jigsaw 1

Jude Collins  has been tussling with a question on his video blog {vlog}.It amounts to the question that has many people stumped .What is the real difference in the politics of Sinn Fein and the SDLP or the SDLP and say Alliance? This  question has recently  shone in light of the Irish  Nationalist  losses in the 2015 election.Sinn Fein and the SDLP are both supposed to be parties whose aim is an eventual United Ireland….but are they really?

The real difference seems to be that the SDLP pragmatically   take their seats at Westminster in London where they hope to influence those with their hands on the levers of power , while Sinn Fein refuse to do that on the  principle that Westminster only has a say in Ireland because they originally took the whole place here by force and are still hanging onto part of it by dint of a lot of political scheming and jiggery-pokery. Is that it ? Is that all there is to it? I don’t think it is the case at all.

To be plain, if there was a single nationalist party, nationalist -minded pro-United Ireland people would have won several seats that they lost due to a pact made by the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party. Many were shocked at this outcome , but they shouldn’t have been.Between them the unionists  outpolled the nationalists. The unionists got more of their supporters  to the polling  booths, either because they were well -organised, there were more of them ,or because nationalism is itself splintered into many shards….left -wing nationalism,  conservative nationalism and abstentionist, anarchic nationalism.

The unionists  turned it into a ” All Unionists versus All  Nationalists” and never mind the subtleties  or private moralities, or the dismantling of the Health Service.. They weren’t interested in that ..  The fact that  voting for the DUP would amount to support for Welfare cuts didn’t even matter to them. For unionism , it was all still about flying flags, in the end, but for nationalists it was about trying to tie the many splinters of nationalism together and fight the Tories on social issues and austerity.

You might find it strange that unionists would make such a pragmatic deal to bolster their identity.They seem so backward thinking in most things secular or worldly, but there you have it . They would rather eat grass so long as  it is British grass where they could fly their flags. They made their pact and it won seats for them. They are all “unionists” of some sort after all.They’ll  all get together  and agree on that much at least…even if they should starve in the process.

“Nationalists” don’t  appear to have that kind of cohesion at all.

Personally, I think what a lot of this revolves around is not whether or not people are “unionists” or “nationalists”. It’s possibly  really down to a perceived cleaving to a sort of loose “class structure” across the land  .I’ll call it that, although these days the idea of “class” is a very woolly and nebulous thing. I’m not too sure it really exists as it did in the past.Intelligence and education can give a person a sort of “class”, that for example , money, a job  or inheritance  could never , ever buy.”Class” is a funny one …a bit like nobility .It has little to do with social status or money at all and everything to do  with  a personal individualism and character. In other words anyone can be a “classy act”….or not….

We’re not talking about that , though.We’re talking about perceptions. For example , the DUP are perceived to be  a more “working-class ” party than the UUP who are perceived to be more “middle-class”, yet all of these are led by fairly affluent career politicians of quite long standing. Sinn Fein are perceived to be more of a down -to- earth “working class” party than the more middle-class SDLP. Their claim is  to in the game soley for “the people”…purely altruistic and for no financial gain.  In those loose distinctions lie the divisions that make a lot of people cling to their long-held voting patterns. None of this might be remotely true  of course, but we are only talking about perceptions here  anyway.

Given that Sinn Fein have many young, intelligent, inspired  and vibrant  forward-thinking  members and appear  to be doing well enough  with their  progressing United Ireland project, free as they are of the violence that hampered their politics in the past, it might be time to gradually promote many more members  who have no connection with the IRA and the past , if only to remove a perceived outtage in attracting even  more voters…and quietly allow those older hands to take more of a backseat. That might clear the air.

Sinn Fein have built up their  movement , starting from the streets of the Troubles some forty five years ago and developed from those violent times. The perception  now is that the SDLP has more of a rural and even a “middle-class ” feel to it.It never got involved with any of the violence that Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists and DUP members sometimes supported.They distanced themselves from any of that for “moral” reasons. Maybe that’s because ,for the most part they didn’t have to , not living in a social milieu where you were expected to take up arms in their street or were expected to join a military or para-military  force like the UDR, the British Army, the IRA or the  RUC police force. Those kind of  “military/police”connections have glued unionists together in the same way the Orange Order acts as a sort of social adhesive for many of them .It gives them a feeling of cohesion that Nationalism never had. There were always “nationalists” and  separately, “republicans” ,after all.

I know that in these days those “class”labels are largely irrelevant ,but  for many  there is still a longing for a demarcation of status too .It is the same reason why many feel it is a great honour to receive a medal from the Queen, for example, no matter which side of society you might come from.Some  see it as a mark of achievement. They see it as making them different from the rest of the hoi-polloi as   once it  did becoming a member of a particular club. At one time and possibly  even still, joining even  certain golf -clubs carried a degree of status in certain people. Nowadays that idea is largely irrelevant but why else would  there be so many  differing unionist factions and  a variety of parties to support them…… and this  fissure in  Irish nationalism, between the SDLP and Sinn Fein ?

Of course it could be argued that the SDLP are now really a Nationalist Conservative Party of mostly  Catholic Unionists , led usually , by doctors and teachers and supported by a conservative rump of church-going Catholics with some very conservative ideas. They may profess to ultimately want a United Ireland but there doesn’t seem to be much hurry  to get it ,in their attitude. Neither do they appear to want a more secular society. Many are conservative in that respect and didn’t support abortion on demand or equal rights for homosexuals. It looks like they are actually very content with their lot and the way things are at present .They like it well-enough as things are …connected to Westminster …not unlike a lot of  their unionist neighbours.Why else would these voters  not throw in their lot with Sinn Fein if they wanted the same thing and shared something of the same vision?

It’s the “Socialist” bit in SDLP that has a lot of people confused anyway , I’d imagine. Then again, the modern British Labour Party has obviously confused many by playing the same basic game as the Tories. All these parties are led by people who mostly have never experienced any kind of “socialism” or  “labour ” in their lives. I can’t imagine any of them down a mine or digging up a road or grafting sweatily on a time- and- money low -paid  production-line, in some factory…possibly on a zero -hours contract.. or arguing for a “socialist” society.

No…”labour” isn’t what it used to be either. This seems to have led to a lot of confusion and disenchantment with politics.Then again , the way things are , there’s a generation or maybe two ….of people who have never had the opportunity or the will to work at anything, never mind “labour” at it.

So back to “difference”.and the reason for the existence of a party like the SDLP.There was a time when the SDLP were a leftish-leaning party with the same kind of ethos as the British Labour party of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.That Labour Party is not the same party that Labour is now.The SDLP has gradually become  more conservative too, being seen as a old-fashioned ,conservative Catholic party.

Norneverland was always at heart  a very conservative place anyway.That’s why many people get away from it .Despite its natural beauty, its people are of a conservative nature and change is generally very  slow.That’s right across the small-town  and farm-land  community.Now the UK has proclaimed itself a very conservative society too. The” Left” has lost the game to the little Englanders.

Having provided the initial idea of a “principle of consent” to allay unionist fears of an eventual  armed takeover by nationalism, it would appear that the SDLP have actually long-ago completed their original political  mission and have now become ….well……a bit redundant, I suppose.What can their purpose be now,  when any aspirations for a gradual move to a United Ireland is now  covered by a now wholly political Sinn Fein , long since distancing themselves from “an armed struggle”. There doesn’t seem to be much point  for their existence now . The thing is, it’s apparent  that their long-standing voters don’t appear to realise that Sinn Fein stole their clothes som etime ago and have left the wardrobe empty.

That’s all in the past now …. y’know….


  1. Francis May 11, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

    A perceptive, and insightful dichotomy of the multifarious strands of the Ornate political tapestry. For a mirror to be held up, some may wince at their political reflection, or their perception by others in the arena. People Before Profit, outpolled the Stoops in the West of the City. Driving past a post in the Crumlin Road(Greater Shankill), I saw a Workers Party Poster, and flapping away on the next Post, the current Union Jack, I say current because with little doubt, the Scottish Saltire(sp?) which enboldens its robust structure, shall soon leave it emasculated. Workers Party,-which one? Where in de Chastelain?! A time of flux, but a time reflect on the things that matter to us all. PBF have firmly asserted their credentials, a thing many a refreshing transcendence of the brittle politics which obstruct real progress in Ireland, and beyond.

    • Iolar May 11, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

      Optical illusions

      It would appear the proconsul is also reflecting on things. When questioned about proposed cuts in Disability Benefits, she replied, “I do not recognize these figures.”

      • Francis May 12, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

        Villiers, villains and damn statistics, lolar. The figures which memory forgets, will become all too apparent when “Operation Fat Pig”, gets into full swing shortly. Little Englanders got what they wished in a first past the post system there. Why we have to put up with this odious economic attack on our people and communities when we did not vote these scoundrels in, well, therein perhaps lies the heart of the matter.

    • paddykool May 12, 2015 at 11:23 am #

      I’ve been thinking about the Scots and the SNP, Francis and it really isn’t cut and dried that the Scottish nation actually want to leave the union anytime soon. They’re a bit like many SDLP voters in that ,I would say. There are some comparisons between the two parties current makeup as opposed to the makeup of the SNP only months ago. Remember it’s the same bunch of people exercising their right to vote..What were they voting for in this past election may not have been a vote for an Independent Scotland but more a declaration of their identity.I mean , it’s the same people voting now who voted in a different way a few months ago . Remember , they didn’t vote to be independent then and those people who vote for the SDLP may not want to withdraw from Westminster in the same way .They might want to be independant some time in some far-away future ….but not just yet….not next week. They do seem to enjoy being connected to the UK every bit as much as any unionist of any shade.

      • Francis May 12, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

        Not sure I concur paddykool. A lot of threats, bribes, blackmails and intrigues of many kinds were engaged in that Referendum. That the SNP has more that quadrupled since the referendum’s rejection, speaks loudly for the people who didn’t vote the SNP, but wish now they did. Political shifts can sometimes move very quickly, and I think this is very clearly one, that although typified by fits and starts, is now catalyzing into a large leap. I have a good friend in the SNP, and the feeling there has been one of recrimination between the 45 camp, and those who voted for the status quo. That seems to be somewhat dissipating, and a new momentum is gathering, and to doubt the new found resolve of those wanting independence, and their massive rise in support, is not something I’d wager against.

  2. Colm Dore May 11, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    Unionism arose from & is sustained by fear (of change, now), and fear congeals quicker than hope(s) for change, which takes many forms, and requires constant cultivation.

    Progress is always against the grain, both of Edmund Burke’s crooked timber, and powerful interests.

  3. Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr May 12, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    I think its fair to say that the success of People Before Profit in West Belfast was due to Sinn Fein and SDLP forcing through an unwanted GAA mega stadium in a built up residential area that would destroy the lives and homes of all around it.

    I live in the affected area and can assure you that pretty much 100% of the vote went to Gerry Caroll as he was the only one that came out supporting the residents. As a long time Sinn Fein voter, I voted PBF and 7 of my family also. Maskey may think his seat is safe, but thats thanks to the people of the lower falls. Sinn Fein can soon kiss goodbye any votes from Upper Falls right up to Poleglass as Andersonstwon will be gridlocked and like a prison for all its residents.

    Sinn Fein cannot take West Belfast for granted. If this unecessary 38,000 seater stadium goes ahead it will be at the cost of Sinn Fein loosing West Belfast permanently. People in the neighbourhood would sooner vote TUV such is the anger.

    As a long time Nationalist and Republican, if this is what a United Ireland looks like, my family want absolutely none of it.

    My vote comes at a cost and will not be taken for granted!

    • Francis May 12, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

      Can’t agree there Dr.M. I have family in the immediate vicinity, and although concerns exist, the David v Goliath presentation of the contest seems a bit of an over simplification. Many people have not been approached by any residents group who live right beside Casement!
      My view on the matter is immaterial here, and will not cloud the issue I take exception with by giving my view. To suggest People Before Profits rise in the West for instance, is inextricably bound in with the Casement Park revamp saga, I think very wide of the mark, and misrepresents the over Six thousand eight hundred voters for Carrol and PBF. I am not citing the rights or wrongs on each of the camps re Casement, but PBF are a valid, and rising force in Ireland whose rise is arguably a direct response, and reaction to the impoverishment people in this country are increasingly feeling from Belfast to Cork, and from Ballymacarret to Ballymun.
      Certainly, many residents have differing views and legitimate issues re Casement, but PBFs agenda and project is increasingly garnering momentum methinks for other more potent economic and political reasons.

      • Jude Collins May 12, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

        (Coughs politely) Err um – Francis. Address remarks to the great Harry, please. Not guilty this time…

        • paddykool May 12, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

          I think Francis was talking to Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr there Jude …not your good self or the “great” …” I “…..

          • paddykool May 12, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

            PS…Not sure how we ended up in this stadium row, anyway!! I thought it was being built to accommodate all those marching bands we talked about last year…!

          • Jude Collins May 12, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

            Nice one, paddy k! Sue them for breach of copyright…

        • Francis May 12, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

          Sorry Jude if I was not clear. I was addressing the point made by Dr Michael Mfuhruh, whose post precedes my comment on my Windows phone. Am not if the wider messages on a PC correlate to the same sequence. I used Dr M, for short, but apologies for the confusion, and also to Dr Micheal Mfuhruh, if he was confused by my abridgement of his pseudonym. Am often all thumbs anyway this phone, so am prone to hasty Grammatical irregularities’ that would make a Teacher since. The Neo-Luddites are alive and thriving.

          • Francis May 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

            Jude, I had a response in submission a while ago to paddykool, in response to his last comment. It remains,- ‘awaiting moderation’. Maybe this has somehow become interwoven in this mix-up and would explain things percieved, ‘out of sequence’. Am pretty sure my phone is haunted anyway, so this in part mitigates me somewhat from a usually reasonable charge of clumsiness.

          • Jude Collins May 12, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

            Sorry if your missive got lost in the mist, Francis. Mea culpa.

        • Argenta May 12, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

          Perhaps Francis was addressing his remarks to the previous poster Dr Michael H.

    • Francis May 12, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      Thou doth protest too much Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr. To reject a united Ireland, and wishing no part of it if Casement goes ahead!!!!! I smell a large rodent of mischief behind your pseudonym, and your long time Republican and Nationalist declaration seems very unconvincing.

    • Francis May 14, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

      Dr Michael H, I made my remark to you te your pseudonym a bit impetuously, and doubless I may have been wide of the mark. Am sorry for my snap, and I apologise for my rudeness.

  4. Wolfe tone May 12, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    Perhaps while unionism viewed the flag issue as some sort of victory for nationalism and therefore used it as a rallying call, nationalists didn’t really see it as any sort of victory at all? Nationalists shrugged their shoulders and laughed at how upset the unionists were about it. After all it’s not like the Union Jack was banned.
    It is insulting to nationalists intelligence if they are urged to believe the flag furore was some sort of game changer. Or an example of how we are making progress. The unionist veto everything they don’t like and nationalism can’t do a bloody thing about it but hold aloft distractions like the flag, parade disputes to hide this glaring fact. You can’t fool the people all of the time.

  5. IrelandSaoirse May 14, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    I had the misfortune to visit a red white and blue segment of the six counties recently, a vile place that bears no resemblance to the Ireland I was reared in,the people there don’t even look Irish,I don’t know how this divided land will ever be united,and I really pity anyone who has to live in the six county mess left behind by the cowardice of partition.
    Stormont is a joke,there isn’t real democracy in the six counties,it’s just a fudge to try and keep the place civil,
    to my mind now SF are no more republican than FF,in fact I think FF have stronger links to true republican ideals,
    the only hope is the ordinary people see that they have the same struggle in common,but they have been brainwashed by religion and hatred,reinforced by a murderous sectarian slaughter.
    I was glad to cross the ‘border’ again, however frigd up this ‘free state’ is, it’s light years ahead of the six county backwater.