Election 2019

Election 2019: SDLP manifesto at a glance

Colum Eastwood, SDLP leader

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has launched its manifesto ahead of the 12 December general election.

The full document, which can be viewed here, sets out the policies the party would support becoming law if its MPs are returned to Westminster.

Some areas, such as education or health, are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended since January 2017.

This means the Stormont executive would need to be restored, with assembly members supporting the particular policy, before it could be introduced.

The manifesto also sets out how the SDLP wants to see devolved government restored.

The main policies from the party's 2019 manifesto are:

  • Stop Brexit
  • Make radical proposals for the reform and restoration of an executive at Stormont
  • Extend welfare mitigations in Northern Ireland for another four years
  • Bring forward emergency legislation incentivising a carbon-neutral economy by 2030

Brexit

The party did not back Brexit and campaigned for Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

In the European Parliament election in May, it said if Northern Ireland could not remain in the EU, or have "special status to effectively remain", then Article 50 - the formal process to leave - should be revoked.

Its manifesto reiterates those previous commitments, but also makes the following pledges:

  • Bring together a progressive cross-party coalition in Parliament to stop Brexit
  • Fight for another referendum, with the option of remaining in the EU, if revoking Article 50 outright is not possible.
  • Oppose any hardening of the Irish border in violation of the Good Friday Agreement
  • Retain free movement of people, goods and services and the Common Travel Area.

The SDLP vows to use "every Parliamentary, legal and diplomatic tool" at its disposal to stop Brexit.

First of all that involves trying to once more have a presence in Westminster after two-and-a-half years shouting from the sidelines.

The party says it will support Article 50 being revoked to stop Brexit in its tracks.

It will support continued membership of the EU single market and customs union and oppose any attempt to impose a hard border in Ireland.

Just one problem - it needs a hung Parliament or a Labour victory, however unlikely that seems.

If Boris Johnson gets an overall majority there's nothing to stop him getting his withdrawal deal over the line.

And it seems there's nothing anyone - the SDLP included - could do in those circumstances.

Devolution and the Stormont deadlock

The SDLP is committed to:

  • Restoring power sharing and getting Northern Ireland's devolved government working again
  • Calling for substantial reform of Stormont's petition of concern veto mechanism
  • Implementing legislation to give official status to the Irish language
  • Restoring confidence in devolution by setting up a citizen's assembly and youth parliament to engage a new generation

Like all other Stormont parties, the SDLP says it wants to get power sharing back up and running.

It has previously maintained that the "key" to unlocking devolution is to reform the controversial petition of concern: a veto mechanism that was designed to aid minorities in the assembly but which in recent years has allowed bigger parties to effectively block proposals they don't like by ensuring any contentious matter requires cross-community support.

The SDLP has put this pledge high up in its manifesto again, but it also repeats the suggestion that if reform of the mechanism cannot be reached, then its use should be suspended for the rest of the current assembly mandate.

That seems like something of a solution but it's not one that other political parties have been persuaded by so far.

Reform of the mechanism was one of the talking points for the political parties in the last round of power-sharing talks, but it is not clear where those discussions have got to.

Infrastructure

The SDLP has produced some ambitious infrastructure proposals in this manifesto. As might be expected for a nationalist party, there is a commitment to improving the Belfast-to-Dublin railway line, but there are also wider commitments on rail and roads:

  • Fast-track funding to upgrade the Northern Ireland road network
  • Ensure Northern Ireland's rail network is retained and expanded across other locations in Northern Ireland, including Belfast International, Belfast City and City of Derry Airports
  • Enhance the Belfast to Dublin train line to cut journey times
  • Improve cycling, with more greenways, cycle lanes and cycle infrastructure

One potential stumbling block with such infrastructure projects, however, is money - ambitious proposals mean a significant investment.

Environment and climate

The SDLP describes climate change as the "seismic global challenge" facing this generation.

The party gives it a lot of prominence in this manifesto - it comes second to Brexit in the full policy document under the heading "delivering climate justice".

The policies are heavy on offering inducements to individuals and businesses to change their ways and operate in a more environmentally-friendly manner.

Its policies in this area include:

  • Emergency legislation to incentivise the transition from a carbon-intensive to a carbon-neutral economy by 2030
  • A planning policy to create a new approach to development that respects and nurtures local habitats
  • Supporting electric vehicle subsidies with an aim to ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030
  • Reducing reliance on single-use plastics and increasing the availability of water refill stations in parks and public places.
  • Supporting green energy producers to create new high-quality jobs
  • Banning fracking

Tax and benefits

The SDLP sits on the centre-left of the political spectrum. Unlike Sinn Féin, it is not abstentionist and any MPs elected for the party take their seats at Westminster. The party says it would use its votes there to attempt to reform the welfare system.

It has strongly advocated against changes and cuts to welfare payments and has been critical of the current benefits system, and its manifesto:

  • Opposes cuts to benefits, tax credits and pensions and would vote to overturn Universal Credit
  • Urges the government or an incoming Stormont executive to extend welfare reform mitigations which are due to expire in March 2020
  • Supports efforts to deliver the living wage for workers and support businesses to deliver fairer work conditions
  • Calls for increasing free childcare provision to 20 hours a week

Other notable policies

As an Irish nationalist party, the SDLP wants Northern Ireland to leave the UK and unite with the Republic of Ireland.

It has always supported this happening through peaceful means and is strongly opposed to violence.

Unlike Sinn Féin, it does not believe the time is right for a referendum on Irish unity, so the manifesto notes:

  • Its aspiration for Irish unification
  • Prioritising the supply of broadband to rural towns and villages across Northern Ireland
  • The need to pursue justice, truth and accountability for victims of the Troubles
  • The party's support for the devolution of corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland
  • A call to scrap Air Passenger Duty on flights from Northern Ireland
  • The party's opposition to any attempts to privatise the national health service
  • Wider access to IVF treatment through the health service

What are the parties promising you?

Here's a guide to where the the other main parties in Northern Ireland stand on key issues in this election campaign.

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