Some Silver Linings in the SDLP’s Dark Clouds

The results are in and for the SDLP again it is a story of decline as the party returns with 12 MLAs and continues to shed votes.

However, there are some silver linings for the party, that even a cynic like me cannot ignore.

The team is smaller, but arguably better– In past elections people would regularly point to the lack of new faces in the SDLP parliamentary party. However, this time there is a relatively fresh sense about this new group. Faces such as Nichola Mallon, Claire Hanna and Daniel McCrossan are not only new, but hugely able to take the party forward.

Leadership- Colum Eastwood performed reasonably well during the Assembly campaign with a message and some good performances in the TV debates. He also had one big advantage on his side which is time. Eastwood is young, but also has three years before he has to think about another election. In 2011, the SDLP wasted months as Margaret Ritchie stepped down as leader and the party fought a long contest. This will not happen this time and Eastwood now has time to plot out his own course.

Renewal- The defeat of Fearghal McKinney means that the party will have to elect a new deputy leader at some point in the future. Whilst the loss of McKinney is not a good thing for the SDLP, it provides a chance for the party to promote some of that talent in the new Assembly group. Figures like Nichola Mallon or Claire Hanna would be a huge plus alongside Eastwood and would reinforce his wider narrative of new leadership and fresh thinking.

Opposition- It is a leap into the dark, but quite frankly the SDLP need to change the dynamic and start thinking the unthinkable. Being a part of a DUP/Sinn Fein led Executive has not helped the party and ceding the opposition benches to People Before Profit and the Greens would be lunacy. Eastwood has time on his hands, opposition will allow his team to try new things and think differently.

Coherence-During the last mandate, stories abounded about splits in the SDLP over issues like Same Sex Marriage and Abortion rights. This problem again is unlikely to be as relevant as it was in the last mandate. All of the current MLAs (that I am aware of) largely sing of the same hymn sheet on key issues and this sense of giving the party coherence will help it avoid embarrassing splits. Disunity is death in politics and the SDLP has learned this the hard way.

None of this is easy, nor is it certain the SDLP rises to these challenges, but they do have post this election some ingredients that used properly could yield success for them at the local elections in 2019 which will then help the party fight the 2021 Assembly elections.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • Msiegnaro

    His vote has been dropping but this maybe more to do with SF trying to do better vote management, I’ll take your point that he must be effective, however by the same token so must Buchanan, someone whom I also don’t rate.

  • Old Mortality

    Are you sure you’re not influenced by the fact that Ms Hanna looks a good deal more wholesome than Ms Anderson and her voice is a lot pleasanter to listen to than that awful Derry whine.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Martina acts like one of those evangelical spokesman who smile and speak in sugary way when know they don’t believe one word or the tone of what they are saying

  • Lionel Hutz

    SF balanced their vote in WT very well. Just the vote dropped quite a bit.

  • Nordie Northsider

    No. I wouldn’t comment on Martina Anderson’s appearance any more than I would comment on the looks of any politician – male or female.

  • Kev Hughes

    Basically a COO/MD formula? So long as the lines are clearly delineated then it should work well for any organisation.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Im not from upper bann but about 10 miles outside the constituency. It’s not west Belfast and has moved on a lot since the Drumcree days. With the exception of Lurgan maybe. Portadown is unrecognizable to me as someone who has been in and out of that town all my life. Sinn Fein whining that the SDLP get unionist transfers in Derry doesn’t do anything and it’s only ever made a big issue in nationalist dominated constituencie’s. It won’t be a factor in Upper Bann.

    The SDLP lose votes in Upper Bann and elsewhere because they haven’t worked hard enough with their constituents and don’t have a candidate who gets in the votes.

    You tell me that Dr Joe lost votes because he got in on unionist transfers. I’d say it’s more likely that the current candidate there isn’t a vote getter.

    But this is simple maths. If a consistency that returns 4 unionists and 2 nationalists starts to return 3 unionists and 2 nationalists, that means there’s a unionist surplus that will affect the make up of the 2 nationalists. A similar thing might happen in West Tyrone and Newry Armagh where a 4-2 split for nationalists may well go to 4-1.

    Anyway. We are going in circles. It costs you nothing to take a simple point about the changes from 6 to 5. It doesn’t mean that the other factors could stop them regaining the seat

  • Croiteir

    Didn’t have to, SF had the opportunity to vote for MM as Taoiseach but declined which meant that EK got the highest vote in the Dail as well as the the highest vote in the election. As you say they could have went into government with FG but kept to their promise not to. You cannot have your cake and eat it.

  • Croiteir

    If you can recall SF said that they would not go into govt also. But there again SF say so many things at the same time about the same issue they can always deny anything. As I said earlier – SF had their chance to support MM but sat on their hands in a great huff hoping that everything would collapse and allow them to blame uncle Tom Cobley et al. But they just miscalculated and are now left sitting in a Dail were their voice and that of their electorate will account for little. SF have not been able to make the breakthrough they envisaged in the centenary year and in the face of great austerity. FF meanwhile have came back from the dead, the greatest recovery since Lazarus. They can only go up. SF are at peak performance, They have replaced labour and over the next few years the natural balance will apply as people see the futility of voting for independants and extremes and the left wing vote will recede back to the early teens of a percentage. FF have shown themselves to be masters of the art and SF were outplayed. As the Seamus Brennan told the greens – you are playing senior hurling now lads.

  • Msiegnaro

    A drop of 3395 votes, however the DUP also dropped by 552 which is quite worrying for them in this constituency. The UUP returned a modest 382 vote increase.

  • Kev Hughes

    You are deluding yourself there fella, let me be brutal with you there.

    If the SDLP gets in with fewer first preference votes and on unionist transfers then I predict wholeheartedly that will be the last time that candidate gets elected. I think the SDLP and its members, which if memory serves me right, you are one, need to get a grip here as they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

    Lurgan and Craigavon are your (read Nationalism) largest vote catching areas. Portadown is not a nat town and it will be very long time before it is. Even around the Lough, areas such as Derrytrasna and Derrymacash, if you think that getting in on unionist transfers wouldn’t harm your prospects then, once again, we are dealing with a deluded SDLP member.

    But then, as you admitted ‘Im not from upper bann’, but then you go on to make a wild prediction of ‘It won’t be a factor in Upper Bann.’ Well, I am from Upper Bann and it would be a factor, make no mistake about it.

    ‘The SDLP lose votes in Upper Bann and elsewhere because they haven’t worked hard enough with their constituents and don’t have a candidate who gets in the votes.’ – true that, so relying on unionist transfers isn’t going to get you that coveted 5th seat. Honestly, if that is the party’s game plan then they truly are finished.

    ‘You tell me that Dr Joe lost votes because he got in on unionist transfers. I’d say it’s more likely that the current candidate there isn’t a vote getter.’ – Are you saying that Dr Joe’s walk up the Shankill didn’t cost him votes next time around? Seriously? ROFLMAO

    ‘But this is simple maths. If a consistency that returns 4 unionists and 2 nationalists starts to return 3 unionists and 2 nationalists, that means there’s a unionist surplus that will affect the make up of the 2 nationalists. A similar thing might happen in West Tyrone and Newry Armagh where a 4-2 split for nationalists may well go to 4-1.’

    Actually, it is not ‘simple maths’, as it involves a whole host of other imponderables which you are ignoring such as the behaviour of voters. The premise of your argument is that the SDLP may benefit from the constituency becoming a 5 seater on ‘simple maths’ owing to unionist transfers, thus defeating SF. I actually work on the reality as it is which is:

    i) Your party is, in its current guise, finished in Upper Bann;
    ii) SDLP courting of unionist transfers would send a clear signal to the electorate in Upper Bann that would consider voting for it and would not enamour them to the SDLP, as opposed to their behaviour before;
    iii) This would probably turn off nat voters, you know, the folks the SDLP actually relies on to get elected, and they would probably either not vote SDLP (abstain), lend their vote to SF or vote for someone else.

    A word to the SDLP; if you guys are relying on ‘simple maths’ you will not get in. How about considering the behaviour of voters, what they want and trying to not sell yourself as ‘we’re not SF’. The ‘simple maths’ routine being pedalled here is more of the same and that has done you guys so well over the past 16 years…

  • Declan Doyle

    I dont know why you keep going on about Sinn fein, the issue is FF.

  • Croiteir

    I see – SF had no role to play in electing a Taoiseach – its all fianna fails fault – aye right. Just calling you out on this. It is okay sloganizing but if the facts don’t fit don’t expect not to be called out on it.

  • Declan Doyle

    Sinn Fein kept their promise to the electorate not to put FG and Enda back into government as did all the left leaning parties and individuals; unlike Fianna Fail who have broken that promise, it is not a slogan it is a fact and a typical example of Fianna Fail’s disregard of the electorate.

  • Croiteir

    The team is smaller, but arguably better
    Or arguably worse. Claire Hanna is a lightweight, okay on fluffy stuff and cliché statements but asked the real meaty questions, the ones that require thoughtful analysis and in depth knowledge she cracks. Nolans question on Irish unity exposed her, she just sat bug eyed and gaping like a frog, no answer. Nichola Mallon, what has she done apart be at every bun worry when mayor of Belfast?, there is a good sinecure if you want exposure, and be credited as “potential”, sorry – doesn’t wash. Daniel McCrossan – never heard of him before except he was involved in 2/3 of the SDLP in his constituency leaving. Seems a unifying force we can all row behind. Sorry David – being young on its own does not a performer make. I want to hear them give an oration, a speech which shows vision and wisdom. Then they get brownie points, they get nothing for showing up. How can you say that they are HUGELY able? I see no such huge ability.
    Eastwood is an unknown – Claire Hanna in talking him up said he had only 6 months to improve the party, (this was either a well aimed swipe at Big Al in the continuing feud between the Lisburn and Ormeau Roads or she did not understand what she was saying – but either way it shows just how weak she is), basically articulating the obvious fact that no one knows what his ability as a leader is. His invisibilty for months was not a good portend for the future. But the jury is out.
    Renewal – Not the lightweights again David. SDLP have the chance here. If they are wise they will get an old hand, ideally someone who is past it as far as being a leader is concerned. They need a political consiglieri. To appoint someone within the same rough age group and same urban outlook is a folly. You must escape the Belfast bubble. More breadth and depth, a steady hand to constrain youth. perhaps they can pull it off. But I don’t think so.
    Correct – but as the SDLP in it SDLP Youth section is really just a bunch of liberal internationalists devoid of any thinking beyond cultural Marxism and their own interests I think that this will continue as no one has the guts to clear them out or to adopt their agenda. Coherence is not only about policy. Coherence is also about discipline. Take hanna and her swipe at Al, that sort of stuff needs stamped down hard on, it leads to the problems such as West Tyrone, Colm should know this as the infighting in Derry were even the factions have factions is legenderry. In short a lot of housekeeping and getting rid of problems ruthlessly. I cannot see it happening, the disease is to far on.
    The SDLP is dead, The cancers within and the apathy without will destroy it. If FF come north, (cant see it) and deliver the coup de grace it would be an act of mercy.

  • Croiteir

    The electorate gave their view on everyone and came up with the answer that no one can rule, no manifesto attracted enough support, so you got a government of the plurality instead of the majority. If another election was run the same conclusion would have been met. Keep running elections until someone gets the numbers? That is a childish solution. The proper thing was done – the wishes of the electorate was reached, the majority party with support from others is in power. This is the outcome of PR. It is the name of the game, sitting on the stair refusing to speak is the puerile position. Some of us do grown up politics.

  • Declan Doyle

    FF sat on the stair refusing to talk to many elected reps and refusing to seriously engage to form an alternative government without Enda and Fine Gael, they craftily believed they could straddle two horses by being in government and opposition at the same time. Big mistake.

  • Croiteir

    They put their man forward and he didn’t get the support, FG did. That is the reality. They talked to whomsoever wanted to talk, but it was not viable. But glad you are conceding the point. as for the straddle two horses quip they have not. They outcome of the next election is solely in the hands of the government. If they make a hash they will suffer – if not they maybe will do well. My money is on the former as there are too many egos to satisfy there and LV is being a ballocks. SF have it all to do, an also ran who is at the back of the queue who have fumbled the ball. FF wins again.

  • Declan Doyle

    Over obsessive about SF there which usually suggests a sense of fear or threat. FF did not seriously try to put their man forward as has been ststed by independents who never get a sense that Fianna Fail were serious about forming an alternative government. Another attempt to fool the people which will fail miserably when FF opportunistically pull their coalition partners down.

  • Skibo

    The only reason FG got their man over the line is because FF abstained. That abstention was the equivalent of a vote for FG.
    FF did not talk to SF who along with a couple of independents could have set up a majority government.
    The calling of a second government election is not in the hands of FG only. FF are propping them up and can remove the prop at any time.

  • Skibo

    Sorry I must have missed that. When did FF ask SF to vote for MM? There were no discussions. FF stated they would NOT talk to SF. So too did FG. They are afraid to give equal status to SF as a political party.