Current Affairs Politics

SDLP And SF Stand Aside In Counter To The UUP And DUP Deal

Well, that was an interesting seventy-two hours in northern politics. Last Friday the incoming leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Steve Aiken, was still insisting in press interviews – albeit not very convincingly – that he would stick by his guns and eschew any electoral pact with the dominant Democratic Unionist Party to secure greater pro-union representation across the Six Counties. However that wavering determination pretty much collapsed following fierce criticism from within his own community, culminating in threats of violence widely linked to the increasingly restless UDA-UFF; the terrorist gang whose membership has canvassed for the DUP in the recent past and whose leadership apparently pulls some of the party’s strings on several policy questions, including finding a solution to the Brexit impasse that has hung over Ireland and the United Kingdom since 2016.

On Sunday, and to no one’s surprise, the UUP announced a swift change of plans, stepping aside to leave a clear run for Nigel Dodds in the constituency of North Belfast, where the highly divisive DUP leader at Westminster and its chief Brexiteer strategist was expected to be under some pressure to retain his seat in the face of strong competition from the Sinn Féin candidate John Finucane, the current Lord Mayor of Belfast and son of the assassinated civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, if the pro-union vote was split.

Hot on the heels of that predictable statement from the UUP came news from Nichola Mallon, the ambitious deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, that the SDLP was also standing aside in North Belfast, facilitating the SF challenge in the area, while doing the same in East Belfast and North Down, implicitly making electoral room for Naomi Long of the liberal pro-union Alliance Party of Northern Ireland in the former area and the moderate independent unionist MP and fierce DUP critic Sylvia Hermon in the latter.

This well-staged bit of politics has forced Sinn Féin to reciprocate, with leader Mary Lou McDonald announcing that her party would not contest South Belfast, East Belfast and North Down, significantly enhancing the electoral chances of the SDLP in the south of the city, the APNI in the east and Sylvia Hermon in County Down. While this initially made SF look considerably weaker and less visionary than its northern competitor, media attention is already shifting to its more explicit and newsworthy call for nationalist voters to support two liberalish pro-union candidates in the north-east, including the widow of the ex-head of the infamous Royal Ulster Constabulary, to thwart the ambitions of the DUP. Perhaps unfairly placing the SDLP back under its shadow once again.

All that said, it has been a good couple of days for the SDLP, slightly less so for Sinn Féin, possibly so for the Alliance Party and Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon, not so much for the DUP and very much not so for the UUP, no matter what reciprocal offers the DUP have signalled. What remains now to be seen is how the APNI and others, including the Green Party, will respond to the pan-community gestures by the SDLP and SF. Given some of the begrudging or dismissive Alliance Party rumblings on social media it’s not looking entirely good for some positive responses on its part.

24 comments on “SDLP And SF Stand Aside In Counter To The UUP And DUP Deal

  1. I think SDLP and SF did the right thing, whatever the rationale – key not to have a perception that the North is represented by the DUP. Depressing to hear Alliance social media stuff might not be more positive. As for supporting Hermon, she’s shown herself a genuinely independent unionist in many many ways and I think deserves huge credit for that. As to the UUP. Sheesh.

    • I agree on all points. Not least on Alliance, which really does need to dump this scatter-gun holier-than-thou approach. They should leave the other parties alone, and concentrate on attacking the DUP on corruption, ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of the majority re Brexit, naivety re the Tories, and its links to terrorist groups.

    • Agree on Sylvia Hermon, very much a pragmatic unionist, a much needed pro-union balance to the DUP, even if her some of her social attitudes are antiquated.

      AP voices have been criticising SF’s decision not to run, avoiding mention of the same decision by the SDLP, or that SF is running after the SDLP lead on this tactic.

      Doesn’t bode well for now but could change.

      • Tamam, couldn’t agree more re Alliance and the fact there’s a single shared target in all this, the DUP. Disappointing to see the AP miss the opportunity to really engage with them in such a way as to strengthen its own standing.

        Yeah, she’s an interesting person, ASF. I’ve a lot of time for her and she certainly does represent a unionist constituency that isn’t often heard, even though I suspect it’s a bit larger than some might think.

        I was just thinking it would be literally impossible to think of the DUP acting in the way the SDLP and especially SF have done. Parts of the UUP might at one point have done so (perhaps the actual course of the GFA/BA suggests they actually did) and perhaps the DUP did just once when going into the Executive, but other than that.

        • The decision by SF to not oppose Sylvia Hermon strikes me as something of major symbolic significance. Very Martin McGuinness-like in its reaching out to the “other side”. And very welcome, as SF seem not to have bothered much with (genuine) reaching out since the days of McGuinness.

          This from a Fintan O’Toole piece in yesterday’s Guardian struck me as well, in a much more poignant sort of way: “They wanted a unified new Ireland that would be able to leave its sectarian divisions behind. They got two narrowly sectarian states, one Catholic, one Protestant.”

          Will we ever be able to leave our sectarian divisions behind in NI while political parties excite them and play on them to achieve electoral success? And are the parties any more to blame than the eejits who vote for them?

          • Agree very much re the SF decision being very Martin McGuinness like.

            Politics reflects the political base. I don’t know how one transcends that in the short term. But I do think political parties can hold back more positive developments – for example, the DUP could have had a more open approach (Robinson didn’t quite practice what he now preaches on that score, but he wasn’t entirely grim). But everything, every positive gesture felt like it was dragged from them kicking and screaming when a little more generosity might have made all the difference. In fact it is puzzling to me how they didn’t even attempt it rhetorically – avoiding gratuitous stuff that got people’s backs up. Unless they were afraid if they didn’t they wouldn’t see tough enough.

            • This is sadly true, WorldbyStorm. Even then, the positive gestures were few and far between and invariably self-serving.
              The “Lundy” thing is still a powerful disincentive within unionism, but I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s a combination of the fundamentalist Christianity that the DUP was founded upon, which hates and disdains everything that’s different from itself. Plus, again with a nod to its roots, the constant conflict, negativity, and fear-mongering that the DUP thrives upon and needs to sustain itself.

              • And in a way just riffing on your point re fear-mongering, isn’t it oddly modern (in an age of Trump and Brexit) as well as being something the DUP honed many decades ago (albeit of course in the North long before the DUP there was that sort of attitude long prevailing). Funny then how badly the DUP have played it in relation to a wider British audience.

  2. It is heartening to see that the parties are working together to achieve a shared objective.

    If folks can do this, it shows that an agreed Ireland, a United Ireland can be achieved. And with the North rejoining the South what an opportunity for there to be new thinking about how a united country delivers for all its peoples.

    Think of the establishment of an Irish NHS so currently denied by the ROI. Now wouldn’t that be a step forward and who of whatever persuasion couldn’t be for that. Or what of the northern politicians participating in all Ireland politics.Not really so difficult to imagine once the sectarian influence of Westminster has been cast off. They’d certainly add to the dynamism of the Dail and influence change not currently extant.

    Ach, we shall see. But for now very good to see cross party cooperation

  3. Is SF’s support for Hermon a cunning ploy to get rid of her? Think of the effect on Unionist supporters.

    • Nah, it’s just a logical extension of their ant-Brexit (anti-DUP) stance. Besides, the unionists of North Down aren’t so easily manipulated and are markedly different to most unionist constituencies in NI. They’re moderate and have always been their own people. They returned Jim Kilfedder as their MP for 25 years (from 1970 until his death in 1995) despite him being gay and the consequent dirty whispering campaigns and innuendos laid against him.

  4. The Greens have stood down in South Belfast. The Alliance Party are not very good team players they are starting to look very petty. Maybe Fitzjameshorse is right about them after all.

  5. I’d love to know what if any co-ordination there was between the parties before the SDLP announced. Currently it reads as a unilateral move by the SDLP and that makes it quite curious, given it sacrifices their principle of no pacts in constituencies such as F&ST – although they are standing a candidate here.

    Although without this move the SDLP was looking at the prospect of no MPs again, with no Stormont, such an outcome would be fatal to Eastwood and probably to the SDLP. While not standing aside in F&ST may undercut this somewhat I am curious to see if Eastwood is returned in Foyle on the back of this.

    The impact on Unionism though, that is a blow that will reverberate for the next few elections. The DUP have just broken the UUP. After a string of failures and idiots, Swann was useless and Aiken has just bent the knee. It is both amusing and insightful to see which people and outlets are trying to ignore the UDA threats that caused the UUP into such a publicly humiliating u-turn. If UUP voters don’t just stay home due to the weather, disgust and despair or will they instead vote for APNI? They better because the APNI appears to be alienating the Nationalist element of its recent electoral growth by not reciprocating in standing aside in North and South Belfast and with recent comments from Bradshaw and Farry.

    • I have to say, the AP representatives throwing shapes in the media over the last 24 hours about “sectarian pacts” and “headcounts”, dismissing any reciprocal gestures towards the SDLP and SF, or Greens now, looks pretty dire. It’s showing up the AP for what it is: a moderate pro-union party with multifaith Protestant and Catholic unionist support.

      They look less like part of the solution and more like part of the problem.

      • The antics of Alliance are deeply dispiriting. I think as well as their superior attitude, they tend not to act on political instinct but over-analyse to a ridiculous degree. Or maybe they start with a preconceived position and “rationalise” their way back to it. Whatever it is they’re certainly playing this one wrong. They can’t see the forest for the trees.

  6. Are they sectarian head counts and pacts in North Down and East Belfast? Or is that limited to North and South Belfast? You are right about the social media response to APNI, it has been pretty caustic and there is little patience for Long’s “I’m too busy in Europe to comment on X” routine. Especially when she is supposed to be campaigning in East Belfast. They have always been a moderate Unionist party, despite protestations to the contrary, they will oppose a border poll even after there’s a majority in favour of re-unification.

    All this and only a bare handful of days into campaigning? What will the next five weeks bring us?

  7. A member of the Alliance Party has claimed you can’t be a Nationalist and Cross Community at the same time. Funny that I always thought a bird needed two wings to fly. The Alliance Party are showing themselves to be a bunch of petty minded middle class Unionists. To many ex-tories and former Ulster Unionists in their ranks from the UCUNF era.

    • I haven’t seen that quote, but it certainly fits with other ridiculous utterances from APNI reps of late. Obviously the person who made it didn’t realise that the claim itself is either patently sectarian (i.e. if his/her “cross-community” refers to bridging the religious divide, then the claim equates Nationalism exclusively with Catholics, and therefore claims that a Catholic can’t be cross-community) or, much more likely, it is absurdly elitist and self-regarding (i.e. unless, like Alliance, you hold a neutral position on the national question – neither unionist nor nationalist – you can’t be cross-community). No doubt the latter went down a bundle in the abstract world of flip-charts, multi-coloured felt-tips, and PowerPoint presentations. Meanwhile, out in the real world, many Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and unionists, are labouring away every day on cross-community projects.

  8. Hermon isn’t running in North Down in the General Election.

    • I think the UUP would have had a much stronger chance at winning North Down had they not backed down in North Belfast.

      • North Down might, just might, go for Alliance.

        • I think this is the DUP’s to lose. But will have to wait to see if Hermon endorses anyone and what APNI/GP decide to do before having a shot at a prediction. Hopefully LucidTalk poll will be out soon

  9. Feardorcha

    I suppose the AP isn’t realistically going to win Nationalist voters when the SDLP is a sane alternative to SF. There’s a big gap now in Unionism where the people who can’t stomach the DUP are looking for alternatives to the ailing UUP. The AP talking tougher might just be enough to convince these moderates to vote for them.

  10. WorldbyStorm, there’s no Reply button below your last comment on the DUP’s “populist” approach failing miserably to connect with a British audience, so I’ll reply here.
    I think it’s simply because the average British nutjob nationalist doesn’t give a damn about Northern Ireland. Laughably, during the referendum campaign it emerged that Arron Banks thought the island of Ireland was in the UK but NI was part of Britain. The DUP was courted prior to the Brexit referendum for the votes they could deliver, and again afterwards to keep the Tories in office, but beyond that they are seen as having served their purpose. Brexit is essentially an English nationalist project. If NI remains part of the UK after Brexit, fine. If it doesn’t, who cares.

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