The Swedish People’s Party (Svenska folkpartiet in Swedish, or SFP for short) is to ponder its own name in upcoming discussions on renewal as part of the ongoing Kasnäs manifesto process.
The aim of the Kasnäs process is to give SFP a clearer, more definable image and to place it on track to win 10% of votes in national elections. Much of the debate has centred on more clearly presenting the party as Finland’s principle party of liberal values. There is currently no party in parliament that defines itself as principally liberal. SFP’s European parliament member Carl Haglund is leading the Kasnäs process and has suggested that the word ‘liberal’ is somehow incorporated in the party’s name.
According to media reports, uggestions for a new name have included ‘Svenska folkpartiet – Liberalerna‘ (The Swedish People’s Party – The Liberals), ‘Svenska liberala folkpartiet’ (The Swedish Liberal People’s Party), ‘Folkpartiet Liberalerna‘ (The People’s Party – The Liberals), ‘Finlands svenska folkparti’ (Finland’s Swedish People’s Party), or simply ‘Folkpartiet’ (The People’s Party).
Any move away from a name including Swedish would be controversial and potentially dangerous. In seeking out a new source of voters in the form of liberal Finnish-speaking Finns, the party may well alienate its core bloc of voters – Swedish speakers. I feel it is extremely optimistic for those in the party advocating a change to hope that they can both appeal to liberals regardless of language group and maintain the current level of support amongst Swedish-speakers simultaneously.
SFP has always, by necessity, been a broad church, even if the liberal-wing has perhaps had the largest following. Swedish-speaking Finns are by no means a homogenous group. Just as amongst Finnish-speakers, there are farmers, town dwellers, factory workers, bank-owners, entrepreneurs and everything else in between. Certainly not all of these are traditional liberals. However, they do all share the common requirement to have a voice in the Finnish politics that speaks up for the rights of the Swedish language and those that wish to live through it. Emphasising one political ideology as more important than the party’s Swedish nature is not the way to electoral success.
That said, SFP does face a real challenge. Increasingly, Swedish-speaking Finns are more and more bilingual in the way they live their lives. For many in the larger towns of southern Finland, the Swedish-speaking part of their identity is less and less a defining point – or, at least not as important as it was for previous generations. They can get by perfectly well in Finnish, their partner is quite probably Finnish-speaking and thus other political issues than language can more easily sway this new group’s voting intention. In addition to that, the coming voting form (of questionable democratic credentials) will make it harder in the future for SFP to gain parliamentary representation. We Swedish-speakers are finally not decreasing in numbers, but we continue to decline as a percentile proportion of the entire national population (and thus as an electoral force). In such a climate, it is understandable and possibly crucial that SFP reaches out to win more Finnish-speaking votes. The sad reality is that the party may be before too long, as the Americans say, be between a rock and a hard place.
The Kasnäs manifesto, the basis of the Kasnäs process which is looking into how best to redefine SFP for the future, can be read in English on SFP’s website by following this link.