SDLP Leadership contender Colum Eastwood describes a “United Ireland” (code, by the way, for a “United Irish Republic with no constitutional connection to Great Britain”) as the “greatest idea that we have”.
In so doing, he sums up the SDLP’s pointlessness in AD 2015.
Indeed, when asked straight out how those unconvinced might be persuaded of this “great idea” on television last week, one of his own Assembly colleagues literally had nothing at all to say.
If it were a “great idea”, people would be converting to it; practical debate would rage about it; indeed, anyone would be able to see the value of it and make a case for it. None of that is the case.
In fact, across the island, in the short and medium term (even in the long term given the current financial reality), this “greatest idea that we have” is a minority interest among all groups in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.
What would be a “great idea” would be the development of a welfare system which actually helps people out of poverty rather than trapping them in it. What would be a “great idea” would be a health reform which focused on patients not bureaucracy. What would be a “great idea” would be an economic development policy which created real jobs in high-value, export-focused industries. Suggesting that the “greatest idea we have” is a long-term constitutional change which may never happen is completely out of touch with those whose real interests are living standards, health and jobs.
The Nationalist parties received a lower vote share and 40,000 fewer votes in May than they did in the last equivalent election pre-Agreement despite “favourable demographics” – and even of those, the SDLP received barely a third compared to three fifths less than two decades ago. It is hard to ignore the obvious conclusion that broadly Nationalist voters are growing tired of politicians with nothing to say to them on real-life issues, and who keep harping on about a long-term aspiration which they may share but which does not affect their lives right now.
Why – versus a decade or two decades ago – are fewer people voting? Why, even among those still voting, are fewer voting Nationalist? Why, even among those voting Nationalist, are fewer voting SDLP? I have not seen a single one of these questions posed. It is hard to find the right answers if you haven’t even bothered with the right questions.
What people need are “great ideas” on reducing poverty, improving health, and creating jobs. Given by its insistence of focusing on a long-term minority interest, the SDLP has run out of them.