McCann meets… Alex Attwood MLA

I met with the SDLP’s candidate for the upcoming European elections, Alex Attwood up at Stormont to discuss his views on Europe, Nationalism, SDLP and the Executive.


When we began, Alex told me about the impact that his parents, particularly his mother had on his politics of looking after others and standing up for the democratic way of doing things. These values that he was taught as a child informed his later choices as a student when he joined the SDLP.

But, what about some of the contentious issues such as the Hunger Strikes that he faced growing up?

I believed that there was a political resolution to the situation in the prisons…but others choose to escalate it. If you believe some of those who have spoken about the Hunger Strikes some people in the Republican leadership choose to escalate it, not just the approach being adopted by the Thatcher government at that time.

I then pressed on to ask him did he feel that have gone through all of this and see his party decline electorally did he feel that the work the SDLP was worth it?

Unlike others who resisted the will of the people of Ireland the SDLP live with the democracy of the people of Ireland, even when it doesn’t work to our favour that’s the purpose of being an Irish national democrat, you do not mess with the will of the people of Ireland and others did at a huge price and a huge cost. Because of that huge price and huge cost there was an imperative for the SDLP and Hume in particular to travel very far down roads that needed to be travelled in order to create the possibilities of peace.

I wondered what the former Executive Minister thought about the possibility of opposition.

I was the member of our party who argued that we shouldn’t go into government in 2011 and the party in my view whilst we had to have that conversation, the party decided that we should go into government, because the politics of accommodation, partnership and being inclusive was something held very dear by the party….I think we do have to have a conversation about opposition, the SDLP recommended to the British government that in the next mandate there should be a provision for opposition.

Pressing on I asked him about his tendency to take unpopular decisions during this time a Environment Minister.

I’m not driven by being popular; I am driven by where is the radical and bold place to be in our politics that brings the maximum change in the fastest space of the time to the benefit of people.

I asked Attwood about his controversial decision to stop John Lewis from coming to Sprucefield (26 mins in) to which he stated that he believed that there was a necessary rebalancing that needed to go on with our shopping facilities and that Lewis had the potential to hurt places like Craigavon, Banbridge and Newry if it were to be placed in Sprucefield. He believes that Lewis could have potential with the re-development of the Cathedral Quarter following the re-location of the University of Ulster.

I  followed up with another controversial issue namely the SPAD bill and put to him the critique that the party had dithered during the debate;

I remember meeting when we were discussing it and with everything else that was going on at that time and there was probably a lot of things going on at that time, my own thinking wasn’t as clear headed. But, very quickly it became clear headed about what was the right approach in that regard and that would have been the approach that Seamus Mallon articulated in that regard.

I was fascinated by the Attwood’s explanation about the evolution of his views on this topic, which I thought might of explained his reaction to Gareth Gordon after the Ann Travers meeting as he said

I had a view that the media had to be very respectful towards victims and survivors, including Ann and I wasn’t impressed by the media, in my view, Ann might have a different view on it but it was my sense of things. It wasn’t about how I felt or the party felt, it was my sense of how to as I saw it which might not be how Ann saw it show the maximum respect towards victims and survivors. The media have to do their job but I do believe you have to skate carefully when you come to some issues.

When it comes to the European elections Attwood is determined that this election will not just be about the usual politics that our elections are about but also contain serious issues such as the referendum and our relationship with the European Union. Attwood states that while he is not uncritical of Europe, he is still strongly pro-Europe for its economic, environmental and cultural benefits.

Attwood believes that since John Hume stepped down from the European parliament that Northern Ireland has been missing opportunities in Europe and that we are not on the ‘inside track’ in gaining full advantages of our membership.

When I put it to him that Anna Lo’s candidacy could split that pro-European vote, Attwood actually welcomed the opportunity for pro-European voices to come forward and speak up during this election as he believes Unionist parties will go in the opposite direction.

Overall, Attwood said he’s in this election to win it and will definitely be putting in the man hours to pull off a victory. If the Unionist vote fragments enough and he picks up enough transfers he might just do it but time will tell if he can pull it off.

Full interview available on MixCloud.

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  • Morpheus

    There’s only 1 thing worse that being talked about Alex…

  • “.I think we do have to have a conversation about opposition, the SDLP recommended to the British government that in the next mandate there should be a provision for opposition.”

    Unless in the future the mandatory designations part of the GFA is abandoned, in order for an opposition to work or even be set up there will have to be opposition parties from both the unionist and nationalist groups. This means that the SDLP will have to find a unionist partner that is both important enough and has an interest in cooperating with it on this. The DUP can instantly be ruled out–those in power rarely like oppositions. TUV and PUP are too weak to qualify. So the SDLP will have to convince either the UUP or a NI21 that has had a wonderful election and has several Assembly seats. If the SDLP and UUP had been able to cooperate and get their voters to transfer to each other rather than to their rivals within the tribal groups, they would still be in power today calling the shots.

  • As a SDLP voter (and member)theres not a snowballs chance in Hell that I would transfer a vote to UUP or NI21. (Alliance love power as much as the DUP and I wouldn’t transfer to them either …even if they paid me).
    Its not simply about nationalist and unionist.
    How on earth could there be co-operation between a Socialist party and a coonservative party in opposition.

    For what its worth, I believe the SDLP should be in Opposition.
    The time to walk away was in May 2011 when the Alliance Party benefitted from the gerrymander.

  • Charles_Gould

    “there will have to be opposition parties from both the unionist and nationalist groups”

    Do you think so? What if both nationalist parties want to be in government?

    I think powersharing and inclusivity is very important for *government* and that’s the spirit of the GFA, but I wonder if this is the case for *opposition*. Couldn’t opposition could go to any major party (or group of major parties) that does not want to be in government, with posts being shared out between the parties by d’Hondt. Define “major” using a count of MLAs (say >=4).

  • sherdy

    Possibly one of Alex’s main problems I think, would be his poor memory.

    Alex was at the PB meeting in 2010 when Drew Harris outlined the OTR scheme, and was questioned on it by Tom Buchanan of the DUP.

    But Alex still insists he has no memory of this now very important item being raised. No need to worry too much Alex, None of the others, apart from Sinn fein, remember it either. Convenient?

  • FuturePhysicist

    Any chance that this European election will become about Europe?

    The DUP would probably give all the European money back for two European seats, not that it would make any societal difference. They do give back peace money as was seen in the Maze, so why bother sending Diane Dodds over, her presence would have greater priority in Twaddel?

    This is about a flag and party power rather than millions of pounds on farming, research, economic investment, trade, knowledge transfer and labour movement at the end of the day, isn’t it?

  • Charles_Gould

    Alex strikes me as the best of the candidates in the field so far. There are many good candidates – Anna Lo springs to mind – but in terms of values, analysis, work-rate, and ability, Alex leads the pack. Expect SDLP share to increase again, just as it did last time out.

  • sean treacy

    Alex strikes you as the best of the candidates.Now theres a surprise!

  • Charles_Gould


    One thing that is worth noting about the SDLP is that it generally has had a great track record in terms of the quality of its ministers. While other parties have got into difficulties with sub-par ministers the ones that the SDLP have put forward have done a good job. Alex is a case in point. Where a more populist minister might have taken the short-termist decision to let John Lewis build out of store, Alex saw the need to think long term about the impact on our High Streets. Just one case in point.

  • Any chance the Election will be about Europe?
    Well I understand that the next Platform for Change event is about European issues and the questions to candidates…I dont think all need to show up…will be about Europe.
    All very noble of course.
    But frankly nobody is that bothered about parties called PES ( the SDLP version) and I have absolutely no idea what the others are supposed to be called.

    I dont think politicians or journalists or insiders should tell the Electorate what an election is “about”.
    Thats the Electorates decision.
    if people want to make it about the European Agriculture thing….is it still called “CAP”?……Fine.
    if they want to make it about Flegs, Victims, OTRs or whatever….nobody has the right to say they are wrong.

  • stewart1

    Seriously though, if Alex can’t remember important issues from meetings, how can he trusted to find his way to the European Parliament ?

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk

    Charles Gould

    “One thing that is worth noting about the SDLP is that it generally has had a great track record in terms of the quality of its ministers”

    That’s your opinion – fair enough but yet again you are stating your opinion as if it’s fact. It isn’t.

    The vast majority of people I know wouldn’t rate the performance of any of the so-called “Ministers” in the assembly.

    Some are less worse than others but that’s about it.

    I wouldn’t single Attwood out as being especially bad but he wasn’t anything special either.

    As has been pointed out before – if he’s so great, how come he couldn’t even make a quota in West Belfast?

    No offence – but I hope you’re not employed as a political strategist. Simply repeating things like “The SDLP is the party of labour values” or “Alex Attwood is the best candidate” is a bit simplistic – I think you’ll find the average person on the street is a little bit more sophisticated than that.

  • Gopher

    The SDLP are the classic political alcoholic they are always in denial that they have a problem. Everyone else can see they have been reduced to Führer bunker politics moving imaginary votes around the constituency maps giving grandiose titles to its adherents. We are just waiting for the grainy black and white election broadcast of Alasdair coming out of the Bunker to the garden to pin the Grand Socialist Cross of St Patrick on young (sic) Alex and pinch his cheek before sending the little ill equiped fanatic out to the maelstrom of the Euro elections.

  • Charles_Gould


    *In the recent IPSOS MORI poll, SDLP was most trusted party on the economy by a large margin.

    *In the last several LucidTalk polls, SDLP vote share has increased. Trends are more reliable than levels in tracking polls.

  • Morpheus

    Charles the only statistic that you need to be worried about is this:

    1997 – 177,963 popular votes
    2011 – 94,286 popular votes

  • Gopher

    I think more worrying for the SDLP are the Council elections with less seats and higher quotas I think they are looking at a wipe out. It seems the UUP will have some company in the dustbin.

  • Neil

    The vast majority of people I know wouldn’t rate the performance of any of the so-called “Ministers” in the assembly.

    Some are less worse than others but that’s about it.

    As an example:

    In the recent IPSOS MORI poll, SDLP was most trusted party on the economy by a large margin.

    67% of people trust none of the main parties according to that poll. Of the third that remain just over a third trust the SDLP. You do realise you’re consistently holding up this amazing statistic of circa 12% of all voters rating the SDLP’s economic credentials as some kind of major success? Some are less worse than others but that’s about it. I wouldn’t get too excited if I were you.

    Maybe that 12% are the true Labour types who truly appreciate the good Doctor’s absentee landlord abilities, or maybe their more impressed by the power to the people story of McDevitt’s wife’s consultancy fees. Certainly they seem economically literate in that regard.