Ian Parsley’s been doing some quietly impressive analysis pieces on the sidelines of NI politics. His latest piece is on what (and it’s easy to forget) has only just become the SDLP’s leadership campaign:
Firstly, as discussed on this blog earlier in the week, Irish unity is not about to happen and people know it. The SDLP’s constitutional stance is clear, but it is also largely irrelevant unless is can be given extra meaning (in the same way the Alliance Party gave extra meaning to its anti-sectarian stance by emphasising the costs of segregation – no matter what your view on that, it’s relevant and interesting to the same degree “North/South makes sense” is boring and forgettable). Mr McGlone makes matters even worse by hiding behind slightly ambiguous language – apparently it’s about “unity of the Irish people”, whatever that means.
Secondly, it is already obvious that the SDLP is carving itself up. What is required is a Leader to bring about not Irish unity but SDLP unity. Starting immediately with the suggestion that you are smarting because you weren’t picked for a position, and suggesting that the only grounds you would have been picked was time of service (and, implicitly, that you were in another faction) is as pointless as it is divisive. What difference would McGlone make as a Minister, that Attwood isn’t making? What difference, for that matter, would McGlone make as a Leader, that Ritchie isn’t making or that McDonnell wouldn’t make?
It’s early days. Very little of substance has yet risen to the surface. But there are some fundamentally useful questions in there that all any candidate ought to consider carefully. Not least because the answers to them will define the size and shape of their ambition.
For themselves surely, and for their party of course. But also for the people whom the seek to represent. It’s the lack of ambition, and courage of conviction that defines the difference between themselves and their nationalist rivals.
Whomever takes the lead needs to express some degree of appetite and ambition if the party is to become relevant to future voters.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty