I think Tim Attwood is probably the best known SDLP member who is not a MLA (Member of Stormont Assembly). In part, there is the name recognition factor. He is after all brother of Alex Attwood.
Unsurprisingly Tim is opposed to the SDLP-Fianna Fáil partnership agreement. But he states he is not going forward in the May Council elections because of “personal and political reasons”. And we have to respect that. End of at least half the story.
He remains a member of SDLP. The SDLP has lost surprisingly few members since it ratified the partnership by a factor of 70:30. No doubt many who lost the vote will accept the decision while others make the (reasonable) judgement that it will all end badly and they can help pick up the pieces.
If the experiment fails, it is likely that Colum Eastwood will be challenged as Leader but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he would be replaced by a “I told you so” candidate.
The electoral consequences are more problematic. SDLP has a reasonably safe quota in Blackmountain DEA and I think Tim has actually increased his profile since 2014. But there are warning signs.
While a quota of approx. 1,700 and a first preference vote of 1,400 seems comfortable, it was a very unbalanced vote…Tim took around 1,250 while running mate, Gerard McDonnell took only 150 votes. This is due to name recognition, an excellent record, the inexperience of Gerard and a very high personal vote for Tim.
Things have changed of course. Gerard is now Vice Chair of SDLP and better known and from the same “labourite” wing of the Party. Logically SDLP will field one candidate and most likely, Gerard McDonnell.
At best, I rate SDLP chances of holding its one seat in this seven-seat constituency at 50:50. Sinn Féin predictably hold five seats and People Before Profit hold one seat.
I declare an interest. In the 1970s I was Secretary of the Falls Branch of SDLP and I lived in (what is now) Blackmountain DEA. Who knows? Maybe if I had stayed in Belfast, I would be the candidate.
Yet I feel no connexion to the party in West Belfast. I have found them surprisingly lacking in knowledge about Party history in the 1970s. For example the location of constituency offices at the time or their elevation of Paddy Devlin above Desmond Gillespie (most don’t even know the name) in SDLP West Belfast history.