Current Affairs Politics

Sinn Féin, The SDLP And The Québec Comparison


Several commentators, including myself, have recently speculated about the possibility of Sinn Féin and the SDLP maximising the regional Nationalist vote in the north-east of Ireland through the fielding of agreed or joint-candidates in a number of marginal constituencies at the next Stormont Assembly elections (and possibly Westminster). This has come about as a response to the decision by the DUP and UUP, the two main British Unionist parties, to aggressively target Assembly seats through “unitary” candidates in order to minimise Nationalist representation.  It also reflects the greater possibilities opened up to Irish Nationalism in the north of the country by the emergence of smaller rival Unionist parties, including the new NI1921 and the existing Alliance Party. In all at least nine Unionist political groupings are expected to contest the next series of elections (the DUP, UUP, APNI, TUV, UKIP, PUP, BNP, NI1921 and the NI Conservatives) which might well scatter the votes for individual Pro-Union parties.

In such a divisive electoral situation for Unionism the case for an agreement between Nationalist parties grows all the more relevant. A similar situation exists of course in Québec where in recent times a splintered Nationalist vote has aided Federalist (Canadian Unionist) parties. Now that fault line may about to be sealed, as reported by CTV News:

“In an effort to increase the odds of a pro-sovereignty party winning in each riding for the next provincial election, leaders of sovereignty groups are seeking to place one sovereignist candidate in each riding.

The Nouveau mouvement pour le Quebec and the Conseil de la souverainete want to hold primaries in each riding to choose one candidate, regardless of their party.

Support for the Parti Quebecois, Option nationale and Quebec solidaire parties currently add up to roughly 40 per cent.

The groups plan to hold a major conference of all sovereignty supporters early next year.”

So is it time to have a serious discussion about where Nationalism in the north-east of Ireland wishes to be in three years time. In the driving seat or the passenger one?

7 comments on “Sinn Féin, The SDLP And The Québec Comparison

  1. Matthieu H

    It is somewhat doubtful that they’ll reach an agreement. Most nationalist agree on principle to this but there is more and more young nationalists that are disenfranchised by the PQ, that promote itself as the only way to independence and accused the other parties of dividing the vote. It is doubtful they will agree to this, as the current leadership is made of mostly career politician at this point and the party itself is ”institutionalized ”

    Unfortunately, Option National Leader just resigned citing family issues, ON was were most of the young nationalists turned to vote, they had a platform that breath fresh air and a discourse that was economically more sound towards a free state than that of the PQ.

    QS is officially ”neutral” towards nationalism, and has refused at last election to get into such an agreement with ON.

    In my opinion, the first real step in this would be to change the electoral mode to get rid of the ridiculous current system inherited from british rule and move to some sort of proportional election which would finally give credence to smaller parties who would finally be seen and heard in parliament and give a de facto alliance for nationalist parties in the house instead of having to deal with everyones agenda and electoral greed of carreer politicians.

    Maybe i’m being cynical, in principle i wish to see an agreement be reach and i can see why it’s almost a necessity at this point, both in Quebec as in N-Ireland. But politics as they are and british parlementary system makes it a lot more difficult to put into place.


    • I certainly agree with most of that, Matthieu. An agreement between the pro-sovereignty parties to stand agreed candidates in some marginal constituencies makes real sense for the greater good of Québec but whether the individual party leaders are actually willing to take that risk is debatable. Certainly PQ seems more intent on crushing or undermining its rivals than reaching out to them (though that’s politics). Smaller radical parties may well have a better chance of of success if the electoral system was truly democratic (first past the post is an awful system). Is there any desire in PQ, now that it is on the back-foot, to move towards PR? One suspects that they simply want a return to PQ majority governments in the Assembly.

      ON was a very promising development and reminded me of what was happening in Catalonia with the rise of challengers to the conservative nationalists of the CiU party or the way Sinn Féin overtook the SDLP in the north-east of Ireland (and now the Irish Labour Party in this part of the country). However that hope for ON now seems to have evaporated?


      • Matthieu H

        PQ has (or had…) electoral reform in their platform since it’s foundation. Historic leader René Lévesque tried to implement it in 1984 but most of his cabinet opposed it (short term electoralism as usual…)

        QS and ON both have electoral reform in their platforms.

        It’s hard to say if an agreement will be reached, we’ll have to wait to see what happens with ON. I know a few people who were candidate or are members and nobody really knows what’s going on. In the same week, Aussant resigned and a member of the national executive defected to the Liberals…
        I’ve been gone from Québec for 2 years now, so i’m not close enough to be sure of what will happen to ON.

        The P.Q under Marois as been very self divisive (always was, but not to this extent). She got rid of the most left leaning and millitant factions SPQ libre etc…. Aussant and other mp’s left the party, ex-prime minister Parizeau’s wife Lisette Lapointe, well known actor Pierre Curzi.

        These desafections and divisions should have started at least a minimal self reflexion in the party but that didn’t happen. P.Q decided to be patronising and dismissive about it.
        And while the P.Q minority government is losing points right now in polls and it is possible that Liberals can get back in office. It will ultimately Depend on the state of the negociations when the elections are announced and the polls for PQ, which could go in panic mode and reneg on it.

        As a left leaning pro-sovereignty, i don’t wish to vote for P.Q which is more and more to the right and less and less working toward independance (imho). I will need a very good candidate or a tight race to do it and i will not feel too happy about it. The P.Q does not represent my and the younger generation anymore as it fails to renew itself. But as with the exemple you gave, i think it is healthy for the option to be shared and for parties to lose their monopole on it. The cause is bigger than parties.

        I wish they can achieve this strategy, even if it’s in only 3-4 counties for now. if they achieve this on a small scale then i think it will be negociated with a more open mind on the part of P.Q.


        • Thanks for that lengthy reply, much appreciated. Looking in from the outside Marois seems to be one of the worse PQ leaders in many, many years. If there is no real affection or respect inside the party for her how can there to be much outside of it? I fear she may lead PQ to electoral ruin, not on the scale of BQ’s electoral meltdown but pretty bad. She needs a relaunch of her image an leadership.

          The disenchantment of young Sovereigntists with PQ seems to have turned many off voting and politics altogether. Thus allowing the Liberals etc. to win by default. A bad situation.


          • Matthieu H

            It’s hard to say now what is the mood inside of PQ, Marois confidence vote was upward of 90% at the last congress. i could advance a few hypothesis but not sure how accurate it would be. And that doesn’t mean the factions are not at the ready with a brick and a lantern. I think the PQ is living in a bit of a bubble right now after almost 10 years in the opposition. Of course some of what is going on right now is a result of a minority government but their record is far from being good at this time. And after being in politics for 30+ years i doubt that Marois can do much about her image. What’s funny ( in a paradoxical way) is how the right wing parties paint her as an out of touch rich ”bourgeoise” when they are the cronies of the establishment.

            I think most analysis on the Bloc last election was wrong, some of it is wishful thinking or politicaly driven by federalist sycophant. The last federal vote in Québec is not one that was against BQ or sovereignty as much as against the Conservatives. Québecois took a chance at blocking the Conservatives with a vote for a pan-canadian party.

            They didn’t vote liberals because the sponsorship scandal is still fresh in memories

            NDP had a Charismatic leader in Jack Layton (who spoke splendid french) and is more in tune with the left wing social values of Québec.

            It was done in the optic of giving at worst a minority government to the cons and at best a coalition of libs and NDP, a coalition that was impossible to create with the bloc as the rest of canada wouldn’t allow it.

            In absolute numbers that was close to happens, if you take the closest conservative wins x the counties that gave them a majority, you see that their legitimacy is of a few thousands vote. effectively getting around 38% of votes…

            The last election saw a large portion of young voters going to the polls, explained by the spring student strike. It will remain to be seen if they’ll still be as commited when the next election comes around.

            Bad situation indeed.


  2. Tom Breen

    While this makes sense for Nationalists, it’s hard to imagine the SDLP agreeing to it given the party’s handling of the SPADs issue. Surely much of this will come down to whether the SDLP remain a Nationalist party or whether they’ve become a de facto Unionist organization, as certain sectors of the British and Irish press strenuously hope.


    • True, though I can’t see the SDLP going culturally Nationalist, politically Pro-Union. Even for electoral advantage that side of the field is pretty much monopolised by the Alliance, Greens (sort of) and now NI1921.


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