An SDLP members writes about why he is voting Colum Eastwood for leader…

Colum Eastwood MLAAs the SDLP conference approaches all members will be taking stock of the SDLP leadership and the shape of Irish politics throughout Ireland. Many SDLP members like myself will reflect on the recent council and assembly elections and come to the conclusion that change is needed. Having slumped in electoral fortunes to the levels of the 1970’s compared to 1998 for the SDLP to be effective the electoral decline needs to be reversed. To continue as the status quo would be to have learned nothing over the past 5 years so change throughout the party is needed. While leaders like Alasdair McDonnell MP are to be respected for their efforts, it’s time for a new generations of politicians to step forward and deliver the arguments for better housing, the living wage, equal marriage, affordable childcare and sustainable after school provision. These are issues that a new generation of politicians can make priority along with those issues of the past.

Many within the SDLP are reinvigorated by the courage of Colum Eastwood MLA wanting to lead a party at only 32 years old, here is some one that can bring energy and long term commitment to the party and knows that arguing for his generation is as important as resolving issues on the past. What I believe my generation are willing to vote for is a party with a long term economic vision not silver bullets like reducing corporation tax, as Eastwood recently made clear in his economic message to party members “There is no silver bullet that will on its own turnaround Northern Ireland’s weak economy. The solution requires excellent schools; high quality pre-schooling; vocational colleges delivering courses relevant to the needs of the economy; a much larger higher education sector; research and development strength; even better digital connectivity; much improved road infrastructure; and greater cross-border cooperation”.

However as a SDLP member Colum Eastwood MLA being elected as leader will have many practical benefits, it’s no surprise that under the current leadership there isn’t a unified party, A new young leader allows the SDLP to commit to my generation unified as those in senior positions will then have the opportunity to bury hatchets because the election of Colum will mean a new generation leading the party.

Furthermore Colum Eastwood’s commitment to a new generation should manifest itself in younger members of the party stepping up for selection conventions, already evident in Claire Hanna MLA who has endorsed Colum Eastwood.

A huge part of politics today including within the social media sphere is communication. To succeed in the world of politics in Northern Ireland you must be able to handle twitter and trolls, have the ability to argue with Stephen Nolan, there is no room anymore to excuse a bull in the china shop approach or off the cuff remarks which lead to long drawn out apologies.

As one of the youngest members of the party I do believe the SDLP can reverse it’s fortunes and Colum Eastwood can be apart of this because he can deliver a clear message through clear communication and therefore long term vision for the SDLP whereby they become effective again in Northern Ireland politics. Finally this is clear in the message he gave at his leadership launch “There should be a place called opposition, yet the SDLP will continue to seek a mandate to govern”.

Gerard McDonald is 22 years old and a SDLP activist from West Belfast. He is running for the position of SDLP Vice Chair at their upcoming Party Conference in Armagh. 


  • chrisjones2

    To summarise

    “Change needed

    New generation

    More benefits….even more benefits …….spend spend spend …blah blah

    Social media ….woohee”

  • Jamie

    How much did Colum Eastwood pay you to write that for him?

    Although I do agree, as it is the SDLP are a sinking ship, a fast one at that. Id welcome a change of leadership and hopefully with it gone the days of self centered leafy south Belfast politics.
    Back to the ‘sinking ship’ I fail to see how the SDLP will brand its politics and make it appealing for young people like myself. Outdated, unrepresentative backward views, for example some MLAs chickening out of the marriage equality vote.

    Move with the times. Unfortunately under McDonnell theres no chance of this happening.

  • OneNI

    In the economic check list if you include ‘greater cross-border cooperation’ to be honest you should have included ‘continued membership of the UK’.
    But it essence that is the SDLPs problem – polling shows the majority of their members want to stay in the UK but SDLP obviously cannot admit that

  • Kevin Breslin

    If this was a young person coming out in support of the smaller Alliance Party or even smaller parties you wouldn’t have been so insulting to suggest that they needed to be bribed. Parties can be formed and reformed, parties can be changed at different rates. This party has had several LGBT members even before homosexuality was formally decriminalized here in 1982.

    In terms of the realpolitik of Northern Ireland nothing is going to change on many LGBT matters unless a positive case is being put to unionism in order to stop the use of a petition of concern. The Sinn Féin grandstanding is never going to work unless it can strike a deal with the DUP/UUP … even if it gets a majority vote. It would be hypocrisy to demand welfare reform be stopped and LGBT rights to be given the go ahead, if majorities with petitions of concerns were the justification.

    I wouldn’t battle for LGBT rights on the basis of attacking opponents, I would do what the Republic of Ireland did and promote a positive case that is sensitive to concerns and promotes the passions of those who want reform. You can’t fight for love with a hate campaign, even if you feel that hate is only being directed at those who hate.

    I think it is on record that both Eastwood and McDonnell did vote for marriage equality.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t see why you need to be a member of the UK to do business with the Republic of Ireland, or otherwise. This isn’t just a tribal issue, I’ve read a UKIP Northern Ireland manifesto calling for greater cross-border trade, not on the basis of being a constitutional part of the United Kingdom but simply because it helps the economy here.

    I feel if this was trade with any other country bar the Republic of Ireland, the constitutional question wouldn’t be brought into it. We’re obliged to have a cross-border ethos by Strand Two of the Good Friday Agreement, we don’t live in Cypriot version of partition we live with an open border, we want to and need to live with an open border or indeed the absence of one if that is preferred by both sides of it.

    On the party ethos thing, if you were to use a poll last year and a poll this year to judge the economic policies of the Labour party of the UK, I’d imagine you’d get radically different opinions between the party Miliband lead and the one Corbyn leads now. I think there may be demands of non-voters from outside the SDLP in the West of the Bann who do want it not simply to campaign harder for unity, but to support causes such as the marriage equality vote in common solidarity with our neighbours in Donegal, Cavan, Sligo, Monaghan, Leitrim and Louth.

    But we’ll see what direction the party takes on these matters at their conference.

  • Lord Coleraine

    The SDLP needs to do what (I feel) the UUP and Alliance are doing; define and clarify what they stand for. He seems a bit wooly. You need to be able to say more than “vote for me because I’m 30 years younger than the other guy”.

  • murdockp

    A party with a long term economic vision. Forgive me while I go and bang my head of a wall in sheer frustration………oh that hurt…..

    The SDLP constantly tables a list of things that need to be done to reinvigorate the economy but the list constantly excludes a number of important considerations ……deliverable policies that will reinvigorate the economy.

    Watching economic strategy from the SDLP unfold is like watching Stevie Wonder driving a car the wrong way up the M1 during rush hour, a car crash in waiting.

    Let us dissect the above bit by bit to prove that there are idiots behind SDLP economic policy

    Lower Corporation Tax; a red herring, the law is so complicated it is hard to see who will benefit from the reduced rate.

    There are five key references to better education that this will deliver jobs in NI. It will not, A few bad schools in bad areas aside, NI education in NI is as good as it gets in Europe, what does it deliver? Thousands of high achievers for the rest of the world to recruit from to staff their global business from. Don’t believe me? go to Dublin airport in the week leading up to Christmas and watch them come home to see their families and then watch them fly out again first week of January. I was one of them an you cannot move in places like London without meeting people from NI. SDLP’s policy would be better served in stopping high achievers leaving in the first place.

    Digital connectivity, the NI assembly was given the money for this and wasted it in building fibre networks in voter heartlands in many cases the middle of nowhere and ignored the very locations where business will locate in the future e.g city centres. Nerwy for example has no fibre in the heart of its city center but has fibre in the middle of nowhere in South Armagh. SDLP were a key participant in this incompetent mismanagement of broadband upgrade budgets.

    Improved road infrastructure. roads are so 1980’s Thatcher and all that. We need a 21st century public transport strategy to get people out of cars. Any fool knows roads are not the answer. We need Mass transit rail connecting the hearts of out towns and cities and airports, we need a single world class airport not two crappy airports that are just pathetic. We need a Dublin airport in NI. We need an infrastructure strategy not a roads strategy.

    Cross border corporation; the rest of NI is gust getting on with it, not much for SDLP to do here, even they would be shocked how many unionist owned businesses trade in the ROI,

    So in conclusion the SDLP economic ideas as a bit thin on the ground. what does NI need then if I am so angry?

    (1) Government and politicians need to back off and stop being so anti business. from planing, building control and regulation they need to deregulated and cut the red tape, e.g. Planning law should be changed to be in favour of development, not against it.

    (2) Accelerated decision making / for job creation / inward investment opportunities.

    (3) Outsourcing, move the delivery of public services to the private sector who are more efficient and deliver better value for the tax payer and will allow the private sector to expand.

    (4) Business rates; these need to be reduced substantially to bring vacant premises back into use and get entrepreneurship happening rather than row upon row of empty shops which is currently the case.

    (5) Income tax / corporation tax holidays for returning emigrants and entrepreneurs. Incentivise emigrants to return home and start businesses.

    (6) Tourism strategy; join with ROI and market Ireland’s socks off.

    (7) NI Lending bank; the banks are not lending for new business, even now, so start a bank that will

    (8) Identify the industries we wish to have in our economy and get them here.

    (9) Immigration; lets get the worlds best over to help us grow rather than this anti immigrant scaremongering.

    (10) Infrastructure; build world class infrastructure and you just might stand a chance of having a world class economy

    (11) Stop backing white elephant projects that will deliver little for the wider economy. e.g. The Casement Park money could create far more in the way of jobs if invested wisely..

    The reason NI fails time and time again is because the government is too slow to react and civil servants get off on tying the private sector up in red tape. This has to stop. The amount if inward investment NI could have if decisions that SDLP are at the heart of made is significant.

    As I see it in NI, those that can just get on with it, those that can’t become politicians. And those who don’t want to deal with NI’s energy sucking red tape tieing civil servants locate to ROI.

  • murdockp

    The Unionist community are the ROI’s secret trading giant, from steel and farming equipment through to butter and animal feeds, the Unionist community is having a roaring trade with the ROI and long may it continue, but shush, don’t tell any one I told you so.

    A shame the same cannot be said for some of SF’s die hard supporters who would like to take us back to communism.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Undoubtedly, I’ve been a greater supporter of “border-region” unionists on economic and cross border matters than I would be to the Greater Belfast hinterland members of the Alliance Party. Despite partition there are no peace-walls between the North and South and there has never needed to be.

    It would be far better for our economy if students had more options for staying on these islands than for leaving overseas, so the decline in Northern Irish students attending high level universities in Dublin and Cork, is more of an economic one than simply a constitutional or cultural one.

  • murdockp

    Emigration is a politicians best friend as Enda Kenny and the NI assembly prove time and time again.

    (1) If people are not here, the cannot vote you out of power so lets keep them overseas.

    (2) You can exclude emigrants from many sets of government stats including unemployment statistics

    (3) People who have left this country do not need unemployment benefit, housing or other public services.

    (4) Emigration will help suppress economic growth and keeps the underclass in the poverty that politican’s need to them to exist in so they are guaranteed their vote come election.

    (5) Educated emigrants are less likely to be sectarian which can dilute party politics so best they stay away.

    Five reasons why Northern Ireland politicans just love emigration.

  • New Yorker

    I agree with almost everything you say. It is about time someone stated things on the economy other than tired old ideas. I especially like points 8 and 9. But I don’t think the current politicians could deliver it. However, an outside team of people expert in these areas could articulate what needs to be done to get the ball rolling.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Why would I be shocked about unionist owned businesses trading with the Republic?

    I’ve applied for a job in Sandy Row that was in a KTP with educational facilities in Waterford, that’s pretty much a long way South of Sandy Row!

    I think in terms of actual economic ideas, a good paper is “New Priorities in Difficult Times” under Margaret Ritchie’s leadership.

    The problems is that you can get big documents on economic policies from the SDLP, UUP and Alliance and they often get ignored by the media obsession with Sinn Féin and the DUP with the occasional nod to Jim Allister, even their manifestos get ignored.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I moved to Dublin during Enda’s early Taoiseach years, was very glad of the opportunity. I have to say I remained politically neutral throughout. I would even give Sinn Féin a fair hearing.

    There are many graduates on the dole either JSA or the Live Register who do stay here and haven’t even an outlet for their talents, often resigned to underemployment. I do feel in some cases opportunities overseas seem better than similar ones on this island or indeed these islands. I feel it would take a major culture shift to change that.

    I think it might be a bit unfair to blame Marty, Robbo and “Indah” for emigration, whether it’s Game of Thrones or Facebook Ireland (Ireland & UK) based here, Politicians including Political leaders aren’t the be all and end all of investment.

  • Other than wanting more of all the good things without having to consider the impact on budgets or make difficult policy choices or decisions on priority spending within the already oversized block grant, I haven’t heard anything from Eastwood et al about exactly how his leadership would be substantially be different and lead to better government in NI. Other than ‘I’m not Al’ is there any substantive reason for this challenge? And other than ‘communication’ with which Mr Eastwood has his own challenges, what’s different? None the wiser from this post.