guilt ridden Labour types in England who read the Guardian.
    Perhaps a prophet in his own land is not appreciated.
    Or perhaps those who knew the man……er knew the man.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Ah Der Ter.those legendary OPINION POLLS in the Belfast Telegraph.
    Providing comfort for unionists for years.
    You do realise of course that if an opinion poll asked people if they washed their hands after using the toilet…most would say that they do.

    Yet an opinion poll claiming 99% doing this would not readily be accepted by those in the medical profession.
    The point has been made 44% of population is Catholic…..and ACTUAL polls suggest this is only a couple of percentage points above those voting for Nationalist/Republican parties.

    I cannot of course speak for those who DONT vote. But then again neither can you.

  • Scaramoosh,

    I too have read Straight Left and come across that passage but if you read Austin Currie’s autobiography he make direct reference to that allegation is very insistent that it was a fiction. I do not know who to believe but quoting Paddy Devlin, as much as I have great admiration for the man, does not make something a fact.

  • Scaramoosh

    Fitz and Nine

    If you read what I said, I was neither praising Paddy Devlin nor seeking to put him forward as a paragon of virtue. I was merely seeking to to open a can of worms, which, might just perhaps explain why it is that the SDLP is so scared of the middle ground.

    Perhaps some members of the SDLP would be prepared to come on and discuss their connections with the Kinights. Where is John when you need him??

  • [i]If you read what I said, I was neither praising Paddy Devlin nor seeking to put him forward as a paragon of virtue. I was merely seeking to to open a can of worms, which, might just perhaps explain why it is that the SDLP is so scared of the middle ground.[/i]

    I did read what you said. I didn’t suggest you were passing judgement on Devlin one way or the other. The point I was making was the simple and more limited one that the only time that allegation has been raised has been in Straight Left, and it has been contested by Currie. So it’s just one man’s word against another’s.

    [i]Perhaps some members of the SDLP would be prepared to come on and discuss their connections with the Kinights[/i]

    Why don’t you ask them if they have stopped beating their wives while you are at?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Its odd that the SDLP with its track record of advocating PEACE provokes such negative reaction.

    Rejecting the all-party Brooke talks in favour of courting SF is probably the reason for that.

    Cue the usual SF bloggers with their hilarious “stoops” jibe. cue DUP types who complain that SDLP brought SF into the process. Cue UUP types who complain about sectarian SDLP.

    Like I said before, “Stoops” is a bit out of date. We all know it really means “Still Don’t Like Prods”. How many non-Catholic SDLP elected representatives or candidates are there ? There’s no point in calling the UUP sectarian if it has no Catholics in it (which I do and I’m sure a lot of Stoops do), if we can’t apply the same yardstick to the Stoopologists.

    And even cue the alliance types who never actually advocated change from the days of the New Ulster Movement but only ever took up positions on quangos with David Ford about to get the juiciest quango of all.

    You’re absolutely right. Please keep reminding the public about how the SDLP weren’t able to obtain cross-community support for the justice ministry, and how it is likely that Alliance will. Saves the rest of us a job.

    Try telling a SDLP person that they have to some extent benefitted from the violence and they get angry.

    Quite justified. Hume used Sinn Fein and the IRA ceasefire to make himself the man who created peace in Ireland. He shafted his own party in the process, and then quickly deserted it as soon as it began to sink. If I was an SDLP member of course I’d be pissed.

    Try telling a SF person that they owe something to SDLP and they get angry.

    Quite right as well. SF’s success didn’t come solely on the back of the IRA ceasefire. It mostly comes on the back of a well-motivated volunteer base which is led by some of the most skilled election managers around. The SDLP doesn’t have a motivated volunteer base, and it doesn’t have skilled election managers. It sat back for 20 years and relied on the sectarian imperative to deliver it votes, which it duly did until SF began to up their game. I mean, Alban Maginness, I’m told, genuinely believed that he could win a second nationalist seat in the European election. I have nothing against the man but he clearly doesn’t understand elementary PR/STV.

    Hume’s only contribution to SF was to make it easier for middle class nationalists to support them and help enable the British to be seen talking to them.

    The point has been made 44% of population is Catholic….

    No, it isn’t. The 2001 census says it’s 40.26% Catholic.

    and ACTUAL polls suggest this is only a couple of percentage points above those voting for Nationalist/Republican parties.

    I’d be interested to see which ones.

    I cannot of course speak for those who DONT vote. But then again neither can you.

    You just tried to, with the 44% thing.

    Drumlin’s Rock:

    how about we merge the UUP, SDLP, & Alliance,

    You want me to merge with the political wing of the Orange Order on one hand, and the “wrap me in a tricolour” middle class Catholic party on the other ? No way.

    How many more UCUNF-style failures are going to have to happen before people realize that you can’t just cut-and-shut political parties together ?

    park the border issue for now,

    Who said it wasn’t parked ? Why are we still talking about it ?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    WEll actually no Comrade Stalin.
    I merely point out that the Catholic unionists are a myth.
    I certainly accept taht the census says 40.26%..this being what people DECLARE themselves to be. But equally you will know …..or should know that in Norn Iron its about perception.(prmary school attended….you might even have had to fill in a form for such monitoring purposes)

    I merely accepted the previous 44% from another b;ogger but will just as happily accept 40% …..which is interesting that the ACTUAL POLLS show.
    According to the CAIN site 41.8% and 41.2% voted republican/nationalist (and in Assembly a few other Republican %) in 2005 and 2007.
    Does this mean that my 42% is innacurate.
    Sounds about right.
    We are left with different scenarios.
    1 that republicans/nationalists are more likely to vote.,,,as 40% turns to 42%
    2 but as Catholics vote for your beloved AP ( assume say half of AP total…..say 4%)
    then 46% of those voting are “Catholic” which is way in access of the 40% census.

    Where are the Catholic unionists.
    Even YOUR party (sniffing a job of course) is NEUTRAL or “agnostic”.

  • PaddyReilly

    The 2001 census says it’s 40.26% Catholic.

    And in the 1999 Euro Elections 45.4% of the electorate voted for SF and the SDLP. And 2.1% for Alliance.

    Going by your statistics you’d think that the SDLP have already attracted a significant proportion of the Protestant vote.

    I can click through my Facebook Friends and their friends through quite a swathe of West Belfast and Crumlin, none of whom are what you might call Prods, but I have yet to find anyone who lists their religious views as Catholic. Clapton is God, Patafarian, outright hatred of religion are evidenced.

    It depends what you mean by Catholic. In its broadest definition it delineates a grouping in which Catholicism is considered nothing unusual or reprehensible, the obvious religious solution if you’re into that sort of thing. Children of course are baptised and go to Catholic schools, but show absolutely no religious impulses once they have left.

    40.26% may go to mass, but the numbers who are prepared to vote for Nationalist parties are much higher than that. If it was 45.4% in 1999 (on a good turn out, admittedly), I would say it’s probably more like 49% today. Note that the Unionist 1st pref vote in the last election was only 49%.

    In a STV vote system there is a sort of penumbra of support, with 2nd and later preferences pushing the figures up.

  • Alias

    If Catholicism the glue that held ‘nationalists’ together in NI then you were always going to be in trouble as a unified entity when that glue came unstuck – as twenty or so years of relentless media onslaught on that domination would have that effect.

    So while your religious status is in doubt, you’re certainly not nationalists either. You cannot be a nationalist when you have renounced your inalienable right to national self-determination, downgrading it to the legal status of an aspiration.

    At worst you remain only as an ethnic/social group within a British state. At best, you are a nation which does not believe that it is entitled to a nation-state, so just another non-sovereign nation.

    Since all of what defined you at a homogenous group prior to the current integration process has been systematically undermined, what defines you now? Not much.

    While you may think that “Catholic unionists” are a myth the reality is that they are the biggest group in NI and the political dynamics of the GFA ensures their continued growth.

  • And in the 1999 Euro Elections 45.4% of the electorate voted for SF and the SDLP.

    45.4% of the electorate who made it to the polling station, you mean.

  • Alias

    Why are they the biggest group among that group? Because you have all signed up to the legitimacy of British sovereignty over the state. You cannot sign such a constitutional declaration with your fingers crossed behind your back as your child-like get out clause. You signed it. It’s the law.

    Of course it wasn’t necessary for that group to elevate the Unionist Veto to the status of a principle under international law. They could have elected their tribe to public office without renouncing those national rights, as they elected them to public office before renouncing such rights. But such rights meant so little to them that they chose to trade them for selfish concessions within the legitimised British state.

    Declaring that you have no right to something is a very stupid ‘tactic’ if your intent was to argue that you have a right to it. But that was never the intent – just the pretext to complete the integration process.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I merely point out that the Catholic unionists are a myth.

    Well, I certainly don’t buy this idea that lots and lots of Catholics are going to go out there and vote to retain the union whenever the day eventually comes. I’d probably vote for reunification but it would all depend on what kind of package was created. There would have to be commitments on retention of public services, changes to the Constitution, stuff about enshrining diversity and respecting what people variously describe as “cultural rights” etc etc. I’d imagine people in the South would view it in the same way. They’ll be looking to perceive some sort of benefit from reunification.

    But I think it is true that a larger proportion of Catholics are more likely to vote for the union than there are Protestants likely to vote for reunification. The reason for this is fairly obvious, which is that opinion on the truth of the benefits of the union vs-a-vs reunification don’t fall 100% neatly along sectarian lines. And sticking with the status quo is always easier, especially if you have a business to run. Sticking my finger in the air, I’d say the number is about 20% or so.

    I wonder if the outcome of a reunification poll done now would be any different than it was at the height of the RoI boom five years ago. I also wonder how people would think if there was a real debate about the matter. Are nationalists really going to argue that getting rid of the NHS, for example, and making most people pay for their own healthcare is a price worth paying ? Good luck with that one.

    I certainly accept taht the census says 40.26%..this being what people DECLARE themselves to be.

    In this one sentence you have defined the problem in Northern Ireland, which is that you don’t think people should be allowed to define themselves. So if I say I’m not a Catholic because I don’t believe in God and don’t go to church, but a loyalist pointing a gun at me says that I am because he’s just read my forename off my driving license, that means I’m wrong and the guy with the gun is right. I’ve got grave doubts about your view of what a decent, stable society is supposed to look like.

    But equally you will know …..or should know that in Norn Iron its about perception.(prmary school attended….you might even have had to fill in a form for such monitoring purposes)

    Yes, and we need to get away from hangups on other people’s perceptions. The idea that we should be required to accomodate other people’s bigotry rather than fight it is, to me, dangerous.

    Paddy,

    I’m just saying that it’s not safe to draw a direct line from the population to the election results.

    My view is that people shouldn’t be considered Catholic (or Protestant, or anything else) if that is not what they want to be defined as, and the census should ensure that this is accounted for.

  • Scaramoosh

    I think that YOU are all becoming somewhat muddled.

    At the very least, we have to agree on the fact that in recent elections in N.Ireland 30 – 40% of the population did not vote.

    Some of this can be attributed to commonplace inertia; some to people who simply “Don’t Care” one way or another what happens and some to people to whom the notion of engaging in the political process is and always will be an anathema. There will be some cross-over between these groups.

    The argument that is being made by some here (which is false) is that a greater percentage of the total Catholic population vote for nationalist parties, compared with the number of the total Protestant population that vote for Unionist parties.

    If this were to be the case, however, then we can assume that Protestants make up the majority of the non-voting electorate that simply do not care; are riddled with inertia, or feel that politics offers them nothing.

    If this were so, it would make the case for the development of a new party that embraces the middle ground through the promotion of political secularisation.

    And yet, those that argue that more Catholics vote Nationalist (etc, etc) say that there is no room for such a party….

    The notion of seeing Ulster Protestants as an a homogenous blob is misguided in the extreme.

    There are many beneath the Unionist parapet who simply do not have a voice, and who as of now simply do not feel that it is worth their while voting for anything or anybody. Many of these might vote for reunification, if there was a plausible economic case for such. Many of them do not actually see themselves as Protestants at all.

    That these people do not vote Alliance is probably to do with the shortcomings of that party, combined with the fact that these people do not believe that voting Alliance is going to break the deadlock.

    What policies are the Nationalist parties introducing to woo these votes? None of course; because their myth bound culture tells them that such people simply do not exist.

  • Alias Dave,

    Since all of what defined you at a homogenous group prior to the current integration process has been systematically undermined, what defines you now? Not much.

    Still peddling the same “group rights” snake-oil, I see.