Thanks for all of the comments on the last post concerning the SDLP and some of the insightful points made from commentators new to the site and who have followed the site for a while now, all were much appreciated. Here’s the concluding post from Cleenish on his thoughts surrounding the party and its way forward.
To date there has been little to indicate what direction the party may be heading and it may be more likely to continue to drift along. There have been a number of tantalising strands in the wind to tentatively signify the direction of thinking.
Firstly the media friendly 😉 and much touted future leader Conall McDevitt gave the following speech The main lesson I draw from this is that the contrived arrangement Northern Ireland is to be maintained as a central tenet of the future. The future is centered on the GFA with a vision of being northern Irish and Irish but with the heavy emphasis being on making Northern Ireland work and making Northern Ireland a common home for all.
At the recent SDLP Youth conference some indicators of the future direction from Conall where GFA should be seen as being owned by the people of the north (note – not Ireland) and that nationalism needs to change, although no indications of what needs to change are indicated.
The blog entry on Baron Creeth also hints at big changes to come from ‘sources’ in the party, which suggest a left-ward swing at the expense of nationalism, identity politics and the development of a new Irish nation.
With this direction of travel nationalism whilst not abandoned would seem to be put on the back-burner. It may partly explain Alex Attwood’s inelegant modeling of an owc jersey during the press release upon the planning permission for the new Windsor and Conall’s intervention on a new anthem for the NI team scroll to DaitiO’s comment.
The use of language such as ‘this region’ and increasing use of ‘Northern Ireland’ would also indicate this course.
Perhaps I am reading too much into such speeches and actions by a small number of party members but perhaps not. The call for a nationalist conversation may be just to over the outworking of such a proposal? A conversation and debate within nationalism is required and long overdue in my opinion, although in the current climate it is hard to imagine a respectful, productive conversation!
With a ‘Northern Irelandise’ policy combined with the absence of a campaign promoting a new Irish nation the SDLP will gradually move to a post-nationalist position. This may or may not be the intention but it will be the eventual outcome. Putting nationalism on the back burner means our right to be full, equal and active members of the Irish nation is no longer a prime issue or focus for the party. The Irish Question will no longer be a question the party is seeking to answer.
Can it honestly be thought that a nu-labour, nationalist-lite party would deliver a politically mature society at ease with itself? For me this is a recipe for simply more of the same and ignores the basic proposition that until there is a settlement that breaks the current mould we are consigned to perpetual schism and to groundhog political debates.
I believe without a central driving sense of purpose and mission, without being rooted within an Irish national context and without a clear, consistent message underpinned by values and principles I believe the SDLP will face a further slow decline.
The repositioning of the party on the lines above or on the proposition of NI socialist-lite (or nu-labour) party will not advance nationalism and will present an opportunity for other parties to exploit. The more nationalist minded SDLP voters will be open to persuasion and if Fianna Fáil ever moved north of the border they would be presented with an ideal opportunity of providing a non-Sinn Féin alternative. It is easy in such a scenario to see the party being quickly reduced to a diminishing rump.
For Irish nationalism the central issue of the SDLP is whether it is to nationalism’s benefit to have the party and if so, what role and purpose it should play.
I believe that there is a potential role & purpose for the party that whilst not being the predominate position within ‘northern’ nationalism, nevertheless would be pivotal in the creation and promotion of a new Irish nation.
The party can only carve out a new role if it radically re-assesses its future and recognises it has a historic responsibility. It is the party best suited within nationalism to build relationships across all sections and elements of the Irish nation and to act as a catalyst in changing perceptions and preparing the grounding principles for, and building blocks of, a new inclusive Irish nation.
There may indeed be a pressing need for a conversation within nationalism but such a conversation requires being inclusive and based on developing a common vision.
It urgently needs to develop a central driving sense of national mission, with a clear, consistent message, underpinned by a core set of value and principles.
So what recipe can the SDLP follow to give it a purpose and role in helping to lead the nationalist people of the north? I am no baker so I will refrain from grandiose claims of my ability to serve up a delightful, appetising feast. You may find the following hard to swallow with the odd bit of grit sticking in the throat but hopefully though it will get you thinking.
From both a nationalistic and party selfish viewpoint, the SDLP ideally should adopt the following position and strategy. Such a party would act as a competitive counterweight to Sinn Féin and a complimentary stream in engaging minds that would be closed to a party with Sinn Féin’s history.
Such a party would be;
- left-wing, focused on rights, mutual respect and fair play for all;
- with equality at its core; on education, on opportunity, on race, gender and orientation;
- where equality of identity is recognised and cherished for all its citizens, where parity of esteem if given to all;
- a regional party but with a clear and central focus on resolving the Irish Question;
- a party whose purpose is deliver a settlement of our ancient quarrel;
- a party actively promoting and building a new Irish Nation; infusing all aspects of policy development.
It would have be a party with a national perspective, with or without a close relationship with a detoxified Irish Labour party (minus the worker party stamp). It would propose and purse national outcomes across the nation; for public services, across civic society and developing pride on our national achievements. It would pursue equality of citizenship with concrete and meaningful expressions of our identity.
The strategic approach of the party being one of developing relationships across the nation on a basis of mutual respect and recognition of identity. It would develop a discussion and debate with our British Unionist neighbours, exploring how our differing identities and allegiances could be accommodated in a new Irish nation. If the concept of a continuing NI within a New Ireland is adhered to as policy then the party must out in detail how it would work. A federal or confederation solution, 2 or 3 parliaments and whether the boundaries are set – the inclusion of other Ulster counties eg Donegal?
The SDLP may not be the only party able to deliver on the agenda above but there are aspects on which the party is ideally placed pursue particularly the engagement with the British Unionist strand of the nation.
In the present context nationalism would be the poorer; it would have fewer overall votes and representation, a more complacent SF would follow leading our politics to become moribund. In the short to medium term we need a reinvigorated SDLP to pursue the nationalist agenda. I think we need the SDLP to be a party of nation builders playing a crucial in developing and articulating a new vision for Ireland. Acting as the bridge builder between our different peoples and serving as a catalyst in helping to shape the future.
As someone who is SDLP friendly, if far from a partisan proponent, all of the above may be a case of wishful thinking.
I may be completely wrong – who knows, only time will tell?