On the home straight now, we head back northwards and eastwards.
2007 Stormont results: DUP 48.1%, 3 seats; UUP 18.6%, 1 seat; SF 12.2%, 1 seat; Alliance 9.0%, 1 seat; SDLP 6.8%; Green 2.2%; UKUP 2.0%; Cons 0.9%; WP 0.2%.
2010 Westminster results: Donaldson (DUP) 49.8%; Trimble (UUP/UCUNF) 21.1%; Lunn (Alliance) 11.4%; Harbinson (TUV) 8.6%; Heading (SDLP) 5.0%; Butler (SF) 4.0%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Pat Catney (SDLP); Jonathan Craig (DUP); Paul Givan (DUP); Brenda Hale (DUP); Mark Hill (UUP); Trevor Lunn (Alliance); Basil McCrea (UUP); Edwin Poots (DUP); Conor Quinn (Green); Mary-Kate Quinn (SF); Lyle Rea (TUV).
In a generally boring election, we can be certain of changes in the Kingdom of Jeffrey. For one thing, Jeffrey Donaldson himself is not standing, having opted for the grander stage of Westminster. He’s been out campaigning for sure, but the huge personal vote accruing to Jeffrey, and its absence this time around, will change the calculations somewhat. Jeffrey always provides a massive boost to whichever party he’s in at any particular time, but in the nature of personal votes there’s always been significant transfer leakage. So, apart from the question of whether Jeffrey’s absence from the ballot paper depresses the DUP vote, there’s going to be a test of the DUP’s discipline when it comes to balancing.
That said, for the last couple of elections the DUP have been running at about three and a half quotas, and the UUP at one and a half. So we can allocate three to the former and one to the latter as a baseline. Moreover, the very stable Alliance vote of around 10% should see Trevor Lunn home. That leaves one to allocate.
This is due to the last boundary change which has cut the combined nationalist vote in the constituency from around 20% to more like 10%, not enough to elect an MLA unless an extremely unlikely sequence of events takes place. I can see that figure creeping back up towards a quota in the medium term thanks to outmigration from west Belfast to the Lisburn suburbs, but it ain’t there this time. At least sitting Sinn Féin MLA Paul Butler, who’s thrown in the towel, thinks so.
That should mean an extra unionist seat, but we’re now back in coin-tossing territory. The Westminster results suggest half a quota spare for the DUP, half a quota for the UUP, and a little over half a quota for the TUV. Actually the TUV candidate, former UUP chief executive Lyle Rea, will be worth watching. Last year, this constituency provided the TUV’s strongest result outside North Antrim, and if Jim’s boys are to make a breakthrough anywhere else, Lagan Valley seems the logical place.
2007 Stormont results: DUP 34.5%, 2 seats; UUP 20.5%, 1 seat; SF 16.5%, 1 seat; Alliance 13.1%, 1 seat; SDLP 11.1%, 1 seat; UKUP 2.3%; Green 1.3%; Cons 0.3%; WP 0.2%.
2010 Westminster results: McCrea (DUP) 33.9%; Empey (UUP/UCUNF) 30.4%; McLaughlin (SF) 13.9%; Byrne (SDLP) 8.7%; Lawther (Alliance) 7.7%; Lucas (TUV) 5.4%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Tommy Burns (SDLP); Trevor Clarke (DUP); Adrian Cochrane-Watson (UUP); David Ford (Alliance); Paul Girvan (DUP); Danny Kinahan (UUP); Pam Lewis (DUP); Mel Lucas (TUV); Mitchel McLaughlin (SF); Stephen Parkes (BNP).
It was a close-run thing in South Antrim last year, as Reg Empey met his Waterloo in failing to depose Rev Willie McCrea, who even in the days of DUP landslides was never universally popular in the constituency, due not least to the difficulty of digging Willie out of Magherafelt. Effectively, that means there was a big whack of tactical voting last year that will shake itself out under STV.
Do not, therefore, take that flattering UUP vote from last year as being representative. Those Alliance and SDLP voters who opted for Reg in an attempt to oust Singing Willie will return home. Therefore, even without factoring in David Ford’s enhanced profile as justice minister, his seat would appear fairly safe.
Looking elsewhere, a DUP vote in the high thirties six or seven years back has dropped down to the lower thirties thanks to the hiving off of a section of the DUP base to the TUV. That should equate to the DUP holding their two seats, and I also think Mitchel McLaughlin will be safe – if he doesn’t surpass the quota on the first count, he’s likely to be very close to it.
The interest here is whether the UUP can make a rare gain at the SDLP’s expense. Frankly, the UUP should really have taken two seats in 2007, but with typical UUP competence they were let down by the small incidental factors that a) they ran three candidates where only two seats were available, and b) their balancing was crap even by UUP standards. This allowed the SDLP’s Tommy Burns in by around a thousand votes. The boundary revision handing Glengormley to North Belfast should narrow that somewhat. Mind you, for the UUP to make a gain would require the UUP to, y’know, get something right, and how often does that happen?
2007 Stormont results: DUP 45.5%, 3 seats; UUP 21.9%, 2 seats; Alliance 15.8%, 1 seat; SDLP 5.9%; SF 3.9%; UKUP 2.4%; Green 2.0%; John Anderson 1.3%; Cons 1.3%.
2010 Westminster results: Wilson (DUP) 45.9%; McCune (UUP/UCUNF) 23.7%; Lynch (Alliance) 11.1%; McMullan (SF) 6.8%; McCamphill (SDLP) 6.6%; Morrison (TUV) 6.0%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Roy Beggs jnr (UUP); Stewart Dickson (Alliance); Daniel Donnelly (Green); David Hilditch (DUP); Gordon Lyons (DUP); Justin McCamphill (SDLP); Rodney McCune (UUP); Oliver McMullan (SF); Steven Moore (BNP); Gerardine Mulvenna (Alliance); Alastair Ross (DUP); Ruth Wilson (TUV); Sammy Wilson (DUP).
It’s relatively easy to predict that the DUP is going to streak to yet another victory in East Antrim, having won every election in the constituency since 2003, and with finance minister Sammy Wilson having comprehensively given his opponents the bum’s rush last year. With a vote share in the high forties, three seats are a given, though adding a fourth candidate looks a little optimistic.
There’s certainly one seat here for the UUP, and even in Seán Neeson’s absence there should be an Alliance seat, unless they get something very wrong indeed.
Where the interest is here is in the latest boundary change, shifting part of the solidly nationalist Glens into East Antrim, which should just about create a nationalist quota, that nationalist seat (if it happens) probably coming at the expense of the UUP. I say if it happens, because there are certain complicated calculations involved. The SDLP should take the seat if they clearly beat Sinn Féin on first preferences (which on last year’s evidence they’ll struggle to do). They can win the seat if they creep ahead of SF in the counts, then McMullan is eliminated with the SDLP and one unionist still in the frame. I assume that SF voters are very likely to give the SDLP their second preference, but transfers tend to be a good deal weaker in the other direction, so McMullan would need to be a good deal ahead of the SDLP (and not too far off a quota) to make it.
As is, there was a near dead heat last year, with SF a mere 45 votes ahead of the SDLP. In that situation, the two nationalist candidates could well just cancel each other out and the UUP could escape with its second seat in hand. It’ll take a lot of counts to work that out, but such are the vagaries of STV.