All right, here’s the first-preference tally:
de Brún (PSF) 126,184 – 26.0%, -0.3%
Dodds (DUP) 88,346 – 18.2%, -13.8%
Nicholson (UCUNF) 82,893 – 17.1%, +0.5%
Maginness (SDLP) 78,489 – 16.2%, +0.3%
Allister (Prodiban) 66,197 – 13.7%
Parsley (Alliance) 26.699 – 5.5%
Agnew (Green) 15,764 – 3.3%, +2.4%
Bairbre de Brún elected on the first count, Nicholson and Dodds (in that order) on the third, after the elimination of Allister. The turnout was 42.8%, well down on the last election.
A few thoughts:
You will notice that for most of the candidates the results were remarkably stable, the exception being the huge drop in the DUP vote, all of which in percentage terms has gone to Jim Allister. Thus Allister has replicated on a grand scale the Dromore by-election result by taking nearly a third of the unionist vote. You will also note that the Allister vote is very similar to the DUP vote of a dozen years ago, or to put it another way the historic core DUP vote, not the New DUP voters who have come over in recent years from the Official Unionists.
This was not unpredictable. The genius of Big Ian was that, until his last year in the leadership, he refused to let himself be outflanked on the right. The DUP fought the last Stormont election on an uncompromising platform, and didn’t prepare their base for a deal, so it’s no surprise that the never-never-never element are pissed off. And then they ran a perfunctory campaign around a weak candidate and an incoherent programme.
No harm to Diane Dodds, but I thought she was a weak candidate from the start, and she only confirmed that with her atrocious performance in the Politics Show debate. In that instance, she relied a bit too much on the Arlene Foster school of debate – if you’re out of your depth, you can always rely on gratuitous rudeness and talking over everybody else. By contrast, the caustic Jim Allister came across as a virtual unionist Batman. BAM! When Diane said it was vital to stop the enemies of Ulster topping the poll, Jim pointed out that her party was in coalition with the enemies of Ulster. THWACK! Jim asked whether, having already got the Paisley dynasty, the Robinson dynasty and the McCrea dynasty, we really wanted to help the DUP increase its North Korean credentials with the Dodds dynasty. KAPOW! Jim had a lot of fun musing on Peter and Iris Robinson’s lavish Westminster expenses claims, not to mention them having four members of their family on the payroll. SPLAT! Jim drew attention to the DUP’s existing European representation, on the EU Council of the Regions (Edwin Poots) and the Council of Europe (Nigel Dodds), and their seeming unwillingness to even turn up. It’s no wonder Diane was left looking dazed. Still, at least she stayed in second place on first preferences, where she could easily have been in third or fourth, although she had to rely on the indignity of Allister’s transfers putting her in, and without even reaching the quota forbye.
So, should Peter Robinson be scared? Some of the more sanguine people in the DUP will be counselling him no, on the grounds that this was Allister’s big chance, and having lost his seat, he’s lost his major platform. There is of course the News Letter, and the DUP may try to put the frighteners on Darwin. But Allister has very little in the way of a party. He certainly doesn’t have credible candidates beyond himself, and Lord help him, he may have to start conscripting the wingnuts who phone Talk Back.
No, the question will be whether Allister’s performance will stir up some panic in the DUP ranks. And there’s a parallel here with the dissident republicans, who may be a Mickey Mouse movement in numerical terms but who can pose some awkward questions for Gerry. Actually, a more exact parallel may be the Unionist Party under Trimble. Trimble was handicapped throughout the peace process by a good third of his party agreeing with the DUP. Later on, many of them, led by Jeffrey Boy, defected to the DUP, thus shifting the balance within unionism. The Prodiban insurgency hasn’t claimed many defections yet, but there is the suspicion that a big whack of the DUP agrees with Allister.
What else? Unfortunately, we don’t have a breakdown by area, but there’s been plenty of informed guesswork and useful commentary on Slugger. It is suggested that Allister ran the DUP close in North Antrim, or even outpolled it. The respectable showing for Jim Nicholson also suggests that UCUNF might hope to take back two or three seats at the Westminster election. This might be helped by the DUP reducing double-jobbing and having to rely on second-string candidates like, well, Ian Óg Paisley, Ian McCrea, or some of the scions of the Robinson family. On the other hand, both the Prodiban and UCUNF themselves have a dearth of credible candidates. You wouldn’t need much – just some farmer who can string two sentences together – but that might prove beyond them.
On the nationalist side, it’s as you were. It is said that the SDLP did well in North and South Belfast, where there is both a sizeable Catholic middle class and where the SDLP still has some semblance of organisation. On the other hand, the Shinners consolidated their dominance in the working-class and rural areas. And differential turnout is still very much a factor.
Alliance’s candidate, Ian (Not The Reverend) Parsley did about as well as Alliance always do, and Steven Agnew put in a respectable performance for the Greens, but neither really is a factor. What’s really interesting is how things are going to pan out within unionism in the next year or so.
More ruminations later on the south, Britland and Europe as a whole.