The SDLP needs to find its own voice…

As a SDLP member., I think the first thing the SDLP needs to do is start listening to its own voices. It seems to have an obsession with listening to political opponents. But the Party also needs to be honest with itself.

Those most critical of the current leadership (Alasdair lost only a single council seat in May 2014) need to look to themselves. The collective leadership lost ten Assembly seats between 1998 and 2011. They also need to understand that their own Margaret Ritchie lost two Assembly seats in 2011.

I was actually quite upbeat about the 18 months between Alasdair’s election in November 2011 and Conall’s departure in August 2013. It seemed at that time that the Leadership had been settled: Al a man slightly older than myself and not long term and Conall looking good in the role of Dauphin and obvious future leader.

There is certainly an anti McDonnell faction but I can’t see any obvious challenger. No point challenging before Westminster and South Belfast. Ironically they need him to win in May next year and stand down from Assembly to trigger a bloodless contest.

If Al loses next year then, it could get nasty. But as the anti Al faction got it wrong with Margaret and Conall, then difficult to see the SDLP electorate rallying around the next person who isn’t Alasdair.

I can’t see Alex or Dolores becoming Leader. More likely that it will be Eastwood.

There are obviously practical difficulties about Opposition. The principled time to go for it was when Alliance took the second Executive seat on 52,000 votes and eight Assembly seats. That was the time for SDLP and UUP to walk. As a consequence, we have allowed Alliance to pose as the third Party.

Building a Leadership challenge around Opposition would be difficult. Clearly the first Party to detach itself from the DUP-Sinn Fein ” one party state with an orange and green wing” (Mark Durkan, I think) gets the moral high ground.

But surely, even allowing for a growing momentum for Opposition, (a difficulty for Attwood because he was a Minister) it is a case that cannot be made without an implied criticism of the 1998 Leadership which endorsed the structures and a criticism of the collective retired Leadership post 1998 who don’t seem to have performed well.

The loss of ten Assembly seats cannot all be because SDLP was let down by the British, Irish and American Governments.

The newly appointed SDLP Policy Officer has the easiest job in Norn Iron politics. No doubt he or she will be judged on how many words are in the 2015 and 2016 Manifestos. Or the quality of a Party Political Broadcast. But it is a simple matter of translating the ETHOS of SDLP into REAL Politics.

Write the word DECENCY on every Poster, every leaflet and say it in every interview and you “get” the SDLP. And you get that clear water between Sinn Féin and Alliance.

It would also help if the collective “wastes of space” in the Trade Union Movement and Voluntary Sector and other organisations happy enough to have 14 SDLP MLAs on their mobile phones and happy enough to take a table and hand out free pens at the SDLP Conference actually endorsed SDLP as nearest promoting their agenda.

Time someone on SDLP platform actually called them out on it. In two years those 14 SDLP MLAs might still be 14…or 13 or 15.

Time for the purist “socialists” and Voluntary Sector hangers on to “put up or shut up”. Annoyingly for conservatives, SDLP is a left of centre party. Annoyingly for unionists it is a nationalist Party. Actually SDLP nationalism and republicanism also mightily pisses off Sinn Féin.

With eighteen months to go to Easter 2016, there is an opportunity for SDLP to re-assert its belief in the Republic.

And as for cross party voting…….no that’s a one way street.

SDLP needs to find its own voice.

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  • Nicholas Whyte

    FJH,

    What would you say are the SDLP’s (potential) unique selling points?

    I’ve seen the following suggested on Slugger previously (not by you, I hasten to add):

    – it’s a left-of-centre pro-United Ireland party (which fails the uniqueness test, as the same is true of SF)
    – it’s the party of the Civil Rights movement (which fails as a selling point, because the average voter today was born in the 1970s and sees the IRA ceasefire, rather than Caledon in 1968, as the key moment of history).

    I can’t see a commitment to going into opposition being much use either; it’s a tactic, not a policy, and the aim of the party should anyway be to sit in government as one of the top two voices rather than to be in opposition.

    So, what does (or can) the SDLP offer that the others don’t?

  • tmitch57

    “because the average voter today was born in the 1970s and sees the IRA
    ceasefire, rather than Caledon in 1968, as the key moment of history).”

    Nicholas,
    Which ceasefire: 1975, 1994, or 1997?

    The party can sell itself as the party that was always opposed to violence–not the political wing of a terrorist movement (SF, PUP) or a bunch of sneaking regarders (DUP, TUV) and so champion the victims of The Troubles by making sure that the perpetrators aren’t rolled in with the victims in any dispensation. Its main competition will then be Alliance, but with sufficient green rhetoric this can be easily overcome.

  • Bryan Magee

    Victims, as an issue, seems to be more important now than previously, and i think it is becoming more important over time, so I think tmitch makes an excellent point.

    Indeed its one of the clear and strong points of differentiation that Alasdair McDonnell highlighted in his interview with David McCann and other media outlets: the SDLP will always come down on the side of the victim.

    The SDLP is not conflicted on victims of any kind.

    Take the Catholic Church. SDLP can call for inquiries and truth revelation into Church abuse without being accused of hypocrisy.

    The SDLP can do likewise on victims of British and IRA groups.

    Other parties that have questions to answer on the cover up of their own rapes and protection of child abusers as well as disappeared people and so forth cannot raise these issues with credibility because they are conflicted.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    tmitch57,

    Thanks for your reply. I suspect that many voters are still a bit confused about the 1994/1997 distinction – let’s face it, we who were involved at the time found it confusing! – and none will remember 1975.

    Which is why being the party that was always opposed to violence is a weak selling point. Even the Shinners are opposed to violence now. It’s past tense. It means you are fighting elections by attacking what your opponents did twenty years ago, not what they are offering for tomorrow.

    I certainly don’t want to minimise the victims issue, but that too is past tense for the same reason. It’s talking about how to deal with a conflict that is over. How do you turn that into a forward-looking narrative? (Personally, I think you can’t, and you will have to look for it elsewhere.)

    Which voters will “sufficient green rhetoric” appeal to? How does that differentiate the SDLP from the Shinners?

  • Morpheus

    Nail on head Nicholas…if they keep looking backwards they won’t see what’s coming down the line

  • Bryan Magee

    The victims issue is certainly not past tense, I believe it is now more important and getting more attention than ever. You can see it in the last few years alone. Issues that were swept under the carpet – there is no tolerance for such sweeping now.

  • Ernekid

    Does anyone really care about the ‘Victims?’

    A crime happened 30 or40 odd years ago, The victims and perpetrators have either died or retired years ago. Who cares? Not anyone born in the last 35 years. I though the SDLP want to be the Party of the future

    It’s probably best to stop trawling though the nastier elements of the past. Somethings are better left unresolved and forgotten.

  • Bryan Magee

    Does that “who cares” attitude you believe in extend to all victims from past times incl those of sex and child abuse? E.g. Jimmy Saville’s? Those of the Tory paedo child abuse ring? The Bloody Sunday victims?

  • Ian James Parsley

    I hit the doorsteps pretty much every week.

    Not saying this is right or wrong, but victims has never been raised. Not once.

  • Ernekid

    Chasing after the Paedos of the 70s isn’t a vote winner is it? Away by the time they’ll get around to doing anything about it the perpetrators like Saville are long dead so it’s an academic matter. If they are alive whats to be gained by jailing a Pensioner? The past was terrible. Leave it to the Historians, not the politicians.

  • Bryan Magee

    So why was the Home Secretary in such a pickle over the issue, if nobody cares about it? Equally in the south, the issue of institutional abuse. We need parties that are not conflicted on victims.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Decency? Are you serious? You don’t follow politics, do you?! http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/6563791.stm

  • Bryan Magee

    What is the top thing raised?

  • Redstar2014

    Can we nail this holier than thou attitude of Sdlp supporters once and for all when it comes to their selective amnesia re support for murder.

    Many of us in the Nat community will NEVER forgive or forget that even when it was known to us all that the RUC/ UDR were conspiring regularly with loyalist murder gangs slaughtering innocent Catholics-the Sdlp representatives STILL came on our tv screens appealing for Nationalists to give information to them!!!

    God knows how many innocents were murdered because of the info Sdlp insisted these killers should be given

  • Robin Keogh

    Despite the polls i really feel there exists a sneaking regard for irish unity amongst the catholic population. The SDLP are not credible in their assertions regarding nationalism. They are seen as soft on the national issue and for some, that looks like a pandering towards Unionism rather than a genuine attempt at reasoned compromise.

    SF connection with the past is forgiven or ignored by a huge section of the population north and south and despite the media and political onslaught they are seen as a credible alternative government in the south whilst their support in the North is solid. On this basis the SDLP advertising themselves as great peacmakers etc. Simply will not get the votes they require nor will it make them relevent to a new modernised electorate.

    They need to do something about the antagonism between themselves and SF because alienating shinner voters will cost them much needed transfers. They also need to green up a bit, potentially arguing for more powers for the assembly and hitch this to a policy of going into opposition. Al has to go, they need a far noisier voice as leader than the soft gentle tones we get from him.

    They dont have much time. If FF stand in the 2019 assembly elections, SDLP in the current state will be all but wiped out.

  • Bryan Magee

    The posts from the Tories, Liberals, and Shinners on this post to me confirm FJH’s opening dictum: the SDLP needs to listen to its own voices. People in other political movements don’t have the SDLP’s interests at heart. The SDLP actually has a very clear basic position – it’s part of the labour movement and it stands for Irish unity by consent. These core positions don’t need to be revisited, they just need to be applied to todays world with confidence and passion.

  • Bryan Magee

    I am sorry but the SDLP always opposed the use of violent means and always supported peaceful democratic methods.

  • notimetoshine

    Nothing about policy. Where are the policy initaitves? Where are the unique ideas? If the SDLP attempt a move towards more strident nationalism/ideology they will fail a la UUP. The overriding theme of the conference seems to have been self absorbed naval gazing. Nothing concrete policy wise. Of course they can’t criticise the executive policy too hard after all they are part of it. Disasterpus. Where is the vitality? Where is the fresh new blood and new ideas? As a young person from a nationalist background I should be their natural constituency. But I and others like me need a modern vibrant party not one that wouldnt be out of place at a pioneers meeting.

  • Redstar2014

    Bryan-Its a matter of FACT that they repeatedly- even after the links between Ruc/UDR and unionist murder gangs were well known and exposed by the Sdlp themselves amongst other parties- that the Sdlp STILL insisted the Nat community should give information to the killers partners in slaughter

  • Bryan Magee

    There is actually lots of new young blood in the sdlp, notimetoshine.

    As for policy, who says the SDLP is moving to some strident ultra green position? I don’t see that. SDLP is for a United Ireland but through persuasion and respect.

    The people at the conference were talking about social housing, the living wage, and other ideas you would expect from a progressive left of centre party.

    Really there is a lot to be positive about in terms of new faces and basic values!

  • Bryan Magee

    Well they weren’t doing any slaughter unlike the party some people support! They opposed that sort of thing, see.

  • Redstar2014

    No ones accusing them of going about shooting anyone- BUT they asked for the Nat community to give info to those associated with slaughtering their own community.

    Many of us in the wake of bloody killings of loved ones were nauseated by Sdlp representatives coming on to our tv screens and continuing to appeal for more info to be given to those who assisted in the slaying of our relatives and friends

    They will never ever be trusted again

  • Bryan Magee

    The SDLP opposed violence from loyalists as from republicans. As Alex Attwood always points out the SDLP supported the police when they did things right – as they often did – and opposed when they did things wrong.

  • notimetoshine

    I was really refering to the article which seemed to push for a greater green bent. In terms of young blood for me it just seems so old fashioned. I know it is just my perception but I know that it is one shared by friends.

    As far as policy goes !most of the reporting I have seen regarding the conference doesn’t mention much in terms of policy which may just be our media, but I can’t help feeling lethargic about the party.

    It may just be an issue of presentation which I know is shallow but it is a reality that a party needs to present itself as vital, dynamic etc etc you just don’t get that vibe off the SDLP. That maybe due to the way they are portrayed in the media much like alliance in that respect.

  • Tacapall

    “Alasdair McDonnell said the party continues to support a “new and united
    Ireland” – but stressed that it can “only be achieved by persuading the
    overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland, from both
    communities, that this is the best way forward for them and their
    children”.

    Just asking here but is overwhelming majority to the SDLP bigger than 50+1 % ?

  • Redstar2014

    Unfortunately he’s lying.

    They carte blanc appealed to the Nat community to bring forward info to the Ruc- even when the Sdlp themselves knew the Ruc were assisting unionist murder gangs.

    No amount of smart phrases or glib bluster will ever change that historical fact- they told their community to bring forward info to those associated with murdering members of their community.

    Shame on them. Never to be forgotten nor forgiven

  • Bryan Magee

    Eastwood seems a very talented person, with values in the tradition of the SDLP, Why do you have reservations?

  • Bryan Magee

    You seem very reasonable Red Lion, I was just curious. I think Eastwood is a very good speaker in the Assembly, I think he has a certain sureness about him. I like Durkan a lot, though, he is quite likeable. For some reason, though, Eastwood seems the more likely to be leader. However, I could be wrong.

  • Gopher

    The last thing the SDLP needs to do is listen to its own voices. Its been listening to that siren song all through its death throes, “Be more working class”, “be more green”. You see thats the trouble they confuse idealogy with politics. The SDLP cannot be honest with itself because the myth is all thats left. Americans used to quip Eisenhower was the best general the British ever had, well here is the rub John Hume was the best politician SF ever had. John not did do it for the SDLP he did it for the idealogy, Mallon and Durkan that followed could not break with that idealogy, they had the chance but emotion overides sense, if they were honest they would admit it but those heady days were an idealogical land grab by people masquerading as party politicians. Now you’ve got idealogical trench warfare stalemate and its your party bleeding to death. The SDLP if they are to be serious about being political party have to become politicians and leave idealogy to the idealogues. SF have that market cornered, let them be the monumental bores there are fantastic at it. By politician I mean dealing in the “art of the possible” day and daily not the emotive nonsense that qualifies every SDLP action and literal intereptations of agreements vaguer than the bible. I’ll give you an exercise to start of with, If SF start using a soundbite make sure none of your members use that soundbite, when you do it just advertises SF. Your a political part FFS not an idealogical parrot!

  • Ian James Parsley

    Aside from very specific things, jobs. Followed by education and health, or health and education, depending on where you are!

  • Ian James Parsley

    Again, that’s simply nonsense (if we’re being honest).

    In fact, it’s usually something which isn’t a strength, which is why it’s raised.

  • Ian James Parsley

    You probably should be.

    It’s been done. It was arrogant, it was contemptuous, and it failed.

  • Ian James Parsley

    The polls are misread/abused as ever, which means you may well be right about the lack of time.

    Of course most Catholics would prefer Irish Unity. However, they don’t necessarily want it tomorrow.

    I think that’s the crux of the SDLP’s problem. They are not going to persuade anyone they are more serious about a “United Ireland” than SF – not least because they’re not (deriving from civil rights campaigns, not ostensibly Nationalist ones).

    They would be better to shift the ground on to something else, but even there they are a bit caught because neither are they going to persuade anyone they’re more left-wing than SF. Again, this is not least because they (and their supporters/voters) are not.

    I’m not convinced about FF – parties need to have some basis within a society and FF has none in NI (certainly not away from the border area). But it seems to me the gap is really for a Nationalist party on the right – arguing that NI has to be economically self-sufficient for a “United Ireland” to be realistic, while perhaps playing to the Social Conservativism that many capital-C Catholics still actually support.

    It’s not an easy one, though!

  • Thomas Girvan

    Off the top of my head, what about, they are not criminals or ex-terrorists?
    Just a thought.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Its not sexy, but one thing that the SDLP need to start playing on is that they have handled governing in the most assured manner when compared to any other party. In a time when the public have such low and diminishing confidence in the assembly and executive, the SDLP at least give a sense of being a safe pair of hands in government. Personally I think that every other Minister has at one point or another seemed like clown, inept or simply a puppet for a nameless civil service

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d seriously question your claim that “they have handled governing in the most assured manner when compared to any other party.” Alex Attwood’s arrogant decision to permit the development of the Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort and Spa on our sole World Heritage site against declared planning policy and the detailed report prepared by the planning department would have been a blot on any ministerial career. While I realise that he did not stand alone on this and a minister from any other party would at that time have probably made a similar decision, the blot is on someone representing the SDLP.

    “Personally I think that every other Minister has at one point or another seemed like clown, inept or simply a puppet for a nameless civil service” yes, I cannot disagree with this, but I’m bemused that you should keep Alex out of the circus ring when he’s done such an expert job with the clown makeup.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Any day….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ernekid, while I usually find myself in general agreement with most of what you say, I’m actually very shocked by this posting, as someone who has known a number of survivors of such experiences. Cyril Smith abused a member of my extended family over the water and in my media career I have met any number of people with similar experiences who could name media figures, political figures and others in important public roles as their abusers. When they attempted to have their experiences addressed many years ago, they were discouraged or blanked by all who should have helped them. For whatever reason, they are offered support in seeking some justice nowadays. Are you seriously suggesting that they should continue to put up and shut up simply because they make serious demands that we should honestly examine the meaning of our past?

    If we begin to accept a hierarchy of crime, where those we choose as important to the here and now are the only crimes that should be addressed, then the notional protection law offers each individual is seriously eroded. How we treat people who have had terrible life destroying actions perpetrated against them marks how we treat everyone else. It starts by saying on news reports that the crimes are “historical” (not for the survivors, for whom these experiences are often a daily experience). The historical tag is simply a way of diminishing their importance, and offering an out for those who do not want to accept that our society as a whole becomes itself responsible for those crimes it condones, whether it is simply the “small crimes” of abuse of public office by misinforming the public, or the condoning of the terrible destruction of someones life by selfish, often brutal sexual abuse by dismissing its importance which must be clear to every one of us who want a just and honest society.

    These experiences may have been enacted at an earlier date, but for anyone who has been touched by them they are alive in memory as a constant experience, and so are very much of today. As William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”

  • mickfealty

    Not sure SF qualifies at this stage as left of centre in Irish politics. It’s never been the most profitable place to be traditionally. As they go after the FF vote we’ll see them move sharply to the notional right.

    They have a history (which I know John bangs on about) which is crucial not in the reverenced way it is treated these days but as a storehouse of values that could be raided for renewal.

    As Alex Kane said on Friday, they need to evolve/mutate:

    Here's the Irish News column from Friday that Alasdair McDonnell didn't seem to like : ) pic.twitter.com/ESr0TyHQAz

    Those values still mean something (particularly civil rights) important, not as idols of the family cave, but as real principles that guide your actions on the field of battle.

    What I hear Alasdair say from all these reports (esp David’s interview), is that he’s building a successor generation, and is therefore not that interested in the pursuit of power in the here and now.

    The trouble is that you need politics and you need power in the here and now if you are going to provide that generation with something to do.

    It is pretty simple: evolve, or die. At the moment they are just relying on a passive enmity to SF, presuming that people only have a choice of two options. I’d say we have serious signs that that is no longer the case.

    People are wandering off the field of battle, likely never to return (unless someone, #cough, can find a way to turn the heat back up again).

    There is no easy way back. Evolution requires a single minded commitment to change, internal as well as external. Mindlessly (ie, because you cannot think of anything better to do) jumping into opposition will certainly not cure it.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    “Not sure SF qualifies at this stage as left of centre in Irish politics” – really, Mick? That’s certainly the territory they are vociferously occupying now. Looking at their policies page I see that on taxation “those who can afford to contribute the most are asked to do so”, and “a universal public health system that provides care free at the point of delivery… Sinn Féin opposes any and all proposals to further privatise our public services”. That puts them pretty firmly left of centre. (Not to mention their four MEPs in the European Parliament’s most leftwing group.)

    You may be right that medium to long term they will have to move centre or tight to grow, but I don’t know how you can say that they are not currently on the left!

  • Nicholas Whyte

    two contributors to the thread who have stood on the ballot paper against SDLP – that was more than 18 years ago! Is there no statute of limitations?

  • Tacapall

    Seaan are you saying that in any border poll the winning side must be overwhelmingly greater than 51% ? And the SDLP want to have an opposition too. Thats not what they agreed to in the GFA but they are doing their usual bit, stooping just as low as the unionists and the British by failing to honour the commitments they signed up to. Im not surprised though with a party full of landlords only too willing to accept any crumbs from their masters table. As long as the money keeps flowing into their bank accounts of a double jobber like McDonnell and his kind Irish people in this part of Ireland will always be pissed on and convinced its raining by those who wish to keep the status quo.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nah, Tacapall, just being my usual irreverent self in agreeing with you that “any day now” the delicate balance will shift and a majority of the population will be for a united Ireland, and not necessarily on the sectarian headcount that one “kind” fears! I’m a flakey “homeopath” (wee white pills) anyway, and even one person over the 50% will, I feel be noticed.

    A few shifts in the economy and anyone half sane will be wanting to be in a country that can actually offers real jobs rather than state handouts. The SDLP have problems with the rapidly changing present and would shake out old laurels, placed on their heads by, as you point out, a British media with a real passion for the status quo, any status quo that suits them at any point in time.

  • Brian Walker

    Fitz,

    You have my sympathy but I suggest you have some things the
    wrong way round.

    A simple matter to translate ethos into real politics? Surely not.
    That’s the real game.

    You complain about the purists in the voluntary sector who don’t
    give the SDLP enough support. Surely it’s up to the party to attract them and
    get them involved? Historically people concentrate on tactics because the straight fight is on their own side of the divide. One day the penny will drop and they will open and go for support among the increasing number of agnostics who see no point in sticking to the old game.

    A big problem is that everybody’s great at political tactics
    and obsessed with personalities. Sure they’re more fun and of course they matters a lot but they only have limited relevance if voters don’t really know what the party stands for and what it wants to do, apart from a having an anti violence past and a middle class, older profile. This may sound a statement of the obvious but it’s still true.

    Cross party voting is not incompatible with the SDLP “ finding its own voice”. Quite the contrary. It should want to search for suitable partners on ad hoc issues and circumstances and be heard across the divide .Isolation ultimately means impotence in PR elections.

    Re Robin Keogh’s point about going soft on nationalism. It would indeed be wise to assume there is at least a sneaking regard for unity. It’s a vision people understand unlike the present state of grinding bad tempered power sharing. But the SDLP should be ideally placed to spell out where moderate nationalism stands in a reconciling environment and strongly promote an active mutually beneficial north-south relationship. The party needs to educate the people in what the principle of consent really means and embrace it with commitment. Of course it needs partners across the divide to make it politically attractive.

    That is what power sharing is about – a more blurred vision I admit but one that accords more closely to present reality. Maybe political deadlock will make people try it one day. This would not by itself cancel out the bottom line appeal of Sinn Fein but it would create a viable alternative – arguably, the only one conceivable.

  • Neil

    The posts from the Tories, Liberals, and Shinners on this post to me confirm FJH’s opening dictum: the SDLP needs to listen to its own voices. People in other political movements don’t have the SDLP’s interests at heart.

    So in essence, don’t listen to the mass of people who potentially would vote for the SDLP but don’t, instead focus your attention on the dwindling group of voters who still vote SDLP and would probably never vote for any other party? Ingenious.
    An alternative strategy, if I may, would be to try and get some of the people who don’t currently vote for you to do so. That may mean trying to get your supporters to not deploy the condescend-to-or-otherwise-insult-the-great-many-Nationalist-voters-who’ve-deserted-your-party strategy, like our old friend Charles used to do.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/sdlp-rankandfile-fails-to-endorse-party-leader-alasdair-mcdonnell-30748879.html

    Only just over a third of SDLP activists believe the current party leader should take them into the next Assembly election, a snapshot survey has suggested.
    Seemingly the good Dr.’s “sureness of touch” (where have I heard that phrase before) hasn’t won over the many detractors.

  • Tacapall

    The point being Seaan that unionism and the British government will quite happily accept 50+1 % of No’s as a democratic decision yet it sounds like the SDLP is suggesting a higher ceiling for Irish nationalism. There would have been no GFA if there was no mandatory coalition, thats what the majority of people in Ireland voted for and if that is to be changed then surely in return, any future border poll should be decided by the largest party in Ireland who also hold the largest number of seats in the Stormont assembly rather than by some British overlords who seem to be quite happy to scream for English votes for English laws yet deny Irish people that same right.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sometimes I wonder, Tacapall, if the ingrained habit of colonial control is so firmly stuck in the British Political consciousness, that they are unable to see just how utterly they continue to define what can and cannot be permitted in the Wee Six under the blanket of “fair, objective arbiter”. They do not seem to realise that their claim to objectivity and decent liberalism is itself a potent power discourse, placing them firmly in the driving seat at the same time as they claim no selfish interest. The SDLP has all too often lifted smiling, all too credulous eyes at such displays of “liberal objectivity” from that particular gang of our masters!

    Have you read Richard Kearney’s “Postnationalist Ireland”? When you see just how much of it has been simply applied to the post GFA governance of us all like thick butter and without any changes……..

    Not that I’d ever say “template’, ever! But its the lack of any flexibility in its interpretation that gets me every time.

  • Fobhristi

    well said, however I find that even capital C Catholics when pushed don’t seem to be totally aware of their church’s own teachings on societal issues beyond the abortion debate. And if you caught them off guard and asked an opinion you would find that their most conservative views still wouldn’t be anywhere close to the likes of hardline DUP or even TUV supporters. I think an extremely right-winged ‘catholic’ party wouldn’t do as well as you think, certainly not with the younger generation

  • Joe_Hoggs

    So issues that the Alliance party or any other party in NI can do nothing about!! Not much point in raising them to be honest.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Happy to state on the record that I resigned from the Alliance Party several years ago, largely because I have been resident in Belgium since 1999 where there’s not a lot of activity (as for any NI party), and the last time I actually attended a party meeting was, I think, in 1998. The then party leader kindly appointed me International Officer in 1999, and I stayed on the books in that capacity for a number of years, but I don’t recall ever undertaking any duties in that role.

    But you raise a valid question: why should I care what happens to the SDLP? In the last few years I’ve written more about them than any other party, I think. I guess it’s because I would like to see Northern Irish politics in general doing better, and it would be a better thing if there was more competition on all sides (green, orange and centre); and it frankly breaks my heart that the SDLP don’t quite seem to realise how bad a position they are in, and certainly appear to have no idea of how to get out of it.

    I’m not offering answers on this thread, only questions. What are the SDLP’s unique selling points? How do you look forward rather than back? What is the point in talking about opposition rather than government? Those seem important questions; though I concede that the answers are not really any of my business, as an external commentator who has never voted for the party and probably never will.

  • Morpheus

    Maybe his head could be turned towards a pact with SF in FST afterall if it meant that he had a clear run in SB and saved his seat/salary etc.

    I agree on Mark Durkan – make him leader and bring back Conall McDevitt to stand alongside him. A new start under strong, young leadership.

  • Tacapall

    I understood a long time ago Seaan that Britains claim of having no selfish or strategic interest in Ireland was as dubious as its claim to be concerned about democracy in the middle east. I see the Irish people by being involved in British politics being led down only one path and that is Joint Authority. it is the last throw of the political dice for the British and unionism other than flooding the country with immigrants who understand little of Irish politics and simply vote for he who pays the piper. No I haven’t read Postnationalist Ireland I might have a jook Im waiting on Thomas Goodrich’s Hellstorm, its a reminder how our moral guardians and colonial masters can turn a blind eye or brush under the carpets the bits of history that dont suit their propaganda and when you consider the antics of the Westminster cabal who simply brushed under the carpet the same barbaric neanderthal treatment of children of their own nation by their own government ministers why would any Irishman or Woman want to be associated with, trust to act in our best interests or be ruled by people like them.

  • Morpheus

    We’ll see what happens when his job is on the line

  • Bryan Magee

    I don’t really agree with the idea that SF are more serious about a UI than SDLP or more left than SDLP. There are many ways to be for a UI. it is not a one dimensional thing. Same with being on the left.

  • Zeno3

    “…… the Westminster cabal who simply brushed under the carpet the same barbaric neanderthal treatment of children of their own nation by their own government ministers why would any Irishman or Woman want to be associated with, trust to act in our best interests or be ruled by people like them.”

    The will hardly be voting for Sinn Fein then.

  • Zeno3

    “Despite the polls i really feel there exists a sneaking regard for irish unity amongst the catholic population.”

    There was at one time but that was before SF and the IRA got involved. They were like a mini version of Augusto Pinochet what with the murders and torture and disappearances. Though to be fair I don’t remember him using human bombs or sexually abusing children.

  • weidm7

    “With eighteen months to go to Easter 2016, there is an opportunity for SDLP to re-assert its belief in the Republic.”

    Did
    anyone else find that a bit jarring? It’s not often you see the words
    ‘SDLP’ and ‘Republic’ in the same sentence, unless it’s some attempt to
    out SF SF. Of course, they don’t believe in the Republic, if they did,
    they’d run in the Republic or merge with the southern Labour party. What
    are they going to do after unification? Only run in a non-existant or
    regional Northern Ireland? Does that show a belief in a united Ireland?

    The
    SDLP used to be the big party which attracted support from everywhere,
    when you’re big that’s a bonus, but when you’re small, as FF are
    discovering down south, you’re likely to get torn apart. They can’t move
    to the right because they’re the Social, Democratic and Labour Party,
    they can’t moderate the nationalism because they’re a nationalist party.
    And any step in any direction will anger some faction or other and risk
    a split. All that’s left is the ‘not SF party’, who are effectively the
    same as SF, but for people who will never vote SF.

    I don’t think
    FF running up north will do much either, because they’re still just
    another nationalist party, which is the most important thing in
    sectarian Northern Ireland. What would really shake things up is if Fine
    Gael ran up north. They’re miles away from Sinn Féin and only nominally
    nationalist, they could really sweep up votes from unionists unhappy
    with the extremism of the DUUP as well as ‘Northern Irish’ catholics.
    Those in between might appreciate their economics as well, not that
    they’d get much done anyway with the forced coalition.

  • Colin Lamont

    How do you rate McDonnell’s chances against a unionist single candidate? I think whether Sinn Fein stands or not will decide it!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The interest value of “Postnationalist Ireland”, published in 1996, is that it is a template for what has been done since the GFA and what is still intended. I heard Richard Kearney himself present it a few times that first year in a number of venues. You’ve quite rightly identified Joint Authority “a Council of Ireland” as a manner in which the more wealthy partner can dominate the proceedings while pretending to seek what is “objectively good for all”. That this coincides with their own interests is simply how the world should always be!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    William Rooney and D.P. Moran pointed out over a hundred years ago that the involvement of any Irish political organisation in the British political model would lead to them having British attitudes encoded into their political behaviour.

    What a terrible pity we simply inherited the British Parliamentary model and did not look further afield to, for example, a more decentralised Switzerland where government acts can be challenged by the popular will!

  • Robin Keogh

    *YAWN*

  • Robin Keogh

    I dont think Sinn Fein will fall into the covergence trap. As Peter Mair has pointed out, one of the biggest challenges facing democracy at the moment is the lack of choice. Many political parties have little or no unique selling point anymore because they have had to ape each other in order to fit into the current politcal world order. One of the reasons I support Sinn Fein is because I genuinely believe that they will bring about a strong social democratic governemnt while at the same time manage to navigate international waters carefully. Many people get quite hysterical when it comes to the Idea of SF in power on the basis of the ’32 county socialist republic’ catch call of old. But the party has evolved and matured over the last decade, the newbies are educated and intelligent enough to have figured out how to juggle domestic social democratic principles whilst juggling neo liberal internationalisation.

  • Robin Keogh

    …becuase noody is arsed about it anymore

  • Robin Keogh

    Some good points there. I guess after Unity it will be difficult for the SDLP to be heard given their small support base, when NI ceases to exist they will be a very tiny group on the margins but at that stage I would fully expect them to merge with Labour.

  • Zeno3

    Good answer. I wouldn’t want to attempt to defend it either. But it hasn’t gone away you know.

  • Robin Keogh

    Poor show there man

  • Robin Keogh

    In short the SDLP had great selling points around the peace process and producing John Humes neo-nationalism twenty years ago but, those themes are dated now and it appears that they have had little success replacing them. This also leads into the looking forward problem. They cant seem to re-invent themselves because they appear to mourn the good ol days and seem to be resentful of SF glory. I think their only handle might be the opposition grip. If they played it smartly they could turn it into a new radical approach to Stormont, but it would need planning and some inventive heads….if you are interested in politics as I know you certainly are……then it is ALL your business 😉

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Colin,

    McDonnell’s majority over the DUP in 2010 was more than 6,000, with the UUP more than 2,000 farther behind. The SF vote in both 2011 elections was around 4,000. McDonnell received precisely 16 more votes than the combined Unionist total. So on paper he would have prevailed against a single Unionist candidate last time, and did not need the SF votes in the face of a relatively evenly split Unionist ticket.

    But I’m wary of predictions; I did not expect McDonnell to win in 2005, so I’m not going to forecast his demise too confidently now.

  • Ian James Parsley

    The issue is not whether you agree, Bryan, but whether the population at large does.

    Trust me, no one out there seriously believes a party whose leader is a double-jobbing former GP who prefers Westminster to Stormont is more Nationalist and more Leftist than SF.

    It’s a wee bit like Cameron’s error in trying to make out he’s more serious about immigration than UKIP. Even if he is, no one believes him.

  • Bryan Magee

    What on earth has the fact that Alasdiar McDonnell was a GP got to do with it? It is a very honourable profession, and one that does not indicate anything to do with whether you are serious about a UI. You have now introduced the term “nationalist”. Fine. But there are many ways of being serious about a UI, and being a Westminster MP and/or a GP does not map into that variable in a linear (or strictly increasing) fashion. You don’t cite relevant evidence.

    Being “more left” can mean doing “left” in a better way. Being more pro-UI can mean doing UI politics in a better way.

    Is someone more pro-UI because they are not willing to take seats at Westminster? That doesn’t follow.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Sinn Féin have had GPs before, and some higher paid professionals indeed Sinn Féin’s Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was an Irish banker.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’ve never liked “Catholic” community term, English, Scottish, Welsh, French, Argentine, Swedish, German, Seychellois, Mexican Catholics have the same Pope. I would call myself politically “catholic” in that I’d want a nation that is universal, in some sense pluralistic to more faiths than my own.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think the collapse of the Spirit of Enniskillen pretty much sums up our inability to enable our victims to build our future.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Some would argue the far right to match trends in France and the UK.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If being opposed to violence is a weak selling point, the antithesis must be popular. Not unique, but certainly not weak.

  • mickfealty

    Well, the left in the south these days has virtually no pretensions at wanting to provide public goods. Poujadism is alive and well in the Republic.

  • Croiteir

    Zeno – I can assure you that I, who identify myself as Catholic before and above anything – have a desire for Irish unity that cannot be described as merely a sneaking regard

  • Zeno3

    Who said you didn’t? Almost half of Catholics would like to see Irish Unity last I heard. My point was that the IRA’s 30 years of murder and SF’s support for that has put paid to Irish Unity in the foreseeable future. In 1968 over 20% of Protestants were interestd in Irish Unity, now that’s less than 2%.