There is much about McDevitt that makes his selection a sign of hope for the SDLP, and a sign of hope for northern nationalism.
McDevitt is a Dubliner – "born in Dublin he spent his formative years in Malaga, Spain" – his own blog says. He "loves Dublin, his native county and its gaelic football team", and "he is a committed ‘New Irelander’".
"Our mission is not to destroy the North but to make it strong. We are the party of the North. The party that knows we can all be proudly northern and proudly Irish. A strong north will mean a strong Ireland and a weak north a failed one", he said in his acceptance speech. "If a united Ireland is our tomorrow then a new North must be our today".McDevitt will be the SDLP's youngest MLA – an intelligent articulate man, with substantial political and business backgrounds, and a young parent – and should prove to be a pillar of the SDLP in the Assembly. He will add valuable experience in a number of important areas – organisation, communication and internationalism – where the SDLP is too often lacking.
Importantly, McDevitt is also a McDonnell loyalist:
"I want to be an MLA for a renewed SDLP that will speak for the majority who want a new North. For the many who know that we are not as divided as our politics suggests. This is the type of politics Alasdair McDonnell has brought to South Belfast. Working hard, reaching out to communities and breaking new ground to evidence that he is an MP for everyone."
Whether his selection is a sign of SDLP support for McDonnell in the upcoming SDLP leadership contest is harder to say – South Belfast is, after all, McDonnell's constituency, so glowing words about his would be expected there. But tellingly, McDevitt did not give Ritchie a balancing mention. It is clear which candidate he supports.
If McDevitt lives up to his potential, the seemingly terminal decline of the SDLP could be arrested – perhaps even reversed. He will help to cement north-south ties, but clearly with the SDLP as a separate 'party of the north', rather than a subsidiary of Fianna Fáil. This blog will continue to watch his career within the SDLP with interest.