Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP outlines the SDLP's vision for the future of Northern Ireland.
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell is the Social Democratic and Labour Party member of parliament for South Belfast
We are going into the assembly election of May 5th on the slogan ‘Uniting People, Building Prosperity’, but it is much more than a slogan; it is a summary of where we are at as a society in Northern Ireland and where we must go.
I have been fighting elections since the 1970s and until now, every one of them revolved around our past and differing views of the past. It is not much of an accolade that our devolved assembly has managed to survive a full four-year term without collapse, but it is a start and we can build on it.
At last, we can have an election about our future. Canvassers on the doorsteps are being questioned as never before about policy and most of the big questions hinge on the issues of cuts, jobs and paying the bills.
We have put economic growth and job creation at the top of our six-point programme.
We also want to:
• Invest in young people, increasing access to higher education;
• Deliver better government, overcoming stalemate in the executive and appointing more of our own competent ministers;
• Transform society, ending segregation in housing and education, protecting health services and the vulnerable;
• Lead the new politics of real partnership rather than carve-up;
• Work towards becoming one people, one island
The overall economic challenges facing us are frankly enormous. It has been said without any exaggeration that our economic dependence on public-sector spending is greater than East Germany’s was when the wall came down.
Our private sector is not only puny; after many decades of the politics of the treasury block grant, much of it operates in a dependency business culture. The Tory-inspired coalition cuts can sink us and rob us of any prospect of rebalancing our economy in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, block grant politics dominate the thinking of the DUP and Sinn Fein which dominate our executive. That is why we voted against their budget and put forward our own plans for recasting public policy to create more jobs.
We have now put forward ideas to create thousands of jobs. They are not all our ideas and we don’t have exclusive rights on any of them, because we have consulted widely and asked economists and other experts to test-drive them and check our figures. Because we believe it is our job as politicians to sift and collate the best ideas and bring them to the forum where public policy is decided.
Among other things we have identified revenue sources and innovative funding concepts which would allow us to build 60 badly needed schools and repair our crumbling road network. We have embraced green new deal plans which can create 32,000 jobs.
No matter what social problem we seek to tackle, the one thing we can be certain of is that the availability of enough secure, well-paid employment will always make it easier to find a solution. This is the new politics, this is our politics.
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