SDLP deputy leader, Patsy McGlone, officially launched his campaign for the party leadership in Derry this week, pledging to work towards both party and national unity.
Introducing Mr McGlone to assembled party figures at Da Vinci’s Hotel on Wednesday evening, the North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginess said that “Derry will be the renaissance of the SDLP.”
SDLP founder member and civil rights leader Ivan Cooper, who was also present, told the ‘Journal’: “The SDLP is the most relevant political party today” and “absolutely” reflects its founding values.
In a tight four-way race, the leadership candidates are working hard to secure delegates ahead of the November 5 vote. The other candidates are Environment Minister Alex Attwood, South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt and South Belfast MP Alisdair McDonnell. Indications suggest Mr Attwood and Mr McGlone are leading the field.
Delegates remain cagey about their voting intentions: the SDLP at all levels emphasises a detemination to keep the contest clean and out of the media.
Amongst Derry delegates, Mr Attwood is expected to receive the most votes. One of his most high profile supporters, ex-Mayor of Derry Colum Eastwood, is the only MLA to have publicly endorsed any candidate. Mr Attwood received leadership nominations from the Shantallow and Tirkeeran branches of the party.
MLA Pat Ramsey is said to be close to Alasdair McDonnell’s campaign, while SDLP Youth leader Eamon McAuley, a recently elected councillor for Northland, reportedly backs McDevitt.
No Derry MLAs were present at Mr McGlone’s launch, though Councillors Jimmy Carr and Shaun Gallagher gave the Mid Ulster MLA their support.
In his launch speech, Mr McGlone promised a greater emphasis on reunification under his leadership, and his plans to grow the work and influence of the presently obscure North-South instituions. As leader he would employ a full-time staff member in Dublin, and would seek to make unemployed people in border areas eligible for the Republic’s controversial ‘Jobs Bridge’ scheme.
Mr McGlone also pledged to give front line public sector workers the job protection currently afforded only to senior civil servants and police officers.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ afterwards, Mr McGlone described his ‘constitutional republican’ stance as “a clarification” of the SDLP’s commitment to nationalism. He traces the SDLP’s lineage back to civil rights, but also back to O’Connell and Wolfe Tone. Mr McGlone saw no contradiciton between promoting “practical social democracy” and a call for corporation tax to be cut to 12.5%. When prompted, he pledged to enforce his policy on protecting front line public sector workers in whatever department the SDLP controls under his leadership, saying they “deserve a special form of protection: they’re not there to be used and abused.”
With regard to the rest of the runners, Conall McDevitt is said to favour leading the SDLP out of the Executive and into opposition, hoping that greater accountability would follow. In a response to the ‘Journal’, Mr McDevitt said he would be “arguing the case for reform of our institutions and to agree a more accountable and open system of government. We will protect the important principles of equality and power sharing, but show people how real change can be delivered by providing them with real choice.”
Alasdair McDonnell is concentrating on party organisation, promising he would secure “the consolidation of Derry as an SDLP stronghold and the jewel in the SDLP crown.” Mr Attwood is expected to benefit from his reputation for competence at the Executive level.