Looking at Northern Ireland politics from a distance, it's always seemed that the main faultline in the internal politics of the SDLP lies between the party's twin ideologies - social democracy and Irish nationalism. The caricature is that under Gerry Fitt's leadership until 1979, social democracy had the upper hand, but since then the party has been an out-and-out nationalist outfit. I had been gaining the impression recently that the newly-elected leader Margaret Ritchie was perhaps returning to a more social democratic emphasis, with her unexpected announcement at the Irish Labour Party conference that a merger with Fianna Fáil was now completely off the agenda. It had always been slightly puzzling how a centre-left party could possibly imagine FF to be its closest natural allies in the Republic - unless the common ground of nationalism trumped all other considerations, of course.
Nevertheless, on the news this evening, Ritchie didn't seem to be shy about burnishing her nationalist credentials either, with a call for sweeping new economic powers for the devolved Northern Ireland administration, and a reaffirmation that Irish unity was still very much the ultimate aim. So here we have a party that is avowedly both nationalist and social democratic in its outlook, that wants to further devolution, and that ultimately wants to break all ties with London. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Well, for all that they have in common there is still one huge difference between the SNP and the SDLP - and that is in Labour's attitude towards the two parties. In the eyes of the 'People's Party', the SNP are dastardly 'separatists' who are hellbent on 'breaking up Britain', but mysteriously the SDLP are...Labour's sister party.
I'm sure if you challenged a Labour politician over that blatant inconsistency, they would conjure up some rough-and-ready sophistry about historical differences between Scotland and Northern Ireland - but in truth there is only one historical difference that is of any real relevance, namely that Scotland is a traditional Labour stronghold, and NI never was. Amazing how 'separatists' suddenly seem so much more objectionable when they threaten to take parliamentary seats away from you.