You don’t have to be a nationalist to join the SDLP…

A few weeks ago, I renewed my SDLP membership for 2015. Yes, late in the year, but that way I was able to canvass for Naomi Long in May and not feel conflicting loyalties. A little pharisaic, I know, but it worked for my conscience! Seriously though, I don’t think changing loyalties should really be that surprising in this political climate. Voting or campaigning for a progressive voice has always been most important to me, and that has sometimes meant different parties at different times.

I’ll admit that my membership renewal wasn’t with much enthusiasm, but then I haven’t been an active member for a while –my last branch meeting was years ago. No doubt my lack of effort is a contributing factor in my lack of enthusiasm, but added to that, the whole political ship has sailed into the doldrums; nobody has a master plan, in fact, to go further with the sailing metaphor, does anybody really know where we are right now?

I’ve been reflecting on what made me, someone from a moderate unionist background, sign up to the SDLP to begin with, somewhere around the year 2000. In doing so, I’ve had to consider if those reasons still hold.

It certainly wasn’t about nationalism. By that time in my life, my 27 year old self had seen quite enough violence to settle for peace in whatever form we could get it. In other places I’ve talked about having both a British and Irish sense of identity, neither of which are dependent on the border staying or going.

I joined for several reasons. Firstly, it was a party of social democracy; put simply, government works fairly for the good of as many as possible and, where possible, nobody gets left behind. Secondly, the SDLP is a labour party, sister party to the Labour Party. Yes, I know several of you have now scrolled to the bottom of the screen to take issue with this in the comments section, but the SDLP is a left of centre party, thus reflecting my own politics both then and now.

If I’m completely honest, I was probably also attracted to the party because of its size and prestige. There were 24 MLAs back in 2000; it was the party of Hume and Mallon whose intellectual and political capabilities made an impression on me. They had vision; they weren’t just muddling through day to day, they had a sense of where we needed to go.

While I have much affection for the Alliance Party, at that time it was smaller, less significant and, to me at least, had less dynamism. It certainly didn’t have a Hume. But there was one more factor, somewhere in my early twenties I had come to a conscious decision not to live solely in one community, but rather to intentionally seek to be in places where I would hear different narratives. There were two parties with much in common, and I chose the one that better represented me, but also offered a greater range of voices.

I filled in a form and posted it off (I’ve no idea where I picked it up from to begin with), and it wasn’t long before Carmel Hanna was on the phone to invite me to a branch meeting. I really can’t remember the first night, but I’m sure I was nervous. I had no previous experience of party politics and no real idea what I was getting into. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to enjoy the debates within the branch. I don’t know what people think goes on at a party meeting, but the one thing that dominated was policy. Not nationalism, not cunning plans for a united Ireland, but how to make Northern Ireland work under the new arrangements. Yes, it stalled and there was much discussion about what would happen next, but if you were to look back at branch minutes you’d see meetings were dominated by local government issues. Sometimes we invited guest speakers; Ivan Cooper stands out in my memory, as does Anne Tanney, principal of Holy Cross Girls.

After a while I became involved in other committees beyond the branch, Belfast District Executive committee, the party’s Policy Committee. I grew to enjoy canvassing and the camaraderie of election campaigns. I still do, and I intend to be involved again in May. I looked forward to conference, and in this wider contact with the party I came across a few other ‘Prods’. (In 2004 Billy Leonard, another SDLP ‘Prod’ and Coleraine councillor had just defected to join Sinn Fein. I was at conference later that year chatting to yet another ‘Prod’ who leaned toward me conspiratorially and said, “After Billy Leonard, I don’t trust any of them!”)

Not that I went looking; I wasn’t particularly interested in who was what because it was never about one background or another. I sometimes came at an issue from a different perspective, but then I wasn’t the only one, the SDLP is a broad church. I met many people who had been members of the UK Labour Party and had transferred, or were from NI but had joined the party because it was a labour party. I’m well aware that my experience of the party was Belfast-centric, which may well be very different to other parts of the country, but the perception of the party as conservative and Catholic, was never how I thought of it. Yes, more often than not the membership were Catholic, but what dominated discussion was policy and political strategy, where, in my perception, the party has been progressive. The SDLP has opposed academic selection at eleven since the early seventies, and while the specific date escapes me, I was present at the debate which saw support for civil partnerships become party policy, probably around ten years ago. It was hotly contested, but carried by a clear majority (and I was pleased that the SDLP MLAs’ votes finally reflected that policy last Monday).

In time, circumstances changed, my involvement lessened and I drifted away from regular party meetings, though I have canvassed for specific candidates at election time. Maybe if I had more time on my hands I’d leap back in again, but as I said at the outset, the party doesn’t excite me right now; it has struggled to find a clear voice post Hume. Hume was Hume, a one off who also had immense authority from the times he had lived through. It’s a hard task to find a replacement when the context changes. Mark Durkan is probably the nicest man in politics; honest, humble, intelligent and articulate, but he faced an uphill battle to bring order to a disorganised party. Alasdair McDonnell has undoubted organisational abilities and boundless energy, but can’t articulate a message. For that reason I ran against Alasdair in the Westminster selection convention back in 2005. I didn’t think for one minute that I would win, (and the result wasn’t close!) but I wanted the opportunity to articulate something in a way that Alasdair couldn’t. I still feel that way. I don’t say this easily, but the party needs better. Again and again when I mention the SDLP, the question I’m most asked is, what does the party stand for? There’s a reason people ask that question.

Personally, I would like the party to be known for social democracy and labour values first, and nationalism second, if it has to be there at all. I genuinely don’t care because the next local government election isn’t a referendum (although many parties will attempt to make it into one.) That’s a big ask for the SDLP however, because nationalism is something that many of its voters do care about, but if there are electoral gains to be made, it surely has to come from the almost 45% of people who didn’t vote at the last assembly election. That’s a hard group to motivate however. While some people genuinely struggle to find someone to vote for, many just can’t be bothered at all and behave as if their day to day lives are completely unaffected by local government!

Getting a share of that vote will be a tricky act to pull off; being a progressive party is tough in NI when so much of what is debated is tit-for-tat knuckle-head stuff. Progressive representatives are too often dragged into green vs orange debates they care little about. Often, to be heard on our many debate shows (tv or radio) you have to talk loudly and fight for air; the minute you do, you sound like everyone else. Tone then cancels out a more positive message, and we could really do with more positivity right now.

There is still a place for a left of centre, social democratic voice. It needs to be different; dynamic and imaginative. The north needs a vision of where we’re going, as well as the political skill to navigate out of the water we’re in.

It seems clear to me that the SDLP’s next leader should be Colum Eastwood. I’ve never met him, I really don’t know much about him, but he is articulate, and he seems genuine. Yes, I know that many of you are already thinking, what about that coffin? But I have respect for anyone who says “I was there to carry the coffin of somebody I knew very well. What kind of peace process is it if we can’t reach across the divide?” I think we should be less concerned about the coffin, and more interested in his desire to put a relationship first.

Is he the person to clear up the question about what the party stands for? Maybe. We’ll see. I’m hopeful.

  • Funny how this party that claims to be all about social democracy, in the 40 years of its existence has not attracted more than a handful of Protestant members & has never been able or willing to attract any Protestant support. You would think that the Protestant working class would be flocking to support the SDLP. But no.

    The ‘sister’ party in Scotland, a country at one time riven by sectarian politics, the Scottish Labour Party, successfully attracted both Catholic & Protestant support, Similarly with the Irish Labour Party. So why not the SDLP in Northern Ireland? Why is it almost totally Catholic in its membership & its public support after 40 years? Why has it never made any serious attempt to attract Protestant support? Why has it never shaken off its Catholic identity? Is it all the fault of the Protestants?

    Billy Leonard, the ex RUC officer who joined the SDLP, says in his book ‘Towards a United Ireland: An Uncompleted Journey’ that one of the reasons he left the SDLP was because they wouldn’t canvas in Protestant areas.

    Is it not the reason the SDLP has never crossed the ‘sectarian divide’ & given the Protestant working class a voice is that they are quite happy being Catholic & of course middle class & only play at ‘social democracy’ because being middle class they don’t want to be seen as bigots?

  • Ernekid

    The SDLPs tepid response to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as labour leader has shown that they are hardly social democrats. If they are really Social Democrats why aren’t they doing cross border team up with the new Social Democrats party in Dail with Stephen Donnelly and Roisin Shortall?

    The SDLP aren’t really nationalists, they aren’t really social democrats, they aren’t really progressive. they aren’t really anything but a bland pile of nothingness who haven’t been relevant for over a decade.

  • banana man

    How do you feel about your partys own predictions for the next assembly election? Can Eastwood change things around?

  • Catcher in the Rye


    The SDLP’s number one policy priority, on their website, is a united Ireland. It is top of the list of “key issues”.

    And when Justin Cartwright, an SDLP council hopeful, described himself as a “economic unionist” in 2014, the party leader Alasdair McDonnell intervened, and he was made to publicly retract and declare his support for the party’s policy of reuniting Ireland.

    So yes, you kind of do have to be a nationalist to join the SDLP. At the very least you will find yourself in trouble if you dare to express not-nationalist views.

    While I have much affection for the Alliance Party, at that time it was smaller, less significant and, to me at least, had less dynamism. It certainly didn’t have a Hume.

    This is a rather strange remark to make given that, when you joined the SDLP, it didn’t really have a Hume either. Hume was never really seen again after he accepted his nobel peace prize and stepped off the stage of the Waterfront Hall after awkwardly embracing David Trimble at the small U2 concert that was held there.

    It’s strange to talk of post-Hume as if the world revolved around him, when really it didn’t. The SDLP’s struggle, like that of the UUP and Alliance, has not been so much about post-Hume as it has been about post-Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement represented a defeat for Hume. His dream was joint authority, imposed over the heads of the unionists, and he left politics with that dream further away than it had ever been.

  • submariner

    Funny how this party that claims to be all about social democracy, in the 40 years of its existence has not attracted more than a handful of Protestant members & has never been able or willing to attract any Protestant support. You would think that the Protestant working class would be flocking to support the SDLP. But no.

    Why? Sectarianism is rife within working class Protestant areas, that is why they vote for ultra Conservative sectarian bigots rather than themmuns who might be left wing.

    The ‘sister’ party in Scotland, a country at one time riven by sectarian politics, the Scottish Labour Party, successfully attracted both Catholic & Protestant support, Similarly with the Irish Labour Party. So why not the SDLP in Northern Ireland? Why is it almost totally Catholic in its membership & its public support after 40 years? Why has it never made any serious attempt to attract Protestant support? Why has it never shaken off its Catholic identity? Is it all the fault of the Protestants?

    Please see above.

    Billy Leonard, the ex RUC officer who joined the SDLP, says in his book ‘Towards a United Ireland: An Uncompleted Journey’ that one of the reasons he left the SDLP was because they wouldn’t canvas in Protestant areas.

    Fear for your personal safety is a strong human emotion. Ask Mairtin O Muilleoir.

    Is it not the reason the SDLP has never crossed the ‘sectarian divide’ & given the Protestant working class a voice is that they are quite happy being Catholic & of course middle class & only play at ‘social democracy’ because being middle class they don’t want to be seen as bigots?


  • Gaygael

    That the SDLP almost got all its ducks in a row on marriage is a welcome sign of progress. It shouldn’t take five attempts for a progressive party to do so.

    A progressive party would not be anti-choice in all circumstances, even in the cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. Eastwood and his brand of ‘progressive nataionslism’ is unlikely to move on this. Big Al has trumpeted this policy with his own self important posturing as a GP.

    The SDLP has many progressives inside it. Like alliance, they are not a progressive party.

  • Zig70

    While you may see pro choice as progressive, I wouldn’t. That last poll showed little support for abortion. Being pro marriage equality and happy with the current abortion laws is a place you’ll find most potential SDLP voters. I don’t see why people try to club the two together. You don’t get to choose what is progressive on your own.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    That last poll showed little support for abortion

    Being progressive, to me, means that when it comes to advancing social change and the cause of social justice, you lead popular support rather than following it.

  • Nigel Watson

    Hi Dave

    Interesting article…can I ask about “progressive politics”

    Do you mean government using my taxes to spend on delivering outstanding services (health, education, roads, etc, etc), with the users of the services as the central focus…sounds attractive and I think how things work in Sweden

    Or do you mean the government using my taxes to spend on delivery services that might be good, bad or average, but critically have the interests of those who work in them as the central focus…this sounds less attractive, but appears to be what happened under Labour

    If I can put this into a real world example…a rubbish teacher or the kids they “teach” – which is more important to you? I have 3 kids at local grammar schools…we spend £100/week on tutors (let’s not allow for our time & petrol!!) to ensure our kids can be taught properly in important subjects that are taught badly to them. For us this is a pain, but we can afford it…for a “bright Billy or Sean” from the “Shankill or Falls” – I’m not sure this is an option

    Before you mention the 11+…we have middle class friends living in England with kids at comprehensives, who have the same problem…poor teachers effectively can’t be sacked

    I personally think that if “progressive politics” is to find a future it needs to focus on excellence of delivery, rather than the interests of those delivering

  • Yes I see. The Protestants are bigots that’s why the SDLP are a Catholic party. It’s the Prods’ fault.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    if the local grammars are as good as everyone says why do you need tutors ?

  • tmitch57

    The SDLP quite clearly put a united Ireland and nationalism as the first item on their agenda when then ditched Gerry Fitt in favor of Hume. Hume had for many years already been the real power behind the throne with Fitt only elected as leader because he was an MP at the time. At the peak of its power in the decade from 1991 to 2001, the SDLP couldn’t be bothered to organize properly and become an efficient electoral machine like Sinn Fein. And of course the SDLP never had the advantages of all the “volunteers” at election time, the votes of those who didn’t bother to vote for themselves at the poll, and the cash “raised” by the other arm of the Republican Movement. Hume, the great orator, proved a disaster once the peace process had started and he gave away the store to Sinn Fein in terms of his American contacts. Since then the SDLP has tried to play catch-up on the nationalist side while the social democrats remain part of the overall composition of the party. Now that Alliance has recovered and the SDLP is tanking, why not join Alliance, a party that has a genuine interest in issues other than the border?

  • Nigel Watson

    Hi Catcher

    I know we all love to fixate on structures & stuff like that…but at the end of the day kids are taught by teachers in a classroom (in any education system)

    In my own experience, studies (international & UK) and in the experience of friends it appears that between 5-10% of teachers are just not good enough (on the positive side around 25% are fantastic, with the balance more than competent)

    Grammar schools are not immune from having bad teachers…far from it as any parent will tell you

    My question was really about the ability of progressive politics to address under-performance in workers delivering critical services

  • SDLP supporter

    Get real for once, would you? Even to a lot of people in British Labour, Jeremy Corbyn is not mainstream social democrat. He’s a lot closer to Trotskyism and Hard Left which, for a while, have captured British Labour until they crash and burn in the next General Election.
    SDLP’s sister parties in the Party of European Socialist/Socialist International are Irish Labour and British Labour. The Republic’s Social Democrats-which have a lot of really good people like Roisin Shortall and Stephen Donnelly-are basically a splinter from Irish Labour, have no such affiliations and they’ll eventually re-join Irish Labour.

  • Ernekid

    Do you even know what Trotskyism is? You clearly don’t if you think Jez Corbyn is a Trot. Corbyn’s policies are from the school of classical European Social Democracy. They aren’t too different from the German SPD. Corbyn is about a mainstream social democrat as it’s possible to be which is pretty radical for british Labour as they moved rightward under the neoliberal Blairites. Winning over 2/3rds of the parties support in the leadership election isnt really ‘capturing’ Labour either.

    Irish Labour are finished for at least the next decade in Irish politics. They are facing an electoral wipeout next year as they’ve been polling consistently under 10% for years. With the near wipeout in Dublin I don’t expect them to recover soon.

  • SDLP supporter

    I didn’t say he’s a Trot. I said he was close to them, and he certainly is Hard Left. Classical European social democracy? Hardly the social democracy practised by the most successful leaders of the post-war years, like Brandt, Schmidt, Palme, Hawke (Australia) Schroder and Mitterand.
    Corbyn was the beneficiary of the backlash and sense of betrayal that a lot of BLP people felt about Blair, Iraq, Mandelson and cosying up to millionaire bankers. In that sense, they were fighting the last, not the current, war.
    Remember, some of these folks made a mistake putting in Ed rather than David Milliband. Len McCluskey was the main sponsor of Ed and of Jeremy and I wouldn’t trust him an inch.

  • Gaygael

    That’s the survey. The SDLP position is the status quo, which is only supported by 20% of the people in the surveying NI. They profess to be a labour and social democrat party, are in the European PES, yet their stand is hugely out of line, not just with the public, but also their traditional political home.

    I don’t think I’m an arbiter of what is progressive. I would suggest for most progressives, women’s equality is high on their agenda, and that includes control of their reproduction.

  • SDLP supporter

    If promoting abortion to the point of compulsion is progressive social change, then China must be a beacon of civil liberty to the world.

  • SDLP supporter

    There are a fair few violent bigots in our society who have appropriated the ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic label though, as Arlene Foster says, they never practise their religion. In my own constituency I’m thinking of a small minority of people in places like The Village, Taughmonagh, Belvoir and the Markets where violence has been inflicted on SDLP canvassers and perhaps of other parties. No sensible party would put their activists at risk in a situation like this but I can testify that SDLP canvasses everywhere else.
    For 99%+ of people in NI elections are a spectator sport. Fewer than 1% of the population get actively involved in campaigns. Even the DUP has only around 2,000 activists.

  • This article only serves to fuel my scepticism towards the SDLP’s Irish nationalist credentials.

    Similar to their 2014 event, I’d like to see polling involve a questioning of the SDLP rank-and-file on this issue of the SDLP’s identity at their upcoming 2015 party conference. The meagre 54% ‘Yes’ response to Irish unity at last year’s SDLP party conference was an eye opener.

    The following straight question, “Do you consider yourself an Irish nationalist?”, would help in teasing out just how strong the Irish nationalist current runs through the party, and introduce statistics to the debate rather than speculation.

    Similar questioning of party members on labels such as “social democrat”, “left-wing” etc. would also help in understanding the SDLP’s purported leftist credentials as the supposed party of labour and social democracy.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    And the prize for silliest strawman in the world goes to …

  • Catcher in the Rye

    not for me to judge someone else but it sounds over the top to me. Just my opinion of course.

  • Nigel Watson

    Hi Catcher

    Maybe…but it depends what you want out of an education system…I’d like a system that meant a kid from the Shankill of Falls didn’t miss getting to uni by 1-2 grades because he was badly taught & his parents couldn’t find a tutor to address this the way that I can

  • Gaygael

    And herein lies the problem.
    It’s choice, not promoting abortion. Promoting abortion would be telling women to abort all pregnancies. It’s saying, you are the best placed person to make these decisions. Not the state, nor a variation of faith, the woman.
    Pro choice. China does not provide choice, it compulses people through the one child policy.

    Labour parties in most of Europe have been champions on this and other wider women’s issues. Not in Northern Ireland, because of social conservatism.

  • SDLP supporter

    The problem is, that in a pregnancy another life, a human being with potential is involved.

  • SDLP supporter

    MP, an Irish Nationalist for me is someone who wants Ireland to be controlled by the people of Ireland, in all their diversity, subject to that sovereignty democratically ceded to external bodies such as EU. The current situation in the two jurisdictions means that the whole island, unprecedently is under democratic control and, more importantly, can be changed democratically.
    What is your definition? I admit I bristle when people question my nationalist, republican and social democratic credentials.
    What are your definitions and credentials, mo chara?

  • Dan

    Alban McGuinness has been a social democrat politician forever.
    What has he delivered for the people over that period?

  • TruthToPower

    How do Mssrs McDonnell and Eastwood compare to Ms Sturgeon or Ms Wood?
    Once you’ve stopped to consider this, the forthcoming SDLP leadership contest suddenly seems to have the talent and importance of a League 2 match on a wet Saturday in November
    Wait, it is being held on a Saturday in November? Well then…

  • TruthToPower

    Easy question to answer. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

  • mac tire

    “the votes of those who didn’t bother to vote for themselves at the poll”

    An old wives tale, made out to be widespread among Republicans.

    Of course, the boring truth of the matter is that when compulsory photo ID was introduced to help stop this nonsense, SF’s vote happened to rise. The SDLP’s went down.

  • Gaygael

    ‘A human being with potential’ versus an actual living woman.
    It’s a separate thread.
    The SDLP, with their anti choice position, are on the wrong side of the wider public, and most other left or progressives.

  • Robin Keogh

    Being progressive does not mean u have to support abortion on demand.

  • murdockp

    how can educated middle class people consider themselves ro be a labour party. surely on of the SDLP’s candidates has a manual job?

  • murdockp

    SDLP are progressive party? please explain how an anti gay marriage candidate has just been put forward in south down? please explain why their MLAS are not representitive of a society snapshot? they are all from backgrounds that give the leave from work and financial support that allows someone to be an MLA . also many candidates are from eminent SDLP families which comes across as cronyism or if one is less kind, desparation. all this is not progressive. this is stale politics.

  • SDLP supporter

    Completely agree with you. Robin. Maybe an historic first! I really struggle with cases of fatal foetal abnormality, but the vast majority of abortions in GB are for ‘social’ reasons.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    On the other hand, it cannot possibly be progressive to deny women a choice that they have in every single other European country except Poland.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    .. and your opinion of why women should be forced to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy takes priority.

    This is simply not recognised anywhere (outside of Ireland and Poland) as part of being either progressive or a social democrat. It is, principally, a religious belief.

  • TruthToPower

    Ah good point and here’s why. Modern day ‘Labour’ parties and the like are no longer parties of the working classes but have transmogrified into parties of social liberalism and degrees of cultural Marxism. Note I said cultural marxism and not economic Marxism. Such people hold their noses in the presence of ‘plebs’. In short they are parties of people who hold dinner parties and have interesting conversations about their gap year or their son/daughters’ gap year in India or Habitat for Humanity or the like. They have little interest in factory or call centre closures

  • Catcher in the Rye

    To be fair to the SDLP, the reason why you don’t see anti gay marriage SF candidates is because SF requires its members to robotically and uncritically support every aspect of its party policy. Other parties (UUP, SDLP, Alliance, probably the Greens) do not work this way.

  • Am Ghobsmacht
  • SDLP supporter

    Are you for real, murdockp, You live in Newry, unless you lead a hermetically-sealed existence, do you think that there is unanimity about the issue of gay marriage? Of course not, there is a diversity of opinion, as there is on a lot of issues.
    You believe in the free market. How do you assert that SDLP candidates are not representative of the society from which they come? They are democratically selected by paid-up SDLP members (whatever its other faults, the SDLP is wholly democratic) and it is then up to the electorate to decide whether or not to vote them. They don’t fall out of the sky. The electoral system is a pretty good working model of the free economy that you espouse: those who the people want are elected, those they don’t want are rejected. What can be more free market than that.
    Anyone can stand, even you, murdockp: get ten people to sign your nomination papers, pay your deposit, etc and you’re on your way. The election is on Thursday 5 May 2016. Let’s see you stand and see how many votes you get. Go on, go for it!

  • SDLP supporter

    A lot of what you say is nonsense. The SDLP didn’t ditch Gerry Fitt in 1979, he resigned of his own accord. That is an historical fact. The word ‘nationalist’ is not in the SDLP Constitution, the United Ireland objective is No. 3. I’ll quote in full:
    “to promote a united Ireland and unity among the people of Ireland through agreed and mandated political structures and institutions.”
    What precisely are you objecting to in that, tmitch57. Do you recognise my right to peacefully work for a united Ireland, just as I recognise the Alliance Party’s wish to maintain the British link?

  • SDLP supporter

    Once again, murdockp, get real. Are you saying that people who do not have manual jobs are not working? I use my hands all day, mostly tapping on a keyboard, driving a car, etc. I don’t have any inherited wealth so I work to keep bread on the table. If you were a 15 year old doing a Sociology GCSE, you would get a big, fat ‘F’ for failure.

  • SDLP supporter

    Cobblers. I have never been at an SDLP dinner party in my life, don’t know any SDLP people who hold their noses in the presence of ‘plebs’ [whatever they are] and I don’t know any members whose children are on gap years in India or who work for Habitat. Stop gurgitating your adolescent prejudices.
    Incidentally, when the closure announcement of the Michelin factory in Ballymena was made this week, Fearghal McKinney, the SDLP ETI spokesperson, immediately travelled to the town to be on the spot and there were at least three statements from SDLP spokespersons.

  • murdockp

    don’t think so. where labour in the UK went wrong was the disjoint between the elite running the party and the members of the party most of which are traditional working class, and by that I mean people who have jobs that do not require degree level entry or professional qualifications to undertake.

    the fact you judged me with a F shows you probably an SDLP member as you cannot see the disjoint.

    SF have recognised that and have many MAL’S who are from ordinary backgrounds, candidates who the man in the street will vote for

    SDLP does not have this. the candidates more ofter than not are sons and daughters of the party elite, most educated to degree level in professional employment.

    they will never command the votes the SF candidates will for this reason

    to prove me wrong table the ballot box stats. unfortunately I am right on this one.

  • SDLP supporter

    Murdockp, so in your eyes it’s some sort of disqualifier to have a degree or a professional qualification? That is just inverted snobbery. You’re a chartered surveyor and a qualified tax advisor (well done!), so I should reject you at the ballot box (if you stand)?

    I believe in aspiration, so the more useful qualifications a young person gets, the more I would esteem them.

    Your SF MLAs for South Down are Chris Hazzard (studying for a Ph.D in politics, maybe has got it by now) and Catriona Ruane. who attended university in the US. In Newry & Armagh, Conor Murphy has a Master’s, the young woman Fearon was a university student, and may have graduated, and Boylan I don’t know anything about.

    The equivalent SDLP MLAs are Rodgers, Bradley (both teachers with degrees) and McKevitt (don’t think she has a degree).

    Not so different in their backgrounds, in fact in terms of qualifications SF edge it.
    Coming from London, you seem to have some sort of baggage about Oxbridge elites, habitués of Islington and inherited wealth. Let me assure you that that isn’t the situation among the SDLP members I know either in Newry or Belfast.

  • Gaygael

    I quite clearly said they weren’t. And I don’t think a change in leader (if it happens) will make that difference.

    That south down candidate now supports party policy. Party policy includes the allowed abstention. So that may be her wriggle. I hope some clearly pins her on it at a hustings event.

    I would also have some concerns of the dynasty’s in local politics. All of the larger parties have them. It would be unfair to single out the SDLP.

  • Gaygael

    yes, there is a dogmatic trend within Sinn Fein.
    On marriage and abortion thee are ways to view this. Some see it as a conscience issue and some as an equality issue.

    If equality and social justice are core values of your party, then it’s a no brainier to expect that your representatives will be supportive on these issues. And hence no issue with a full expectation of 100% support from party reps.

    I have almost more respect for the SDLP on marriage. They have a policy which allows for abstentions. Alliance are very duplicitoious on this. Their policy is in favour with no space for conscience against or abstaining. Yet the party leadership made a decision to allow members a free vote. A complete betrayal of LGBT members and supporters. The fact that 5 votes in they still can’t get all ducks in a row speaks volumes.

    If alliance and the SDLP had their house in order back in October 2012, we would have had the majority then. This would have been before the finalisation of the Westminster legislation, and the legislative consent motion. We lost by 5 votes. Lunn of alliance was against who should have voted with policy and reduced the margin to 3. Lyttle,Cochrane and McCarthy weren’t present. From the SDLP, Byrne, Dallat and Rogers did not vote.

  • Gaygael

    I would suggest that few progressives use the terminology of ‘abortion on demand’. It’s the language of the pro birthers.
    For me, it means you supports women’s autonomy to make their own decisions. Those decisions may be different to the ones you may make, but you believe that women are best placed to make those decisions for themselves. Always.

  • SDLP supporter

    Being a bit satirical, MurdockP, your views have a worrying similarity of those of the late, unlamented Pol Pot, the genocidal Butcher of Cambodia. He ordered the mass murder of those Cambodians who wore glasses as that meant they must have been able to read, and so were middle class.
    Do you really want to start that lark in Newry?

  • murdockp

    again the response highlights the problem. they are bused in to be seen on TV on the day of the announcement but are absent in the years leading up to the closure. this is the same issue after issue. all after the event reactions and little or no strategy.

    the electorate are not the fools many in the SDLP think they are.

    I was at an event in Newry on Friday which was significant. all the SF representitives where there from the locality. councillors, MLAS and the MP. SDLP sent one councillor.

    this is the difference and if you don’t see it kiss goodbye to seats

  • murdockp

    no point in slagging me off as i never claimed to be from a labour novement. I am centerist liberal. i am also well aware of my background and certainly don’t need you to tell me.

    the difference is you guys claim to be from a labour movement when you are clearly not. if you can’t see the disjoint you have a problem. either rebrand and reposition yourselves to reflect what you are or bring people who represent the labour movement in to give you the credibility you don’t have at present.

    there is also no point in slagging off SF as they are clearly the party of the people and SDLP are not.

    it is fair to say their gains as a party and as individuals are harder fought than SDLP.

    teachers taking long paid holidays to campaign for election is not the same as sacraficing everything to get elected.

    plucking some one who’s dad or mum is high up in the party to stand for election is not the same as fighting you way into the job from nothing.

    Has anyone ever had the balls to ask why are SDLP are not the party of the people as you should be as all the polls and demographis should point in your favour but time and time again you fail to capitalise on this.

    at the end of the day you guys want the votes and you ain’t gong to get them the way you are going. again prove me wrong with ballot box stats

  • SDLP supporter

    Depends on the event, doesn’t it? Please provide details. Frankly, the whole SF team turning up sounds like a bit of overkill.

  • murdockp

    we all know Corbyn won’t make it to next election.

  • murdockp

    you have shown what you are with this last statement. cambodian genocide referenced in a debate on party presentstion, branding, strategy and candidate selection.

    debate closed, i disengage at this point as genocide comparisons seem childish. will i say one sgain let the ballot box again show I had read the position correctly

    let the record show that at no point did you argue with me that you would be happy to let the results at the ballot box show you are right and I am wrong.

    I guess deep down you know what is coming and what a kicking the electorate is going to give you unless root and branch reform happens now.

  • tmitch57

    “The SDLP didn’t ditch Gerry Fitt in 1979, he resigned of his own accord. That is an historical fact.”

    Your historical “fact” is disputed by Fitt’s biographers and Hume’s as well. Describing his resignation as a simple resignation is like claiming that Paisley resigned as DUP leader for personal reasons. Paddy Devlin did resign of his own accord. You should read his reasons for resigning given in his memoirs.

    “the United Ireland objective is No. 3.”

    Look not at the wording of the party constitution written back in 1970, but at the efforts of the various branches and the arguments made during leadership contests.

    “The word ‘nationalist’ is not in the SDLP Constitution,”

    The word Zionist is not found in any of the basic laws that are the de facto constitution of Israel–does this mean that Israel is not a Zionist country? The word capitalist does not appear in the constitution of the United States, does this mean that the U.S. is not a capitalist country?

    “Do you recognise my right to peacefully work for a united Ireland, just
    as I recognise the Alliance Party’s wish to maintain the British link?”

    Yes I do. I only dispute the description of today’s SDLP as a social democratic party as being an accurate one. The party, like Sinn Fein and the unionist parties, is more concerned with the border issue than with anything else. And the sad fact is that none of these parties that make such of an issue over it has a real coherent strategy for changing or preserving the status quo.

  • murdockp

    I have no dispute with anyone who wants to achieve a united Ireland by democratic means. I would supply ask is this this a sensible party strategy?

    the die hards on this issue will always vote SF which leaves those who think it might be a good idea, the indifferent and unionists.

    that is a lot of votes to lose when it is not the overwhelming concensus view of the party faithful

  • murdockp

    you just dont get it..

  • SDLP supporter

    Tmitch57, don’t you dare try to twist the facts to suit your grubby little purposes.
    The SDLP party constitution I quoted from is the current one, not from the 1970s.
    You say that the main issue that the SDLP campaigns on is the border: how to you back up that assertion?
    No-one outside Alliance has ever questioned the SDLP social democratic credentials, not British Labour, not Irish Labour, not any member of the Party of European Socialists. It is left to you, a member of the European Liberal Group, to question our credentials.

    Where have we deviated from basic social democratic principles?

    As for Gerry Fitt, I knew him very well, and liked him a lot, though he often distorted the record to suit his own purposes and contributed little to SDLP policy formation and organisation. I don’t have any of his biographies to hand, but I do have Barry White’s biography of Hume to hand, which is both authoritative and objective. On pages 209/210, he deals with some of the reasons for Fitt’s departure:
    -A bit of amour propre on Gerry’s part. He was jealous of Hume’s massive vote in the European elections and was no longer the sole SDLP parliamentarian.
    -“he had prepared his exit, and it was only the way he left-in protest against the SDLP’s decision not to take part in inter-party talks that was surprising” [the talks referred to were the Atkins talks, which banned any mention of the Irish dimension, to the delight of Alliance and others]
    -[Fitt’s]”…bluff at Westminster-that he could manipulate the party-had been called.”

  • SDLP supporter

    No, you don’t get it murdockp, go on, tell us, what was the event?

  • SDLP supporter

    You’re in your true colours as a Sinn Fein supporter masquerading as a centrist liberal, whatever that is. If you think that your stated political position can be reconciled with Sinn Fein’s totalitarianism, you are sadly mistaken. Sinn Fein are in the business of selling snake-oil solutions.
    Name me one, even one, initiative in the Assembly that has improved the lot of the people here.
    Not even Syriza in Greece is ‘left’ enough for them. Remember, a few months ago Sinn Fein were shouting support for Syriza, but when that party confronted the Greek economic realities, Sinn Fein went strangely quiet?
    The last time I looked, SDLP were the biggest party, by some margin, in South Down.
    Anyway, conversation closed.

  • murdockp

    why take your anger out on me as I could be a voter in waiting as I am looking for the right party to vote for.

    It is not my fault the SDLP is rudderless and I am repeatly pointing out these shortcomings week after week. I am no SF supporter either but I am around long enough to tell a slick operation from a disorganised one when i see it and it pains to say it but SF are as slick and as it gets.

    for example you are now arguing with me to name the event so you can come back at me with a retort building on you cambodian genocide comments from earlier.

    again as a neutral I would retort that if sdlp was run properly you would know what the event as you would have full database of all events of note at local and national level and ensure attendance mirrors the significance of the event.

    I guess read the newspapers and watch the news and see rightly or wrongly how SF are doing it for the people, the voters. I might add what they are doing is irrevelant delivering nothing I would say, but they are there in you face telling the electorate they are working for them.

    until you start doing the same in your face telling the public what you are doing for them constantly reminding them that you are in politics to serve them you are politically dead in the water.

  • For me, the strength of a person’s Irish nationalism can be assessed by their commitment to Irish unity.

    This is why I mentioned the ‘Yes’ response to Irish unity of 54% at the 2014 SDLP party conference, as it doesn’t do much to reverse my doubts towards the SDLP as an Irish nationalist party.

    I think my questioning of the SDLP’s nationalist credentials are reasonable in light of this.

  • SDLP supporter

    Mark, the Irish nation was united pre-1921, albeit under British rule. Unionists like Carson were united Irelanders, in a perverse way, but they wanted to maintain Ireland united under British rule, that is to say they didn’t want Home Rule as sought by Parnell (which was in a very moderate form, milk-and-water form, subordinated to Westminster, within the Empire etc.).
    It is well known that Carson had distaste for partition and accepted it only reluctantly. He was, in my book, no democrat in that he ignored the will of the Irish people. Of course, he would have argued that he was acknowledging the will of the majority of the then United Kingdom, which had a far greater population and subsumed the population of the island of Ireland.
    That is why I think my definition is more robust. If we ever get unity, in some form we may never have thought of, it isn’t the end of history: we then have to democratically work for the welfare of all the people.
    In a hypothetical case Ireland could have been united by force in World War 2, say by Nazi Germany, but I am sure it would not have satisfied many people who called themselves Irish nationalists.
    There are very few people, if any, within the SDLP who don’t want a unified nation. For some, like David Thompson, the social democratic dimension is of greater importance than Irish unity, which can take several forms, unitary state, federalism, etc.
    In summary, I would suggest that:
    -the supporters of the SDLP and SF would agree that partition was a disaster and never should have happened;
    -SDLP people would say that the reality is that there are two de facto jurisdictions on the island and we can’t ignore that fact by pointing at 1918 election results, the second Dail, etc. That view was accepted by the signatories to the GFA and ratified by the all-island referendum.
    -it’s up to northern nationalists, both SDLP and SF, to work, together with the Dublin government and parties, to persuade unionist folk of the benefits of a form of Irish unity by advancing cogent arguments, mainly in the economic dimension, of the benefits of an all-Ireland approach
    -accept that killing Irish people (unionists), who happened to disagree with you in the cause of Irish unity was an obscene, stupid mistake, and will never be repeated.

  • SDLP supporter

    Murdockp, the genocide comment was satire, as I made clear, poking fun at your initial very restrictive definition of what a worker is. If it offended you, I apologise.
    Some of the rest of what you write, I actually agree with you. The SDLP is disorganised in many places (not all), and I suspect Newry is one of them, and Sinn Fein are very good at telling people how wonderful they are, while delivering damn all.
    Next week will be an example of that. As part of Stormont House 2, they will climb down over the welfare cuts, while telling their supporters what a good deal they got and the ‘kicker’ in terms of money lost to people’s pockets, only coming after the 2016 elections.
    Sinn Fein are very good at electoralism, like putting a sticking plaster on negotiations in the North, to get them past the Dail elections.
    As for the event in Newry, and you still haven’t told us what it was, there are 14 SDLP and 14 Sinn Fein councillors on the Council, If there was a full turnout of all councillors, entitling them to a per diem allowance, etc., then that doesn’t sound like a very good use of ratepayers’ money. It may have been a very significant event, but I haven’t heard of it.
    Put it this way, in Belfast in the past, most SDLP councillors were in gainful employment and part-time councillors-which they were supposed to be, it’s a part time job. Along came Sinn Fein, most of whom had never held down a job, well-funded and working full time for a party which paid them “the average industrial wage” and funded, in part, from some dubious sources.

  • I guess what I am simply trying to say is that I have my doubts about whether or not (i) the SDLP is seriously in the business of Irish unity; (ii) Irish nationalist sentiment is a core political interest of the SDLP rank-and-file and party leadership.

  • SDLP supporter

    What is ‘nationalist sentiment’?

  • Dominic Hendron

    What is an actual living woman but a human being with potential; you’re just playing with words gaygael

  • Zeno

    An interesting post. I’ve never voted. I’m in the category of none voters who are unaffected by who is in power. You’re post tells it as it is. The best politicians are those who can mug the electorate best.

  • Gaygael

    It’s a separate discussion on abortion. I’m pro choice. I believe women will always make the best decisions in their lives.

  • Croiteir

    But not necessarily for another

  • Gingray

    They get plenty of protestant support – in south down and Foyle at last election and in the past protestant votes helped Joe Hendron win in West Belfast.

  • tmitch57

    “It is left to you, a member of the European Liberal Group, to question our credentials.”

    I’m an American so it would be rather difficult to be a member of any grouping in the European Parliament.

    “Tmitch57, don’t you dare try to twist the facts to suit your grubby little purposes.”

    So please, do tell me, what are my grubby little purposes?

    “The SDLP party constitution I quoted from is the current one, not from the 1970s.”

    Whatever the date, it still doesn’t answer the point that I made above that actions speak much louder than words.

  • Acrobat_747

    Settle down SDLP supporter.

    You’re loosing the party many potential votes. I’m a member of the party and I nearly feel like voting SF after reading your comments.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Very few politicians come from an uneducated working class manual labour background in the Assembly parties here, even Sinn Féin have teachers, barpeople, landowners, business owners, public servants, solicitors, academics/students (including many of the ex-prisoners), even a banker in Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. I don’t see the reason to attack someone for being educated, even Dave Gilmore says he regrets saying that people don’t need to be educated.

    In the last Foyle election, the only one candidate I think that didn’t have a degree was university drop-out Eammon McCann and in my opinion he behaves more like an academic than the rest of the field do. I would dare anyone to call him “uneducated”.

    As a GP Alasdair or as a nurse Dolores probably did more manual labour in their working lives, alongside their work as a politician than many of the new generation of paid councilors will get these days. Politicians having real life day-job experience will become less and less. Even school teachers, doctors and legal professionals in politics might be a lot rarer than the waves of special advisers, dynasty politicians, local constituency office workers and PPE graduates who start and finish the careers only in politics.

  • Kevin Breslin

    On the basis of that argument Karl Marx was not a Marxist, cultural, social or otherwise. He married into the rich Phillips family from Eindhoven and had a PhD from the University of Jena.

  • Gaygael

    Its a separate debate on abortion and reproductive rights.
    The comment in relation to this thread is that the SDLP are out of synch with the wider public and most other social democratic or labour parties.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The only way a United Ireland is going to happen is by 50%+1 accepting or believing they are better off being one in four in a sovereign all-Ireland state with all its vice and virtues, than being one in thirty four in a sovereign United Kingdom state with all its vice and virtues.

    Those limitations are that local devolution that can only really manage the spending of a subsidized budget, and local politicians can only block legislation in a national parliament only with support of politicians representing at least sixteen or seventeen times its size, as opposed to representing a mere equal or twice its size on Irish terms.

    The realpolitik is either way politicians and indeed society as a whole’s management of economic matters not simply political power, convenience and association have to addressed in the constitutional culture of how the people of this island want to connect and disconnect with one another, and with Great Britain, Europe and elsewhere.

    The SNP’s own management of devolution, put a few doubting Thomas of Scottish Independence to rest. Irish nationalism cannot simply piggyback on the Republic of Ireland’s success, nor Unionism on England, Scotland or Wales. Attacking the inhibitions people have on philosophical arguments isn’t going to work.

    It would be very easy for me to “reconcile” with living a unitary Irish state as I’ve lived and worked in both parts and never really lived or worked on the island of Britain, for purely selfish reasons making the DUP and the Shinners have to work harder to get into power and deal with the harsher consequences of their fiscal actions the way an Irish government would have to if they get in it would be worth paying the extra USC. That’s not going to be the case among the diversity of people North and South though.

    To me the identity thing is constitutionally irrelevant, I’m Irish, I’m a res publica republican that respects people’s choice to be Irish through self-determination. I accept any Unionist calling themselves Irish, but I accept “Irish with the Northern prefix” isn’t considered to be “Irish” by some up here as well. Why do you have to be Irish to live in Ireland in the 21st Century anyway?

    There’s plenty of Irish around the world who have altered the identity of Irish and the people of this island have no problem adopting them. Similarly I respect the right of any Irish person to identify as British, unionist or otherwise, let’s not kid ourselves here … Terry Wogan, Des Lynam, Graham Norton, Bob Geldof, they probably all identity as British on some level, but are equally Irish institutions as they are British ones, more recognizable in the British media.

    There’s having a national birthright, but then there’s using your birthright to make a difference to the nation you love on the other hand and re-identifying what others can identity with. That’s what Hume did.

    I equally reject the idea of using a religious identity as a political identity, it’s been centuries since that mattered to constitutional politics, and Irish nationalism was founded by Protestants and had plenty of “British people” in it anyway.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The representatives of a party are representative of a society as a whole, and to be honest a party can’t be a party of a few matters. Parties, Policies and Politicians are representative of society, trying to whip and gerrymander and socially engineer society through party disciplinary matters isn’t going to have a wide appeal.

    I’m a firm believer society changes politics from the bottom up, not politicians changes society from the top down. That’s first lesson Social Democracy 101 and Liberal Democracy 101. It should be Democracy 101 for any democratic ideology.

    There’s talk about society being ahead of the politicians, but if they are not behind politicians who want to make those changes, what right do these individuals have to denigrate the consented mandates of a bigger more active block?

    Attacking dissent to get success rather than addressing concerns gives off an aora of fascism, literally wanting to “bundle together” everyone into a “group think” rather than evangelizing the merits to saint and cynic alike.

    Politics is not about using people like “voting objects” but humanizing causes. Unfortunately the party whips and the petitions of concerns can often undermine this.

    In many ways Trevor Lunn joining the Alliance Party and voluntarily changing his opinion on a matter that would’ve been a minority concern when he had joined the party, does show that closing the door on people who object to even some high priority matters of the party line is counterproductive in a democracy. Sinn Féin did let Billy Leonard go, but they welcomed back Francie Molloy and Peadar Tobin into the fold after dissenting.

    I feel Mike Nesbitt is on the wrong side of history but his non-vote and comments might show he is agnostic on that particular border.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well the IRSP are pro-choice in all circumstances, the pro-choice and Irish nationalist bottom line electorate has every right to shock Sinn Féin and the SDLP to alter their opinions if neither wish to move enough for them. They did oppose representative democracy though so I’d imagine they’d put the matter to an all-Ireland vote at referendum level given the chance and legislate on that behalf.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The party is representative of their membership make-up and more so than many. That membership is open to the public to join. Its constitution is decided by that membership. If it wants to be elected, it needs to reflect the bottom line issues of the public in each constituency.

    If it reflected the Nolan/Prime Show survey you’d have more people opposing equal marriage than supporting a United Ireland in the here and now within it. Parties aren’t designed to be perfect microcosms, if they were they probably wouldn’t need to change anything in society.

    We did have a system where parties could ensure that only the politicians they want to be elected could get in and they all represented the view of what was perceived to be the majority of the electorate but the SDLP and many others opposed it. It was called Gerrymandering, and the politicians didn’t just decide who should get in, but the people who had the right to vote for them.

    That system is long dead now.

    I don’t think any party can reflect the majority of society’s views all of the time. However I do feel the Assembly at the cusp of election is more reflective of society at that moment than any opinion poll or party could ever be.

  • Kevin Breslin

    As is the case in most political movements including many unpopular ones, many willing to sacrifice their mandate and popular support for their principles. Society can think for itself and use its own jurisprudence to decide what it believes and disbelieves, especially when it comes to politics. Democracy is the only game is show though.

  • Kevin Breslin

    As far as I am aware Justin is still an “economic unionist” in the party, and Alasdair is probably an “economic nationalist”. I don’t see any evidence of retraction or a rebuttal. What else they disagree on, or what they agree with the party on is another debate.

    Justin’s view is a minority view within the SDLP, so of course it’s not going to reflect the party. It’s silly to think of any party consisting of 100% Maoist Greyshirts with no individuality at all.

    If Alasdair were the be all and the end all of who gets into the party, why is his leadership even being challenged?

    Surely, if he was willing to be more authoritarian he’d do a Mike Nesbitt and throw any dissenting voices out. If what the king says goes, wouldn’t it just be a very extreme version of a loyalist party?

    In the UUP, you might be free to vote on a conscience matter, but object to party political pacts because you believe in conscience that it simply aggravates winner takes all divide and conquer politics of sectarianism then I’m sorry Basil, John you guys have to go. Support this view too much however and you’re thrown out like David McNarry.

    Even Mike Nesbitt, a rival party leader within unionism, and Peter Robinson quote Hume and indeed Hume-Adams as successful peace-building process being nothing but critical of him at the time does show how much of a presence he actually had here.

    Yes he is just a mortal human being, and his current ill health and age is down to his humanity, he does have a lot of respect across all quarters for what mere flesh and blood fragile to every sickness, injury and ailment under the sun is capable of.

    The SDLP’s support for a United Ireland is a party constitutional matter, like the Republic of Ireland it wants Northern Ireland to join with, this constitution can be altered by a vote. In my opinion it was a coalition of convenience between nationalists and social democrats in the beginning, if it wanted to it can return to that again.

    If the SDLP membership don’t want it to be an Irish nationalist party, or the constituents demand otherwise they have the right to change it. If an economic unionist doesn’t want to be in the SDLP, he or she can leave it as it is and join a unionist party he or she may or may not have a lot more political disagreements with.

    You might argue Justin is a “nationalist” in that he might be a “cultural nationalist” and being on record as saying he is an Irish speaking GAA supporting Aussie that might be right, but then so what?

    Billy Leonard joined the party as an Orangeman, ex RUC reservist before joining up into Sinn Féin, he married into Irish nationalism/republicanism through his own free will. If he had any gun to his head he had the ability to shoot back. He left the SDLP so that he could defect to Sinn Féin, and then left them to write a book on why he came to support and continues to support Irish unity.

    Frankly since political beliefs are an internal matter, I don’t see how any party can enforce a rule so silly as to what a person can think and not think on the border question. Justin, like all those members and all those voters have free will i.e. choice and autonomy, if they want to avoid trouble they can stay the hell away from politics in the first place.

    I think you’ve won the award for the silliest strawman argument.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The Irish Social Democrats just like the Labour Party of the UK and the Labour Party of Ireland, and the former UK Social Democrats are free to have their own associations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

  • “To me the identity thing is constitutionally irrelevant”

    I would consider national identity a particularly significant factor in the constitutional debate. I’d feel confident in believing that the 513,390 people in the north who identified as Irish in the 2011 census are likely to support Irish unity. The constitutional question is interwoven with identity politics.

    “I equally reject the idea of using a religious identity as a political identity”

    I would be reluctant to undermine the significance that religious belief or background still plays in northern politics, if I’m understanding the above correctly.

    Firstly, religious social conservatism, whilst it has been in retreat in the face of this generation’s more secular, liberal attitudes, it is still a factor. Christian social conservatism is an illustration of this.

    Secondly, religion is still linked to national identity. Catholics are less likely to identify as British (12.9% of northern Catholics), and Protestants are less likely to identify as Irish (3.9% of northern Protestants), and these national identities significantly influence political attitudes. Whether we like it or not, it is the grim reality of the situation.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I think the policy of some on abortion, as with gay marriage, is about selling the electorate what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

    Being able to adopt a pro-life party policy is a luxury that we on this island are able to afford as a result of the pro-choice options available a one-hour plane trip away, due to the jurisidiction to our east being forced by reality to introduce them in 1968, along with most of the rest of the western world. Our delicate and hypocritical pieties are thus protected by the difficult choices that had to be taken by others. It is a form of cowardice.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The SDLP’s constitution is not available publicly, but on its website is a handy list of “key issues” and number 1 on the list is the reunification of Ireland. And the fact that this matter is within the party’s constitution (probably right below the articles that name the party and authorise it to stand in elections) suggests that it is an issue which is integral to the party’s existence.

    I don’t understand how anyone can play down the fact that the SDLP is a constitutional nationalist party committed to the reunification of Ireland. I’m sure you’re a social democrat and all that, and you probably don’t waste a lot of time thinking about ending partition – and Claire Hanna obviously doesn’t given that she was stumped when called to advocate the question on the Nolan Show last week – but nonetheless, Irish reunification is very obviously a crucial part of the SDLP’s identity.

    On the other hand I can’t find anything on the Alliance Party website that justifies your claims about a “British link” or whether or not it should be maintained. Maybe it is in their constitution, but if it is, it isn’t reflected anywhere else. The only time I’ve heard an Alliance person say anything about constitutional issues recently was Anna Lo when she said that a united Ireland might be a good idea.

    But to contradict tmitch57 …. a united Ireland was always on the SDLP’s agenda. John Hume said, long before he was party leader – in a particularly heated moment – “it’s a united Ireland now, or nothing”. It was so important to them that they saddled Sunningdale with the Council of Ireland, knowing for sure that this would make it very difficult to sell to Unionists at the time.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    the talks referred to were the Atkins talks, which banned any mention of the Irish dimension, to the delight of Alliance and others

    Didn’t Alliance happily sign up to Sunningdale and subsequently support the Anglo Irish Agreement ? I think you might be remembering some of this stuff wrong.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I’d very much struggle with the idea that extra tutoring enhances your child’s chance at university education. The kids from the Shankill and the Falls who miss out are not missing out by a grade or two. Large swathes of them do not even do A-Levels.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    believing that a united Ireland is a “key issue” and committing yourself to it

  • Catcher in the Rye

    it isn’t a “strategy” it’s a policy.

    Strategy is what the SDLP and Sinn Féin do not have.

  • Nigel Watson

    Hi Catcher

    Can I ask why you struggle with the idea that tutors (for subjects taught badly at school) help my kids?…I can see how someone might have an ethical problem, but surely it’s just common sense…good teaching assists in good results.

    I agree that kids on Shankill & Falls aren’t even getting near that level…bad teaching will be part of that

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think you don’t get what I mean by constitutionally relevant. Religious social division in Ireland have been stirred up by constitutional politics that really no longer applies. We don’t live in the Penal law and Counter reformation era, we don’t have Cromwell or Mary Queen of Scots overlooking us, even the Protestant State and special status is undermined. The vast majority of Protestant churches operate all-Ireland as does the Catholic Church, so freedom of faith is not in question as it once was. This includes the Free Presbyterians and Eliminate Churches.

    Partition kept a largely Catholic state and one holding the majority of Protestants apart, and for years discrimination particular on religious assumption did stir up sectarianism but I think in constitutional terms that is as relevant as the religious division between Germany and Austria. Many of our Catholics are English, many of our Protestants are English too.

    It’s not religious differences causing community division or the division of the island it is purely social and economic ones. I think Dara Ó Brían talking about his “Catholicism” as “I don’t believe in God, religion or the church but I do cheer when Celtic beat Rangers” probably sums up the sort of community identity politics here, and secularism is not going to drive people unwilling to be in cross community partnerships into making huge efforts to make them.

    Identity might be an issue but it makes very little

  • kalista63

    Like the UUP, the SDLP pushed a celeb candidate ahead of long time councillors and party workers. To me, that’s an insult t those people, the electorate and just doesn’t sit well. Worse still, they screwed over the very well regarded alternative candidate.

    I get what you’re saying about ordinary people, someone like Paddy Devlin. Many forget that, like SF members, SDLP members were regarded as legitimate targets by loyalists that were supported by unionists, but they now join with those unionists in ganging up on SF.

    From the Ritchie era, the party has become a one policy party, anti SF. Whilst they have great people like Alex Attwood (my longtime candidate for leader) they seem caught in the headlights (see what I did there?) when it comes to selecting someone with direction.

    Being from St James’, I recall a dark time when execution squads were being organised from the Shankill and in that very same period Joe Hendron reached out to that same community, offering them nothing mre than defeating SF.

    As for criticism of yourself, you haven’t said a single word that professional commentators, including ex SDLP folk, haven’t said. The BT9 wing took hold of the party, pursuing disappointed Alliance votes and unionists in S Down. Its too late to correct that, even if Eastwood is selected, and the party may pay for it in its base areas.

  • chrisjones2

    Is it sensible to tie oneself to an unattainable policy

  • kalista63

    Not just Hanna. Pearse also seemed unprepared for the question. As the kids would say, I had a face palm moment.