Censure motion still doesn’t score for SDLP

I had some sympathy with the SDLP’s censure motion on Monday, but in the end I had come to the conclusion it would have been best not to waste Assembly time with it. So it proved – if anything, it may have rebounded on the SDLP.

Firstly, and primarily, this is because the SDLP needed SF’s support just to bring the motion to the floor. That it was based on law-breaking but took an alliance with a party which continues to endorse decades of terrorism to bring it to the floor should already have been a red light to the SDLP.

Secondly, it was never going to pass. In some ways, the SDLP was in a better position before the motion was brought to the floor, and would perhaps have escaped better if SF hadn’t backed it. Perhaps, of course, that was SF’s calculation!

Thirdly, and I doubt this featured in the SDLP’s considerations at all, it saw the UUP inevitably endorse the DUP position (of endorsing law-breaking, lest we forget), and thus the re-entrenchment of the “pan-Unionist front” and thus further evidence that the UUP and SDLP cannot work together. The response by voters to a “pan-Unionist front” is a “pan-Nationalist front” which can only suit the larger Nationalist party, as the SDLP has already found to its cost in Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

It was of course a typically sectarian slug fest, but that does not mean that many of the DUP counter-punches weren’t accurate (not least on the first point above). In any case, creating a sectarian slug fest can be of advantage only to the larger parts of each side of that slug fest, or to the party which refuses to partake in it at all. The smaller parties on each side thus lose out on both wings – small wonder polls, however imperfect, continue to point to not only the UUP’s but also the SDLP’s eternal decline.

It’s unlikely to matter much in the long run – no one in the real world pays any attention to Stormont right now. However, to score, the SDLP will have to come up with something much more coherent and directly meaningful to the electorate – and something which differentiates it from SF, not which makes it reliant on it.

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15 thoughts on “Censure motion still doesn’t score for SDLP

  1. andyboal says:

    It was never going to fly, but it did highlight Unionist fondness for whataboutery. Unfortunately, Conal McDevitt refused to answer when I asked would they be following up with an exclusion motion for John O’Dowd over his appointment policy – as I pointed out, I supported the move re McCausland on its own merits, but both should have been done.

  2. I think the SDLP are in a better situation because of the motion, it will make people think twice before backing law-breakers. David McClarty agreed that the cycle of parties excusing disrespectful acts by their own communities has to stop. When Republicans and Nationalists attack Orange Halls or Protestant churches, the SDLP and Sinn Féin always condemn these acts. Usually Unionists and Alliance members reciprocate.

    So it utterly surprises me when the Royal Black apologize for a rebellious faction, with it being welcomed by the SDLP and Sinn Féin, A DUP minister stands and actually backs the group as merely a civil disobedient protest group. Even though both are critics of the Parade’s Commission The Royal Black were in the right, Nelson was in the wrong. Deep down I believe the majority of those from Alliance, the UUP and even some in the DUP actually agree with this. Nelson was lucky to pass the vote, maybe next time more Unionists and Alliance members won’t sympathize with him under the premises of tribal sectarianism.

    Personally, I think David Ford was lucky to avoid a similar motion over his borderline sectarian “pointless” comments about Bloody Sunday, but I guess the SDLP and Sinn Féin and those it annoyed in the Alliance Party let that one pass … Ford didn’t actually encourage breaking the law, he simply destroyed the APNI even moreso in the West of the Bann. However, I’m sure David Ford unnerved many of the Catholics in his party including the likes of Aine McGrath and Jim Allardyce within the party as to why he would make such foolish comments.

    Alliance has their own problems to deal with, with David Ford as justice minister we’ve seen even more peace walls erected and to be fair … only one peace bridge, which of course Arlene Foster would have more say in creating than Ford. Would that really change with anyone else as justice minister? We need to move to a system where the justice ministry does not always have to be occupied by the Alliance Party.

    What is he doing on these matters other than making jibes at other parties for not doing what Alliance preach but doing little different from what Alliance seem to practice, which is barely noticeable on the ground? Stephen Farry’s record with the University and Skills department seems little better, after backing a cross party agreement on tuition fees … which YOU seem to disagree with I recall … accomplished little else than marginalize business groups, rural communities and the Catholic Education sector. With increasing unemployment in the North our Employment minster is more recognized for complaining about protecting his own job than creating any others. It seems that the Alliance may’ve sent their best asset to Westminster. Alliance weakness is perhaps its own lack of “real politics”.

    They have two ministries and both have only used it for sanctimony rather than actual policy and expect tax payer handouts to do a Nelson and use the ministry as their own personal soapbox. The Alliance party have gone from 52,636 votes in the Forum election to 50,875 and they are deluding themselves that they are “on the up” because the DUP-Sinn Féin agreement tactically gave them a second ministry ahead of two parties who’s first preferences are nearer to double the Alliance vote than to the Alliance vote itself. I’m beginning to think those people who say their Alliance voters in the Belfast Telegraph polls weren’t really being serious at the time.

  3. I can see where you are coming from on this IJP, however, I would venture that you are not seeing the whole picture and merely scoring some political points.

    ‘Firstly, and primarily, this is because the SDLP needed SF’s support just to bring the motion to the floor. That it was based on law-breaking but took an alliance with a party which continues to endorse decades of terrorism to bring it to the floor should already have been a red light to the SDLP.’

    This would be law breaking during an era which, in the eyes of Nats at least, the ‘state’ was primarily arranged in such a way that they were largely ostracized from it’s functioning and were de facto 2nd class citizens until the GFA? Yeah, in the eyes of Nats, their joining forces with SF is not really that big a deal.

    ‘Secondly, it was never going to pass. In some ways, the SDLP was in a better position before the motion was brought to the floor, and would perhaps have escaped better if SF hadn’t backed it. Perhaps, of course, that was SF’s calculation!’

    I am pretty certain they too knew it wasn’t going to pass, however, the motion itself did bring them a number of benefits:

    i) It allows them to show up certain people and/or parties as frauds with regard to what they say and what they do. Eg, Mike Nesbitt and his party being a party for one and all and Peter Robinson and his Kafflik Outreach.
    ii) It shows up division amongst the ranks of their opponents. If I am not mistaken, both McCrea and McCallister abstained from the vote; why? Furthermore, I believe independent unionist McClarty actually backed the motion.
    iii) As a Nat party, the SDLP has finally started to show that it is willing to lead on certain matters rather than allow SF to. This does not mean ‘Out Greening’ SF, it means being seen to be willing to go out in front and show some metal.
    iv) This matter has somewhat embarrassed SF as the SDLP have done all of the running with it, tapping into a matter that all Nats and right thinking people were peeved and disgusted with.

    ‘Thirdly, and I doubt this featured in the SDLP’s considerations at all, it saw the UUP inevitably endorse the DUP position (of endorsing law-breaking, lest we forget), and thus the re-entrenchment of the “pan-Unionist front” and thus further evidence that the UUP and SDLP cannot work together. The response by voters to a “pan-Unionist front” is a “pan-Nationalist front” which can only suit the larger Nationalist party, as the SDLP has already found to its cost in Fermanagh/South Tyrone.’

    Ah, but two of their (uu) most prominent MLAs in fact abstained from the vote on the motion. Also why would the SDLP want to be seen to be able to work with the uu? They are unwilling to sit elections and are in mortal decline, tying yourself to what is clearly a sinking ship is no way to further a party’s ambition and chances. No, no one wants to be anywhere near that mess when it finally liquidates.

    Regarding ‘pan-unionist fronts’, I love them; the law of diminishing returns is most applicable to them. As for how this may not benefit the SDLP, only in certain seats is that really applicable. In all seats with a slim or near Nat majority the case is as always that most Nats set aside their feelings for the party they like the most and get behind the party that has the best chance of winning especially when faced with a pan unionist front; this may very well be the case in N Belfast in the next election.

    ‘It was of course a typically sectarian slug fest, but that does not mean that many of the DUP counter-punches weren’t accurate (not least on the first point above).’

    Ulster Resistance any one? A charge of illegality in Norn Iron pre GFA is meaningless especially in light of how the ‘state’ was created, how it was administered and the fact that the powers that be made a point of in effect disenfranchising in the widest possible way a vast swathe of the people who lived here.

    ‘It’s unlikely to matter much in the long run – no one in the real world pays any attention to Stormont right now. However, to score, the SDLP will have to come up with something much more coherent and directly meaningful to the electorate – and something which differentiates it from SF, not which makes it reliant on it.’

    Agreed on the first point, however, I don’t think you are really seeing how this benefits and also distinguishes the SDLP from their main rivals SF. By not getting hot under the collar, by going to the Assembly and filing a motion, by debating it, by calling others out and by clearly being seen to be on the side of progress and where most of public opinion is they have scored a minor victory.

    Their voters are Nats, a lot of who, like myself, have had a problem voting for them as I and others have seen them as unwilling to stand up for our beliefs and too willing to compromise on that which should never be compromised with. This motion alone will not gain them a massive leap in the polls, however, by trodding the path of decency, debate and wanting to stand up for their community and the new and agreed rule of law they will start to bring some back to the fold, which can only be a good thing for Nationalism and the body politic in the North as two strong, countervailing voices for one community are so much better than one.

    • All those points may or may not be justified, but not one of them helps the SDLP.

      Working with SF merely makes it a Nationalist front – no gain there.

      Demonstrating Unionist division pushes voters towards the Alliance Party perhaps, but not towards the SDLP.

      And in any case, you are inclined to think Nationalists all think like you. Actually, they don’t. I’d venture that a comfortable majority would recognise my first point – that the IRA’s campaign achieved nothing (and did so at greater expense to Catholics than Protestants, out of interest, if that’s the prism you’re looking through).

      • ‘All those points may or may not be justified, but not one of them helps the SDLP.’

        I beg to disagree, as evidenced above. You seemingly are unwilling to highlight which points are justified and which are not. And yes, this does lend them some help outside of the chamber, however, your unwillingness to challenge them is somewhat worrying.

        ‘Working with SF merely makes it a Nationalist front – no gain there.’

        Are the Alliance party all of a sudden Nats? Unionist paranoia was then well justified. And it would appear they (unionists) also have a fifth column in their ranks with McClarty also voting for the motion!

        ‘Demonstrating Unionist division pushes voters towards the Alliance Party perhaps, but not towards the SDLP.’ – au contraire, it also helps them pick up the many voters who have left them. It may come as something of a surprise but a lot of Nats have also abstained from voting as they don’t like SF and/or they feel that SDLP whingeing about how SF has stolen their clothes was not too much of a turn on. Actually standing up for issues which have broad support such as what happened outside of St Mary’s or holding Nelson McCausland to task for what he said are winners.

        ‘And in any case, you are inclined to think Nationalists all think like you. Actually, they don’t. I’d venture that a comfortable majority would recognise my first point – that the IRA’s campaign achieved nothing (and did so at greater expense to Catholics than Protestants, out of interest, if that’s the prism you’re looking through).’

        I am? Show me where. No, Nats are all individual snow flakes, just like all others.

        What I am inclined to do is have a better insight into Nat thinking as I am, naturally enough, a Nat. You are not and yet you are able to tell me what Nats are thinking, I am quite literally wetting myself with laughter here with your arrogance. Whilst I am a pacifist claiming that the IRA’s campaign achieved nothing is obvious nonsense. Large governments don’t negotiate with those they have defeated, they just hand down the terms of their defeat, something which clearly didn’t happen in 1998.

        Unfortunately, ‘polling’ in Norn Iron is always susceptible to people unwilling to tell others, especially perfect strangers, what they really think. Whilst the killing and mayhem was something nobody wanted I’m also pretty sure that if I was to mention to some, ”hey, do you think some men where right to take up arms to defend their streets a day or two after what happened on Bombay Street’, I’d venture that a comfortable majority would recognise my point whilst qualifying it with the fact that they would have preferred if their was no violence at all.

        As for the majority of Nats ‘recognising your first point’, I sincerely doubt it. You need only look at who the majority Nat party is to see that your discourse for what Nats think is clear bunkum.

      • On the contrary, SF’s vote rose only post-violence (and essentially as a reward for moving away from it). Post-Enniskillen, for example, its vote crashed dramatically. So I would suggest your discourse for what “Nats” think is the flawed one.

        That people choose not to vocalise (or even think too much about) the obvious point that the IRA campaign failed completely, that it caused more distress to the people it was supposed “to defend” than anyone else, and that it was thus a completely pointless waste of thousands of lives is understandable. That doesn’t make it untrue.

        Of course, we need to define “Nationalist”…

      • ‘On the contrary, SF’s vote rose only post-violence (and essentially as a reward for moving away from it).’

        Yet that didn’t have anything to do with the fact that:

        i) They were poorly organised electorally during the 80s;
        ii) John Hume was about and clearly at his zenith; and
        iii) SF had not even convinced its own followers that the electoral route was the way forward.

        ‘Post-Enniskillen, for example, its vote crashed dramatically. So I would suggest your discourse for what “Nats” think is the flawed one.’

        Again, nope. Unfortunately, it is not too often said but as with both sides a lot of people may go, like for instance with Enniskillen, that it was clearly unjustified (which it was) but if for instance you lived in West Belfast in the early 70s and your brother had been interned for no apparent reason but for the fact that he was (i) a male, (ii) a Nat/Catholic, and (iii) living in West Belfast, many would say that they were perfectly right to take up arms and have a few pot shots on guys over from whatever regiment down at the Grosvenor Road barracks. Unfortunately, this kind of subtlety and nuance is something you completely overlook. It is very easy to paint people on either side as monstrous, cartoon-like villains but from my own experience people are fairly normal in every way, shape and form. If they do decide to pick up arms for some matter their logic can be fairly sound, even if I disagree with it. They have children and aspirations that their children will do better than what they have done.

        As for Nats and their opinion on violence, much like unionists, they can pick and choose which acts they agree with (for instance, some Nats taking up arms to defend churches in West Belfast in the late 60s for fear of them being burned to the ground) and that they disagree with (Enniskillen being most notable). You are also making assumption that by supporting some acts of violence this would mean that people would not find it in them to vote for a party of peace like the SDLP also, again this bunkum.

        ‘That people choose not to vocalise (or even think too much about) the obvious point that the IRA campaign failed completely, that it caused more distress to the people it was supposed “to defend” than anyone else, and that it was thus a completely pointless waste of thousands of lives is understandable. That doesn’t make it untrue.’

        Alas, you still have not pointed out how precisely it failed completely. Am I to assume that you think the other side ‘won’? Or, as most people know, it was clearly a score draw. Every side got something it wanted and neither side was defeated. Again, why would a large government negotiate with an organisation like the IRA and its affiliates if they have completely defeated it? You still haven’t given me an answer to this point and I think that’s because if you did it would show the rhetoric you have been throwing out as merely that, rhetoric.

        ‘Of course, we need to define “Nationalist”…’

        Have at it horse, this should be interesting enough.

  4. Maybe I’ve said a few unfavorable things about an Alliance who said People should “Pity the SDLP and UUP”, but I seem to recall Alliance were very proud of running a positive campaign, I’d hate for want of going for the “moderate demographic” they made a backward step. Frankly more Alliance voters does bring through more SDLP and UUP transfers in some constituencies and does bring an alternative to the big-two.

    But I don’t think we should be too sectarian against the DUP and Sinn Féin unless they try to form a tribe of their own. “Fearing the DUP and Sinn Féin” comment may be easily spun with unfortunate implications against the Alliance, as it had against the UUP and SDLP i.e. as a middle class tribe attacking a working class tribe. Of course Sinn Féin and the DUP are just as middle class as the rest of us. Average Industrial Wage is Middle Class in my mind … almost the definition of middle class, indeed it’s more likely the Average (mean) lies above the Middle (median) one.

    Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness has brought a new more moderate politics to those parties and those in the center need to compete for votes on similar issues. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any ‘united opposition’ from the Nesbitt and McDonnell front perhaps even less so than Elliot and Ritchie or Empey and Durkan … but then again it didn’t look as likely that would ever happen between Paisley and McGuinness either. I don’t think the matter was to be a divisive issue either.

    The UUP and SDLP do share a few things in common that they may not with the Alliance Party, certainly the rural constituency, the decentralization of industry, they both back mutalisation of water infrastructure, both probably are a bit smug in denying the DUP access to the Environment ministry and Sinn Féin Regional development even though neither were able to grab some of the contentious ministries such as Education, Justice and DETI. As an unemployed graduate I found the UUP and SDLP had some of the most detailed proposals on the issues while SF and the DUP offered more quick fix ones. I wouldn’t undermine that “alliance” just yet. You might find the “Red-Blue” parties might be closer like the ones in the Dail than the ones in Westminster.

    • Kevin – your basic premise is spot on.

      There is an assumption that the parties should be read along the spectrum: “SF-SDLP-AP-UU-DUP”. That assumption, I suspect, is still widely held in the SDLP and among Ulster Unionists.

      It’s not actually like that. AP doesn’t really belong on the spectrum at all; yes, AP “needs sectarian politics” against which to define itself (in the same way a doctor “needs ill-health” to make a living), but its fundamental vision is utterly different from the other four.

      Thus, the underlying assumption by many that somehow it is “DUP/SF” (extreme) on one hand versus “UU/SDLP/AP” (moderate) on the other is flawed. The SDLP and Ulster Unionists are on the same spectrum, and thus have more incentive to work together with each other than either has to work with AP.

      In practice they are doomed because the electorate is increasingly going three ways – basically Nationalist (SF), basically Unionist (DUP), or basically turned off (AP).

      • It had very little to do with Hume, no. It was an endorsement of peaceful methods, plainly, because that was the biggest change.

        Perhaps you believe Catholics by and large supported a terrorist campaign which resulted in more Catholic deaths that Protestant or security force and which delivered nothing not already deliverable. I doubt it.

      • football cliches says:

        IJP, read my points once again as you are reading or should I say inferring what you want to infer and not actually tackling any of the points I’ve raised,

        I also note you still haven’t answered my point raised re British government negotiating with the IRA and it’s affiliates. I shant hold my breath…

      • Firstly the general trend is that the electorate is going away entirely:

        1. Sinn Féin – got a rise out of lot of young voters to vote for them on the back of a ceasefire, now take a place like Foyle or West Belfast, huge young populations and the turnout for Sinn Féin is dropping. Outside of perhaps Fermanagh South Tyrone they are not swinging voters away from the SDLP but losing voters to apathy as seen in East Antrim.

        2. DUP – got voters from the UUP and UKUP on the back of the rise of Sinn Féin … yet young Protestants, Unionists, Loyalists or whatever are the most likely not to vote for anyone. No longer swinging voters away from the UUP or winning new ones, but losing voters to the Traditional Unionist Voice.

        3. Alliance – still not moving beyond the 50,000 vote threshold they had nearly 10 years ago and by the looks of things may never do. Bringing out a small core vote to win a massive one extra MLA seat in East Belfast at the expense of Dawn Purvis who did everything to help them win a Westminster seat. This is the big bounce people were talking about, piggybacking on another’s electoral machine.

        All three are saturating now and heading for the same decline experienced by the SDLP and UUP. Even rebel parties like UKIP, the local Conservatives, People before Profit and Érígí who are not making as much as a dent might benefit with declining turnouts. Though with a reduced number of MLA’s perhaps the polarization to the big two may increase as it does with Westminster elections.

        ————————————————————————————

        Secondly, I didn’t make the accusation that Sinn Féin and the DUP are extreme, David Ford did at a recent Alliance conference and bit the hands that fed him his ministry in the first place. I’ve actually be proud of the fellow Ulsterman statesmanship and solidarity they’ve shown from time to time, I respect their mandates, the work they’ve done to secure those mandates. I don’t have this attitude that I should be looking under the bed for Barry McElduff or Peter Weir, or that Patsy McGlone and Basil McCrea need to be helped across the road.

        ————————————————————————————

        Thirdly, Alliance are a bi-confessional party, it has Unionists and Nationalists … but it struggles to come off as multinational or even beyond the border question. They speak of non-sectarianism, but I struggle to see Unionists arguing for the end of the Catholic Emancipation or the Nationalists advocating Rome Rule in modern times. The fact that the border, or rather national issues, doesn’t seem to function in their agenda is perhaps one of the reasons people like you have seen a lot of that 50,000 odd voters turn away from the party during a European election.

        Where does Alliance actually stand on Europe … with their “partners” in the Lib Dems and Fianna Fáil? Does it have a member which is both pro-Hibernian and pro-British to keep the “both Irish and British” happy enough in Europe? Does it research how it addresses economic issues in border counties on both sides where it doesn’t pick up votes or even well wishers? What about addressing issues from other EU citizens in places like South Belfast who do Vote Alliance and their home countries? Are they happy to side with either the PES or EPP when they get to Europe if their block tells them to? Is it still even pro-Euro these days?

        This is the next big election for the Alliance Party, they shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders at the UUP and SDLP but taking a hard look in the mirror at themselves. From what I can see they don’t even seem ready for it. I’m expecting another low turnout, the return of Anderson and Dodds with a run off between Nicholson and the SDLP challenger again.

      • Kevin,

        Alliance’s position on Europe may be of interest to political nerds like us, but I doubt it makes a blind bit of difference to the general electorate.

        And are you seriously arguing that sectarianism is no longer a problem?

      • If I may say so, I’d be better placed than most to assess how much the Alliance Party’s European policy matters to the electorate.

        Andrew is spot on – even at European elections, it doesn’t.

        The SDLP hasn’t a mission of a European seat – there was no ‘shoot out’ last time, Alban was well back.

        The only issue is whether the DUP runs a second candidate to unseat Nicholson (I suspect they’ll stick with one to regain their position atop the poll).

  5. Andrew, Ian … firstly on the issue of nerdism … nerds are a fair share demographic of swing voters the only other groups who’s behavior is unpredictable is that of the protest voters … the fact is that Alliance voters often swing back to Jim Nicholson at elections and that Sinn Féin and the DUP use any sort of political success as opportunities for spin, Uni-ance nerds perhaps including some Alliance members go back to their right wing contingency because they see no purpose of the Alliance party being in Europe but they do want to see Cameron’s bloc of Euro-tories make their noises there.

    Secondly Ian, where was Alliance? … behind Jim Allister (and just ahead of Agnew), who’s voters still gave Alban a few transfers to make Diane Dodds a little nervous, who was in the run-off. I don’t think the DUP would risk two candidates, those polls have been verging to the inaccurate, the DUP takes a certain pride in topping the European poll. De Brún appeals to a broader church than Martina Anderson does, if Martina fails to make the 25%+1 quota which De Brun barely made but that really comes down to overall apathy in the contest, Sinn Féin may even lose the seat possibly even to the SDLP. The SDLP would also be on the bounce of Labour’s rise in the polls in the UK. They’ve been there before with Mary Lou and bounced back, I don’t think Alliance will bounce back from coming sixth again.

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