Over the past few days there has been some great thoughts and discussion on Cleenish’s posts, something I have to thank all of those who have commented for. It’s been a resounding success and a great starter to a process I hope will allow us to start to move to think out loud about how to create an agreed Ireland, one where we try and melt the border so to speak.
There was a post from Sir Ike Broflovski in the first part of Cleenish’s posts which got me thinking about a number of things, here it is below:
‘I happen to think one vehicle for helping progressive or lefty prods out of the stifling unionist cul-de-sac without losing any Catholic support is an all-Ireland openly pro-unity Irish Labour Party that includes (obviously) the Irish Labour Party, alongside the nationalist and/or left leaning membership of the Alliance Party, the SDLP and maybe even some random bits of unionist parties – offering a bridge through the wider Labour movement to British and Irish reservoirs of principle, tradition and new thinking like the GB Labour Party’s Irish Society, the Fabian Society, the Christian Socialist movement and also, of course, the Unions. That’s the party I’d like to be part of anyway.
I really think that’s the next stage for the SDLP but it will have to have a think about whether it might be suffering a bit of what Cleenish identifies as a disabling “Northern” orientation and whether that orientation leads it to be a bit communal at times – more a protector of community rights within the North than an active all-Ireland integrator. (emphasis added)’
Whether he is on to something, we can all discuss later, however, I wonder what the SDLP does nowadays. What is its purpose to the Nationalist community it serves other than to be not Sinn Fein? What has the party achieved by way of political success or convincing the voting public that a United or Agreed Ireland is the way forward? Where is there vision as to what the future should be outside of broad, sweeping statements about how we should all get along because I am at a loss as to what they do.
Am I the only person who thinks this? Look at Ruarai over on Slugger O’Toole in a piece where I felt he over egged the pudding too much but he does have a number of very valid points with this being the one that stands out for me:
‘Irish nationalism is drifting. Its would-be voters are caught between a secret desire to see just how far Sinn Fein can take their all-Ireland project – and in fairness to Sinn Fein, at least they have one – and a sense that local politics is essentially a theatrical sideshow staffed by empties. The project is being left to two relatively small and, in different ways, dysfunctional political parties north of the border.’
At least Sinn Fein has something of a strategy and are working an all island angle, where’s the SDLP’s? This is not good enough and we should be expecting more from our elected representatives. A United Ireland is their raison d’etre yet we’ve got Bo Diddley of real substance from the SDLP since the GFA when we should have their reps out front row and centre telling us how they’re pushing for practical cross border cooperation, bringing a realistic vision and a sense from their representatives that they can achieve something.
I am not for one second suggesting that we should have Nationalist ‘unity’ as we need choice, we need to hear different opinions and we need as many parties as possible so as to enfranchise as many Nationalist voters as possible, however, what I am questioning is whether the SDLP is the vehicle for centre-left nationalism that will help achieve something. Has it gone as far as it can and perhaps its members should disband and go their separate ways, whether off to Fianna Fail, Southern Labour, Fine Gael and, dare I say it, APNI? As FJH has noted on his own page many times, the party is a broad church of Nationalists, Republicans, Social Democrats and Socialists. I would also add that it has often been seen as a party of middle-class Catholics too and their decision to support continued discriminatory practices in relation to Catholic schooling back home could be seen in this light, something Sinn Fein didn’t support. This leads me to think of them as increasingly parochial and a party that is incapable of representing me and my aspirations.
The ever sage FJH noted that he was at an SDLP Youth Conference in Doire over the weekend and it appears to have been quite an interesting discussion, I regret not going to be honest. What I found particularly telling though is the well spotted disconnect between the big words of SDLP representatives and their actual workings:
‘Conall McDevitt stated that the “real” division is between the “haves and have nots” but is committed to the Good Friday Agreement. The GFA is “ours” and I think he was speaking both in terms of the SDLP AND Norn Iron. He believes that Nationalism ” needs to change” and should be having a conversation with itself… Conall’s call for conversations within Nationalism would have more credibility if a Sinn Fein MLA was asked on a Panel at a SDLP Conference. ….have we not heard enough of Davey Adams, Rev Norman Hamilton, Duncan Morrow, Mary Hanafin, Brian Hayes….and that Joanna Tuffy ?’
We have indeed. We know that Conall would be more credible and the SDLP’s call for a discussion within Nationalism would be taken serious if they were actually serious about it, but we know they are not. This is particularly annoying for someone like myself, a person who to many should be a prime SDLP voter. Upwardly mobile, a pacifist and a young professional yet I would find it very difficult right now to put an ‘x’ or give a first preference to any member of the party as I do not see any kind of all island vision but merely a party that may have arrested its decline but is nonetheless bleeding votes and seems to be in some kind of stasis.
So what would I like to see coming from the SDLP in the coming months? First of all, less of the grand, now meaningless, sweeping statements about inter-communal reconciliation, more talk about practical things, the nuts and bolts please. I may be wrong but we have had 20 years or more of politicians talking about the hand of history etc. and in the current climate we really need someone to be practical, tell us what you would change, what you plan on implementing and how this ties in with your voters’ wish for a United Ireland AND inter communal reconciliation. We are in the midst of a terrible, self-inflicted recession, where can we save money by pooling resources with the rest of the island. You have a chance to be innovative and with perceptions set so low if you achieve any kind of rationalisations or cross border cooperation that benefits the island as a whole, not just the North East, then you will gain trust from sceptics like me and from those who think it is not worth their while to come out and vote for you, who want someone useful to vote for and who do not want to vote for Sinn Fein.
Also, you will need to tell Nationalists how you are not merely a parochial, middle-class and Catholic party. You will need to tell us how you connect with the rest of the electorate in the 26 counties and no, in your current guise being a sister party of Southern Labour will not do as we all know that a lot of your members would fit in a whole lot easier in Fine Gael or Fianna Fail than with Gilmore et al. So, either you bite the bullet and make this connection of yours with Southern Labour a bit more than being a sister party, you face up to the very possible chance that Fianna Fail may organise in the North and you may lose some support for this, but gain respect (important) and votes (more important) from many others and bring people out to vote for you who see you as a genuine left-leaning party as opposed to a receptacle of a lot of confusing ideas OR continue on as a Nationalist party that only has representation in six of the thirty two counties.
What I liked about Cleenish’s pieces was the notion that we have put ourselves in something of a cage whenever it comes to how we, Nationalists, think when we confine ourselves to thinking about how things pan out in the North East alone as opposed to our country as a whole. With the demographic changes as per the most recent census, I believe that by continuing to confine itself to the North East the SDLP is unfortunately making itself into an irrelevance and will limit itself and the electorate they represent.