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UKIP in NI

Former Ulster Unionist David McNarry, expelled from his party for slightly obscure reasons back in May, has joined the UK Independence party. UKIP have 12 MEPs but McNarry is the first of their representatives in any UK-based elected parliamentary body. (They scored 0.6% in the last Northern Ireland Assembly election, 0.9% for the Scottish Parliament, but rather better for the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru with 4.6% overall and missing a seat in North Wales by less than 2000 votes; they got 3.1% but no seats in the last Westminster election, and have three members in the House of Lords.)

I really think this is the most interesting thing to happen in Northern Ireland party politics since the demise of Robert McCartney and his similarly named UKUP. (Yes, I’m serious – much more interesting than the consolidation of DUP, SF and Alliance, or the slow decline of SDLP and UUP, let alone the dull saga of the Conservative linkup with the latter or the flash in the pan of the Traditional Unionist Voice.)

UKIP are on an electoral roll. In 2009 they came second in the Euro-election UK-wide without even registering as a blip on opinion polls at the time. Now they are within striking distance of double figures in the latest polls, and surely must have a good chance of catching first place in the 2014 European elections, from their votes England, Scotland and Wales.

I’d have thought that there is a decent prospect, though far from a certainty, that a UKIP candidate could take one of the two Unionist seats in the European Parliament in Northern Ireland in 2014. Unlike the Tories, UKIP come with no grounds for suspicion of their true intentions; their branding is pretty perfect for an appeal for a one-off protest vote to habitual Unionist voters. There are parallels with Jim Allister in 2009, but my gut feeling is that UKIP, with a good candidate who starts to establish himself or herself now, should actually do better.

(And before anyone asks – no, I still don’t see any chance of two Nationalists winning seats in 2014.)

I imagine it will be a Euro-election only performance, of course – at Westminster in 2015 UKIP will be nowhere, and at the next Assembly election they should just about manage to keep McNarry’s seat (if he contests it) in the volatile Strangford, with Reilly having a chance in South Down, for a total of one or two out of 108. But it's an interesting intervention in Northern Ireland's rather undynamic political architecture.

Comments

ceemage
Oct. 7th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
Will McNarry change his Assembly designation from Unionist to Other? If UKIP clearly position themselves as a cross-community party within the NI context, there are arguably Nationalist Eurosceptic votes (or, in the Euro Elections context, lower preferences) to be garnered.

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