McGuinness (SF) 21,641 (47.6%)
McCrea (DUP) 10,665 (23.5%)
McGlone (SDLP) 7,922 (17.4%)
Armstrong (UUP) 4,853 (10.7%)
Donnelly (WP) 345 (0.8%)
From covering some constituencies where things are a bit up in the air, let’s take a brief look at one where the result is in no doubt whatsoever. Martin McGuinness will be re-elected at a stroll; it’ll just be a matter of watching the percentages.
The Mid Ulster constituency has been around since 1950, but its current iteration doesn’t bear a wild lot of a resemblance to the constituency won by Tom Mitchell and Bernie McAliskey in days of yore – most of it was hived off to West Tyrone in the 1995 boundary review. Currently, it comprises the local government districts of Cookstown and Magherafelt, plus the Coalisland area of Dungannon district – essentially, South Derry and East Tyrone. It’s a big sprawling area, and very rural – the nearest thing to an urban hub is Cookstown with a population of 11,000, while Magherafelt has some 8000 and Coalisland 6000. This is a constituency of villages and deep countryside.
According to the 2001 census, the sectarian breakdown in Mid Ulster was 65% Catholic, 34% Protestant and 1% “other” – something that’s reflected proportionally in the voting figures. The geographical distribution, though, is interesting, as the Patchwork – the general sectarian geography you find west of the Bann, going back to the Plantation – is especially stark here. In the deep countryside you tend to find Catholics in the highlands and Protestants in the valleys, with the implications for richer and poorer land; towns, even small towns, tend to have distinct orange and green ends; and villages are strongly identified with one side or the other. In South Derry you can have a very republican village like Draperstown, and a few miles up the road a very loyalist village like Tobermore – it’s like the interfaces in north Belfast, only in a rural setting. Such demographic change as there has been is usually a matter of the towns becoming more Catholic.
Martin McGuinness has held this seat since defeating the widely despised Rev William McCrea in 1997, and only a fool would bet against him doing it again. No unionist can win here; the SDLP has been flatlining for years; and, while there are quite a few hardline republicans in the area, the RSF candidate in the last Assembly election polled only 1%, while there’s no dissident challenger this time. Add to that a formidable Sinn Féin organisation, and this election is a wrap for Marty. But, as will be the case elsewhere, pundits will be looking at the percentages to see what they presage for next year’s Stormont election.
Firstly, there are four nationalist and two unionist seats at Stormont from Mid Ulster. The question will be how the distribution within the blocs pans out. For the last three Assembly elections Mid Ulster has returned three SF and one each for the DUP, UUP and SDLP.
The SF vote in Mid Ulster has been wavering above and below the 50% mark for some years now, while the SDLP has been hovering around 17%. Further, at the 2007 Stormont election the three SF candidates were all returned on the first count, with the marquee candidate McGuinness having a healthy surplus, but thanks to some excellent vote managing both Francie Molloy and Michelle O’Neill coming in just above the quota. That’s over three quotas with the the SDLP sitting on a quota and a bit. If the balance shifts in the SF direction, say as a knock-on effect of the Save Michelle campaign next door in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, the Shinners might fancy their chances of taking a fourth and knocking out the SDLP altogether. Note also that their ticket last time was more than a little unbalanced, with no candidate from South Derry. The SDLP candidate, Cookstown councillor Tony Quinn, will just be seeking to hold his own.
On the unionist side, the DUP should be clearly in the lead, with Willie McCrea’s son, Al Murray lookalike Ian, having established a bit of a base of his own. They outpolled the UUP by nearly two to one in 2007, but poor vote management – which is to say, egotistical quota-squatting on Ian McCrea’s part – saw Stewartstown man Billy Armstrong return once more for the UUP. But that Armstrong seat looks vulnerable, and the DUP have had their eye for a while on the prize of taking Billy out. This means UCUNF candidate Sandra Overend will be fighting a rearguard action, while Ian McCrea will be hoping that troubles east of the Bann won’t impact on him.
What complicates matters is the presence of TUV candidate Walter Millar, a local farmer who scored 2.7% as a UKUP candidate in 2007 and will be hoping to do significantly better and position himself as a contender for the second unionist seat after the invulnerable Ian McCrea. Walter has had an eccentric political trajectory – as well as the UKUP, he sat for many years as a DUP rep on Cookstown council and was also at one point a member of the Ulster Independence Movement – but should not be ruled out as an under-the-radar prospect.
So, nothing really to see here in Westminster terms, as Marty is a dead cert. But, as with many other constituencies, the other side of the story is the jockeying for next year’s Stormont poll.
Update from North Antrim: You know how I mentioned that 74-year-old TUV man Willie Ross was doing a bit of silver surfing? Well, independent Lyle Cubitt, who’s running for North Antrim on a platform of being even more hardline than Jim Allister, is now online as well.