So…”The Hive”, Grosvenor Road, Belfast. Less than half a mile from where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. Once a Westie, always a Westie. In the end, around two hundred people in attendance. A lot from Derry and a lot of familiar SDLP faces …Brid Rodgers, Dolores Kelly MLA, Claire Hanna MLA, Alex Attwood MLA and a fair mix of veteran councillors, youth members etc
And of course some journalists and David McCann of Slugger O’Toole.
Ronan McCay from Northland SDLP (Derry) kicked off procedings, reminding us that he is a candidate for Party Chair and itself a reminder that the nebulous slogan of “Change” is not just about the Leadership. This will affect the Party Executive elections and I think a lot can depend on how well McDonnell or Eastwood supporters have organised themselves…how long has this contest been organised in advance of official announcements. And how well the Party members register is up to date.
Claire Hanna spoke warmly of the two of them starting their careers together, attending a SNP conference in Inverness in 2003 with Colum Eastwood. And returning recently to Glasgow and discovering that many ofthe young activists in SNP are now Scottish Government ministers. SNP was then in the doldrums and the SNP had made nationalism relevant.
She said this was not about SDLP internal fights
Taking the fight to Robinson, McGuinness, the paramilitaries and the British and Irish governments.
Colum paid tribute to Claire and joked that Brid and Dolores had given up tickets to see One Direction. Standing for the Leadership of SDLP is “standing on the shoulders of giants….John (Hume) Seamus (Mallon) Eddie (McGrady) Joe (Hendron) Mark (Durkan) and “others”. I will be frank ..I was disappointed that (in West Belfast) of all places Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin were not name checked. Of course, no offence was intended and not every SDLP “giant” can be mentioned but while SDLP celebrates forty five years….there is a curious attitude in SDLP that the Party really only began with the leadership of John Hume. It relegates some very brave men and women like Paddy Wilson, Claude Wilton, John Turnley, Ivan Cooper, Desmond Gillespie and others to footnotes.
SDLP makes HISTORY but it steadfastly refuses to recognise its own History. It is not Colum’s fault of course because older members should be talking about SDLP History. And the very young folks swelling SDLP Youth branches need to be taught.
Making Norn Iron work…..education, health, jobs, housing
No point in equality in jobs….if unemployment is sky high.
Colum joked about Brid and Dolores giving up their tickets for One Direction to be at his launch and he was genuinely overwhelmed by the numbers in attendance.
It was a nailed on certainty that the theme of the night would be “progressive nationalism”.
But Colum Eastwood was talking about the people the things and people we seek to represent..Truth, Justice….Victims, the Disadvantaged.
On Opposition….thereshould be a place called Opposition but SDLP is a Party that will seek a mandate to govern.
The Petition of Concern procedures should be reviewed.
We have North-South Lite…We are about North-South Max.
Irish unity? ….we must make it a “demographic of belief not birth”.
The SDLP are Persuaders for Irish Unity.
With a nod to 1998, Colum said that there has been enough time to bed the institutions down and now was the time to “move on” to a new path.
Perhaps the most dramatic phrase of the night….”I am fed up with losing”.
That phrase resonated with his audience. Is it fair? Well, I am not so much fed up with losing but I have become fed up with having the right tactics, good players, playing well and getting constant no-score draws.
We deserve a bit better. And so does Alasdair McDonnell.
But has he failed? The glass is either half full or half empty and there is no compelling evidence that it is getting better or worse and thats the weakness in the McDonnell and Eastwood agendas.
Maybe whatever is in the glass is evaporating because allied with “Anybody but McDonnell” serial naysayers, there is an impatient mainstream in the Party. Ultimately Eastwood’s launch is only one factor here….because it has been a bad week for SDLP….West Tyrone, the resignation of Rosemary Flanagan as Party Chair and a poor television performance by Alasdair.
I dont know. I am not impressed by the need for this Contest. A dignified resignation in the wake of would have been better than this. And I am not a big fan of the way Alasdair has been treated since he assumed the leadership in 2011.
Two things. If Alasdair wins, the “Anybody but Alasdair” faction wont go away. And they will look beyond Colum, who is the natural successor. And that would be a pity. And if Colum wins, he can expect his own supporters and mainstream McDonnell supporters to get behind him….but it really isnt McDonnell supporters he would need to worry about.