The Great West Tyrone SDLP Candidate Selection Controversy

As soon as we get to the point of selecting candidates for an election, we get some controversy…internal jockeying for position and the inevitable row betweendisgruntled locals and Party HQ.

Take the SDLP Selection Convention in West Tyrone last week. Predictably Daniel McCrossan (27) one of the bright young people in the Party has been selected. After all he ran reasonably well as the Westminster candidate in May. A declaration of interest. I like Dan. I first heard him speak at a Party Conference in 2011 andwas very impressed with him. He has done a lot to make SDLP credible in West Tyrone. As he told the Conference “the people never left the SDLP….SDLP left the people”. Dan’s base is in the town of Strabane. Frankly expectations for the Council elections in 2014 were over-hyped. But to balance this Danny did deliver for Westminster. He did more than enough to ensure that SDLP had a safe quota for next year and since 2011, he has been the annointed successor to veteran Joe Byrne MLA.

Yet West Tyrone is an area where SDLP consistently underperforms. And is divided by personal animosity.

Recent history makes grim reading.

In 1998, SDLP had 28% of the votes and two MLAs ….Joe Byrne (based in Omagh) and Eugene McMenamin (Strabane).

In 2003, the vote share dropped below 15% and Joe lost his seat.

In 2007, the vote share stayed much the same but McMenamin lost the sole seat. How is it possible to get a quota and still have nobody gets elected? Well….running three candidates was a very bad decision and the vote management was poor.

In 2011, the SDLP vote share fell below 10% but this looks worse than it actually is as McMenamin ran as an Independent. But Joe Byrne took back the seat.

The story of the last few years has been a slow but measurable recovery in West Tyrone and Daniel McCrossan has been at the heart of it. Certainly Dan ruffles feathers but surely his selection as SDLP candidate should be obvious.

So why the controversy? Well there are several people within West Tyone SDLP who think the Party should run two candidates with only one seat realistically attainable. Forty people have written to Party HQ and boycotted last weeks Selection Conference.

Seemingly the local Constituency Council decided to run two….a balanced ticket male and female and geographical with a candidate based in Strabane and another based in Omagh. Party HQ haunted by the over-confidence and mismanagement of 2007 has seemingly decreed one candidate.

Indeed one of the signatories of the letter is Dr Josephine Deehan, obviously female and Omagh-bassed and presumably a likely candidate along with Patsy Kelly (male and Strabane-based). Dr Deehan was one of the three candidates in the 2007 Shambles.

Who is right?

Well…strangely both. There is a quota and I actually believe two candidates would boost the vote marginally higher than Daniel’s Westminster vote. But I cant see any way it turns into two MLAs. The only real question is who gets the seat….McCrossan (or Kelly) or Deehan. To a large extent Dan has already dealt with the “geography” question by standing for Westminster. He is known thru the whole costituency.

More importantly, I believe that the time is right for Daniel. It does not always follow that “young people” (Dan is 27) are an answer to SDLP problems. Nor does it follow that unelected staffers (like Dan or like Conall McDevitt before him) are somehow better than elected local councillors like Patsy Kelly and Josephine Deehan (like Bernie Kelly).

So next step?

If Dan asked me….and if he has any sense….he wont!!!!……I would urge him to make the first move. Ask the Party to call a second convention with the intention of choosing two candidates. What is there to lose?

There is a 90% chance SDLP will take one seat (its what the voters want) and the balance of probability (80%) is that Dan will be the MLA.

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10 Responses to The Great West Tyrone SDLP Candidate Selection Controversy

  1. Mick Fealty says:

    Priority should be getting McCrossan in. The local keep fecking up. Next time definitely two but he needs home safely. Fact he’s from Strabane is a double bonus.

    Big Al doesn’t do micro management or diplomatic charm, which is a shame. FF in the south have had a number tough issues like this to solve and Martin just talked them long on it.

    Is this just about the second seat or is it buggins’ turn down there? Dan is Al’s second intervention…

    • I think all reasonable people would see Daniel as th obvious successor to Joe Byrne. So I dont see it as a big deal but it is an irritation.
      Anybody would see that McCrossan did well enough in May to show there is a definite quota there. There IS a logic to two candidates….geography (but Dan clears that hurdle) and gender (not much he can do about that) but there are solo female candidates in East Antrim, South Antrim and Upper Bann…and Id guess one or two places where no decision is yet made.

      iN South Belfast the gender balance is achieved. And on out of three in South Down.
      Only Derry is likely to run three males. but there is no suggestion anywhere in SDLP that any female has been ruled out on grounds of gender and no suggestion that any have been promoted because of gender.
      The SDLP have the best ratio of female to male at council level, particuarly among new councillors so it shouldnt be a problem.
      As th first signatory to the letter Dr Deehan describes herself as a “councillor and candidate” so realistically the gender-geography thing is about …Dr Dehan.
      On balance Dan is the better single candidate. hE has revived SDLP fortunes there (along with Joe Byrne) and Dr Deehan was one of the three candidates in the mismanaged 2007 election. Am I right in saying she outpolled sitting MLA McMenamin.
      To look at it coldly, she missed the boat in 2007….and its not Geography and Gender that are her problem. It is Generational.

      Anybody with the best interests of SDLP at heart would know McCrossan would do better than Deehan.
      I dont think there is anything to lose by letting Deehan run alongside McCrossan.A small risk.
      Those with long memories will know that the SDLP problems in West Tyrone go back to Brid Rodgers being the candidate (Westminster 1992). A local would have done better.

    • A leader he allows others to micromanage, as leader he has to be someone that has to macro-manage all of the micro managements … that’s part of the problem.

  2. boondock says:

    The in fighting is a big turn off for the voters and West Tyrone even by SDLP standards is ridiculous when it comes to squabbling fiefdoms. I always find it interesting that in the SDLP the main troublemakers with all the opinions about everyone else are the ones who inherited healthy vote percentages in their constituencies and then over the last 10 -15 years just sat back and watched them vaporise but have the cheek to blame anyone but themselves.

    • I think theres a difficulty setting out canvassing boundaries. And sitting MLAs worry…after all their livelihoods depend on it. Its not about greed.
      After all Dara O’Hagan can lose her seat to fellow SF person John O’Dowd and find herself a Special Advisor to Martin McGuinness…cos everybody allegedly earns the same wage.

  3. roddy says:

    There’s nothing”allegedly” about it.At least 6 SF MLAs have left the party on bad terms since 98.Many of them have reinvented themselves as super Republicans.It would be in their interests to diss the AIW policy but they can’t because they know AIW is a fact.

    • It IS obviously “allegedly”.
      Nobody has seen anything that could be described as “evidence”. Do you have any?
      All we have is Sinn Féins word for it …and you will forgive me for not doing that.
      Maybe all those solicitors hired by SF are on the average industrial wage.
      But tell me more about the SF strategy in North Antrim.

  4. roddy says:

    Defectors who now hate SF would love to be able to debunk AIW.However their experience in the party means they had to adhere to AIW like everyone else.

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