As I have stated here on several occasions, I voted SDLP from 1970 (Gerry Fitt was of course actually Republican Labour at the time) until 1993. From the period 1993 until 2009, I voted Sinn Féin. At first as anti-SDLP because of a dispute. And later as an act of conviction.
It is my perception that many of Sinn Féins vote is “soft”. It is also my perception that in the current decade of commemoration, Sinn Féin’s rush to be reconcilatory is compromising too much. This is exactly the same kinda behaviour which spooked moderate or mainstream nationalists to desert SDLP after 1998.
I think Sinn Féins “soft vote” or to characterise it another way…the nationalist/republican “floating voter” is under-estimated. Now in fairness during the ill-starred leadership of Margaret Ritchie (2010-2011) the SDLP could not capitalise on the earliest manifestation of Sinn Féin compromising too much. And of course SDLP had organisational difficulties.
Now SDLP is clearly addressing organisational difficulties. It is addressing recruitment. And for example last night SDLP Youth were leafleting Ballynahinch, Co Down.
But there are two distinct problems here. SDLP fights Sinn Féin all over Norn Iron. And it fights Alliance Party in suburban Belfast. Fighting on two fronts is difficult and SDLP has been using two different tactics on two fields of battle.
The tactic in dealing with the Alliance Party is to be reconcilatory. The tactic with Sinn Féin is to be confrontational. The SDLP must make a choice of one tactic.
Earlier today I was talking to a SDLP member. Political partisans are always different to mainstream voters. The SDLP person was extremely hostile to Sinn Féin. But I only stopped voting Sinn Féin three years ago. As the SDLP person said…….and I have of course heard it before “well I couldnt vote for murderers”. But the thing is….that view might well be held by a number of SDLP members. And held by a large number of SDLP voters. But the thing is that it is clearly not held by the persons who …..for one reason or another……stopped voting SDLP after 1998. And clearly it is not a view held by me.
I certainly had a problem voting Sinn Féin in the few years after 1993. I had even less problem after the Good Friday agreement. Now it strikes me that SDLP needs to win back a lot of voters from Sinn Féin. I certainly believe it is possible. But dismissing me as merely the kinda person who would vote for “murderers” is hardly the right way to go about it. A minority of SDLP members need to stop thinking as Sinn Féin voters as children of a lesser God.
Best leave that kinda moral high ground for the scumbags in the Alliance Party.
As “lost sheep” go….I am hardly a “big fish” to mix the metaphor.
But it strikes me as absurd that SDLP are not making a more realistic play for ex-voters while chasing after votes that were never SDLP in the first place. To recover its position…..certainly possible…..there is a choice. And the more realistic choice is to go after ex-voters rather than new voters.
Too many SDLP Conferences have been treated to the assorted opinions of Duncan Morrow, Rev Norman Hamilton, John McCallister MLA……and Davey Adams for Gods sake.
It would be nice if an upcoming SDLP Conference was actually adressed by……say……Brian Feeney.