I’ve just come from watching Mark Carruthers interview SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. Carruthers has changed over the years: he used to be a fairly gentle interviewer – In fact I remember suggesting to him that he might profit by adding some serious bite to his questioning, and he rejected such an approach. Not any more: no more Mr Nice Guy.
What both Eastwood and Naomi Long are finding rather uncomfortable is the constitutional question. Or as those who’d like to mask the importance of whether NEI is an integral part of Ireland or an integral part of the UK, “the same old orange and green dispute”. Naomi concedes that, just as St Augustine prayed to be made pure but not yet, her party will of course have a position on a reunited Ireland but not yet.
And Colum Eastwood? Well, he’s caught on a hook too. On the one hand he wants to emphasise how much the SDLP care about people’s daily needs – jobs, houses, the environment – but at the same time he can’t afford to say “The SDLP doesn’t give a toss about the constitutional question.” Even more unfortunately, he knows if the conversation comes round to the constitutional question/a border poll, no matter how energetically he says the SDLP is committed to a reunited Ireland, his party’s history tells another story and besides, he’s not going to out-border-poll Sinn Féin, however hard he tries. For the Shinners, a reunited Ireland is right at the heart of their raison d’etre; for the SDLP, it’s an awkward encumbrance around their neck which they’d gladly shuck off and forget.
Sorry, Colum. Decades after John Hume told us we were living in a post-nationalist era, the signs at home and abroad spell it out in Father Jack capitals : POST-NATIONALIST MY ARSE.