THE decision of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to run candidates in all 18 constituences in the coming Westminster election is perfectly understandable from a purely personal and pragmatic point of view. 

The party’s polling numbers are consistently languishing in single figures and as he approaches 10 years at the helm Mr Eastwood knows full well that when a party with the history and tradition of the SDLP is at seven per cent or eight per cent, that is not only a policy and strategy concern – it is an existential concern.

It is precisely because the polling figure is so low that Mr Eastwood has decided to wring out every vote he can. Parties claiming a quarter of the vote, or perhaps even a third, can afford a dip of a few percentage points, but Mr Eastwood simply cannot afford the luxury of forsaking vote share percentage points by standing aside in constituencies when his launching point is at such a historically depressed point.

So, understandable – yes. But good news for the electorate – not so much.

An increase in the number of nationalist MPs after July 4 would apply immense pressure on the British government to move towards the border poll that they have set their face so firmly against. They’ve laid out a variety of reasons why the time isn’t right, but as one electoral landmark after another is passed at Stormont and local level, a sea-change at Westminster would be the most compelling and significant sign that the time is right for a vote on the constitutional future.

Maximising nationalist seats is not, as some argue, a tawdry and reductive matter of Orange and Green; it is not a sectarian headcount that some consider beneath them. The ending of partition and the building of a new Ireland is the single most important step that can be taken in terms of undoing the damage done to people’s lives here by Brexit Britain.

Ghost candidate

WE reveal this week that the Alliance Party Westminster candidate for West Belfast will be nowhere to be seen for the campaign. Instead, he’ll be in Washington participating in a young leaders’ programme.

The party says that Eóin Millar will be in touch with the campaign remotely and his team will continue canvassing in his absence.

The electoral successes in West Belfast of Alliance husband-and-wife team Pip and Will Glendinning seem a very long way off. After they departed the scene some 35 years ago the Alliance Party abandoned West Belfast – and its estrangement from the city’s most densely-populated and youngest constituency has deepened and solidified with every passing year.

Had the party simply admitted that it has no interest in West Belfast, that at least would have been honest. Instead, it has made meaningless noises about future plans that never materialise and it has run candidates unknown in the Alliance Party, never mind in West Belfast. 

An absent candidate should get the vote an absent candidate deserves