McDevitt registering a friendly base within the SDLP?

Ken Reid notes that the nominations for leader of the SDLP close tomorrow. And it seems Conall McDevitt may be contemplating something, if not an official move then signalling the beginnings of a power base within the party…

The South Belfast MLA is keeping his cards close to his chest but my information is five and probably six branches are prepared to nominate him. It could be quite a battle before the leadership election at the party conference in Belfast in early November.

Like the Sinn Fein nomination for the Irish Presidential bid, it’s mere speculation at this stage, but five or six branches would not be enough in a two horse race. It might make things more interesting in a three way split. And it might also be read as an expression longer term interest in a future leadership race.

A matter of registering interest, whilst in the meantime building support and capacity.

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  • Big Boss

    This is all well in good, I wouldnt be to upset to see McDevitt as leader in 5 or 6 years time, indeed its the same with Eastwood in Foyle.


    Right now the party needs to unite around one leader and Deputy. They have 4 years to turn things around (especially with the new boundaries) or they are finished, its that simple. What you need right here, right now is someone who is able to steady the ship, get at the very poor party organisation and connect with the Public.

    McDevitt will have to work very hard in order to retain his seat next time out (even without the changes) and to lose a leader in an election would be a disaster. He is in less than a year and its too early for him to be thinking of taking on the big job (deputy perhaps)

  • Stewart Finn

    Big Boss

    All reasonable assertions except I dont think Conall needs as much as 5 years, he has some work to do both on self improvement and on establishing himself as a mainstay of NI politics but it wouldnt take that long. I think he could do it now but his chances of doing it really well will be a lot higher in a few years.

    As to your “deputy perhaps” as Mick points out, not everyone whose name is mentioned in a leadership contest actually wants it this time around, sometimes it is forward planning, signalling intent and perhaps letting the front runner know the size of your power base and how valuable your endorsement is. That however is pure speculation, I have no knowledge of Conall’s intentions or anyone elses.

  • Shy Talk

    He seems a plausible candidate but he’s not been in the SDLP that long and has only faced one election, which if memory serves me right was a bit tight for him. I like him but it remains to be seen if he can carry the party with him.

  • With just over 24 hours to go before nominations close, it might have been expected that political anoraks like myself had more names to mull over. We dont. Therefore we speculate on the names and we speculate on the motives.
    It was speculated over a week ago that Conall was “considering throwing his hat in the ring”…….which was of course a confirmation (strangely missed) that Margaret Ritchie had already told her inner circle she would not stand.
    But about nine days has elapsed…..and no confirmation that McDevitt is in the race.
    Yet we have had feverish activity in SDLP branches up and down the North. They are already nominating….Patsy McGlone.and often in tandem with Dolores Kelly.
    Its simply too late to get a serious nomination for either.
    And all that is left is a marker for the Future.
    But there are two entirely different kind of markers.
    The first would be to stand as Leader or Deputy and lose. There might be a certain appeal in a balanced ticket to heal blood letting and/or bad blood. But we would lose.
    The second option is to be on the sidelines and jump enthusiastically and publicly to his feet when the new Leader is announced.
    Whatever his long term ambitions, I think its fair to say that this Election in these circumstances are not part of the plan. He does have an understandable dilemna and if I was him, Id get my wife to phone Stormont and tell them I am sick (wisdom tooth maybe) and it would get all the journalists off my back.
    Conall perhaps needs a reality check. And the demise of Ritchie is an opportunity. By accident or design, he was catipulted into the first rank of SDLP figures……despite his junior status.
    He has now earned the right to be considered among the first six SDLP senior figures. But he is not the number one or number two.
    Margaret Ritchies decision to stand down has robbed the SDLP of their opportunity to hang her from the Ramada flagpole. Now the Party has to say it all with flowers in a tearful farewell.
    Which is bad news for her closest advisors. Both Attwood and McDevitt. They are too closely associated with Failure. And McDevitt has about 12 years advantage over Attwood to change his fortunes.
    There is a THIRD option ………whch is under the radar….but just as important. The elections to the Party Executive. The SDLP needs to purge it of at least some the pro-Ritchie element and Ritchie supporters would be well advised to organise themselves..if they havent already done so. Last year just 18 candidates contested 14 posts. There will be more this year.
    And its in the nature of these things that branches only really “know” five or six names. The rest is all about sticking pins in the ballot paper and horse trading.
    “Paddy Murphy nominated by Shantallow, seconded by Enniskillen……..Mary Smith nominated by Enniskillen seconded by Shantallow”.
    I actually think thats where the real action will be.
    Its not simply a matter of a getting rid of Margaret Ritchie …its a chance to get some root and branch reform. To some extent this is a Peasants Revolution in the SDLP. Not a good time to be part of the Old Guard. The “outreach” nonsense might have been noble but it was counter-productive. And the SDLP is only in the mood to listen to its own voices for a while. Rightly so.

  • oops gremlins…..”he” (ie McDevitt) would lose Leadership or Deputy Leadership. Not “we would lose”.

  • iluvni

    How can anyone take McDevitt seriously when he comes on the radio and talks about ‘Facebook’ campaigns he has started….

  • Stewart Finn


    Are you kidding me, if acting childishly, incoherence, bigotry and stupidity havent prevented generations of our politicians being taken seriously – why would a penchant for social media stop McDevitt?

  • Neil

    I can’t take him seriously regardless. Rightly or wrongly he seems addicted to pointless radio and television appearances championing daft causes.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think all this is daft speculation. McDevitt is a newcomer and has not a hope of being taken seriously as a leadership contender. Taking a very wild guess, the SDLP have already experimented with the idea of appointing an outsider to see off Big Al, and that whole plan has rather spectacularly backfired; it would make no sense for them to repeat the same mistake.

    McDevitt has piped down a hell of a lot after his very near miss at the assembly elections (much like his regular blogging right here on Slugger stopped, as soon as his objective of a co-option for an assembly seat had been obtained). I’m not persuaded that he has much of a base within the party or the electorate, or that he would make much of a mark as a party leader. I find him verbose and very difficult to pin down on anything except, as Neil says aligning himself to whatever the cause du jour is.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I predict McDevitt will enter … and lose.

  • Stewart Finn

    I think some are being slightly harsh.

    He does need to work on his presentation a little and choose more carefully what he speaks on but it is a much easier fix than most.

    He already has the basic skills, he can string a sentence together, speak without notes and with confidence and knows what the issues are – it may be a sad state of affairs but even these basics put him ahead of about 80% of the assembly already and several party leaders of recent and current times.

    He is young, keen and enthusiastic – I will concede possibly over enthusiastic at times and too quick to obviously self promote but those are things that he can work on. I think it is much easier to tone down and hone that than to create it where there is nothing. A few years from now we will certainly still be talking about him. People do seem to either love or hate him but they do think something about him, how many assembly members do people think and look blankly at – that is where the problems lie.

    He probably got a little reality check at the last election and hopefully that has helped him realise what he has to do progress over the next few years and with a promotion of some description thrown in during that time he will up his leadership credibilty and strengthen his electoral position.

    I think Mick’s initial comments are the most realistic and accurate so far. Reading between the lines – his time will probably come, this probably isnt it but he is credible enough to be talked about.

  • Damian O’Loan

    “five or six branches would not be enough in a two horse race. It might make things more interesting in a three way split.”

    I think this is the key point.

    Firstly, it indicates an appetite for change in the SDLP that is nothing if not refreshing. Whether pursuing McDevitt as a leader is, at this point, the right approach to achieve change and avoid further decline is another question, but the recognition of the risks of stagnancy is refreshing and contrary to the popular perception of the party.

    Secondly, the SDLP is perhaps either too fragmented or admirably decentralised for McDevitt’s support for either leadership candidate to ensure that these constituencies to follow his lead. That makes it all the more interesting, but given that the support for the two declared is largely unknown, probably too early for comment.

    The only thing I would say confidently is that neither of the two declared candidates will reverse the decline the party is suffering. I doubt McDonnell regrets having lost the first time as much today as he did the evening of the vote. I don’t know if McGlone feels he could have done much better, though I imagine so.

    As an aside, Alex Attwood may not be the most popular voice – though he has faced more vitriol than either candidate and stood it admirably – but he gets things done and knows his brief better than any of the three under discussion. My Panglossian leader, and I’m a fan of Leibniz.

    Finally, I would credit Conall McDevitt with too much intelligence to stand now. I think he will be a fine leader at some point; in many ways he is ahead of his time. The best-case scenario would be for someone to patch the leaks until someone with a new vision that is acceptable to the electorate, like McDevitt, finds him-/herself in a position to give a new meaning and dynamic to the party.

  • FuturePhysicist

    McDevitt would keep the Armchair Fabians in the media happy, but the real challenge will be the SDLP electorate in rural constituencies who are probably worried about more important things that simply having the next John Hume in charge.

  • Its a reasonable point to say that Patsy McGlone may not have done things “better” than Margaret Ritchie. I suspect that he would have…..but I know he would have done things DIFFERENTLY and more in tune with the SDLP base.
    Conall McDevitt is indeed intelligent…..but he needs to be more “himself” and less a “Mandelson” figure. He is still only 40ish so his time will come…..and he could do himself a lot of good just being a very good MLA.

    I was thinking the other night that the Margaret Ritchie year/s were the worst moment for the SDLP. But in retrospect, I consider that the resignation of Seamus mallon….ya know when he didnt “really” resign……he only “intended” to resign….it was an unconvincing sleight of hand that turned SDLP supporters stomaches. An act of “cute hoorism” albeit for the Greater Good of saving the Agreement. It was a lapse in standards.
    (most Alliance people were equally uncomfortable with the re-designation of members as unionist……as a sleight of hand that fell below their standards).

    But there was a fall in standards in SDLP and some of the tactics adopted by Ritchies campaign team left a bitter taste. As did she with the double jobbing.
    And her exit strategy ……she wants to serve South Down at Westminster……is living proof that history is tragedy the first time…..and farce the second time……..we can all laugh at the sheer risible nonsense and cart her off with a bunch of flowers to Westminster and we will never have to listen to her again.

    A line needs to be drawn under being too cute. It doesnt suit the SDLP. A bit of straight talking is whats needed.
    And rightly or wrongly……Conall McDevitt doesnt give the impression of being a straight talker…..except of course to colleagues who are off-message.
    As a PR professional he will appreciate the importance of “image”.

  • exsdlp

    The first thing you need to launch a leadership campaign is a solid constituency base, and Conall doesn’t have that. He squeezed home in May through being transfer friendly. In fact he got the shock of his short political life when he realised that blogs and Facebook don’t actually translate into first preference votes.

    The boundary changes which are proposed don’t do him any favours either. Between Alex, Al and Conall, there is no room for the three of them post 2015.

    That’s not the basis for a leadership bid.

  • Trapattoni

    I think McDevitt would hasten what so far has been a slow demise for the SDLP, not nearly as smart or as popular as he thinks he is.

  • Mick Fealty


    Play the ball please!


    Can you tell us why you think that?

  • DC

    In fact he got the shock of his short political life when he realised that blogs and Facebook don’t actually translate into first preference votes.

    Iain Dale likewise.

  • J Kelly

    mick i agree with trap and the evidence was seen in may, apart from the leader he probably had the highest media profile of all sdlp candidates going into the election and scraped home. if mc devitt runs and makes it a three way he will come embarasingly last which could finish him. 2015 will see the end of him anyway.

  • Limerick

    Is the problem here that the Nordies don’t like a southerner?

  • Mark McGregor


    My problem is with Catholic, Spanish, nationalist capitalism. Too many echoes of Franco.


  • Mark McGregor

    No my real problem with Conall is populism over principle. As noted by many he is the king of the soundbite, the latest issue and using the tool of the moment.

    He has no track record of sticking at a hard or unpopular but right and honestly held view/cause.

    His abuse of posting rights on Slugger to profile himself, then disappearance once that job was done was bound to annoy me and many other regulars here though.

    I’m afraid he makes me think of the vacuousness that was NuLabour.

  • Limerick


    In other words he is the perfect politician.

  • Alias

    He’s about as charismatic as a lettuce dipped in hair gel. I strongly suspect that he keeps every love letter that he ever wrote to himself in a plush heart-shaped, lavender-scented box…

  • Big Boss

    Stewart Finn

    Perhaps he doesnt need 5 years, but the party will not be ready for him before then,

    Lets be honest here, the SDLP have 4 years. 4 years in which to survive, and this will be there LAST leadership contest in which they will be bale to get someone in steady the ship. If they start down the road 2 years from now trying to get a new leader its game over….. this is the last chance for them to get it right and what the need is to put all the green/red stuff behind them and unite, work together and get organised!

  • Limerick

    Big Boss,

    Do you possess a crystal ball? Predictions of the demise of the Stoop Down Low Party by those who Stoop Further have been greatly exagerrated down the years.

  • Big Boss


    Do you even have a notion where the term Stood Down Low party came from? Or have a clue why that term was put to them?

  • Limerick

    Big Boss,

    I flatter myself that I do. Have you any notion of why the Sinners are known as Stoop Further?

  • Big Boss

    well probss cause they tried to claim the came up with stoop down low, so dissidents came them the term Stoop further

    As for the crystal ball….. because of the boundary changes (if they are carried through) the SDLP are in big trouble if their votes slides anymore

  • Limerick

    Big Boss,

    The Stoops were criticised by the Sinners for playing the British political system. The Sinners of course have made them look like amateurs at that game.

    You are ignoring the possibilty of events dear boy. Imagine for instance if it was revealed that Uncle Gerry had a similar attitude to child abuse as the RC church. That would be devastating for the Sinners. But wait. Maybe you have a point.

  • Mark McGregor

    Well that SF acronym is made up by a loyalist banned from this site a few weeks ago and now using a new name. Does that help..

  • Big Boss

    Stoop down low party was painted on a wall by Loyalists after talks between the two party became clear in the late 80s.

    I would say SF would still survive even if that came out about Gerry. Didnt affect there vote in the last two elections,

  • Limerick


    I understood it to be a dissident acronym from years ago. Who was the loyalist?

  • Limerick

    “Stoop down low party was painted on a wall by Loyalists after talks between the two party became clear in the late 80s. ”

    Big Boss,

    It is what the Sinners call them.

    “I would say SF would still survive even if that came out about Gerry. Didnt affect there vote in the last two elections,”

    It did come out, and you are right. It didn’t.

  • Big Boss

    It is what the shiners call them, but they didn’t invent it.

  • galloglaigh

    Wouldn’t it be great if McDevitt actually won. I would say it’s possible; they did elect Margarite Ritchie.

    From one idiot to another!

  • It’s going to be a very interesting and significant leadership election for the SDLP. With any luck the battle between red and green in the party will come to a head, green will win, and the labour-inclined will join either Irish or British Labour. Then both these parties can come to an agreement about standing for elections in NI on a joint policy platform and on the basis of all those elected designating as ‘other’.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Stoop Down Low Party is old as the hills.

    I prefer Schoolteachers, Doctors and Lawyers Party, which I found helpful back in the 1990s when Hume used to lie on his election literature about what an earthy socialist he was. Or, still from back in the Hume days, Sell Derry Loaded Promises.

    The old loyalist term for them was “six dirty lazy pigs” which crosses the line into nasty territory IMO.

    Never heard “Stoop Further” before.

  • J Kelly

    Stoop Down Low Party was first painted in the Bogside in 1984 by the original Bogside Artist Jim Collins, after the SDLP refused to back a motion by the Irish Independence Party to have the name of Derry reinstated as the proper and official name of the city.

  • Sean Og

    The South Down and Londonderry Party is fairly accurate.

  • galloglaigh

    J Kelly

    Was that not the year the council changed its name to Derry City Council?

  • dwatch

    Good on you Conall McDevitt (The Mouth From The South) SDLP needs a real leader to stop the slide into oblivion.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Perhaps those who speak of the SDLP as ‘Stoops’ forget that the greatest Stoop of all was Jesus, the Son of God. ‘Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.’
    ‘Christ came to serve, not to be served’. Should that not be the aim of any political party? Other than the SDLP what other local party has consistently put the needs of people before its own selfish party interests? In this context, is the appellation ‘Stoop’ not a great compliment?

  • Im not a big fan of name calling.
    So I dont like the term “Stoops”.
    And I dont like it much when SDLP people start using it as an (ironic) badge of honour….as in “Stoops To Conquer” (last years victorious Slugger Quiz team from……you guessed it South Belfast).
    Those that want to talk about reconstruction and rebuilding need to address that kinda nonsense in their own backyard first.