All right, let’s head way up north for this round.
2007 Stormont results: DUP 49.0%, 3 seats; SF 15.9%, 1 seat; UUP 14.3%, 1 seat; SDLP 12.2%, 1 seat; UKUP 4.2%; Alliance 2.8%; IRSP 0.9%; James Gregg 0.7%.
2010 Westminster results: Paisley jnr (DUP) 46.4%; Allister (TUV) 16.8%; McKay (SF) 12.4%; Armstrong (Cons/UCUNF) 10.9%; O’Loan (SDLP) 8.8%; Dunlop (Alliance) 3.2%; Cubitt (Ind) 1.4%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Jim Allister (TUV); Jayne Dunlop (Alliance); Paul Frew (DUP); Bill Kennedy (UUP); David McIlveen (DUP); Daithí McKay (SF); Declan O’Loan (SDLP); Audrey Patterson (TUV); Evelyne Robinson (DUP); Mervyn Storey (DUP); Robin Swann (UUP).
In the buckle of the Bible Belt, it’s the first election in over forty years where a Paisley hasn’t been on the ballot paper. Nonetheless, I expect the DUP to comfortably retain its three seats, though even if it has a few votes left over it’s a long way from taking a fourth. Jim Allister will also be elected, as will Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay.
That leaves one to play with. If Allister is to be elected, it has to come at someone’s expense. That will be either the SDLP or UUP, and it’s not immediately clear which.
On the face of it, the SDLP look more vulnerable. That boundary change that shifted three (almost exclusively Catholic) Glens wards into East Antrim has put the second nationalist seat under very serious pressure. Now, Declan O’Loan is a maths teacher by background, and is capable of adding up. Hence his suggestion last year (which so enraged Margaret Ritchie that she withdrew the whip from him) that there should be increased collaboration between the two nationalist parties. For Margaret in South Down, the Shinners are the deadly enemy; for Declan, he needs SF voters to be very kind to him on transfers if he’s going to survive. I hope he does, because the Assembly would miss his waspish intelligence, even if some of his party colleagues wouldn’t.
The UUP’s trouble is that, though there should be enough votes knocking around to secure a fifth unionist seat, we come up against the perennial problem of vote-shredding and transfer leakage. For reasons best known to themselves, the UUP have come up with the crackpot strategy of running two candidates where there’s only one available seat. They’ll probably also want transfers from DUP and TUV candidates, whereas Declan O’Loan only needs a bundle of SF transfers and perhaps a modicum from Alliance to keep him in the fray. I have a feeling it’ll be very close.
2007 Stormont results: DUP 39.8%, 3 seats; SF 20.0%, 1 seat; UUP 18.5%, 1 seat; SDLP 13.1%, 1 seat; Alliance 4.1%; UKUP 1.6%; Green 1.5%; RSF 1.2%; Victor Christie 0.2%.
2010 Westminster results: Campbell (DUP) 34.6%; Ó hOisín (SF) 19.3%; Macaulay (UUP/UCUNF) 17.8%; Conway (SDLP) 15.5%; Ross (TUV) 7.4%; Fitzpatrick (Alliance) 5.5%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Bernadette Archibald (SF), Gregory Campbell (DUP), Thomas Conway (SDLP), John Dallat (SDLP), Boyd Douglas (TUV), Barney Fitzpatrick (Alliance), David Harding (UUP), Lesley Macaulay (UUP), David McClarty (Ind), Adrian McQuillan (DUP), Cathal Ó hOisín (SF), George Robinson (DUP).
Well, we may talk about dirty campaigning, but as the Irish News recently informed us, this is literally the case in East Derry, where constituents are much exercised by the stink arising from some farmers using human shit to fertilise their fields. The practice seems to be completely legal, but just not very pleasant.
We can predict seats from the outset for the DUP’s Gregory Campbell MP (who has mysteriously gained a dispensation to double-job) and George Robinson, SF’s Cathal Ó hOisín and veteran SDLP man John Dallat. The calculations arise with regard to numbers five and six.
The DUP did well to win three seats last time, but if their vote slips to 35% or below then that third seat comes under pressure. However, we don’t know who it might fall to. Complicating things is that the UUP have deselected their sitting MLA David McClarty, who is running as an independent, and are opposing him with a fresh team of Lesley Macaulay and David Harding, both of whom are thought to be fairly strong candidates. And there’s the dark-horse candidacy of the TUV’s Boyd Douglas, who was actually elected to the 1998 Assembly and has a solid base amongst those dour Presbyterian farmers who supported Willie Ross for so long.
So, that’s two seats to fill and five candidates (McQuillan, McClarty, Macaulay, Harding and Douglas) who might all have a decent shout at them.
A slight crinkle is provided by the nationalist vote in the constituency, boosted by the last boundary review, creeping up into the region of two and a half quotas. That half a quota is interesting. It might boost Alliance’s Barney Fitzpatrick if he’s still in the race when the last nationalist is eliminated. (Unlikely, however.) And I don’t think there’s enough cross-community transferring to boost the more moderate unionist options. There may be a big block of non-transferable votes, or there may just be a final nationalist candidate left languishing in seventh place.
2007 Stormont results: SDLP 37.0%, 3 seats; SF 30.8%, 2 seats; DUP 17.0%, 1 seat; SEA 5.0%; IRSP 4.4%; UUP 4.3%; Green 0.9%; Alliance 0.5%; Willie Frazer 0.2%.
2010 Westminster results: Durkan (SDLP) 44.7%; Anderson (SF) 31.9%; Devenney (DUP) 11.9%; McCann (PBP) 7.8%; Harding (UUP/UCUNF) 3.2%; McGrellis (Alliance) 0.6%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Martina Anderson (SF); Pól Callaghan (SDLP); Terry Doherty (Ind); Mark H Durkan [relation] (SDLP); Colum Eastwood (SDLP); Paul Fleming (SF); Willie Hay (DUP); Eamonn McCann (PBP); Raymond McCartney (SF); Paul McFadden (Ind); Keith McGrellis (Alliance); Pat Ramsey (SDLP).
Foyle has been a very very stable constituency in terms of Assembly seats, returning three SDLP, two SF and one DUP for the last three Stormont elections. This may just change this time around.
Willie Hay (who, by the way, has made a lot of friends by the tough but fair-minded way he’s done the Speaker’s job) will stroll back in as representative of the constituency’s unionist minority, who have favoured the DUP in every election since 1981. Remarkably, for the first time in the north’s history, the UUP will have no candidate in the area, though since it’s reduced down to one seat out of thirty on Derry City Council that would have been a token candidacy anyway.
On the nationalist side, SF have been narrowing the gap on the SDLP for some time now and would dearly love to overtake them, with this being the SDLP’s historic stronghold and just about the only place the SDLP still has substantial working-class support. With the absence of perennial vote-getters Mark Durkan (though his soundalike nephew is on the ticket) and Mary Bradley, plus dissension in Foyle SDLP about candidacies, they surely have a chance to narrow the gap further, though it would be surprising if they closed it. My gut instinct is that the SDLP will have something under three quotas and SF something over two.
So, if the third SDLP seat is under pressure, this is where Eamonn McCann might sneak in. My guess is that partisan supporters of either nationalist party would rather transfer to McCann than the other nationalist party, so we could see him picking up support in the later counts. Getting into the Assembly, of course, would be ideal for Eamonn as a platform from which to orate.
Also note the substantial vote in 2007 for Mrs Peggy O’Hara, mother of hunger striker Patsy, who stood formally as an independent but in a campaign that was very largely an IRSP one. There’s no IRSP candidate for the Assembly, but they are running for the council, and might entice out some disgruntled republicans who wouldn’t otherwise vote.