Nationalist Parties need to shift away from the “blame the Tories” narrative and embrace the Welfare Reform debate

Nationalism needs a new economic narrative and if you didn’t believe that before, the complete debacle over Welfare Reform is proof positive of the inability to construct a proper narrative on our current economic situation or a long term strategy for fiscal rectitude and a prosperous economy.

We are faced at the moment with a budgetary crisis that puts our very institutions in jeopardy. After all the stop/starts, false dawns and talks about talks, we seemingly had broken the pattern with a durable form of devolution.

As I write this, we are hearing speculation from political leaders about the Secretary of State possibly taking Welfare powers to Westminster which could bring the whole house of cards crashing down around us. After all, what self-respecting government stays in office when they have so monumentally failed to come to an agreement over something as important as social welfare?

Chris Donnelly has regularly commented about the need for Nationalists to make Stormont work. On this I cannot possibly agree with him more. Nationalists have to be about taking more powers away from Westminster and shifting the political centre of gravity to Ireland. This was something that Nationalists did with such confidence over the policing and justice issue.

We actually have at the moment a strategy that not only emphasises Northern Ireland’s fiscal dependence on Westminster but seeks to continue it and entrench it into the future.

When did it become desirable objective for Irish Nationalism to go with a begging bowl to the Conservative government every time we have a problem?

Why are Nationalists not using this opportunity to have a real debate about raising revenue locally?

Instead of saying “blame the Tories” and “we need to protect the most vulnerable” 10 times a day, why not say “here we have some local powers we can use to mitigate these changes, aren’t you glad we have devolution? And would it be a great idea if we have more powers out of the hands of Westminster?”

But nope, this debate is seemingly off limits.

Another thing that bothers me about this entire debate is the idea that Northern Ireland can be sheltered from world events.

I follow politics a whole host of countries from Australia, New Zealand to Canada and every single one of them are debating these issues. The idea that we are somehow immune or isolated from it, just merely heightens an insular world view, rather than seeking to look outwards and following some best practice from around the world.

I don’t want a Nationalism that spouts rhetoric from the 1960s and seeks to follow the economic policies of the 1970s. We need to move off talking solely about welfare and seek to talk about work.

I have lost count of the number of small businesses I have worked with who literally started out as an idea on a piece of scrap paper or as mere thought conjured up on a car ride home. That type of entrepreneurship and how we enhance it has just been totally lost in this debate.

We need to show that aspiration, prosperity and wealth creation are good things and that wanting a better future is something to be encouraged. Yes, it’s okay to have a good standard of living and it isn’t a bad thing to move on and move up.

And being self-critical of my wing of the argument, we need to also recognise that it is important that the prosperity created is used for good purpose and to provide others in society with a ladder of opportunity.

But none of this is being debated because we are all too busy blaming the Tories and trying to press pause on economy that has been stagnating for years.

There is such an opportunity here for Nationalism to break out of its comfort zone and really change the dynamic of politics and debate here.

The Welfare Reform debate can be the catalyst to show that when it comes to the crunch it’s our local politicians who really matter.

We spend so much time fawning over Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, but we forget that the SNP have largely sought to make their own luck and forge opportunities for themselves.

Nationalist parties here need to be pro-active and use this debate to not threaten the institutions but move the centre of politics away from Westminster.

So far this just isn’t happening.

In short, Nationalists need to take the Welfare Reform debate head on, make a deal, secure the institutions and get the project back on the rails. Nation building is a hard business and this is something not to be missed.

We cannot afford to let Stormont fall.

We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.

Finally, we really cannot afford to forget how nations are built.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

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