I am not usually a big fan of SDLP paying too much attention to “other voices”. At SDLP Annual Conference 2010, SDLP members were treated to a critique from (among others) Duncan Morrow, Rev Norman Hamilton and (God save us!) Davey Adams “a journalist”. Conference 2011 also had input from “other voices”.
Of course the SDLP has a record of listening to other people. Memorably John Hume listened to Gerry Adams and the consequence of the Peace Process and Agreement has been to bring Sinn Féin into the political system. This has been at the electoral expense of the SDLP. Although this is a rare example of honourable politicians putting Country before Political Advantage…….unionists are not exactly forgiving about it and Sinn Féin is not exactly grateful.
Yet listening to other voices is a key part of SDLPs “DNA”. Entirely honourable but it needs a degree of balance. Which is why Alasdair McDonnell’s conversation within SDLP is to be welcomed and is bearing fruit.
So I was initially disappointed that John McCallister was chosen as a keynote speaker at the SDLP Youth Conference (14th April). But two points. The notion that the Deputy Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party could address a SDLP Conference in the Beechmount area of West Belfast, without any security detail is refreshing. Indeed the SDLPs decision to have another conference (there was a recent seminar on Welfare changes) in the nationalist/republican capital of Norn Iron is a statement of intent in itself. The second point is that if I had to listen to “another voice” it would be John McCallister.
I dont think it is proper to “report” anything that John McCallister said. It was both entertaining and informative. But it was NOT “Outreach”. “Outreach” is a buzz word and little more than a political tactic. What John McCallister did was much more human…….he was revealing himself to be a very decent individual, at ease with himself and his own views and totally at ease with other people and their views. There is ………as they say in Belfast …….”no side to the man”.
But one note of caution. John McCallister is indeed Deputy Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. But he is atypical. His bid for the Leadership of his Party was defeated by a margin of 81% to 19%.