First off, Id like to pay tribute to Barton Creeth, who is quite simply the nicest guy in the small pool of Norn Iron Bloggers. If you haven’t read his blog….you should.
Last weekend Barton got a real scoop. Interviewing Justin Cartwright, SDLP Council candidate for Balmoral in Belfast, Barton got a great quote. Justin described himself as “an economic unionist”.
This quote has now got into the Twittersphere, threads on Slugger O’Toole and the mainstream newspapers. Justin Cartwright has since been interviewed on a local radio station.
Some declarations of interest here. I am a member of SDLP. I have never met Justin Cartwright. I am a Socialist, a Republican and a Nationalist.
Typically this quote has attracted the attention of those (Sinn Fein and Alliance) who want to exploit it to embarrass the SDLP and indeed by self declared “Progressives” (the name by which LetsGetAlongerists prefer to be known) who welcome the statement.
I dont know much about Justin Cartwright. I heard him speak with some confidence at a SDLP Conference. Slightly older, I would guess than the majority of SDLP Youth, who are only now breaking out from “student politics”.
He is of course an Australian, who moved here when he married a Belfast girl. With a pedigree in Australian Labour Politics, he is to be congratulated on joining the sister party SDLP. It is hardly a perfect fit for him…there is no good reason why Justin should be an Irish “nationalist”.
Nor was there any good reason for any of the five or six Polish, Portuguese and Lithuanian candidates for SDLP in the 2011 Local Elections to be Irish nationalists.
To their credit, they joined and campaigned for the local franchise holder of Social Democracy.
They paid a price for involvement. None were elected.
And some saw their SDLP Election posters and their national flags on Orange bonfires.
Yet in joining the SDLP, they joined a party…with a committment to social democracy, civil rights and all the good “lefty stuff”….and Irish Unity.
They might well be indifferent about Irish Unity…but they are not indifferent to a just society.
In joining SDLP, they did not seek to change the SDLP DNA.
The problem with Justin Cartwright being an “economic unionist” is in part signalling that this is the direction the SDLP should go.
And of course, I have often referred to the fact that the biggest and prime challenge SDLP has…is re-connecting with voters who have supported Sinn Fein in the last decade. As I have publicly stated, I am one of these voters myself and as I have seen myself there is evidence of some progress in that direction.
In my view,Justin Cartwright undermines that good work.
The SDLP fights elections on two fronts.
It is near impossible to woo “nationalist” and “letsgetalongerist” voters.
For all the nice things that the usual suspects in the South Belfast MetroTextual “bubble” say about “progressive” voices in SDLP, there is no reward at the ballot box.
Make no mistake this is as much about the “South Belfast Bubble” talking shop….literally coffee shop politics…than it is about broader reality in Norn Iron.
Incidently, you might wonder why no reference was made on The Slugger O’Toole site to the other foreign nationals who have stood for SDLP…surely its relevant.
And you might also wonder why Ian Parsley who contributed to the thread did not mention that his wife, Paula Bradshaw is standing for the Alliance Party in Balmoral DEA.
Is it simply a tussle between the Red Wing and the Green Wing in SDLP?
Well obviously I would deny such wings exist.
And I say this because the “green” Republicanism and “red” social democracy are well mixed in SDLP DNA.
My Republicanism and my Socialism are entwined.
My nationalism? What’s the problem with being Irish and wanting Irish Unity.
Its no different from British nationalist or Australian nationalist.
The British Labour Party and the Australian Labour Party are….nationalist.
Of course there are times for SDLP when the green or red is too pronounced in individuals and we are right to be wary of such people.
For example I voted for Gerry Fitt…who became an Independent Socialist.
In Coleraine people voted for Billy Leonard who defected to Sinn Fein.
In Cookstown people voted for Paddy Duffy who defected to Irish Independence Party.
In Downpatrick, people voted for Patrick Clarke who defected to Alliance.
And thats hardly unique.
In 2011 people voting UUP saw Basil McCrea and John McCallister form NI21.
In 2011 people voting UUP saw Fred Cobain join DUP.
In 2011, people voting UUP saw David McNarry join UKIP.
In 2009, people voting Alliance saw Ian Parsley join UFCNP.
In 2010, people voting UFCNP saw Ian Parsley (again) join Alliance.
In 2010, people voting UFCNP saw Paula Bradshaw (Mrs Parsley) join Alliance.
In 2010, people voting UFCNP saw Trevor Ringland join the Conservative Party.
In 2007, people voting Sinn Fein saw Gerry McHugh defect to Fianna Fáil (I think)
In 2004, people voting DUP saw Jim Allister form TUV.
So I think that SDLP voters are entitled to ask if Justin Cartwright is a Defection Waiting To Happen.
I dont suppose that Justin’s SDLP posters will end up on an Orange bonfire in July. Annd I daresay that loyalists would have an ethical dilemna of sorts about burning the Australian flag. It has after all got a little British flag on it.
But this is the South Belfast “bubble” and normal political rules dont apply. The six Assembly seats are held by five different parties…UUP, DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance have one each and SDLP has two.
In the coffee shops on Lisburn Road and the Italian restaurants around QUB, the so-called “progressives” in SDLP, Alliance, NI21, Green, UUP and the LabourNI eejits tweet their admiration for each other.
They have actually more in common with each other than their own party colleagues beyond South Belfast.
So it is NOT about Green Wing and Red Wing politics in SDLP.
But it is about something entirely different.
It is about “Traditional” and so-called “Progressive” Wings in SDLP.
It IS about changing the direction of the SDLP.
But this is NOT the chosen battleground.
The chosen battleground is the SDLP Constitution and the issue is “One Person, One Vote”, a measure which would strengthen the hand of “Progressives”, numerically strong in places like South Down and of course South Belfast and frustrated that the “delegate” system gives too much influence to “Traditionalists”, west of the Bann.
We are already at the dangerous stage where A handful of branches such as Balmoral wield too much influence.
Thats the REAL STORY here.