After Mid Ulster: What lessons for the SDLP?

So what to make of the Mid Ulster by election? Well, the clear winner was, erm, the winner. Some slippage in the vote (5k in fact) for Sinn Fein, but even with a relatively weak candidate this remains a safe seat.

 

For unionists, Sam McBride pretty much called it.  Albeit weakly, this was an endorsement of unionist unity. No second DUP Euro candidate is an easy payment for the DUP. But there won’t be the same pressure to unify under STV.

Alliance can be pleased they ran here, but it proves once again that they have no natural constituency (or resonance) outside greater Belfast.

Which brings me to the SDLP. Their man was the only candidate who both increased his vote and his percentage of the the total votes cast. As we noted at the time, it was a smart choice, by a party not noted for the excellence of its choices.

To move your vote total at a time when: 1, the total value of the market is dropping; and 2, when both parties of OFMdFM are putting a big sectarian squeeze on you is no mean feat.

People will rightly say that Mr McGlone took less than 20% of the vote. It’s a fair point. Anything around or north of 20% would have been a decent position for stealing a second seat in an election or two.

But it breaks a pattern that’s been in train since 1998 (Mark McGregor’s graph from just after #ge2010). In that time both the UUP and the SDLP may not have exactly been in lock step, but as Mark pointed out their trendlines have been on the same gradient.

This bye election suggests that that parallel journey downwards may be coming to an end.

From this, I’d draw the following tentative conclusions:

1, Doing small things well matters. Mid Ulster saw an upgrade in the party’s tally operation, as well as an increase in the numbers and youth of party volunteers.

2, In this case, even though he had no change of winning, the party played the strongest candidate they had. That suggests to me there’s a new realism in the party. Running McGlone maxed their appeal at the bottom of the market and may have flushed out new potential voters.

3, This was, no matter in how small a degree, an endorsement for the leader’s strategy of absenting himself from the public stage and concentrating on rebuilding local organisations.

4, 20% was closer to the targets the party had set itself pre-election. Yet a shortfall may serve to  motivate  volunteers to redouble their efforts in an STV election where tribal bottom lines will not inhibit intra nationalist transfers.

Now the caveats. It’s not that – in the limited terms of this analysis – I have many. Most obviously  McGlone was not just the strongest man available in Mid Ulster, he’s also one of the strongest constituency MLAs in the party.

So in that sense it’s not clear how well his message that there is no substitute for hard work and unrelenting focus on voter intelligence will be taken up.

That’s a challenge for the leader. In the first place to make sure central resources and training are delivered to those constituencies where candidates are likely to be competitive next time out.

For now, it is too early to suggest, let alone argue, that the SDLP has turned a corner. These  lessons of hard work that have been learned before (think Mark Durkan’s work-a-thon in 2005), and they only get you off your knees.

Some of the drift in the SDLP’s fortunes arises from the fact that since 1998 they have had no clear story to tell either about themselves or the people whom they wish to serve. The party needs to develop its own post conflict narrative.

Any new story will face two challenges. One, from the DUP which will continue to bolster with reliable ‘support’ from Sinn Fein (even if it is reluctantly on the part of some) the ‘strong tribal heads‘ motif.

The other will be to challenge the six county party on the basis of their own Republican credentials. Tacking to the constitutional right has been tried and is not been yielding much in the way of value.

In its internal deliberations, the SDLP might take note of Spotlight’s Mori poll which alone of all the Northern Irish parties it got a boost on the unusual question of which party are you inclined to support, as opposed to intention to vote.

And outside of Alliance it is the only major grouping to attract some support from across the community divide. It suggests that the party is currently punching well below its natural weight.

Working hard for every vote is useful stock for any party under STV-PR. Yet the question they really must ask themselves is what must it take to persuade voters to risk them in the real seat of power: ie OFMdFM?

Working hard to deliver for every vote might be a better framework for such a project.

 In the meantime, a negative trend may have been bucked.

  • Mick,

    The SDLP can develop the narrative that it was successful in its mission of delivering power sharing and parity of esteem whereas the Republicans failed in their mission of delivering a United Ireland through terrorism. They have Henry McDonald’s Gunsmoke and Mirrors to document how the Republicans have changed their goals over the decades while pretending not to. But much depends on the nationalist electorate. Does it want to be adult and recognize that the glorious cause was really a pipe dream? Does it want to recognize that those who “wrecked the place” don’t then deserve to run it while they prevaricate over the past? And can the SDLP offer vibrant young candidates and competent organization to deliver this message?

    Unfortunately most of the voting population in NI is stuck in one of two competing ethnic narratives in which its tribe is the blameless victim of the perfidy of the other side. Only Alliance voters have really moved beyond this, but at only 11% of the electorate they really can’t do all that much by themselves except to offer suggestions for the other parties.

  • Mc Slaggart

    tmitch57

    “wrecked the place” ? The sdlp was founded because Northern Ireland never worked?

    “NI is stuck in one of two competing ethnic narratives” that is very much an Alliance view of the world. In places like Mid Ulster a lot of the population just get on with being themselves.

  • mjh

    Hi Mick

    It has been said, and it seems implicit in your interesting analysis, that the running of a united unionist candidate put a strong sectarian squeeze on the SDLP vote.

    If so it is important to try to get a handle on how many votes this may have accounted for in order to judge the scale of the SDLP achievement, and what lessons the party may draw for the future. Maybe impossible to do, I know.

    But is there actually any evidence for an effective squeeze? Clearly this happened in F&ST last time. But there the contest was known by all to be impossibly tight, as it had been for many times before.

    In Mid Ulster is there anything to suggest that any potential SDLP voters might really have feared a unionist win, particularly when there was no strident unionist campaign?

    If there was a significant squeeze the SDLP performance was impressive.

    If not, then they did little more than gain the benefit of the return of those voters who had previously given a personal vote to Martin McG.

    Maybe someone living in the constituency can report on the extent and effectiveness of any SF campaign to squeeze the SDLP on the basis of a unionist-win-scare.

  • Good article Mick.
    I think the SDLP is actually turning a corner at last as implied above. I was surprised that Patsy did so well to be honest given the unionist tactics which I expected to squeeze his natural vote. Btw, I’ve responded to your point, eventually, over at FJH’s patch 😉
    fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/sdlpreasons-to-be-cheerful/#comments
    It’s worth a read (the blog, not my comments) to anyone curious about the semi detatched but inside track on the SDLP performance.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mjh,

    Its almost impossible to tell what the squeeze was until the next Assembly election. We can presume it was weaker than FST.

  • Mick, at the end of the day it was a by-election. Very difficult to read too much into it?

  • zep

    I find the SDLP to be perplexing in that they seem to have a lot of youthful, forward-thinking members who trumpet their liberal values but when it comes to the crunch they seem to be as enslaved to the ‘ethnic’ (for want of a better word) vote as Sinn Fein. Which is disappointing, because I would like the option of voting for a social democrat without the ‘trad’ baggage that the SDLP seem unable to lose. Mind you that’s just what I want, if they are getting the vote out then they probably don’t care much for my views!

  • Mick Fealty

    Zep,

    May be a corollory of not being focused on ‘weather change’ which requires actual political power.

    Dub,

    Yer a hard man to please… 😉

  • C’mon Mick? A response to my questions would be interesting 😉

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    “enslaved to the ‘ethnic’ (for want of a better word)”

    So you objection to them is that they are an “Irish” (for want of a better word) political party?

  • zep

    Totally incorrect, McSlaggart. All of our political parties are Irish, for starters. They could hardly avoid being so, could they? My objection to them is that they are still fighting the old battles when they seem to have a talented ‘new generation’ who could attract votes from people like myself who want a liberal alternative to what is currently on offer. I highlight the SDLP here because a) that’s what the thread is about and b) I don’t see the equivalent class of young politician in unionist ranks.

  • Putting aside their respective political histories or regional versus national party structures, what are the actual differences between the SDLP and Sinn Féin?

    Both are Irish Nationalist/Republican parties, both are broadly centre-left, both share common policies and both represent the same communal interests in the north-east of the country.

    So what are the actual bread-and-butter differences between the two parties that would entice Seán or Síle Citizen to vote for one or the other?

  • zep

    The abortion debate may highlight one area of disagreement?

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    “My objection to them is that they are still fighting the old battles”

    ?

    What old battles are they fighting?

  • Mick Fealty

    Not while there’s an election on next to Mickey Hartes constituency… But fair play to SF for eventually getting out a petition of concern on the matter…

  • socaire

    Patsy is a good, capable candidate but should he ever be successful he will take the Oath of Fealty to his sovereign in London. That’s a good enough reason not to vote for him or the rest of the resurrected Hibs.

  • Mick Fealty

    Socaire,

    That’s another reason why they need to be prepared to segment their audience. The Redmondites lost their relevance at the British parliamentary system when the south of the country successfully revolted.

    But the Belfast Agreement legitimises the sovereign both at Westminster and in Stormont. For some, like yourself the Oath takes on a larger symbolism that cannot be countenanced.

    The SDLP need to make a nationalist case for taking those seats and using the influence they bring to bear on behalf of their voters.

    I think it is one reason why where there is an SDLP incumbent it is going to be very hard for SF to get them out. The other reason of course is tribal bundling.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick

    “the south of the country successfully revolted”

    As you keep going on about your connections to Donegal you do know they were not in the “south” at that time…..

  • zep

    Mc Slaggart (cracking name) – by old battles I mean issues such as the Ray McCreesh park, Gerry McGeough/Sammy Brush, flags etc. Areas where I feel they are looking back rather than forwards, placing an overarching emphasis on the constitutional issue. Don’t get me wrong, the SDLP choose to be an Irish nationalist party and that’s their prerogative, as long as they get the votes in then they will be happy enough. Mine is a personal gripe, in that I find some of their politicians (and politics) impressive but I’m not attracted to Irish nationalism – and I feel that nationalism sits uncomfortably with some of their other politics.

  • alan56

    A credible opposition?

  • Mick Fealty

    McS,

    My father’s earliest historically traceable memory was watching the “muintir na haite” burn out the Coastguard Station at Fanad Head just after Donegal went into the ‘south’.

    You don’t get much more ‘north’ in the ‘south’ than Fanad.

    I learned later that some of the animus may have had as much to do with their role in suppressing the manufacture of local liquor as national feeling.

    #seriousquestionsplease

  • son of sam

    Mick
    Could you possibly be implying that Sinn Fein delayed the Petition of Concern until Francie Molloy had formally won the Mid-Ulster seat?!!Wouldn’t that be utterly cynical or perhaps just taking care of business !

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    ” Ray McCreesh park, Gerry McGeough/Sammy Brush, flags”

    I honestly cannot think of a single political party who’s local councilors deal with such issues? These are not old battles but ones that come up with any input from the sdlp. You may not like how the local councilors voted on those issues but any party elected would have had to have a potion.

    “I’m not attracted to Irish nationalism”

    I have no issue with that just your “enslaved to the ‘ethnic’”. Would you call a French political party being French “enslaved to the ‘ethnic’”?

  • zep

    Think you may have misread me, Mc Slaggart – I wrote “enslaved to the ‘ethnic’ (for want of a better word) vote…”. A vastly different sentiment to ‘enslaved to the ethnic’, which sounds offensive. ‘Ethnic’ vote is my clumsy way of describing the way in which our electorate is largely tribalised.

    You make a fair point about taking a stance on issues, however I will reiterate – I am not asking the SDLP to stop being Irish nationalists, I am saying that it frustrates me to see quality young politicians involved in what is to my mind a narrow-minded political philosophy – nationalism of any shade does not appeal to me, not just the Irish variety.

  • Rory Carr

    “wrecked the place” ?[tmitch57] The sdlp was founded because Northern Ireland never worked? McSlaggart

    Oh no it wasn’t, McSlaggart. As far as those who went on to constitute the leaders of the SDLP were concerned Northern Ireland was working very nicely for them. They were after all comfortably off as the elected representatives of Catholic/Nationalism in the six counties and had no opposition to contend with. Until the Civil Rights Movement came along and the whole thing looked like it could run away without them.

    A new, more youthful, more passionate voice began to threaten their comfort and so Currie and Hume and Fitt and Devlin P. and McGrady saw the need to group together to be seen as the legitimate voice of the opposition on the streets (which they secretly dreaded). In this the media were only too happy to oblige and there are some to this day on sites like this who firmly believe that the SDLP and the Civil Rights Movement were somehow synonymous when in fact civil rights activists viewed the SDLP careerists as a bigger threat than any of the hard-line Unionist opposition.

    I see speculation from time-to-time (most recently on an earlier thread on this topic) that perhaps Mid-Ulster could be saved (if not from Sodomy or Satan) at least from the dreaded Shinners if the unionists got all clever and did not stand a candidate:

    What would be more sensible in 2015 is to stand no Unionist candidates at all,” argued GEF on the “No surprises in Mid-Ulster” thread,going on to (seriously) argue that, “Then the Unionist electorate could vote for SDLP. At least SF would be voted out of office and the SDLP candidate would earn his salary by taking his seat in the House of Commons to represent all the citizens of Mid Ulster.”

    Readers are invited to spot the deliberate mistake for themselves. At least we must assume that it is deliberate, GEF surely cannot take the non-unionists of Mid-Ulster to be quite that naive.

    Really the only purpose that the SDLP now serve (and one that the very existence of a thread such as this demonstrates) is that it is (as far as Nationalist voters go) “not Sinn Féin”. It is in fact the “not-Sinn Féin Party” nothing more and nothing less.

    The trouble is of course that as Sinn Féin itself becomes increasingly more respectable, nicer, more ordinary, it itself becomes so much more the “not-Sinn Féin Party” than the SDLP ever could, in the sense that SF might represent the remnants of military rather than militant Republicanism, and the SDLP will wither away and die while Sinn Féin will simply solidify its position as the main representative of northern nationalism.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick

    I will make it simpler for you people form east Tyrone were very much in action during the battles that you claim was “the south of the country successfully revolted”.

    I am left to wonder how it was a success when a Nationalist majority county Tyrone did not actually get away and Donegal gets to be part of the “south”?

  • Mick Fealty

    Rory,

    You’re seguing into mythology there chap…

    “Hume became an Independent Nationalist member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1969 at the height of the civil rights campaign.” – Wikipedia, http://goo.gl/njlUM

    Austin Currie more closely resembles some of your discription since he’d been a Stormont MP since 64, but…

    “On 20 June 1968, with others including mediator Father Tom Savage (now – no longer a priest – the chairperson of RTÉ), he began a protest about discrimination in housing allocation by ‘squatting’ (illegally occupying) in a house in Caledon. The house had been allocated by Dungannon Rural District Council to a 19 year-old unmarried Protestant woman, Emily Beattie, who was the secretary of a local Unionist politician. Emily Beattie was given the house ahead of older married Catholic families with children.”

    – Wikipedia, http://goo.gl/j3nlH

    “In the mid 1960s Devlin joined the revived NILP and beat Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then went on, with Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie and others to found the SDLP in 1970.”

    Wikipedia, http://goo.gl/R2jbC Devlin lived in an Executive house off Shaws Road. Same page records this:

    while not regretting his expulsion (following a public attack on the party’s direction) from the SDLP in 1977 called the dispute that led him to leave “a most unworthy squabble” and concedes “I was not the innocent party”. “No one’s talking to (Protestants) about the price of a loaf of bread or how much it takes to pay the rent,” he said in a 1995 interview. “No one has had any regard for the majority of people here, the Protestants. … We’ve scarcely recognized them.”

    Eddie McGrady…

    “In the late 1960s he joined the National Democrats and stood for the party in the 1969 election to the Parliament of Northern Ireland in East Down, losing to the sitting MP and future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner.[2] In 1970, he became a founder member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) later serving as its first chairman (from 1971-1973.) He sat on Down district council from 1973 to 1989, serving as chairman from 1974–1975 and was also elected to all three regional assemblies in 1973, 1975 and 1982 representing South Down. In the 1973 power sharing executive he was appointed as Head of the Department of Executive Planning and Co-ordination serving from January to May 1974.”

    Wikipedia, http://goo.gl/m7eq8

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    “our electorate is largely tribalised”

    All electorate are “tribalised” that is why we have different political parties.

    “nationalism of any shade does not appeal to me”

    Even the Greens suffer from nationalism.

    The only party that I know off that meets your criteria is the pirate party.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party

  • Mc Slaggart

    Rory Carr

    “I see speculation from time-to-time (most recently on an earlier thread on this topic) that perhaps Mid-Ulster could be saved (if not from Sodomy or Satan) at least from the dreaded Shinners if the unionists got all clever and did not stand a candidate:”

    I would agree that is what they should have done.

  • zep

    Think you are being disingenuous here Mc Slaggart – I’m sure you understand exactly what I mean. We are voting on the flag, always the flag, and I wish that more talented young politicians would step outside that arena. However this is unlikely to happen as the votes are simply not there in any great numbers to make taking a chance on ‘real’ politics worthwhile.

    “Even the Greens suffer from nationalism” – in what way? And even if they do, I doubt it could be compared to the flag-waving antics of the majority of our local politicos. Not that the Greens are the solution to the world’s problems, but they are different, at least. I wonder if you really understand what I am saying – I don’t want the SDLP to change, or indeed the UUP or anyone else – I want their best and brightest to radicalise politics here by stepping outside their comfort zones. But as I have already said, I don’t foresee it happening.

    Am I to take it that you did indeed misread my earlier post?

  • Mick Fealty

    He’s on a yellow, shortly to go red for this particularly thran habit of going literalist…

  • SDLP supporter

    You don’t have to be a full-out integrationist to be pro-Europe. I’m just a person who favours an ever-closer Union. I’ve never heard Sinn Fein articulate a position on immigration, either to the North or the South and I’d be very surprised if they were in favour of uncontrolled immigration. It’s a hall-mark of a sovereign state that it should be able to regulate to at least a degree who comes into their territory, who accesses welfare benefits, etc, and I think you will find that when the current UK government does something to regulate after 2014, particularly in respect of Bulgaria and Romania, that Labour will tacitly agree.

    Barney T, it doesn’t make sense to equate Ireland’s former forcible incorporation within the British Empire and its current situation within the EU. The defining characteristics of all EU members is that there must be democracy (however dodgy that concept is in places like Hungary and Bulgaria).Every substantive step in the European project has had to be ratified by referendum.

    One of the greatest boons of EU membership is that, for the first time in centuries, it has enabled the South to emerge from the UK’s shadow. One of the absurdities in the position of those who are want an exit from the Euro is that they ignore the fact that, if Ireland were to leave it, it would have to rejoin the sterling area.

    Barney T, I think you are also wrong to say that opposition to Europe is as common on the left as on the right. British Labour (and Irish Labour) both started off as anti-Europe but are now firmly pro-Europe and, while there is a strong Eurosceptic wing in the British Conservatives (hankering after the old days of Empire), there probably is still a majority of more sensible Conservatives who realise that leaving the EU would be a disaster.

    The EU has a lot wrong within it: it spends too much in its bureaucracy, cosseting the farming lobby and the like, but it’s the only supra-national body with the reach to take on the worst excesses of bankster capitalism (see last week’s move on bankers’ pay) and, as a social democrat, I believe that the strengthening of workers’ rights would not have happened without the EU.

    [with apologies to Mick, who I see, has made substantially the same points more subtly and effectively than I ever could have done].

  • SDLP supporter

    Sorry, prior post to wrong thread. The following is the right one:
    Rory Carr
    Let’s test your assertions with some indisputable chronological facts.
    Prior to 1969 the only elected people at Stormont level who subsequently became the SDLP were Currie (aged 30) and Fitt (aged 43). The last Stormont parliament election in February 1969 had seen the election of O’Hanlon (aged 25), Hume (aged 32), Cooper (aged 25) and Devlin (aged 44). McGrady, aged 34 in 1969, was not elected to Stormont until 1973.
    In other words, the average age of the six founders of the SDLP in August 1970 was 34. Hardly grey middle-aged men grown comfortable by years spent on the green padded benches and hardly “comfortably off” on the salaries available then (£30 a week, as I recollect) . I would agree that the CRM was not synonymous with the SDLP but, as a civil rights activist myself, I can also safely say that physical force republicans were not civil rights activists. In fact, most of them despised the CRM as ‘reformist’, whereas the physical force people wanted to destroy the ‘statelet’.
    Maybe Rory Carr could put names and faces on the “new, more youthful, more passionate” people who those grey, middle-aged SDLP types so “secretly dreaded”?
    Maybe it was budding politicos like McCann (aged 23 in 1969), who Hume so soundly stuffed in Foyle and who has been repeatedly rejected by the electorate on numerous occasions since?
    Maybe it was the bould Rory Carr, maybe a lost leader himself, (age unknown in 1969), who apparently was so committed to the struggle that he went to spend most of the rest of his life in London in the bosom of the capital of the hated ‘evil empire’?
    It really is amusing when young Sinn Fein types tell me that Michelle Gildernew was at the house sit-in in Caledon when she wasn’t even born and they look blank when I remind them the prime mover in the sit-in was Austin Currie,
    The irony is that people like myself can look at the ‘suits’ of Sinn Fein Nua, people like Declan Kearney, Barry McElduff, Phil Flanagan et el, ceasefire soldiers all, and laugh about the days when SDLP types were castigated as “professional politicians”.
    [with apologies to Mick, who I see, has made substantially the same points more subtly and effectively than I ever could have done].

  • Mc Slaggart

    Zep

    “We are voting on the flag, always the flag”

    I cannot say for greater Belfast but in places like Tyrone its not an issue. (1: examples that I know off)

    The current Belfast flag dispute has been a cause of jokes and great discomfort by those who should have been supporting it.

    ” flag-waving antics of the majority of our local politicos”

    I have never seen the sdlp as particularly flag waving?

    Your “without the ‘trad’ baggage that the SDLP seem unable to lose.” makes me think my view of your original post was correct.

    Mr McGlone speaks and promotes “Irish” is that part of the ‘trad’ baggage the sdlp need to leave behind?

    1:

    The only current example is UUP v DUP election offices in Omagh which are funny as there Flags get bigger by the day.

    I do remember Bridge Rodgers running for MP and putting on the Tyrone strip. (any GAA supporter would tell you she should have worn the Donegal strip.)

  • zep

    No – as a linguist and amateur Irish speaker (only a cúpla focal mind you) I think the Irish language should be protected and shared. You are going out of your way to see a sectarian motive where there is none. I don’t think I can make my point any clearer.

    As far as Bríd goes, I’ve never been a fan of politicians jumping on sporting bandwagons as their sporting allegiances tend to be fairly flexible! I’ll leave you to it as I have said my piece and it’s time for bed, don’t you know.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Mick Fealty (profile) 11 March 2013 at 10:04 pm

    “He’s on a yellow, shortly to go red for this particularly thran habit of going literalist”

    Language matters! Thoughtless rhetoric, stereotype mixed with assumption is dangerous.

  • 6crealist

    As the youth of his native Tottenham might say, SDLP supporter bare merked Rory.

  • Zig70

    I’ve never heard anyone say that someone was a good leader and notable by his absence. A good leader would have someone else do the grafting, a bad manager would get stuck in himself. Patsy was a high profile candidate and should have been kept for a better seat. It will be interesting to see if the SDLP come equipped for this cold war next election time. An other point is that moderate nats make the same mistake in thinking that the SDLP is an acceptable party for unionists as did moderate unionists about the UUP to nats. If the SDLP tried to please both, they’d end up with 1.3% of the vote + 1 from zep

  • @McSlaggert,

    The differences between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. are not primarily ethnic. The Republicans have hispanics and blacks as well as the Democrats. In the mainland UK i.e. in Britain, the differences among the Tories, LibDems and Labor are not primarily ethnic but rather ideological as in the U.S. Ditto in Australia and New Zealand. In fact this is the case in most advanced West democracies.

  • michael-mcivor

    The last time that Patsy McGlone stood in mid-ulster for the Sdlp for a westminister seat was in the 2005 general election where he got 7922 votes-last thursday he got 6478 votes-his personal vote is down-facts are the only truth worth talking about-

  • Kevsterino

    tmitch, tell me you’re not asserting that in the US, the Democrats and Republicans have similar portions of hispanics and blacks.

  • Mick Fealty

    Zig,

    Which better seat would that be?

  • mjh

    We all know what a vote squeeze campaign looks like, the press statements talking up the “tight race”, the briefings about canvass results which show “our party is neck and neck with party x, while party y is miles behind”, the leaflets urging party y voters to give a vote to our party “to keep party x out”, the canvassers calling on party y supporters to give them the same message In extreme cases targeted mailing and telephone calls.

    So far nobody is reporting examples of any of these from Mid Ulster.

    Unless we get some evidence we should treat talk of a squeeze on the SDLP as no more than a hypothesis. One could equally suggest that the controversy surrounding the Unionist and SF candidates reminded some voters who had switched to SF in recent years why they used to vote SDLP in the first place.

    This is important because it determines what lessons the SDLP should draw.

    Scenario 1
    The selection of a unionist unity candidate led to a strong and successful squeeze on the SDLP. Hundreds, or even a few thousand, voters who really wanted to vote SDLP voted for SF to keep the unionist out.

    Conclusion: Underlying support for the SDLP is on the rise. The party can expect to improve its vote significantly. Its Westminster seats are safe (barring the threat posed by an agreed unionist candidate in South Belfast). It can look forward to taking seats from SF at the next Assembly and Council elections.

    The new realism, improved party organisation and the leader’s strategy identified by Mick are all bearing fruit. Keep doing more of the same.

    Scenario 2
    There was no squeeze (or at least no more than is always present). The SDLP did not improve its underlying support, it merely got back the personal votes which had gone to Martin McG in the past. It has, however, stopped the rot.

    Conclusion: The new realism, improved organisation and leader’s strategy simply mean that the party is running harder in order to stand still. Doing more of the same may hold off further decline for a while, but eventually all possible advantages will have been squeezed from these improvements and the decline will begin again.

  • Mc Slaggart

    tmitch57

    “In the mainland UK i.e. in Britain, the differences among the Tories, LibDems and Labor are not primarily ethnic but rather ideological as in the U.S. ”

    I think you raise and interesting question how ” ideological” driven are Irish political parties? I don’t think the DUP are any more ideological driven than FG? UUP/FF/SF are as much political movements than political parties. The sdlp I would contend is strongly ideologically driven.

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    You objection to the sdlp is that they are a “Irish nationalist party”. Which is a perfectly reasonable position.

    Using terms such as “enslaved to the ‘ethnic’” or “‘trad’ baggage” for me is “sectarian “.

    A lot of the people are Irish nationalists. Its not a lifestyle choice. The sdlp is a nationalist party in the same way Alliance is a Unionist one.

  • zep

    Once again – I wrote “enslaved to the ‘ethnic’ (for want of a better word) vote” – and I then explained exactly what I meant by this. So please stop partially quoting me. The words are there above in black and white.

    Seriously, can you explain to me what I have said that is sectarian? I was hoping for a reasoned debate on the SDLP and the potential of the new generation of politicians therein to move towards a more ‘normalised’ politics and attract votes outside of their traditional voter base. But I don’t think you are interested in that.

    As for your last sentence, I don’t understand what you mean. Surely Irish nationalism, like unionism or Marxism or any other political stance, is an informed choice. Or rather, it should be!

  • Mick Fealty

    Try this McS? Ethnic, means ethnic. It refers to the way virtually no Catholics (unicorns or otherwise) vote for either of the two main Unionist parties. Virtually no Protestants vote for SF. Alone of the older parties, the SDLP attracts some Protestant voters.

    That suggests the SDLP has more than just an ethnic appeal. This does not make it any less of an Irish Nationalist Party, unless you are suggesting that having something less than ethnic purity in your voter appeal makes you somehow suspect in your politics?

    [Mods head on: You are either confused or messing. I’m not sure which. But you cannot ‘call’ people on sloppy thinking when you’re being sloppy yourself.]

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    “Surely Irish nationalism, like unionism or Marxism or any other political stance, is an informed choice. ”

    Zep how many people do you know act politically out of informed choice? Most people do not even read the election literature that is stuffed though their letter box.

    Being Irish in West Tyrone is no different than being Irish in East Donegal. The only real difference is that Orange men in East Donegal cannot get a British passport but go to the sea side in Donegal. Orange men in Castelderg can get a British passport and go to the sea side in Portrush.

    I am curious what are the range of “choices” that I should offer an Irish person from Castlederg?

  • Mc Slaggart

    Mick

    When (if) FF get elected representatives in Northern Ireland and if no “Protestants” vote for them does that change the nature of the FF party?

    Jim Nicholson the “conservative” no very few if any Nationalist votes. I wonder would anyone normally call the conservatives “enslaved to the ‘ethnic vote’ ?

    http://www.conservativeeurope.com/meps-northern-ireland.aspx

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes, to both. Now, back to the topic?

  • zep

    “I am curious what are the range of “choices” that I should offer an Irish person from Castlederg?” – I have no idea what this question means, or how it relates to anything I have said.

    Clearly we are talking at cross purposes. If you think I am being sectarian, you must have led a very sheltered life to date. Or you are being disingenuous.

  • Mc Slaggart

    zep

    According to you and Mick their is no party which is not ““enslaved to the ‘ethnic vote’. As Mick has given me his view that as Jim Nicholson the “conservative” who had very few if any Nationalist votes one could afterwards call the conservatives “enslaved to the ‘ethnic vote’ .

  • zep

    I don’t understand that last sentence, sorry. It looks like English but I can’t be sure.

  • aquifer

    The SDLP paid their Peace Process dues in advance, and in a small country with a big subsidy of public money a social democratic party could have useful things to say when the cuts bite.

    If they can get their smartest heads together and get their story straight who knows.

    Remember John Hume, telling it until he heard people telling it back to him.

  • Gopher

    Hope seems to spring eternal here, SF put up an a lacklustre candidate put little effort into the campaign and carried the seat at a canter. The SDLP simply were not prepared to lay a glove on SF in this campaign. McGlone was by far the best candidate candidate and did not attack. The SDLP had to knock SF down to below 3 quotas to claim any sort of victory. As it stands Mid Ulster which was one of the significant housing boom constituencies will be a 3-2-1 breakdown until the SDLP decide to actually fight SF at elections.

  • @Gopher,

    I think part of the problem is that since the peace process started seriously in 1992-93 the SDLP leadership has been unwilling to call out SF on anything out of fear that it would hurt the peace process. SF did a good job of guilting their critics by making them appear to be enemies of peace. And by the time the peace was finally bedded down and stabilized in 2007 it might have been two late as many nationalist voters see little difference between the two parties except that SF seemed to be more serious and sincere about wanting Irish unity than the SDLP.

  • Red Lion

    There is pro-union realignment taking place with the new McRea/McCallister party.

    This also represents oppportunity for the sdlp. How can they work WITH this dynamic??

    Forget trying to outgreen SF. Forget the United Ireland reterick which everyone sees through. Think about how a moderate union/Alliance/SDLP coalition might work, for that is where a good chunk of the future will lie.