Your questions for the SDLP leadership candidates?

As Alan notes, Paddy Power (the people who brought you Martin McGuinness at 3/1 for the Aras) now has Alex Attwood as favourite to win. To be fair that probably reflects a good campaign for Alex, and would considerably turn the table on our crowd sourced predictions from a few weeks ago. Indeed the Irish bookmaker has brought him a hell of a long way from 14/1.

In any case, we’d like to put a standard four questions to all of the candidates, and will hope to publish those we have responses to by Friday, the eve of the election. So we’d like to hear your toughest and most challenging questions for the future leader of the SDLP. I’d like to select the four best and have them off the candidates by close of play today.

Just post them in the comment zone below

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

  • exsdlp

    1. can you explain / stand over your electoral performance in the last 5 years (1 year for Conall?)

    2. what was the last GAA club match you attended, who won?

    3. What is your fundraising target / track record?

    4. Will Tommy Gallagher ever be allowed stand for election again?

  • Soldier

    How can you present yourself as a credible alternative to Sinn Féin when you share responsibility for every Executive decision they take?

  • 1. What are you doing to fulfil your manifesto pledge to seek a referendum on Irish unity in the next four years?

    2. What are you doing to promote north-south cooperation on the island.

    3. In recent times, what has the SDLP achieved by sitting in Westminster?

    4. How much did you earn last year and how much did you claim in expenses?

  • stewart1

    For all 4 candidates : Why has the party been unable/unwilling to deal with the issue of double jobbing?

    Do you believe that the taxpayer should continue to pay the family members of SDLP MLA’s who are employed as drivers, secretaries etc..and isn’t this really a misuse of public funds.?

    Is the party ultimately split between two differing camps?

  • Mick Fealty

    From Andy Fitzpatrick (@andyfizz88) on Twitter, just the one:

    Why don’t you vote Sinn Fein????

    I’m keen everyone gets their point in, but can we remember that the point is ask a question that will get an useful or productive answer.

    I like Andy’s because, however ironically formed, it replicates a question the nationalist electorate must be asking themselves just now; why split the vote?

  • Sean Og

    What would you do during your first 30 days as leader to start rebuilding the SDLP?

  • Mick Fealty

    And another from Twitter (@simonmagus):

    Why don’t you call yourselves “Labour” and be done with it? Would work whichever country NI ends up in?

  • Given that “nationalism” is as much a tribal marker as a political philosophy, and that the constitutional question is out of the hands of elected representatives, is “nationalism” as a political designation compatible with your support for a shared future?

    I asked that of Patsy McGlone at the FG conference a couple of years back and he dodged the question.

  • Lionel Hutz

    If you were a voter in the south, which party would you vote for?

    Do the Sdlp need to merge with labour to allow themselves to drop the nationialist badge whilst retaining its inherent irishness?

  • iluvni

    Do you still want the UK to join the Euro?
    Do you agree with your MPs in voting against UK having a referendum on membership of the EU?
    Is climate change ‘man-made’?

  • J Kelly

    Will you ban elected reps from employing family members?

    Will you promise to ban Margaret Ritchie from speaking in public ever again?

    Which southern party most reflects your political outlook?

    Who do you give your 2nd, 3rd and 4th Preferences to in PR Elections?

  • Mick Fealty

    Good stuff so far guys, but let’s also try to keep it realistic?

  • “What is the point of the SDLP?”

    or “Taking this point as Day One, what is significantly different between your outlook for Northern Ireland and that of Sinn Fein.”

  • Turgon

    Most of the vote loss has been to Sinn Fein in the last decade yet in a number of constituencies unionist votes or failure to create pacts keep your MPs in place. Hence, how “green” do you feel you can become without damaging your vote from unionists and indeed you credentials as a moderate nationalist party.

  • How will potential voters know there’s a new sheriff in town?

  • Gerry Coyle

    Given all candidates have been in and around the SDLP for a long time please give one practical example of something you would do as leader which you could not have done already and why was this not done before?

  • sean reigate

    Do you intend to continue your membership of Socialist International and links with the British and Irish Labour Parties or create a real alternative for non left wing voters of a nationalist persuasion?

    hint: The nationalist community already has a left wing party.

  • FYI I’ve just posted my analysis of the leadership candidates and my ranking of them on (less important) use of the internet and (more important) their proposals for improving the party as a campaigning organisation.

    It was actually quite easy to rank them (I think fairly objectively) as follows:

    Use of internet
    4) Attwood
    3) Alasdair McDonnell
    2) McDevitt
    1) McGlone

    Internal organisation and campaigning proposals
    4) McDevitt
    3) Attwood
    2) McGlone
    1) (slightly to my surprise) McDonnell

    I don’t feel qualified to offer judgements on political vision or personal chemistry.

    The question I would ask the candidates is, what of your fellow candidate’s proposals do you like and will you implement as leader?

  • polsenthus

    what is the best way for SDLP to reverse the marginalisation it has been experiencing over the past few years? in other words, where do you see the prospective votes coming from, and how might SDLP attract them?

  • Mick Fealty


    What are your plans and ideas for getting the long term unemployed back to work?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Sorry for asking another but,

    What can you do to recover the loss in the rural vote without alienating the urban vote?

    What can you do to recover the working class vote without allowing the middle class vote to suffer?

  • 1 What is your elevator speech to differentiate the SDLP from SF?

    2 I am an ex SDLP voter. Tweet me

    3 In reality is the SDLP just another lobbying company but with public funding?

    4 In a time of public service cuts, more important demands such as health, is it time to show leadership and take an industrial wage.

  • Langdale

    1) Do you think the SDLP and UUP should negotiate a joint position on Opposition and then withdraw from the Executive?

    2) How high a priority for you is Irish unification: in other words, would you put it on the long finger for the sake of a working and cooperative relationship with the UUP?

    3) What should the fixed points of a ‘shared future’, ‘shared vision’ be?

    4) What three key reforms would you implement to improve the SDLP’s electoral and political fortunes?


  • turnpike

    Why do all you of show unyielding and unquestioning support for the GAA – a quasi political organisation that glorifies violence and names its trophies, stadiums and clubs after convicted, sectarian terrorists.

  • PaulT

    As leader of the SDLP would you be happy if a colleague took a trip with the MoD to Afganistan?

    Given the Libya/IRA connection would you be more or less happy if the coleague accompanied the MoD there instead?

    Your thoughts on education reform?

    As SDLP leader do you prefer Milk Tray or Thorntons?

  • Mick Fealty

    We have a lot of ‘What’ questions (with some implicit ‘who’s but no ‘hows’ or ‘whys’? It might help to vary the pallet a little?

  • constitutional publican

    Seems some FFers are wishing for a reverse takeover by the SDLP, and create a veritable SDRP:

  • Why?

  • Why do you want to be leader of a Party in decline?

    How do you intend to reverse the electoral decline of the SDLP?

    Why is the SDLP in the Executive when it complains of being ignored routinely by DUP/SF?

    How do you think an SDLP Minister administers differently to any other Party (and please give three concrete examples, because one could be fluke).

    How is the SDLP relevant to politics today?

    Why is the SDLP always talking ‘green’ when nothing in its name suggests it has a ‘nationalist’ aim/objective/mandate?

  • Republic of Connaught

    1. Why is it Sinn Fein are an all Ireland party yet the SDLP have still not forged official links with any Southern party?

    2. Why doesn’t the SDLP raise its voice and opinion on all Ireland affairs for all the Irish people? (They’re elected politicians on this island, and Irish citizens, so they can publicly voice their opinions about ALL political and social events on this island.)

  • Mick Fealty

    Some great questions… but I’ve just pinged out the official four (with Nicholas’s as an optional extra)… Keep them coming though… I’ve circulated the thread to all contenders as well as the chosen questions…

    Keep an eye out for the responses on Friday…

  • Dare to be different, SDLP delegates, MLAs, councillors et al and take them to an assessment centre. Give them an exercise on something with which we are all familiar.

    How about analysing the attached facts and figures for the library service and setting out a vision, strategy, values, objectives , action plan and implementation plan to make public libraries relevant to the population in the 21st century.

    The man with the best plan should be given the post of Deputy Leader, sorry Dolores, and the man who can implement the plan be given the job of leader. Yes I know its the reversal of the usual roles but there’s a surfeit of planners and a shortage of doers in local politics.

    On those criteria I would expect to see Alisdair as leader and Conall as deputy.

  • the wrong side of 40

    My question is this, which of the following 4 models will best facilitate a turnaround in the fortunes of the party;

    The McDevitt Model – Twittering, Twiboning, facebooking, bandwagon jumping, and sorrounding yourself with a “I love Conall” crew to the extent that you believe the hype yet actually fail to reach a quota in your one and only election to date.

    The Attwood Model – in fairness West Belfast is not going to be an easy gig for anyone in the SDLP over the last 15 years or so, but the figures would suggest a white flag has been flown in that constituency and we are grateful of the crumb of a solitary MLA there from now to doomsday. There is little or nothing to indicate a fightback even when Adams should have been vulnerable over his brother.

    The McGlone Model – growing your own vote in your area is always admirable, but when this is achieved at the expense of different running mates you are actually not improving the overall picture of the party. You shouldn`t then paint the picture that under you Mid Ulster has grown from strength to strength for the party. (Look at the figures, if you don`t believe me the party vote has actually declined)

    The McDonnell Model – Growing your constituency, promoting youth, working hard to such an extent that you can finally take it over from decades of Unionist domination and then actually repeat the exercise next time round! Reaching out across all sections of the community in a genuine way rather than the toe curling embarrasement of wearing a Poppy that was visited upon us last year.

    I make no bones about being pro McDonnell, but that is because I am pro a strong SDLP. When you are in a fight for survival and the SDLP most definetly are then you want a proven bruiser, a political heavyweight calling the shots, but utilising the skills of the whole collective team.

    I know that some people are saying “Big Al had his chance”, that is rubbish, he didn`t have his chance he was not afforded the chance that he was seeking. The McDevitt/Ritchie/Attwood team had their chance, and we all know that was a disaster. The party took the safe option last time, it needs to show more fight this time round.

  • I should note that after receiving further information from Conall McDevitt, I have bumped him up a place and Alex Attwood down a place in my rating of the candidates on their internal organisation and campaigning proposals.

    My ranking is now:
    4) Attwood
    3) McDevitt
    2) McGlone
    1) (slightly to my surprise) McDonnell

  • sherdy

    Just one question: ‘Why bother’?

  • michael-mcivor

    Only 1 Can be leader-

    If you happen to lose the leadership election will you stay with the s.d.l.p-

  • Blissett

    Do you speak Irish? What do you intend to do to promote the use of Irish within the SDLP, and to promote the language generally?

  • Big Boss

    The wrong side of 40,

    “The McGlone Model – growing your own vote in your area is always admirable, but when this is achieved at the expense of different running mates you are actually not improving the overall picture of the party.”

    I wasn’t aware that McGlone has been using running mates fro his own political gain, perhaps you could give us some information on it?

  • the wrong side of 40

    Big Boss, I am happy to oblige. However I would like to say that your comment misrepresents my view. I did not say or even imply that Patsy has ever used running mates for his own political gain. But Patsy is a big hitter in Mid Ulster and it is therefore likely that his vote will over the years grow. But usually high profiles have a positive effect in helping running mates, unless of course the overall party vote is declining, as is the case in Mid Ulster.

    Patsy`s literature in this election is making a lot of the growth of his own vote and putting that progress down to his skills of root and branch work at constituency level, the facts are the parties overall vote in Mid Ulster has declined substantially over the years.

    Mid Ulster Assembly Election results from 1998 – 2011

    1998 Patsy 4,666 Denis Haughey 6,410 = 11,076

    2003 Patsy 4,295 Denis Haughey 3,843 = Total 8,138

    2007 – Patsy 4,976 Kathleen Lagan 2,759 = Total 7,735

    2011 – Patsy 5,065 Austin Kelly 1,214 = Party total 6,279

    That gives Patsy a modest 8.5% increase over his 4 elections. In that time the party vote in Mid Ulster has declined by 44%.

    They are facts Big Boss, and you can`t argue with them.

    My point is that maybe Mid Ulster is not the well run, well organised constituency that Patsy and his team would have us believe, so maybe the McGlone model is not one that we need to see implemented across the North.

    I will concede that in the last Assembly election the combined SDLP vote in South Belfast fell by 5% (though Al`s rose) but that could be down to the fact that in that constitiuency there was the unique position for the party that they had two “big hitters” together for 3 elections, Al and Carmel Hanna, now replaced by the newcomer Conall.

    You also can`t ignore that this years poll came on the back of a spectactular 14,026 vote Westminster victory in 2010 which was a massive 64% improvement on his 2005 win.

    I`m not saying that Patsy, or Conall or Alex aren`t winners, just that Al does it bigger and better. That`s what the party needs.

  • FuturePhysicist

    So many bitter Sinn Féin supporters on here.

  • Ulsterman

    To the Wrong side of 40 and Big Boss.
    You are obviously both biased for your AMcD and PMcG respectively. I take your point Wrong Side of 40 that you are implying (or sumising) the party vote in a constituency is a realistic assessment of effectiveness. That being the case, Mid-Ulster is a disaster and South Belfast is a model to be adapted by the SDLP. However, Conall has no substance in his input so far, and I believe that it is now all too late for him. Alex Attwood has performed well in the hustings, (not all I hear though), but then hustings and blogs and tweets are not something I think most of the delegates take much notice of. Allegiances tend to carry the day and in the past, AMcD suffered not because MR was the better candidate, but because more people wanted AMcD to lose – ABBA, Any Body But Alasdair is a comment I heard from some of his supporters. Looking from the outside, I think the SDLP under McD will be the most formidal of opponentys.

    Can someone tell me any reason not to make him leader?

  • Ulsterman

    My question therefore would be
    Having read your voluminous communications to members, why should delegates believe that you will deliver and can deliver?

  • Big Boss

    The wrong side of 40,

    Interesting, but I believe your trying to misrepresent these figures,

    First of all, 1998 marked the high point in the SDLP vote, so thats why it is so high,

    2nd point McGlone wasn’t elected until 2003, so he can hardly be judged on the fall between that time. Indeed Denis Haughey was a junior minister at in that time frame, So if anyone person gets the blame I suppose it will have to be him. Indeed to be beaten by your running mate while holding such a position says something.

    So there is a fall of roughly 2000 votes, which is fair enough, given the decline of the SDLP vote in all other areas. But given that Mid-ulster has always been a republican area, and that Marty Mc is MP for the area, only dropping 2000 votes isnt a bad record given what has happen to the vote elsewhere.

    You want to compare Mid-ulster to South Belfast… which other than the class difference, and the fact SF have no major hitter to really challenge the nationalist vote (Alex Maskey is not able to challenge for the middle-class catholic vote in the area)

    But talking about election success is pretty stupid, boils down to the my daddy is bigger than ur daddy mentality.

  • john

    But talking about election success is pretty stupid, boils down to the my daddy is bigger than ur daddy mentality

    Election success not important for a politician???
    Ability to get votes in the elections is everything otherwise they might aswell give up now

  • Big Boss


    Its stupid in the sense that they have both been elected time and time again… SB has had the advantage of “two big hitters” to help build up the vote while MU like the every other constituency west of the bann has been ignored by the SDLP leadership.

    Id not run down McDonnell, He would be a good leader, but McGlone i think would be the better fit, and given their friendship I doubt if either one wins they will be playing a back role

  • chewnicked

    Why won’t Margaret make a speech on Saturday?
    Why didn’t Margaret endorse you? (Alex has no need to reply)
    Are your chances of being leader reduced by the fact it is a PR Vote?
    Do you agree that PR makes it a head to head contest between Alex and Conal?

  • Ulsterman

    Another possible question

    Do you think it is time for the SDLP to review the way in which it manages the party? In the past when Hume and Mallon were there, the party worked because of their force of personality and of course the circumstances of the day. I am not sure that a Hume or Mallon would do any better than the current lot in today’s situation. However, the recent leadership of Durkan and Ritchie was differen in that they did not allow their deputy to run the party the way Hume did with Mallon. Perhaps that was because Hume had so many big issues to deal with. Nevertheless, to get back to my point, what style of leadership will each of the candidates prefer? Based on their manifestos, Nicholas Whyte’s blog I think answers it.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Why won’t Margaret make a speech on Saturday?
    That’s her personal choice, and prerogative as leader. I don’t think any of the candidates need to speak on her behalf.

    Why didn’t Margaret endorse you? (Alex has no need to reply)
    Who did Durkan endorse … Ritchie or McDonnell?

    Are your chances of being leader reduced by the fact it is a PR Vote?

    It’s easier to lead if you have the support and or sympathy of at least half the party

    Do you agree that PR makes it a head to head contest between Alex and Conal?

    I disagree with this, it’s possible that either of these candidates could be eliminated first. Conal received the least number of nominations and McGlone the most.

  • the wrong side of 40

    I have just driven past the Ramada Hotel on Shaws Bridge in Belfast, the area has already been decorated with posters of Patsy and Conall.

    I can`t see this working for the 2 of them, in fact it could backfire. Some delegates were put of by the nature of the over the top campaigning at Newcastle, i think this sense will only grow now.

    No Alasdair or Alex posters on sign yet, hope it stays that way. I expect it will.

  • Mick Fealty

    The over the top campaigning at Newcastle was mostly done by the winner…

    In other news, only one of the candidates has troubled themselves to answer our questions…

  • Lionel Hutz

    I saw posters for Patsy in Ballagawley as I was driving through today. Its in Green White and Orange and then their is a red hand of ulster, a harp and a rose. Fair enough I suppose. Atleast he is trying to re-engage the public in the rural area. I didn’t see anything like that last time.

    Can you guess who I would vote for