Sinn Fein’s Crisis of Conscience

Where has the Marxism gone?
Where has the Marxism gone?

Remember when Sinn Fein used to be a Marxist party? As this article in Marxist Today attests, Sinn Fein has shuffled away from its Marxist roots in order to buy some popular support – especially in Northern Ireland.

But Sinn Fein’s ideological attachment to Marxism only occasionally shows itself. Sinn Fein prefers easier doctrinal posturing – ideally involving emblems or flags or commemorations. Arguments around economics throw the party spokespeople into a tizzy. They never seem really sure of their ground. The contradictions are manifest.

This morning Conor Murphy appeared on the Nolan Show to ‘discuss’ the latest gauntlet to be thrown down by the Conservatives – this time by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn statement. Osborne wants the NI parties to get their budget act together before he’ll agree to the devolution of Corporation Tax. That will require the local parties to agree on the (partial) extension of welfare reform to NI.

Murphy’s objection to this is as follows: 1) He won’t be told how to behave by the Tories; 2) He won’t accept the ideological basis of the welfare reforms. But here’s the thing…he doesn’t need to do either. The Shinners can maintain their pseudo-ideological commitment to Marxism by saying 1) they haven’t agreed to anything imposed by the Tories; and 2) they don’t accept the Tory ideology. The alternative is the politics of Canute.

Denial of the facts by Sinn Fein does not amount to ideological strength. The fact is that only the UK Treasury has (borrowed) money. Sinn Fein has none without the UK Treasury. The UK Treasury funds Sinn Fein’s fake research departments. The UK Treasury pays Sinn Fein MLAs ‘living wages’. The UK Treasury provides the £10Bn of subvention that this place needs, annually, to stay fiscally afloat.

Ironically, the impending departmental cuts are not Tory cuts but Sinn Fein cuts – because it’s precisely because of Sinn Fein intransigence on welfare reforms that the cuts are being implemented – they’d be much less draconian if Sinn Fein simply accepted the imposition of nasty Tory policy. There is no ideology at work here apart from Tory ideology. That does not make Sinn Fein responsible for it.

Sinn Fein can distance itself from every Tory policy to which it does not agree. But intransigence on welfare reform is having the reverse effect to the one intended. It’s resulting in immediate departmental cuts and a failure to extend devolved taxation powers to the Executive. By definition Sinn Fein is working against itself and its aspirations for greater self-determination.

The extension of devolution power over corporation tax does not, of course, make a rate reduction inevitable. The local parties are already making noises that they won’t countenance the price of a rate cut in terms of block grant reduction. And, ideologically, the idea of a ‘rebalancing’ of the Northern Ireland economy away from public sector dependency may not sit well with any real Marxists that still exist in Sinn Fein ranks.  Indeed, perhaps Sinn Fein may be approaching its first real collective crisis of conscience. Can it really argue in favour of a reduction in Corporation Tax when the only doctrinal position that could support that stance is a reduction in dependency on UK Treasury hand-outs and a greater involvement of foreign owned big businesses seeking low-tax HQ locations? Is this position compatible with any real Marxist/Socialist principles?

If not, then Sinn Fein needs to start thinking about what it does, indeed stand for. Because if it doesn’t stand for those things it may find itself arguing the case for continued dependence on UK money when there is no money left.

Free market libertarian. Businessman. Small government advocate. Former Vice-Chair, Conservative Party in NI. Fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs. Former Regional Chair, Business for Britain (the business voice of VoteLeave).