In recent elections Sinn Féin's vote in Upper Bann has increased and, when taken with the demographic changes in the make-up of the population of the constituency, it is clear that Sinn Féin is in a position to win a third nationalist seat. The political break-up of Upper Bann is approximately 50-50 and if the nationalist electorate turns out on Election Day, Sinn Féin will win a second party seat. That sixth seat is not a ‘unionist seat' as recent speculation in the media would have us believe.Well, I think that SF are.in a position to gain a second seat in Upper Bann next time, but it is much more likely to be from the SDLP. Looking at real numbers rather than fantasy, the community background of Upper Bann's inhabitants in 2001 came out at 55% Protestant (just under four quotas) to 43% (just over three) Catholic, which is not really 50/50 though would be on the cusp of delivering a third Nationalist seat if there was a direct mapping from community background to politics.
However the Nationalist vote in past elections was not high enough to credibly talk of a third seat. In the 2007 Assembly election the combined SDLP and SF total vote share was 38% - exactly the same as in 1998, nine years earlier. That demographic change is taking an awful long time to manifest itself.
That 38% vote share in 2007 was split almost 2 to 1 in SF's favour: the two candidates got 10,851 votes to the SDLP's 5,450. With a handful more votes, and better balancing, the Sinners could have ensured that both John O'Dowd and Dessie Ward stayed ahead of Dolores Kelly. As it was, O'Dowd was elected on the first count, topping the poll, and Ward struggled on as runner-up. I understand he has since left the party, so perhaps this week's statements are better interpreted as an attempt to boost internal morale than any reflection of reality.