As the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UPP) lick their wounds after being wiped out in last Thursday’s general election, party stalwarts claim that both parties still have a future.

The SDLP lost its three MPs, all of whom are former party leaders, while the UUP lost its two MPs in the snap poll, where the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin were the winners in Northern Ireland.
The SDLP “will review our shortcomings, particularly in the context of communication which has failed to deliver our messages with passion to the electorate – what we will not do is disappear,” stated Rosemary Flanagan who currently chairs the party’s Fermanagh and Omagh District Executive.

READ: SDLP veteran Rosemary Flanagan breaks silence on her resignation as party chair

Meanwhile, former Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Ken Maginnis stated: “The Ulster Unionist Party has lost its relevancy as a political power except for Fermanagh and South Tyrone where there is that underlining tradition that won’t go away.”
UUP Leader Robin Swann sounded a more positive note when he took to the airwaves this week, saying: “The UUP is here to stay. We will be back up and running again and fighting elections, which might be sooner rather than later.”

And, despite hurting after the loss of his seat to Michelle Gildernew, Tom Elliott has vowed to remain in politics.

Colum Eastwood, Leader of the SDLP, said the party has heard and accepts “the verdict of the voters” and it “will not rush into any knee-jerk reactions but nor will we be slow in doing what is required.”
“There are no questions we will not be prepared to face,” Mr. Eastwood stated, adding: “even if those answers include the unprecedented or the uncomfortable.”

Enniskillen woman, Mrs. Flanagan is a former Chairwoman of the SDLP. She pointed out that the SDLP “still has 12 MLAs and 66 councillors” and that “despite the difficulty of this election, against the odds, nearly 100,00 people voted for the SDLP’s vision and policies.”
She blamed the “the language and actions of Sinn Féin and the DUP” for having “the disastrous effect of polarising the electorate” and claimed that the First Past the Post voting system used in Westminster elections – which the SDLP opposes – “exaggerates the extremes” and “distinguishes” the voices of smaller parties. Mrs. Flanagan believes that the results will not be as stark in the next Assembly Election, which uses proportional representation voting. 

Mrs. Flanagan said that the SDLP’s idea of Irish unity “has to be developed in the context of a changing world and changing relationships within the UK, across the EU and on a worldwide basis.”
She concluded: “The SDLP was founded as both a nationalist party and a social democratic party, seeking to further the unity of the people of Ireland … We remain the members of a nationalist party which has a broader vision that we would like to see delivered for all people regardless of their background.”

UUP Councillor Diana Armstrong, whose father Harry West was leader of the Ulster Unionists and Westminster MP for FST, believes that “the Ulster Unionist Party under Robin Swann is in a good place to progress with emerging talent and youth.”

She said: “Northern Ireland needs an Ulster Unionist Party that represents a confident, progressive unionism that treats people with respect. The party is unapologetically unionist and Robin made clear when he took over the leadership that he would be a champion for the Union and would seek to sell the message to everyone that the best place for all our people is within the United Kingdom. We will seek to broaden and deepen Unionism`s appeal across Northern Ireland and will co-operate with those who share those goals.”
She believes that the UUP “has always put the country first and with new faces and new talent coming through we`ll do what`s best for Northern Ireland.”

Ms. Armstrong added: “In the aftermath of the EU referendum, the Ulster Unionist Party was ahead of the curve by being the only party that produced a comprehensive plan for Brexit and many other areas of policy. We need to continue that work because Northern Ireland needs new ideas and new faces as it moves into its second century.”

Former Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis believes his former party has lost its political relevance but not west of the Bann. He added that Ulster Unionism was “systematically demolished during Mike Nesbitt’s tenure as leader.”

READ: Maginnis resigns rejecting leader's 11th hour offer

He cited his service with the Ulster Defence Regiment for 12 years during the Troubles and said he has “a great faith in the resilience in the unionist community.”
Political commentators Alex Kane and Tom Kelly were formerly involved in communications for the UUP and the SDLP.  
They gave their view on the fate of the parties, with Mr. Kane tweeting: “I don’t see how the UUP reinvents or repositions itself again. And same with SDLP.” 

Mr. Kelly wrote in The Irish News: “[The SDLP] failed to recognise that the enemy was Sinn Féin [and its call for a border poll after Brexit] spooked liberal unionists which the SDLP needed in all three of its constituencies where it had sitting MPs.”