SDLP YOUTH CONFERENCE.
It is interesting and welcome that SDLP Youth have incorporated the name of Paddy Wilson, SDLP member (and friend of my father) into their organisation.
SDLP is very bad with History.
In 2009, I approached SDLP HQ with a request to see the first edition (late 1973) of the “Social Democrat” newspaper. I had written an article, proposing a SDLP Youth Group. To my surprise, they do not have it in an archive …all such things were sent to the Linenhall Library.
For the record, I did get to put this proposal to a sub-committee of the SDLP Executive in Dungannon. Nobody in the “senior” Party was interested. But I did get a letter from a “M Ritchie in Downpatrick” but I deemed her too young to be a member. Whatever happened M Ritchie? Well….she grew up to be Margaret Ritchie, a SDLP Leader and currently the Westminster MP for South Down.
So thats ok then.
There is a wikipedia article on the founding (sic) of SDLP Youth. A few years ago, I edited that entry to show the failed attempt to form it in 1973/74. Alas it was edited immediately and all reference to me and that presentation in the Dunowen Restaurant in Dungannon has been deleted.
Did I mention SDLP is very bad with History?
When I left SDLP in 1981, it was a combination of reasons. A fiancée who did not want her future hubby involved in politics…the Hunger Strikes, changing things, I had no affection for new homes in Dungannon or a Lough Neagh village and of course Norn Iron nationalism was at a much lower point than the Sunningdale euphoria of 1973/74.
I was 27 years old in 1981. And I was 59 when I rejoined SDLP in 2011. I am pleased that it has a successful Youth Group. People like Colum Eastwood, Claire Hanna, Daniel McCrossan and Nichola Mallon have passed thru its ranks. Others, currently only known in local areas or within SDLP will be well-known in the next decade.
I am happy that this generation is manifestly succeeding where I manifestly failed.
There is a strange connexion and disconnexion.
Re-joining the Party in 2011, I have missed thirty odd years of personal development. My only youthful contemporary from 1973/74 is Alban Maginnis. But in 2011, in SDLP terms I thought of myself as 59 going on 27 because effectively the young people I met then were at the same point of political development that I was in the 1970s.
The role of a “youth group” in a political party is to embarras the Leadership. And before any of my youthful colleagues get irritated by that statement, I am actually quoting from a speech by Mark Durkan MP at the 2013 SDLP Youth Conference.
Of course he was right about that and some young folks…not nearly enough…have entered into that with gusto.
There are two ways to look at SDLP Youth.
I can be patronising or I can be honest.
They have their hearts in the right place…on their sleeves…but ironically their biggest failure seemed like a success. A few years ago, SDLP Youth picked up eight seats on the Party Executive. Simply put…it was too many. First off, they had used the voting system to trade off votes. They appeared to be a “Party within a Party” and their own commitment to procedures, agendas, amendments was not really matched by being politically savvy.
The veterans in the Executive were able to run rings around them and made damned sure there would never be so many youths in the Executive again.
Not surprisingly young people look to gurus within SDLP. This not surprisingly was Conall McDevitt who nurtured QUB students in his South Belfast constituency before sending them out around Norn Iron….as Jesus sent out disciples around Judea.
This role is now taken on by Claire Hanna, also in South Belfast.
The great difference between 2016 and 1973 is that nowadays SDLP Youth is effectively a “student” thing. Back in 1973, it would if it had got off the ground have involved students, workers, apprentices, young clerical workers. Students are BOTH a strength and a weakness. Yes, they can write a 2,000 word essay on the workings of the European Parliament and be energetic canvassing and voting fodder for an ambitious politician….but ultimately students live in a “student politics” bubble, tweeting with other young folks in other political parties.
Some young people going to university are without focus for a couple of years. Others are focussed from the moment the envelope with A level results drop thru the letterbox. Some can do the networking from an early stage. But ending up elected to Westminster, Stormont and as staffers or going to lobbying firms, NGOs or Brussels is a long shot. Few would have the enthusiasm for local councils but the networking will help in careers in Law, Journalism and Business.
The theme of tomorrows Conference is the next century…the Future. Halfway thru the next century, I will be…or more likely wont be 114 years old. If there is one thing that I cant be arsed about …it is the Future.
Thats for young people. In twenty years the current “youth” generation in all parties will be making decisions. I will agree with few of them.
So I wont be attending the SDLP Youth Conference. Whatever plans young people have for me, I can wait twenty years to find out. Dont spoil the surprise for me….but I am guessing I am missing a discussion about Europe, Marriage Equality, Reproductive Rights, votes at sixteen, integrated education….and of course tomorrow will have references to Orlando, Florida and Jo Cox.
Ah the murder of an elected politician…like Paddy Wilson in 1973.
Hopefully when Jo Cox is referenced tomorrow, it will be linked to Paddy Wilson.
But then again SDLP are very bad at History.
Did I mention that?