When she was a little girl Maggie Ritchie was told by her teacher tthat when she got up to speak she should always, always open her mouth wide-wide-WIDE like a little dickie-bird so everyone could clearly hear her song. The SDLP leader has never forgotten that admonition and so she was at her mouth-opening best at the SDLP annual conference over the weekend. Loud and clear she told the faithful there would be no SDLP merger with a party south of the border, much less with the Shinners north of the border. That was because the SDLP isn’t in favour of being swallowed by anyone. Besides, she said, the SDLP and Sinn Féin were miles apart on cross-community relations, the economy
and Irish reunification
Now I’m embarrassed to say it, but I fell asleep during the bit where Maggie gave one practical, definite way in which the SDLP differs from Sinn Féin on closer ties with unionism, one practical, definite way in which the SDLP differs from Sinn Féin on the economy, and one practical, definite way in which the SDLP differs from Sinn Féin on Irish reunification. Silly silly me.
My nodding off is doubly unfortunate because to be honest, I’m not clear about the Shinner plans either. That party has provided a clear if short-term set of proposals for weathering the economic storm in the north, but what clear, practical steps they have for closer ties with unionism and for moving us towards a reunited Ireland stay misted in uncertainty. So it would have been doubly useful if I could have stayed awake long enough to hear Maggie outline Sinn Féin plans as well as her own party’s. After all, she must know the Shinners’ plans in the first place if she knows that the SDLP plans are markedly different.
And so I find myself vroooming towards next May’s elections and the things that concern me – how can the economy be organised more justly and successfully, how can we make the century-old dream of reunification a practical possibility – remain frustratingly fuzzy. Had I not allowed my eyelids to droop, Maggie would have revealed all. I even heard she explained how she was against double-jobbing but needed at the same time to hold onto her Stormont and Westminster seats...Did you catch that bit or did you nod off too?