May 7th, 2016

ni

Northern Ireland Assembly election - morning update #ae16

The first preference votes are now in, and over half the 108 seats have now been allocated. There has been no dramatic shift of support from the parties, and at least 11 of the 18 constituencies will return the same mix of MLAs as they did in 2011. But two themes are emerging for me.

First, the vote for all of the established parties is down. Down only slightly, 0.7%-0.8% for the DUP, UUP and Alliance, who will each return with (probably) the same number of seats as in 2011 but will have to struggle in some cases. Down 2.2% for the SDLP from an already low base, down 2.9% for Sinn Fein - the SDLP struggling mightily to minimise losses; the worst ever election in vote share for the SDLP and UUP. The beneficiaries are the smaller parties - the new Assembly will have two Greens rather than one, two new MLAs from the People Before Profits Alliance, and 19 29-year-old independent MLA Claire Sugden has held her seat, as has Jim Allister of the TUV.

Second, yet again the overall vote for Nationalist parties is down, even if you count in the votes for various independents in Nationalist areas; and the smaller Unionist parties failed to make a breakthrough - the PUP nowhere, Jim Allister unable to bring in a party colleague, UKIP wth a small chance of displacing SF in East Antrim and that's it. (The Northern Ireland Conservatives had another ultra-lousy election.) It's early days yet, but I think we are seeing the continuing fraying of the old ways.

In detail: the constituencies where there has been a change of line-up, or where one is still possible, are as follows.

East Antrim: Both Sinn Fein and the DUP are in trouble here, with the UUP and, uniquely, UKIP in the running for the last two seats. My guess is that the DUP's Alistair Ross will make it, but that SF will lose their seat to the UUP or UKIP. The latter are currently ahead, but I think they may prove less transfer-friendly.
East Londonderry: The SDLP seat here was under threat from SF. But I think Alliance transfers have now saved the SDLP so no change is now the more likley outcome.
Foyle: Veteran activist Eamonn McCann took one of the SDLP's three seats.
Lagan Valley: On first preferences I thought the DUP might repeat 2011's remarkable feat of winning four seats - despite having only three quotas, their balancing was good. But the UUP in the end managed not only to regain Basil McCrea's old seat but to add another.
South Belfast: For my money, the most dramatic result of the election, with likely two seat changing hands - the SDLP will lose one of their two to the Greens, and the DUP wll squeeze out the UUP.
Upper Bann: On first preferences, SF look well-placed to gain the SDLP seat, but I think Alliance transfers (as in East Londonderry) will save Dolores Kelly. Some observers are trying to convince me that there are not enough Unionist votes for four seats, and the SF could therefore gain from the UUP. I don't see it myself.
West Belfast: The other PBPA success, Gerry Carroll getting elected on the first count with a massive surplus, taking one of the five SF seats. It looked for a long time as if Alex Attwood was also in danger to the DUP, but in the end SF transfers salvaged the SDLP seat.

Two seats where no change happened: Strangford, where the SDLP yet again failed to make the breakthrough; and South Antrim where the UUP's success at Westminster failed to translate to the Assembly. Some optimists are trying to persuade me that Unionist transfers in Fermanagh and South Tyrone could sneak the SDLP in ahead of the third SF candidate, reversing the tightest result of the 2011 election. I'm not convinced.

My final seat tally:
DUP 38 (no change)
SF 27-28 (down 1-2)
UUP 16-17 (up 0-1)
SDLP 10-13 (down 1-4)
Alliance 8 (no change)
PBPA 2 (up 2)
Greens 2 (up 1)
TUV 1
Claire Sugden 1
UKIP 0-1 (up 0-1)

This gives the DUP 3 ministries, SF 2, the UUP 1 and the SDLP 1 of the seven allocated by d'Hondt - if they choose to take them - along with a DUP First Minister, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, and Justice Minister to be appointed by cross-community vote (likely from the Alliance Party).

Those with access to the BBC can watch my final stint this morning from 1030 till lunchtime at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bkyd3 - then I'm flying home!
big n

Northern Ireland Assembly Election: It's all over #ae16

Pausing between flights in Heathrow on my way home, I have time to type up the overall results. Apologies for the slight messiness below, but I think the details are clear.

Democratic Unionist Party 38 seats (no change) 202,567 first prefs 29.2% (-0.8%)
Sinn Féin 28 seats (−1) 166,785 first prefs 24.0% (−2.9%)
Ulster Unionist Party 16 seats (-) 87,302 first prefs 12.6% (−0.7%)
SDLP 12 seats (−2) 83,364 first prefs 12.0% (−2.2%)
Alliance Party 8 seats (-) 48,447 first prefs 7.0% (−0.7%)
Green 2 seats (+1) 18,718 first prefs 2.7% (+1.8%)
People before Profit Alliance 2 seats (+2) 13,761 first prefs 2.0% (+1.2%)
Traditional Unionist Voice 1 seat (-) 23,776 first prefs 3.4% (+0.9%)
Independent 1 seat (-) 22,650 first prefs 3.3% (+0.9%)
UKIP 0 seats 10,109 first prefs 1.5% (+0.8%)
Progressive Unionist Party 0 seats 5,955 first prefs 0.9% (+0.6%)
Conservative 0 seats 2,554 first prefs 0.4% (+0.4%)
NI Labour Representation Committee 0 seats 1,577 first prefs 0.2% (+0.2%)
Others 0 seats 6,745 first prefs 1.0% (+0.8%)

Here's a statement that I did not believe I would be typing before the votes were cast, or indeed this time yesterday when the first preference votes had become clear: the number of seats held by the Unionist parties did not change at all. The DUP took a UUP seat in South Belfast; the UUP took a DUP seat in neighbouring Lagan Valley. Otherwise, that was it, apart from some shifting of personnel. I think it's fair to say that this was unexpected. On the basis of the Westminster and local elections, I (and many others) had expected the DUP vote to be vulnerable to the fringe Unionists - TUV, PUP, UKIP - and to the UUP. Basically, it didn't happen; Jim Allister kept his seat and that was it. Turnout was up in Unionist constituencies, but not necessarily for Unionist parties.

On the Nationalist side, the thesis of the demographic determinists ("we'll outbreed yez!") must now be in disarray. The Nationalist vote decreased for the fourth electorasl cycle in a row; the combined SF and SDLP vote fell by over 5%. Both SF and the SDLP lost seats to the People Before Profit Alliance in Foyle and West Belfast; the SDLP also lost a seat to the Greens in South Belfast; the SDLP regained the seat they should not have lost last time from SF in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but lost to them in Upper Bann. The new Assembly will have only 40 members from Nationalist parties, the fewest since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In between, Alliance had something of a damp squib, holding their own (with tight squeezes for eg the party leader in South Antrim); but the Greens surged to take a South Belfast seat and hold North Down. The PBPA success demonstrated that voters in Nationalist areas are not always concerned about voting for Nationalist candidates - or indeed about voting; turnout was down in all Nationalist-majority seats. And it was nice to see Claire Sugden, thrust into public life at a relatively young age, making a successful defence in East Londonderry with no party infrastructure behind her.

And overall, the lack of change among the headline figures masks a shift towards the younger generation and to a more diverse Assembly. If I have counted correctly, 31 30 women were elected in Thursday's election, compared to 20 in 2011 and 23 in the outgoing Assembly after co-options. In the first election to the Northern Ireland House of Commons, in 1921, two women, Dehra Chichester and Julia McMordie, were elected to its 52 seats, both Ulster Unionists. There was only one woman member of the Stormont House of Commons when it was prorogued in 1972 (Anne Dickson, later leader of the UPNI). Times have changed.

In terms of the make-up of the next Executive, Alan Meban has crunched the D'Hondt numbers, coming to the same conclusion as my back-of-the-envelope calculations in the studio yesterday. (Let me also recommend my local garage and roofer/plumber.)

Closest results:
West Tyrone: Declan McAleer (SF) beat Grace McDermott (also SF) by 20.92
West Belfast: Alex Attwood (SDLP) beat Frank McCoubrey (DUP) by 88.99
East Antrim: Oliver McMullan (SF) beat Noel Jordan (UKIP) by 104.7
Mid Ulster: Keith Buchanan (DUP) beat Ian McCrea (also DUP) by 160.62
Lagan Valley: Brenda Hale (DUP) beat Jonathan Craig (also DUP) by 168
Upper Bann: John O'Dowd (SF) beat Dolores Kelly (SDLP) by 168
South Antrim: Trevor Clarke (DUP) beat Paul Michael (UUP) by 211

On my way to Belfast City airport after hours of non-stop commentary, I bumped into a UUP friend, who expressed their regret that UKIP had gained a seat in East Antrim. "Actually, that didn't happen," I told them. "Your voters didn't transfer to UKIP in sufficient numbers, and Sinn Fein kept their seat." Their face lit up with glee. Every vote counts, and not always the way you would expect.
books

Saturday Reading

Current
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Walking on Glass, by Iain Banks
How Loud Can You Burp?, by Glenn Murphy

Last books finished
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
Short Trips: Monsters, ed. Ian Farrington
The Quarry, by Iain Banks
Banewreaker, by Jacqueline Carey
Heritage, by Dale Smith

Next books
Godslayer, by Jacqueline Carey
George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt, by Lucy Hawking
Where Angels Fear, by Rebecca Levene and Simon Winstone

Books acquired in last week
Bételgeuse v 4: Les Cavernes, by Leo