One of the most interesting aspects of Colum Eastwood’s campaign launch to become SDLP Leader was the speech by Claire Hanna MLA.
Claire recalled going with Colum to Inverness in Scotland to speak at a fringe meeting at the Scottish Nationalist Party Conference. This was more than a decade ago when SDLP was still enjoying the fall-out from the Good Friday Agreement and SNP was in a bad place politically.
It goes without saying that rank and file members of SDLP identify strongly with SNP. We are after all fellow nationalists who seek the end of the “United Kingdom”.
Alex Attwood MLA is a known admirer of Nicola Sturgeon and Alec Salmond, often referencing them as the most able politicians “in these islands”.
More than a decade on from Colum and Claire visiting SNP, it is maybe long past time that SDLP learned something from SNP.
In September 2014, SDLP members were cheering on SNP in the Scottish Referendum. Obviously the support ranged from responsible discretion of senior people to outright enthusiasm of the “rank and file”.
The extremes of fear-mongering that the British unionist parties went to, to ensure a NO vote shocked many…indeed it shocked many Scots into rejecting the unionist British Labour Party in 2015….and a rejection that will last for much longer than just one electoral cycle. The British Labour Party is finished in Scotland…and by extension in the “United Kingdom”.
All future “British” elections can consider Scotland a lost cause and are now effectively a head-to-head in England. And Labour cant win.
As always the parallel is in HISTORY. In the late 19th century, there was a three-party system at Westminster. Conservatives…Liberals and….around eighty Irish Nationalists.
The irony was that the Irish wanted “out” of the “United Kingdom” and the Liberals were more friendly to the Irish….and the Irish Nationalists would tend to vote with the Liberals.
It presented a dilemna for the Liberals. They NEEDED the votes of Irish Nationalists. The Tories despite being the Party of “Constitution” never needed the Irish.
It was NOT a Tory-led Government which suppressed the 1916 Easter Rising or sent in the Black and Tans or held a gun to Michael Collins head during the Treaty negotiations. Dont under-estimate the extent to which Liberals went to, to suppress Irish nationalism. Dont under-estimate the extent to which the British Labour Party will go to suppress Scottish nationalism.
The BIG LIE at the heart of the 2014 “Better Together” Campaign of unionist parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat) and that curious posse of celebrities including J K Rowling and Stephen Fry was that we live in a post-nationalist age, where England and Scotland are almost obsolete terms. The reality is that there is competing nationalities. The British Labour Party is every bit as nationalist as SNP or Plaid Cymru and SDLP. The British Labour Party is a BRITISH nationalist party.
In the 20th century, the British Labour Party took Scotland for granted. For the most part, bankbench Labour MPs have gone from the Red Clyde and the mines of central Scotland to be lobby fodder at Westminster and having fist-fights in the bars. Several times, Scottish MPs held important posts in British Labour…a point not missed on English voters.
Labour does have one (perhaps) advantage. It is the franchise holder in Britain for the Party of European Socialists, a Europhile social democratic party. The Irish Labour Party holds the franchise in the Republic of Ireland and SDLP holds the franchise in the north of Ireland.
All of which leaves the fantasists in the tiny Labour in NI Party a bit miffed. They are disowned by their own parent party in London, who will not foeld candidates in Norn Iron. Jeremy Corbyn is more sympathetic to Irish Nationalism than his nominal Party members in Belfast.
But as Labour finds itself unelectable for several electoral cycles, more reality is needed. Who exactly are the real socialists?
Well, earlier this year as Labour dithered over Welfare Reform…SNP, Plaid Cymru and SDLP marched into the lobby together. And later over Syria, Labour divided and the nationalists all voted NO to Bombing. And as SNP voted against nuclear weapons in Scotland, it emphasised the fact that the national interest of Scotland is a very different thing from the national interest of the “United Kingdom”.
So SNP seems to hold all the cards.
What does Labour do? Well frankly, I cannot see Labour ever being a government of the “United Kingdom” without being in some form of coalition with SNP, PC, SDLP (all of whom want the country to fail) and ….the Greens.
Has the process already started as Jeremy Corbyn is seen to reach out to Britain’s solitary Green MP…Carolyn Lucas. In May, this year, left-leaning voters in Brighton would have understood that the best placed candidate to keep out the Tories was Ms Lucas, the sitting MP. But to make any real progress, Corbyn has to surrender ground in other parts of England. Persuading historic local Labour parties to stand down in (say) ten or twenty constituencies in favour of a Green would seem a radical step but Labour voters are a very different demographic ….where are the miners? Where are the steel-workers? Where are the car workers?
Wales….effectively Plaid Cymru is a left of centre party which only exists in Welsh speaking areas. Thirty years ago, Welsh comedian Max Boyce defined his politics as “Plaid Labour”.
Despite the protestations of the jokers in the LabourNI, British Labour will not be sanctioning any candidates in Norn Iron. SDLP hold three seats…none will be taken in by Labour …but concievably South Belfast might be vulnerable to a third party.
So we had this peculiar situation at the Election Night counts in Belfast (four constituencies were counted at the Kings Hall) where SDLP people like myself rejoiced at the news filtering thru from Scotland….and groaning at the news coming out of England.
So how does SDLP react?
Well SDLP and British Labour are “sister parties” in the PES “family”. But as I have said before, SNP is the “girlfriend” party. Some families are pretty dysfunctional. There is no relationship between SDLP and its sister parties. It is really no more than sending a couple of fraternal delegates to Conferences in England and the Republic and hosting some fraternal delegates at our Conference.
Traditionally the Labour Shadow Norn Iron Secretary visits us while the office junior in British Labour HQ gets to visit Labour NI. But what exactly have British Labour ever done for SDLP? Anybody in SDLP who felt happy about Labour winning the 1974 British General Election was soon disappointed…Merlyn Rees, Stan Orme, Don Concannon….and the nasty little bastard Roy Mason tore up Sunningdale and “power-sharing”, pandered to unionists and the very worst elements in the Security Services. And post-Good Friday Agreement, Mo Mowlam, Peter Hain, Peter Mandelson, John Reid….also happy enough to sell-out their sister party.
Not that Irish Labour are any better. In the 1970s, several SDLP members including myself walked out on a “fraternal greetings” speech by that old phoney, Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Basically thats how Politics works. You can only sell out your friends.
So just six weeks ago, Vernon Coaker, the British Labour spokesperson on Norn Iron was a guest at the SDLP Conference in Armagh. And a week later, Coaker walks into the House of Commons lobby to vote for bombing Syria. That’s friends for ya.
And yet these arent the only people from other parties who show up at SDLP Conferences. In keeping with SDLPs position to maintain good relations with all parties in the Republic, there is always a person from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
So surely SNP would be a welcome sight at SDLP Conferences. More reliable and consistent allies than British Labour.
At the end of the day, not many people want a selfie with Vernon Coaker….but who wouldnt want a selfie with SNP?