The more I see of West Tyrone, the more I get the feeling of Deja Vu.
To recap, two councillors have left SDLP and are standing as Independents against the sole SDLP flagbearer, Danny McCrossan.
Yet I am now so old that I have seen everything in Politics….twice.
Apparently the Independents are disenchanted about cronyism and the absence of a female candidate on the ticket.
On sheer numbers, SDLP have a quota …based on 2014 council elections and 2015 Westminster. And on the numbers alone, one candidate is reasonable.
And entirely right that Danny McCrossan should be the candidate.
Yet there is more to these things than “numbers”. The internal politics suggests it might be a good idea to run Dan and Dr Jo Deehan. Not to put too fine a point on it…for party unity and to shut her up.
Obviously in the scenario of two candidates and one quota, the allocation of territory is important but on the basis of Dan being the sitting MLA and in most peoples view the better candidate for 2016, then its unlikely that Dr Deehan can out-vote him.
In 2007 in one of the worst examples of vote management, three SDLP candidates secured a quota but could not turn that into a single seat. To be fair, Dr Deehan polled best of the three.
Dr Deehan might have had reasonable expectancy of being seriously considered for 2016 if she had been the Party’s candidate in 2010 (Westminster), 2011 (Assembly) and 2015 (Westminster).
Totally unreasonable to expect to be the candidate in 2016 and almost as unreasonable to be the second candidate.
She is not just Yesterday’s Candidate. She is The Day Before Yesterday’s Candidate.
Yet it was pretty obvious to me in 2011, when Daniel McCrossan spoke on behalf of the Strabane branch, when he picked up the (shared) Dan McAreavey Trophy at the SDLP Conference, that he was a future MLA. The achievement was re-vitalising the branch…but in the context of 2011 and a poor Assembly Election (and a Conference that would elect a new Leader), Dan was very blunt.
The message on the doorsteps was not “we never left the SDLP….the SDLP left us”.
Amid self congratulatory platitudes, it was good to hear. And in fairness to Dan, he can claim to have been instrumental in turning the tide in the years since.
As far as I know Dr Deehan has no beef with SDLP policy. If she had been a candidate at Monday’s manifesto launch, she would have cheered Colum Eastwood to the rafters.
The fact is that in 2011 Joe Byrne took the seat, with little more than 8 per cent of first preference votes. And in an unwinnable seat in 2015. Dan got 15% of the vote…a solid quota.
Is the good work undone?
No….look at 2011, when Eugene McMenamin Strabane based ex SDLP MLA took over 1,000 votes.
Can Strabane-based councillor Patsy Kelly top that? Aided by the SDLP label, he polled 800 votes in 2014 “locals”.
Likewise in 2011, Patrick McGowan (Independent) got around 1,000 votes. He might be the same Patrick McGowan who has signed Dr Deehans nomination papers this time around.
Of around 3,000 votes (including Alliance 800) excluded at the same stage of a count in 2011, a third went to Joe Byrne, a third to other candidates and a third not transferred.
So really, 2011 to 2015 is the yardstick.
Dan will get a higher percentage than Joe in 2011 but below his own total of 2015.
The lower Kelly vote and the lower Deehan vote will transfer to SDLP.
Of course, Colum Eastwood will play a role here with appearances in the constituency and TV appearances.
But most of the work has to be done by Dan. His high profile in the SDLP campaign…like Monday nights confident TV performance will help.
I am sure he is frustrated by it all. But unlike me….he needs to avoid rhetoric like “The Day Before Yesterday’s Woman” (its a damned good line though isnt it?). He needs to reflect…sadness, disappointment, respect for an excellent former colleague and not appear angry.
He will come thru to be elected.