Question 1: Was Alasdair right to say what he said?
Yes and no. He was right in terms of content: a blindfolded sightless man on a galloping stallion could tell inside five seconds that the great majority of unionist politicians detest having to share power with nationalist and especially republicans. And Alasdair isn’t the first to have have pointed that out. There may be all sorts of good or not good reasons for them so feeling, but yes, they definitely would prefer not to have a taig about the place.
The No part comes in terms of Alasdair’s delivery. For one thing, it seemed obvious that he didn’t expect his words to be recorded. Had they merely appeared in print it wouldn’t have been so bad, but there’s something about the spoken word, and particularly the spoken word coming from Alasdair’s mouth, that makes it sound ham-fisted and coarse. So he was wrong to articulate his thoughts as he did.
He was also wrong to say that “Sinn Féin can’t tell the truth”. He may decide that Gerry Adams, probably for legal reasons, isn’t telling the truth; but the added bit about “Martin McGuinness can’t tell the truth about this and he can’t tell the truth about that “ – silly and vague and ignorant.
Question 2: Was the unionist reaction to Alasdair’s words appropriate?
Hardly. Gregory Campbell said that the DUP couldn’t be a sectarian party because when there was flooding in South Belfast after his election, he went to McDonnell and helped (not emptying buckets but you know – helping). He then went on to say that the DUP couldn’t be sectarian because the vote for the SDLP had gone down (No, Virginia, I don’t get that one either). And finally (all in the same interview ) he said that Catholics were voting for the DUP (oh really?) so how would they vote for a sectarian party? An appalling mishmash of blustering.
Then Arlene Foster weighed in and said that Alasdair really should apologise to the DUP for using such language AND he should apologise to the Catholic population for using such a word. Cool your jets, Arlene. I don’t know of a single Catholic who felt offended by Alasdair’s use of the word “fenian”. And yes, it is similar to the word “nigger”: for other people to use it of black people is insulting, for black people themselves to use it is fine. Got that OK, Arlene? Stop worrying about us. Worry about yourselves.
Question 3: Will Alasdair’s outburst help him and/or the SDLP?
Again, yes and no. No in that his remarks are very much in tone with his “Jeez, fellahs, them lights are blindin’ me!” remark when he first became leader. They must make SDLP members want to put him in the boot of a car and start again. But Yes, they will be helpful to the SDLP. That’s because even the most servile of them (hello Fearghal) must now see that the SDLP is going nowhere fast with this man. And since there’s an election on the horizon, there’s a good chance that Colum Eastwood will replace the luckless doctor. Which won’t of course reverse the SDLP’s decline; but it might slow it. We all must learn to be grateful for small mercies.