I really had no intention of doing a post on the Sinn Féin defection (Sorcha McAnespy) in West Tyrone. A regular reader of this Blog (“Sinn Féin Supporter in West Tyrone”) raised it in a comment and kindly stated that there was nothing to see here and it was all sour grapes. I of course saw a pattern …look at Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
That is of course what Bloggers and “commenters” do…talk up problems in other parties and minimise the problems in their own.
So…West Tyrone. The basics are that there are six Assembly seats and four will be nationalist and two will be unionist. It should be simple…until we look at disaffection within both SF and SDLP.
Of the four nationalist seats, it is certain three will be go to Sinn Féin, not least because SDLP is only fielding one candidate.
Although, Sorcha McAnespy is standing as an Independent, she has stated that she is not in disagreement with any SF policy. Her beef is with the local party…favouritism and nepotism with a dash of bias against women. I cant see her winning a seat. These internal disputes look bad to voters but realistically outside her own base, I cant see her attracting much support. It is an irritation for Sinn Féin but not a serious problem.
SDLP is also dealing with the fall-out of two local SDLP councillors resigning.And theres some similarity. But arguably, SDLP problems are more deep rooted.
In 2003 Assembly SDLP lost a seat to a local Independent, a doctor. And in 2005 Westminster Election polled badly against him. But fielding three candidates in 2007, polling more than a quota and still not managing a quota was ample evidence of poor vote management and a divided party.
Having no MLA in West Tyrone seems like a watershed.
Joe Byrne won back the seat in 2011 and there is strong evidence that SDLP has made steady improvement in 2014 and 2015….Daniel McCrossan having a comfortable quota in the Westminster race.
I first heard Daniel speak at the 2011 SDLP Conference and it was very evident that he was both MLA material and had the ambition to become one. It was also evident that he was Joe Byrnes heir apparent.
The personality clashes have never really gone away. Patsy Kelly in Strabane has always seemed semi-detached.
But the emergence of Dr Jo Deehan in Omagh seems a bigger problem. Certainly before the emergence of Daniel, she seemed the most likely successor. She missed out in 2007 and realistically that was her chance gone.
Daniel was selected as an Assembly candidate …the sole candidate…for the 2016 Election. Perhaps understandably Dr Deehan and her supporters felt she should also be on the ticket. The case was made that it was about gender balance and geographical balance.
My own position is clear but nuanced.
1 there is one SDLP quota in West Tyrone.
2 a second (female and Omagh-based) candidate WOULD add to the SDLP vote.
3 that increase would not be enough to elect a second candidate.
4 it MIGHT elect Dr Deehan rather than Danny.
5 Danny McCrossan is in my view the better candidate.
So running two candidates might elect the “wrong” MLA. Danny is the better person for 2016.
It should also be pointed out that since his co-option (Joe Byrne has been in ill health) to the Assembly, Danny has been brilliant and has of course an advantage.
Really running two candidates would run the risk of Danny losing out to a running mate but I think a small risk worth taking in the name of unity.
To be clear, I regard Danny as a friend. I have only come across Dr Deehan once (she chaired a working group at a conference in March 2012). Perhaps unfair to judge on one brief inter-action but I was not impressed.
So it is a distraction we can do without. Both Patsy Kelly and Dr Deehan will stand as Independents. They will damage Danny slightly in Strabane and Omagh but not enough. Much like Sorcha McAnespy and Sinn Féin.
So…few will disagree. Unionists 2 seats…Nationalists 4 (SF 3 SDLP 1).