SDLP:Reasons To Be Cheerful?


The point has been made that SDLP is “only” back to 2007 figures. I think this misses the point that the 2013 percentage was against a single unionist candidate. It also misses the point that SDLP added about 600 votes to their 2010 tally….on a lower turnout…..while Molloy and Sinn Fein actually lost 4,000 votes (and 5% of the vote).

And crucially it misses the point that 2007 is before Margaret RitchiHop hopeless and hapless leadership. The first task AlaAdair McDonnell had was to re-organise his Party. Progress on this has been real but…patchy. The second task was surely to turn the SDLP round …to make it relevant again and to banish all memory of Margaret as little more than a footnote in SDLP History. Mission accomplished.

Of course nobody likes to admit that they are wrong. So don’t expect any LetsGetAlongerist  discussion board to admit that they got it wrong. The SDLP is not in terminal decline but they will want to pass off the Mid Ulster result as “dead cat bounce”.

Patsy McGlone performed well but would have done better against two or three unionists rather than just one. Are there lessons? West of the Bann, the SDLP is doing ok. Re-organisation in Fermanagh-South Tyrone should get that Assembly seat back. And there would at least be cautious optimism about North Antrim, South Antrim and even Strangford. And North Belfast and the second seat in South Belfast….look safe….on these figures.

And perhaps noteworthy that SDLP got an army of party members out to campaign for Patsy but I’d like to see a log of the campaigning hours put in by some Assembly colleagues.

So no clouds on SDLP horizon? Actually….yes.

The subject of Opposition will be debated. It should be. I see merit it in. But I am neutral.

What it should not become is “personality based”. The leading advocates are Brid Rodgers, and Dolores Kelly who are both supporters of Conall McDevitt. Conall is heir apparent to Alasdair and probably the Leadership will fall into his lap anyway.

Alasdair is against Opposition but his single greatest weakness is double jobbing. It does not play well in itself but it also means Alasdair is not at Stormont.

But wha exactly is the alternative? The position of Alex Attwood is interesting. Alasdair will be rotating the SDLP Ministry in the summer. He will overlook Dolores, his titular Deputy Leader. Well if she is against SDLP being in Government then she can hardly expect the nomination. Realistically this has to go to the “Green” wing of SDLP….probably Patsy. While Dolores raised Opposition in her Conference speech in November, Alex has stayed on in the Executive so when he loses his Ministerial post, he can hardly claim to be GeForce Opposition…on principle.There would clearly be special pleading.

To brag rank, Opposition DOES have attractions but the proper response seems to be to call for a debate. But clearly losing that debate….or being seen to lose it…would weaken Alasdair and strengthen Conall.

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44 Responses to SDLP:Reasons To Be Cheerful?

  1. factual says:

    A good result for SDLP if only because decline has been arrested. That’s important. SDLP are attracting new voters and SF are no longer gaining vote share election-on-election as it had in the 1990s and 2000s.

    BTW did you grab any of Mick’s Digital Lunch – a good session I thought.

  2. bangordub says:

    Hmmm, I put a wee comment on Slugger earlier, no takers funny enough.
    “I am surprised that there is little being said about the fact that with an 8% lower turnout the SDLP actually increased its vote by 3% or 652 votes, a greater increase than Lutton achieved.
    I do recognise that McGlone has a high local profile and is generally well thought of.
    For me the questions are how many of those 3600 who didn’t vote since 2010 are nationalist voters? Did lutton manage to increase the turnout amongst unionist voters? (Yes as a percentage but not in actual terms surely?) and is there a residual nationalist electorate sympathetic to the dissident viewpoint who didn’t vote?”

    • It wouldn’t suit the Slugger O’Toole narrative.
      This result …not just SDLPs ….was not in the script.
      Slugger went overboard on the whole unionist outreach thing….and that’s now shown to be risible nonsense.
      They went overboard on SDLP in terminal decline…and that is now shown to be false.
      They went overboard on McCallister and McCrea but how could have a McUnionist have fitted into Mid ULster.That would have been even less votes for Sluggers favourite Party.
      and of course an unmitigated disaster for Alliance.

      What will Slugger do now? What comfort blanket can they cling to?
      Look out for a Belfast Telegraph opinion poll.
      That will make them happy.

  3. Bangor dub – you are not alone in spotting that result for the SDLP but as I said earlier they are so down it makes little odds. But it cheers the hearts of the faithful. Now you may crow about it halting the decline of the SDLP but unless there is a consistent swing, of bigger numbers, the SDLP will be the place bet. And Fitjames you are correct about the sluggerees. They are all over the shop avoiding the uncomfortable truth – the great unwashed are not following the script. I think I will pot that on the site. Just for the craic.

    • Good luck with telling anyone on Slugger that letsgetalongerism is a failure and that liberal unionism barely exists.
      Slugger plays Fantasy Politics in the way that some play Fantasy Football.
      In the Slugger world 79% of people vote for Integrated Education.
      In Mid Ulster 1.3% of people voted for it.

  4. hoboroad says:

    In the Slugger world 79% of people vote for Integrated Education.
    In Mid Ulster 1.3% of people voted for it.

    Good point I take it Yoda got this from one of his opinion polls. Reality bites for those living in Slugger World.

    • Lucid Talk poll..If I recall correctly.
      I think there was a Slugger thread two weeks ago headlined “79% of people want some form of Integrated Education…so why not John?”
      I pàraphrase.
      But in the light of the Mid Ulster result….a proper headline would be.
      “1.3% of people vote for Integrated Education… what’s all the fuss about with all you LetsGetAlongerist south Belfast/north down middle class types.?”

  5. hoboroad says:

    Not everyone in North Down is a LetsGetAlongerist middle class type for example I can think of a certain Blogger from this parish who might be a bit upset at you calling him one.

  6. factual says:

    To be fair most of the six counties are not like Mid Ulster and not like South Belfast so to extrapolate from one is as wrong as to extrapolate from the other.

    • Factual, in many ways, you are of course right, however, Mid-Ulster is like so many places up North. As is the case in so many areas, the city that can lay claim to be the place where most of the population resides and decisions are made and with a large media presence, whether Dublin, London or Belfast, seemingly has decisions, arguments and debates that are wholly centred on what the intelligentsia want in that area and extrapolate it to the whole.

      • factual says:

        FC you make good points. Mid Ulster seems different from other places in that (i) it seems more polarised than other places and (ii) it seems more rural than other places (iii) it has the lowest proportion of people who are of no religion and not stated (iv) the lowest percentage of people whose religion is non-Christian.

      • I would actually argue the bit out on point one. TBH, if you live in the countryside in the North, as with most places, most country folk/people are fairly civil to one another. I would note and contrast the behavior of the OO West of the Bann with how it gets on in Belfast, there’s no trouble with OO parades in Tyrone as each is civil and accommodating of one another, this is of course how good neighbors are. That and the OO knows that if they rock the boat like they would do in Portadown or elsewhere then they are in serious trouble.

        I cannot dispute points 2 to 4 but you will need to tie them in with why this makes the result so very different from elsewhere. For instance, I would say Fermanagh South Tyrone would be very much like this constituency, as would be Newry and Armagh, West Tyrone or South Down. All are overwhelmingly rural, nationalist areas and what is passed as the norm in places such as Belfast would not really fly in these areas, I would know, as someone whose family is entirely from Belfast, lived in North Armagh but was part of that early morning exodus from Lurgan to school in Newry at 8pm every morning, the attitudes in each of these areas are very different due to history and location and are often a far cry from what I read and hear in the MSM, hence my earlier response.

      • factual says:

        Seems a far way to go to school!

        Mid Ulster I think has a georaphic set up where people live in polarised communities in separate small villages not mixing with each other, wereas in other places the two religious communities are living next to each other.

        I take all your points on board – I don’t mean to say that Mid Ulster is completely different from some constituencies. So it would have some read across.

      • factual says:

        FC could you develop this point about how “the attitudes in each of these areas are very different due to history and location and are often a far cry from what I read and hear in the MSM”?

      • It was to a 14 yo, but you’d be amazed how quick you get used to it. That and the schooling in Newry is 2nd to none, that’s why all this talk of integrated educ and taking on RC schooling is a red herring, parents will die in a ditch to keep the 4 Newry grammars open as they’re excellent, well achieving schools.

        As for your point regarding everyone being ‘polarised’ in Mid-Ulster, that’s kind of the way it is up North in general. You will often find for instance a village being of one persuasion but its surrounding area being of another. This isn’t to say it’s polarised or perfect either, just that’s how it is.

        As for the last point, I could write a definitive book on it, as could many, but I will give it a lash sure 🙂

        You have Belfast with it’s history, large working class and massive amounts of sectarian inter-communal strife. In many ways, events moved a whole lot faster due to its size, the numbers involved, and close proximity of everyone to each other. Belfast is a tough city in many ways and it is not coincidental that most of the problems have and still occur here.

        North Armagh too has its own history. Its rural and yet the 2nd largest industrial area in the North as a whole. We have Portadown and Lurgan which has a Springfield v Shelbyville feel to it. The OO was founded in our area but the area is close on 50/50 between Nats and Unionists and has a very different feel to it than Belfast.

        As for Newry and the area, it’s in many ways at a cross roads. To its east you have South Down which is SDLP country; prosperous, quaint and nice. There are quite a few Protestants about yet there is little by way of communal strife about there. To its west you have South Armagh whose history is one many should know but lets be honest here, there’s is one of not taking crap off anyone. I am minded of something noted in the book ‘Bandit Country’ where it was noted that the IRA there did not organise in the typical cell structure as everyone knew one another and was in some way related to one another, there’s was a bond that’s hard to break and that region has a history of holding whomever was in charge to account by essentially lynching the last noble man type thing.

        Newry itself is a nice town and the people are fairly laid back in my experiences.

        I would strongly recommend you go up North and stay some some time up there, just get a feel for the place, every place is very different and the same, if that makes any sense?

      • factual says:

        Thanks FC.

        I think that the plan is that grammar schools will be phased out north of the border, as they are unfair, and that is the view of the current minister, the previous education minister, and the Catholic church.

      • Well aware of the plans Factual, but the chances of the happening ares slim to none. This is something I actually disagree with SF on tbh. If you are looking to pull underachieving kids up that’s fine but by dragging down the grammars smacks of envy tbh especially as some from massively under privileged back grounds (myself being the son of a single parent) have benefited from it.

        Like I said before, parents will die in a ditch before these schools are ruined.

      • factual says:

        FC not sure what the parents can do.

        This is to be a phased change. See this news story:

        Initially the grammars will admit 25% of pupils who don’t sit the test. Then the proportion will rise .

        Martin McGuinness, Caitriona Ruane, and (now) John are all in favour of these moves-an influential group in Sinn Fein as they are the last three education ministers. It is not about envy its about equality.

  7. To be fair how would you know Factual? are you still in London?

  8. Let’s be honest folks, it wasnt the most interesting of bye-elections, it wasn’t transformational or anything like that.

    For the SDLP, yes, not a bad result for a solid candidate. Decline in the vote has been somewhat arrested which is always good to see especially in such a one horse race as this was but I would always caution against reading or extrapolating far too much from this and trying to figure out how this may play out in the Assembly elections; both are different beasts as evidenced by unionism fielding a unity candidate. That’s a sign that they have given up on this part of the 6 counties.

    • factual says:

      Good points as ever FC. Not sure unionists have “given up” on Mid Ulster as they get two MLAs from there.

      • A unity candidate that didn’t even lay a glove on Francie in a bye-election, the best way to unseat an incumbent in westminster politics, if that’s not throwing in the towel I don’t know what is Factual.

      • factual says:

        You mean in terms of Westminster? I think that they didn’t expect it to work. Seems they did it as an experiment – or to give people a boost by cutting SF’s majority.

        In terms of MLAs I think they hope to retain their two in Mid Ulster and with 34% that should be attainable.

      • WM, of course. They will fight to the end for the MLAs but WM is long gone for them.

  9. factual says:

    After Alistair retires if Conal leader then – due to single jobbing – he would not take up the Westminster posting for South Belfast. Perhaps Claire Hanna will be the MP for South Belfast, joining Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie, and Conal will be the leader of SDLP, with Alex Attwood being minister and highly regarded Seamus de Faote or Niall Kelly being the second MLA for South Belfast.

    • Seamas De Faoite and Niall Kelly? Why would I want to vote for those young men? Nothing rong with them as people but if I had the choice someone with more life experience like Pat McCarthy would represent me. This obsession with people younger than some TV dinners I have ate really annoys me.

      • I know them both.
        They are making their way.
        There will of course come a time when their life experience matches their ability.
        And both have a taste for hard work…at constituency level.
        As I understand it Niall is now Political Advisor to Alban Magennis in North Belfast.

      • factual says:


        They have a lot of talent – both are progressives -you need to bring on young talent otherwiseyou will lose them.

  10. factual says:

    Can SDLP win a seat in FST on the basis of this result?

    In FST SF have Phil Flanagan, who hails from a business background, Bronwyn McGahan, a former republican prisoner, and Sean Lynch also a former republican prisoner and a fluent Irish speaker. Given that Michelle Gildernew is not standing next time, balancing should be better.

    It will be a hard ask for SDLP who got 9.6% of the vote in FST. Much will depend on whether they have a strong candidate.

    • FC ….you have to start on the basis that SDLP lost that seat in 2011 by something like 70 votes.
      Getting it back is a priority.
      Recovery on Mid Ulster proportions would win it back.
      In some ways this means replacing Tommy Gallagher as the main man in the area and the experienced members in the area are in my view…too old….and the newer people are just not experienced enough.
      Work needs to be done there…and is being done.

  11. Mick Fealty says:


    This is the post below yours on Slugger:

    It’s also substantially the post John ripped down from an earlier thread here, presumably because its way too getalongerist for his tastes…

    More detailed post on the SDLP to follow tomorrow on Slugger…

    • Most stuff on Slugger is far too LetsGetAlongerist for my taste. I’m guessing that the detailed posts on SDLP won’t be flattering.

      • factual says:

        FJH there are posts from those sympathetic to the TUV on slugger (Turgon) while the estimable Chris Donnelly holds the fort admirably for republicans so it is a site that caters to a wide range of tastes.

      • And who represents the SDLP view?
        It’s a pro Alliance and pro liberal unionist site.
        They will of course cater for TUV and SF fringe views.
        But these are hardly parties which will not impact on the likes of Alliance, Conservative or pro-union McUnionists.
        I hate to be paranoid…more so than usual….but Slugger O’Toole is probably under orders to target SDLP.
        Somewhere in a former library in Belfast, there is a race of green lizards, disguised as humans, who are the Master Race.

      • factual says:

        Mick Fealty has just written an insightful piece on Slugger all about the SDLP , highlighting several issues that confront the party in its current situation. Worth reading.

      • You say “insightful” but I say “grudging and minimalist”
        exactly what I’d expect when Mick Fealty addresses the subject of the SDLP.
        You thought it worth reading….
        What Mick is doing is not merely writing a piece…insightful or not….but providing a platform for the usual suspects of an Alliance persuasion to “comment”.
        This of course will distract everyone from the real story of the Mid Ulster result….according to David Ford….the Alliance performance.
        Mission accomplished on Slugger. 🙂

      • bangordub says:

        In fairness you did reply in a fashion to my post although it was addressed to another commenter. I posed 3 questions.
        How many of those 3600 who didn’t vote since 2010 are nationalist voters?
        Did lutton manage to increase the turnout amongst unionist voters? Is there a residual nationalist electorate sympathetic to the dissident viewpoint who didn’t vote?
        I can’t see an answer to any of those questions in your answer (below)

        “a surprising number of Unionists, wrongly, seem to have thought a joint Unionist candidate could win.”

        One, I think this is #fleg related. There was not a pup’s chance in hell of a unionist taking that seat. And any unionist voter who thought there was needs to take a long rest and a lie down.

        Unity worked because the narrative was ‘we’re under attack, circle the wagons’ worked. Again I do agree we should not draw too much from so little but nicking 1% (where did the other 1% go?) of the vote share from Francie Molloy will not go unremarked upon in Orange Halls, not just in MU but in any other places where unionism is under stress.

        Two, I’d add to your analysis of Francie running from a ‘square go’ with Patsy on the TV and say that this is was not an election to Westminster, this was a combined retirement do and party fundraiser for SF. Not a great motivator. Though I note both Francie and Martin were on GMU blaming the media (whom they blatantly ignored) for not advertising it as a closer match than it actually was.

        Three, the SDLP rise of 3% is mildly disappointing. But it can take some comfort that it’s the only big party that actually put on votes rather than lost them (which even the Unity candidate did) in an election where the candidate was getting squeezed to buggery.

        This should be considered in the light of the fact that SF actually ran four candidates last time out and nearly lost Francie Molloy whose home base has been slowly wasting away under him (which is another reason why he’s been put out to grass).

        Putting things back to the way they were in 2007, is a pretty modest achievement for SDLP. But compare three per cent to up to three per cent down? Feel the difference? To a starving man that’s a timely reassurance that your leader’s tactics of shutting up and get on with renovating the machinery is having some effect.

        For a slow, sustainable comeback it may even suit party managers to undershoot targets than overshoot them.

        Take that squeeze out of the picture, and insert STV where cross party voting is more in evidence and a brand new SF MLA trying to revitalise the party in Coalisland post Francie and there could be some interesting play there 2 or 3 years hence.

        Certainly Francie’s election leaflet spent as much time selling party colleagues as it did Francie himself…

        Interesting times…”

      • Mick Fealty says:

        Sorry Dub. Though you just meant the relative success of the SDLP. I think I said Patsy was the only one to increase his absolute vote, so no tho the Lutton Q. Given Francie was down the most Id say biggest drop was by far Nat voters. But Id not over play that. As to the appeal of dissers, Id take it as read that’s its growing in all Republican heartlands. My analysis largely focuses on practical matters SDLP got right in a falling market. I’ve not asked why the market is falling, though G Lynch points out the squeezing of voter fraud out of the system is another downward pressure on turnout.

      • Mick Fealty says:

        That post of mine was written concurrently with yours. That’s why there was no point by point answer.

      • bangordub says:

        Thanks Mick,
        I’m sure FJH will have something to say regarding the voter fraud point

      • I’m a big fan of Voter Fraud.
        My first vote was in June 1970, just a month after my 18th birthday.
        when I walked into the polling station, the address at which I was registered had been knocked down…slum clearance …about two months before.
        As I was youthful looking then (and still of course am) the polling officers looked at each other and one asked “do you mind me asking how old you are.”
        And I simply replied…in a rare example of pre-Internet prickliness (for which I have a reputation) “yes I do”
        And nobody posed the question.
        No challenge.
        But my early experiences of voter fraud acting as a SDLP polling agent in a predominantly unionist part of (then) west Belfast was of an kick the Pope band coming in to vote….marching in.
        Of course a band coming into vote is not in itself evidence of fraud….but the fact that they had to read their own names from their polling cards might be evidence.
        Of course, a lot of people “invite” challenges….there’s a bit of compensation involved if you’re wrongly challenged.
        But I rarely saw any evidence of it myself. Anecdotal evidence that some SDLP votes in West Belfast were stolen by the The Stickies….remember in the 1970s the Provos were not really involved in elections.
        There is a big difference from plugging a vote and stealing a vote.
        In the old days, people took the view that Dead People, the Infirm, that Students resideNt elsewhere have Civil Rights….including the right to vote.
        And only liberal unionists (the type of people who regard nationalists and Catholics as children of a lesser GOD) think that unionists didn’t do this sorta thing.
        But stealing a vote…now that’s just wrong.
        Frankly I was disappointed that my local Polling Officer had retired as I enjoyed my regular confrontations with him…over the eligibility of my passport.

        But a curious thing….voter fraud IS on the rise…in England.
        Wonder what they will do about it?

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