SDLP: We All Woke Up Feeling Better

“A dog walking on its hind legs…its not done well but youre surprised that is done at all” (Dr Johnson).

The Norn Iron Executive at Stormont is a bit like that. A lousy government but (for those of us who remember the bad years) it is a small miracle that it is happening at all…nationalists and unionists sharing power.

Of course it has all changed since 1998. UUP was the lead player on the unionist side and SDLP was the lead player on the nationalist side. The British and Irish governments felt that things would be more secure with DUP and Sinn Féin leading the tribes…and thats what we have had for years. UUP and SDLP cannot be excused for not seeing this coming.

But of course from St Andrews, via Hillsborough to Fresh Start, the Good Friday Agreement has been hollowed out. The euphoria, especially on the nationalist side has long gone.

Yet I get a sense that things changed yesterday. Or more likely there is a possibility of change.

I make no apology for saying that SDLP should have gone into Opposition in 2011. You all know the reason but I will say it again. SDLP and UUP had 14 and 16 MLAs respectively and one seat each at the Executive but Alliance with 8 MLAs took two Executive seats.
At that point Democracy was turned on its head. We should have walked away.
Does anyone seriously want to defend that shameful gerrymander?
Certainly Alliance claim the extra portfolio Justice was a tribute to their unique neutrality…not a gift from DUP-Sinn Féin but rather a vote in the Assembly itself. But lets get real here….they sought, received and maintained an advantage over two other democratic parties.
They sewed their Downfall…they reaped their Downfall.
What goes round…comes round.
Yes, Belfast Karma…serves the bastards right.

There is no real point in feeling sorry for the Alliance Party. They are sorry enough for themselves. More to the point, they just dont get it. As Alex Kane points out the sense of Entitlement in the Alliance Party is astonishing.

Has Election 2016 been a game-changer? Too soon to tell. But it os shaping up nicely. The reduction of the number of chairs around the Executive table has raised the threshold for entitlement to a portfolio in a power sharing Executive.
The magic number is TEN….and despite talking up an extra seat in East Belfast, North Down, South Belfast and South Antrim and breakthrus in North Belfast and Upper Bann….Alliance never even came close. They have stagnated under David Ford. The heady days of Naomi Long taking East Belfast at Westminster in 2010, looks like a one-off. Look around the Alliance MLAs and there does not seem much talent available.
Nevertheless Alliance have some bare-faced cheek. Now without a portfolio, they tried to negotiate holding on to Justice….making the DUP-SF an offer they couldnt refuse, they would generously “take” Justice if some other parts of the Alliance manifesto got into the DUP-SF Programme for Government.
Truly astonishing.
Let me be clear.
The meeting between DUP-SF and Alliance lasted less than ten minutes. They were chased out of Stormont Castle.
From “bare faced cheek” to the “Bum’s Rush”.
Still Alliance are optimists. Their Party meeting last night decided to adjourn without making a decision on the Justice Ministry. Over the weekend, David Ford will sit by his phone, hoping from a call from Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.

Yet it seems that in this curious game of Bluff and Double Bluff, Arlene and Martin have a name or names in the frame.
Independent Unionist Claire Sugden MLA (East Derry). It smacks of desperation but she has already fought off a UUP challenge to take her seat. And if I was a high-ranking civil servant in the Department of Justice, I would be rubbing my hands at the prospect of “handling” a young and naive MLA.
Alternatively a Green MLA might take the DUP-SF shilling. But really Steven Agnew or Claire Bailey should really keep their distance.
Alternatively DUP-SF might find a willing Quangocrat outside the Assembly.
Or…as is being floated… A shared Ministry with a DUP and SF Minister.

John McCallister, the Independent Unionist who lost his seat deserves some credit for making Opposition possible. Mike Nesbitt of UUP also deserves credit for leading his Party out of the Executive last year and maintaining that position.
But it takes two Parties to be in Government and it takes at least two to be in Opposition.
An Opposition is after all an alternative Government. So the SDLP decision to walk away is crucial.
On a personal level I would not like to see too much agreement between UUP and SDLP. Leaving aside the unionist-nationalist problem, there is the much bigger problem that the UUP is a right-wing conservative Party and SDLP leans (increasingly) to the left.
As for Alliance…so what? They dont have a mandate to be in government or be part of the Opposition. Besides…even this weekend they still WANT to be in the Government.

The reaction to the SDLP decision seems mostly favourable. Certainly the Party is united. But it has been coming…a minority favoured it after 2011 but numbers have been growing and certainly the pre-election mood music was for Opposition.
Obviously a Party cannot go into an election “Vote for Us…we dont want to form a government”.
The Party fought on a manifesto and after election put its programme to DUP and SF. Their pwn “programme” is threadbare and the sole policy seems to be to stay in office.

But Sinn Féin has been savage about SDLP.
As I have said before SDLP membership of the Executive gives cover to Sinn Féin. Nominally every Executive since 1998 has been a four or five Party coalition as defined in the Good Friday Agreement. But increasingly the electoral power of DUP and Sinn Féin and the over-representation of Alliance (stooges to DUP-SF) has marginalised the Agreement itself…and marginalised UUP and SDLP. I would go so far as to say that at times it is uncomfortable and even humiliating…and SF has certainly enjoyed it all.
But there are deeper reasons for SF hostility. Having ridiculed and marginalised the “Stoops”, why should it bother Sinn Féin that SDLP have walked away?

Well I think that the numbers of DUP and SF MLAs is a factor.
THIRTY is the key number. That is the number of MLAs from one tribe required to block legislation. DUP have 38 MLAs and SF have just 28 MLAs.
Never has power-sharing looked so one-sided.
Remember that talk of Martin McGuinness as First Minister?
Remember that talk of Gerry Adams as Taoiseach?
Remember how Sinn Féin styles itself as the All-Ireland party. As Catherine Seeley MLA (Sinn Féin) put it…


Alas you cannot see it on Twitter as it was quickly deleted. Presumably someone in the Sinn Féin Press Office pointed out that SF would not negotiate about government in the Republic but condemns SDLP for doing the same in north.
Its a topsy-turvy world.
Sinn Féin would rather govern Norn Iron than Republic of Ireland.
Still…a government run by DUP and Sinn Féin is hardly a coalition of equals.
The precedents dont seem good.
Look what happened the Irish Green Party, junior coalition Party with Fianna Fáil in 2010.
Look what happened the British Lib Dems, junior coalition Party with the Tories in 2015.
Look what happened the Irish Labour Party, junior coalition Party with Fine Gael in 2016.

Does anybody in Sinn Féin understand History?

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44 Responses to SDLP: We All Woke Up Feeling Better

  1. observer says:

    The SDLP seem to be united and it was good to see three former leaders Alasdair McDonnell , Margaret Ritchie, and Mark Durkan, standing behind new leader Colm in the press statement, showing that unity.

  2. observer says:

    Do you think SDLP would have left if UUP had’ve stayed in?

    • YES.
      There is something about Nesbitt that I cant take seriously. He seems too much a “showman”….- a “peacock” who wants to say “look at me, look at me”.
      He is not as “political” as a real Leader should be.

  3. Bernie says:

    No one and I mean no one (!) has ever explained the Alliance sense of entitlement as well as you.It was ridiculous last night that nobody from their ruling council would speak to the media (even Anna Lo). Even more embarrassing when it turned out there was a memo,which the BBC got, saying not to speak as there was still a chance of more negotiations for Justice.

    • Thanks for that Bernie.
      As a democrat, it has offended me for five years. And worse, the way that the Media has been too easy on Alliance.
      They are not dead and buried….yet.
      They no doubt have feelers out to DUP and SF. They might take a few things off their shopping list. And maybe even NIO are lobbying for them.
      They might just sneak back in but I will enjoy it while I can.
      All those in civic society, media, Slugger!!!!, etc who looked the other way and chose not to highlight this abuse,should be ashamed of themselves.

  4. Observer says:

    Brian Feeney was unusually annoyed by and exercised about the SDLP today on Talkback. Called this one of their stupidest moves.

    • Vince says:

      That just confirms it was the correct decision. What a bitter man he is. One thing is for certain – if he was still representing SDLP in N Belfast or Oldpark they would not have an MLA in the former or a councillor in the latter.

      • Exactly.
        He wanted to be MP for West Belfast. (This was after I left tbe city so I dont know the circumstances) but most SDLP people say he is bitter about it.

    • Most SDLP people think that Brian Feeney is very biased against SDLP.
      In my day…1970s Feeney was a SDLP member and councillor. I always liked him. So I tended not to listen to criticism of him.
      Maybe its a sign that I am more embedded with SDLP. (I rejoined in 2011) that I am a bit fed up with the anti SDLP stance….ALL the time.

      • Vince says:

        His columns are now entirely predictable and seem to be largely recycled. Difficult to see why the Irish News have both him and Fionnuala O’Connor – perhaps they write each other’s? Maybe actually the same person? Brionnuala Feeney-O’Connor?

      • A columnist broadly in favour of the SDLP would be nice. I should apply for the job 😉

  5. Vince says:

    Someone broadly supportive of SDLP – now there’s a novel, radical idea – Jim Gibney perhaps…….no, Jarlath Kearney?…….no, Alex Kane??…, Newton Emerson???….no, Tom Kelly? ……well maybe, but could be a bit FF? Allison Morris?……seems to be a bit Green maybe? Oh dear, not very balanced is it? You definitely get my nomination Fitz!

    • Jim Gibney is Sinn Féin.
      Tom Kelly was…I think …a Special Advisor or Press Officer with SDLP.
      I rarely buy Irish News so I dont know Kelly’s writing.
      The one thing about SDLP and probably all parties is theres a lot of people who were “former members”.

      • Vince says:

        I think that Tom Kelly worked for the SDLP in the 1990’s. He actually had a very good reputation and was instrumental in winning W Belfast with Joe Hendron in 1992. They could probably do with a few election strategists like him now.

      • The problem is that SDLP history is difficult. There was really no opportunity inside or outside SDLP and probably still isnt.
        Say 1970 to 1972 apart from the original six Stormont MPs, the SDLP organisation was put together by the “old NDP”…folks like John Duffy and Ben Caraher and a handful of councillors and I think the 1973 council elections gave us around 80 councillors and we then had 19 MLAs but within a year Stormont collapsed and most of those very decent guys became unemployed or fell back on teaching.
        Being in SDLP did not lend itself to having a career.
        Really a “career” either as MLA or staffer or advisor or senior activist only became possible after 1998…but election results in last decade means that some people have had to follow other careers.
        In that respect Sinn Féin with their massed ranks of activists and volunteers have a big big advantage.

      • Wolfe tone says:

        All you need to do is take a look at Tom Kellys articles in the irish news this last six mths or more and you will get a good reason why nationalists arnt voting SDLP either. He sounds like a castle taig big time and a real northern irelander. Trust me I was tempted to vote SDLP a few yrs ago but then I read kellys tripe and decided that they are truly worse than the shinners, if kellys utterances are anything to go by. I actually thought he was a unionist columnist!

      • It is a strange thing that for maybe twenty years I bought the Guardian on an almost daily basis.
        I think the main reason was to read the columnists like Ian Aitken and Hugo Young. ..and their successors like Simon Jenkins thru to Owen Jones.
        The strange thing is that I tend to buy a newspaper because in some ways I wanted to read something on the train and think “this person is saying what I think”.
        When I retired the daily train or bus trip to Belfast stopped…so for over ten years I have been without a daily fix of The Guardian and that feeling that I am right about stuff.
        Occasionally I still buy the Guardian when I am out and about.
        But strangely I have never been tempted to buy the Irish News to find out if I agree with Brian Feeney, Newton Emerson, Alex Kane, Tom Kelly etc.
        It seems very odd that none of the current crop of columnists on Irish News seems to reflect my view of Norn Iron.
        My general view of Norn Iron is shared by a lot of Irish News readers….it is of course legitimate to have alternative voices like Alex Kane….but somehow Irish News seems to have forgotten its core readership. Wherher we are SDLP or Sinn Féin or whatever within nationalism, I am not sure that Irish News is reflecting this.
        Of course I am a Blogger…and this is how I get my view of the world “out there”.
        Likewise the regular columnists on Slugger do not reflect my view of the world.
        Whether its Mick Fealty, BBC Walker, Pete Baker, Alan Meban or Chris Donnelly, there is little there that I want to read.
        David McCann tries too hard to be all things to all people….and only “Turgon” (writing from an unashamedly unionist perspective) is tolerant of views that I express there.

  6. zig70 says:

    I’m not a fan of opposition. It’s unknown and has it’s risks. The arrogance of the Alliance is less than that of the UUP expecting the SDLP to be it’s mudguard, though I think (maybe through optimism) that Colum has the measure of them.If the SDLP don’t fawn over the UUP then the establishment media will slate them and try and cajole them, a difficult position. I sense the mood is darker, we don’t need or want Stormont, unionists do, if they want to keep it running they better start playing nicer, though, the GFA is dead, it was a good thing while it lasted. I’ll predict that the mood music between SF and the DUP will change and we will be in talks about talks before the year is out. Mrs Foster won’t like being jilted. The huge problem is that the SDLP need to have a coherent alternative. I haven’t heard it yet.

    • I think Mike Nesbitt is wrong if he thinks UUP is the official Opposition. It cant be because it is not an alternative government.
      I think SDLP has to have a unique platform. After all if SDLP could not get DUP-SF to accept its agenda, it will have no luck with UUP.

      With the current numbers, even allowing for fewer MLAs it would take at least two electoral cycles for SDLP and UUP to overtake SF and DUP.
      It IS possible…in the sense that anything might happen in next five or ten years.
      But SDLP AND UUP overtaking SF AND DUP is going to be a lot more difficult that ONE succeeding.
      For example in 2026 …ten years from now….UUP might be in coalition with SF or DUP in coalition with SDLP.
      A lot of water will pass under a lot of bridges between now and 2026.
      As you say the mood music is darker and ANYTHING could happen….including reallignments.
      But I think it makes more sense for UUP to target DUP. And SDLP to target SF.
      And more sense

      • zig70 says:

        I don’t agree that the SDLP need to target SF and be better at being nationalists. I had bigger aspirations for them. I’m not clear on what the SDLP’s answer is to our administrative issues and I think they need a roadmap for the next assembly that demonstrates a system that can get results.

      • The good thing is that they have three years until Council Elections.
        Its not so much about being “better nationalists”…just remaining outside government. To some extent SF still poses as “outsiders” but they are very much on the inside.

    • Vince says:

      It is early days, there is time although they will want to make a strong start. Some of the messages the SDLP had around childcare, families, savings, higher education, homelessness would be a reasonable place to start. If Nesbitt and Eastwood are wise then they will dispense with the leader/deputy leader of the Opposition titles – provided the rules allow them to do this.

      • As Colum has said “I am nobody’s Deputy”.
        Nesbitt would be deluding himself if he started thinking of himself as Leader of the Opposition”. Nesbitt is at heart an integrationalist Tory who thinks that Belfast is as British as Birmingham.

  7. Observer says:

    Conal McDevitt would have been a great opposition leader, quite strong minded.

    • Vince says:

      I am not sure about that. Can’t quite put my finger on it but just felt that he was lacking in sincerity. Notice that he was celebrating the win of the Green candidate in S Belfast rather than perhaps commiserating with Fearghal McKinney – poor show I think.

      • Observer says:

        I am surprised at that about him celebrating with Green candidate. Are you sure he wasn’t just congratulating her?

        He is SDLP through and through, I had thought.

      • I dont follow his tweets but I think he mentioned two “progressive MLAs in South Belfast”.

      • Yes …very much so.
        Perhaps never a good idea to be in a Party with the intention of leading it in a certain direction.
        I always got that impression with Conall.

    • Not sure about that.
      A Leader of any Party has to be more mainstream, not too attached to one wing, which he would call “progressive”.

      • Observer says:

        I think Conal was a great politician. We shall not see his like again.

        Two and a half years ago. A great loss to the SDLP.

      • I am not convinced.
        In late 2010, when I was first attending seminars, conferences etc, it was widely assumed that Conall would be next Leader.
        But SDLP performed badly in 2011 and Conall did not cover himself in glory.
        Alasdair won the Leadership in November 2011 and I think that was the right result.
        (You must understand that I was observing stuff and making judgements …not necessarily the right judgements).
        I actually think that Conall lost some of the brashness and had done enough to be the obvious person to succeed Alasdair.
        There seemed very little tension in the air 2011-2013.
        So what really happened in 2013??
        I just dot know.
        Some SDLP people would still feel he is a great loss, the Leader that never was or like Bonnie Prince Charlie …the King over the “watter” (sic).
        I really dont see it that way.

  8. Observer says:

    I am surprised at the number of people who think UUP and SDLP need for form a shadow cabinet together. [The latest is a article by John Coulter on Slugger, where he insists Mike Nesbitt should be Shadow First Minister].

    Actually whether in Westminster, the Dail, or Scotland/Wales, the opposition parties do not do that and so there is no practice of this elsewhere.

    Certainly UUP and SDLP can join forces, on SPECIFIC issues where both parties agree, to defeat SF/DUP, just as happens elsewhere. But each party can have its own opposition spokesperson on each topic.

  9. Vince says:

    He congratulated Claire Bailey as “one of two great women to represent us” along (appropriately) with Claire Hanna. Sent commiserations to Rodney McCune.

  10. Observer says:

    Here is a special offer I saw on “Ultonia Communications” I thought you might be interested in 🙂

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  11. observer says:

    People are sometimes critical of Alasdair McDonnell

    But he is acting here as a former leader should, supporting what his new leader has done:

    Its worth pointing out that some former leaders were not so supportive of Alasdair.

  12. Catholic voter says:

    Question. Do young catholics still vote for sf like they did 15.years ago …. or are sf viewed as old hat by the youth of today?

    • I think its generational.
      Older generation…a lot of SDLP voters
      Over 30…mostly SF.
      Younger generation…i think most people are apathetic. Of those that vote, most vote SF….but I think among students, SDLP have a lot of support.

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