All right, let’s head down into deepest culchieland for our next trio.
2007 Stormont results: SF 47.6%, 3 seats; DUP 19.5%, 1 seat; SDLP 17.5%, 1 seat; UUP 10.8%, 1 seat; UKUP 2.7%; RSF 1.0%; Alliance 0.5%; Harry Hutchinson 0.4%.
2010 Westminster results: McGuinness (SF) 52.0%; McCrea (DUP) 14.4%; Quinn (SDLP) 14.3%; Overend (UUP/UCUNF) 11.0%; Millar (TUV) 7.3%; Butler (Alliance) 1.0%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Harry Hutchinson (PBP); Austin Kelly (SDLP); Gary McCann (Ind); Hugh McCloy (Ind); Ian McCrea (DUP); Michael McDonald (Alliance); Patsy McGlone (SDLP); Martin McGuinness (SF); Walter Millar (TUV); Ian Milne (SF); Francie Molloy (SF); Michelle O’Neill (SF); Sandra Overend (UUP).
The smart money in Mid Ulster is on no change at all. SF’s sitting trio of Martin McGuinness, Francie Molloy and Michelle O’Neill should be re-elected at a stroll, and expect too to see Ian McCrea in on the first count.
SF have been pushing for a fourth seat, but even on last year’s Westminster figures they’re quite some way off, and it would require quite an unlikely combination of circumstances to put Ian Milne over the line. Specifically, it would require the local SDLP to make a complete balls of their transfers and/or the unionist candidates not to transfer to each other. Neither is impossible, though neither is likely either.
I’ve always said the SDLP seat in Mid Ulster will be secure as long as Patsy McGlone is on the ballot, and it would be a massive shock were he to go down. Equally, the UUP seat doesn’t look totally secure, and at one point the DUP might have hoped to squeeze a second here, but I think Sandra Overend will make it across the line, though she’ll need DUP and TUV transfers to do it.
2007 Stormont results: SF 44.5%, 3 seats; DUP 21.4%, 2 seats; SDLP 14.5%; Kieran Deeney 9.1%, 1 seat; UUP 8.9%; RSF 1.1%; Alliance 0.5%.
2010 Westminster results: Doherty (SF) 48.4%; Buchanan (DUP) 19.8%; Hussey (UUP/UCUNF) 14.2%; Byrne (SDLP) 14.0%; Bower (Alliance) 2.3%; McClean (Ind) 1.4%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Michaela Boyle (SF); Allan Bresland (DUP); Tom Buchanan (DUP); Eric Bullick (Alliance); Joe Byrne (SDLP); Pat Doherty (SF); Ross Hussey (UUP); Declan McAleer (SF); Barry McElduff (SF); Paddy McGowan (Ind); Eugene McMenamin (SF).
Let’s start on the minority side. Last time out, the DUP were lucky to snatch the UUP’s seat and gain a monopoly of unionist representation. However, in last year’s Westminster election Ross Hussey did really well – just about the only UCUNF candidate to register a substantial gain – and he can be expected to win back that seat, probably knocking out Allan Bresland.
On the nationalist side, Sinn Féin have three quotas and a bit, but converting that bit into a fourth seat is a long shot. It requires, essentially, the SDLP to make a complete balls of things, which is not unknown in West Tyrone. Last time out, despite the SDLP having more than a quota of first preferences, these were spread amongst three candidates, with sufficient transfer leakage to allow sitting independent MLA Kieran Deeny to hold his seat despite a serious loss of votes.
This time, however, Dr Deeny is not running, and the SDLP have settled on a single candidate. Winning that seat back should still be straightforward. But hold on, look at those two independent candidates bringing up the rear. Both veteran SDLP men, between them straddling the Strabane and Omagh parts of the constituency, and who’ve called on their voters to transfer to each other…
And that’s where the unpredictability is. If Joe Byrne comes in significantly short of a quota, if the ersatz SDLP candidates do respectably well, if SF can push its first preference tally up above 50%… Lot of ifs there, and I’d still predict Joe Byrne to take the seat, but it could be touch and go.
2007 Stormont results: SF 36.2%, 2 seats; DUP 25.5%, 2 seats; UUP 19.7%, 1 seat; SDLP 14.0%, 1 seat; Gerry McGeough 1.8%; Alliance 1.1%; RSF 0.9%; UKUP 0.8%.
2010 Westminster results: Gildernew (SF) 45.5%; Connor (Unionist Unity) 45.5%; McKinney (SDLP) 7.6%; Kamble (Alliance) 0.9%; Stevenson (Ind) 0.4%.
2011 Stormont candidates: Pat Cox (Ind Rep); Kenny Donaldson (UUP); Alex Elliott (TUV); Tom Elliott (UUP); Phil Flanagan (SF); Arlene Foster (DUP); Tommy Gallagher (SDLP); Michelle Gildernew (SF); Seán Lynch (SF); Maurice Morrow (DUP); Hannah Su (Alliance).
In last year’s Westminster election this was the nail-biter par excellence, with SF agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew hanging on by a mere four votes against a joint DUP-UUP-Conservative-TUV-Orange Order campaign to unseat her. Predictably, the drive to unionist unity produced an equal and opposite reaction in Sinn Féin’s populist “Save Michelle” campaign, with a knock-on effect for the SDLP, who to be fair were in a no-win situation, but still managed to handle it really badly.
Doing the maths, this constituency has three nationalist seats and three unionist. The balance of two DUP to one UUP will remain the same, with the DUP having the advantage of running the Fermanagh-based Arlene Foster alongside the Dungannon-based Lord Morrow. Tom Elliott’s personal popularity in Fermanagh will see him elected, but without enough votes to bring in running mate Kenny Donaldson.
On the nationalist side, Michelle Gildernew will coast back in. She’s the only outgoing SF MLA for the constituency after Gerry McHugh resigned from the party, first to sit as an independent, then rather quixotically joining Fianna Fáil. McHugh is not standing again, and his seat is expected to go to ex-prisoner Seán Lynch. That leaves the final seat, and the question of whether fresh-faced SF man Phil Flanagan can take out SDLP veteran Tommy Gallagher.
This is where the backwash from last year comes in. The SDLP had obviously been positioning their celebrity candidate Fearghal McKinney to be the new standard-bearer for the area. However, the result of last year’s campaign is that Fearghal’s name is mud in the constituency, hence good old Tommy Gallagher (69) going once more into the fray. Tommy will still find it difficult, since even in 2007 the SDLP didn’t have a full quota here; and, while a proper running mate might have been an intolerable luxury, it might not help that the SDLP doesn’t even have a sweeper candidate in South Tyrone. Make no mistake, this is SF’s number one target, and if the Shinner vote here hits 40% – within sniffing distance of three quotas – Tommy will have a very hard time holding on.