February 12th, 2017


Interesting Links for 12-02-2017


#AE17 Lagan Valley: UUP most likely to lose out

This is the first of a bunch of election profiles I'll be posting for the upcoming Northern Ireland Assembly election over the next week or so.

Lagan Valley, which is basically Lisburn on Belfast's southern edge and Dromore a little further south, was the most Unionist constituency in Northern Ireland in the last Assembly election - 74.6% of the vote went to nine candidates from five parties, electing three DUP and two UUP (the DUP, who benefited from UUP disarray in 2011 and won four seats that year, lost one to the UUP in 2016). The last seat went to Alliance, who got only 9.5% of first preferences but benefited from transfers. The Nationalist parties had 10.2% between them.

2016 results
DUP 18,325 (47.2%, -5.9%) 3 seats (-1)
UUP 8,247 (21.2%, +0.8%) 2 seats (+1)
TUV 1,291 (3.3%, +0.4%)
UKIP 768 (2.0%)
Conservative 341 (0.9%)

Alliance 3,707 (9.5%, -2.9%) 1 seat
Green 1,118 (2.9%, +1.2%)
Independent 817 (2.1%)
NI Labour 171 (0.4%)
Democracy First 124 (0.3%)

SDLP 2,899 (7.5%, +1.4%)
Sinn Féin 1,045 (2.7%, -0.7%)
2017 candidates
@Brenda Hale (DUP)
@Paul Givan (DUP)
@Edwin Poots (DUP)
@Robbie Butler (UUP)
@Jenny Palmer (UUP)
Sammy Morrison (TUV)
Matthew Robinson (Cons)

@Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
Dan Barrios-O'Neill (Green)
Keith Gray (Ind Lab)
Johnny Orr (Ind)

Pat Catney (SDLP)
Peter Doran (SF)

All six retiring MLAs are standing again (not very surprising since it is less than a year since the last election). There are only two women among the thirteen candidates. The DUP are defending three seats with 2.8 quotas; the UUP are defending two with 1.2 quotas; and Alliance is defending one with 0.6 of a quota. In 2016 there were 4.5 Unionist quotas (as noted above, the highest anywhere) and 0.7 of a quota for Nationalist parties.

So it's pretty clear that there are four Unionist seats between five sitting MLAs. The numbers from last time point pretty clearly to those going 3 DUP, 1 UUP. If there is indeed a swing against the DUP due to recent controversy, this is one of the bellwether constituencies where one might see a change. Let's not forget that Patrick Roche came out of nowhere to take a seat here for the UKUP in 1998.

Outside the Unionist camp, Alliance could be vulnerable to the SDLP in the event of a Nationalist surge or Alliance dip. But their position is a bit more robust than the raw figures may suggest. The Greens (2.9%) and Jonny Orr (2.1%) are in the same part of the electoral spectrum, and transferred to Alliance ahead of the SDLP. Their voters will presumably do so again, on second or even first preference.

My call: second UUP seat is under the most pressure here, but nobody can rest easy.

#AE17 South Down: REVISED: Unionists (probably UUP) more likely to lose out

South Down, Northern Ireland's southeastern corner including Downpatrick, Newcastle and the Mournes, was Northern Ireland's most Nationalist constituency at the last Assembly election (Foyle and West Belfast, normally well ahead on that score, voted in unprecedented numbers for the non-aligned People Before Politics). 62.5% of the vote elected four Nationalist MLAs, two SDLP and two SF. 30.2% 27.4% elected two Unionists, one DUP and one UUP. Alliance got 5.4% and the Greens 2.0%.

2016 result
DUP 5,033 (12.3%, -0.2%) 1 seat
UUP 3,481 (8.5%, -2.1%) 1 seat
TUV 2,718 (6.6%)

Alliance 2,200 (5.4%, +3.3%)
Green 820 (2.0%, -0.7%)
Independent 1,156 (2.8%)

SDLP 12,911 (31.4%, -4.4%) 2 seats
Sinn Féin 12,756 (31.1%, +0.2%) 2 seats
2017 candidates
@Jim Wells (DUP)
@Harold McKee (UUP)
Lyle Rea (TUV)
Gary Hynds (Cons)

Patrick Brown (Alliance)
Hannah George (Green)
Patrick Clarke (Ind)

@Sinead Bradley (SDLP)
@Colin McGrath (SDLP)
Sinead Ennis (SF)
@Chris Hazzard (SF)

Five of the incumbent MLAs are standing again, with one retirement from Sinn Fein. The SDLP and SF are both defending two seats with 1.9 quotas; the DUP and UUP are defending theirs with 0.7 and 0.5 of a quota respectively. In 2016 there were 1.8 1.6 Unionist quotas and 3.8 Nationalist quotas, which on the face of it makes the battle not to come sixth a very close one.

Edited to add: I had missed the crucial fact that the votes cast for independent candidate John McCallister in 2016 (he had been elected as UUP in 2007 and 2011, and was subsequently deputy leader of NI21 until its collapse) largely failed to transfer to anyone, and therefore cannot really be counted as Unionist votes. Taking that into account knocks Unionists down to 1.6 quotas, which significantly changes my analysis. I'm keeping my original text below, but struck through.

Unionists tend to be better at internal transfers, so my hunch would be that the seat lost is a Nationalist one. The SDLP and SF were very close to each other last time; it will very much come down to which of them balances their votes better. SF are starting from behind on two counts - slightly fewer votes in the first place, and a long-standing incumbent retiring. On the other hand, SF have been consistently better at managing their votes, here and elsewhere. It may turn into a nail-biter.

Less so, I think on the Unionist side, provided the vote holds up overall. The TUV have swapped out well-known local figure Henry Reilly for Lyle Rea, who stood and lost in Lagan Valley last time, and the Conservatives are also standing someone, but I expect the vote for the two incumbents to consolidate, and it may prove easier for two Unionist parties to get two people elected on 1.9 quotas than for one Nationalist party to do the same. Still, there are a lot of ifs in that; we may find the second Unionist, the second SDLP and the second SF candidates all very close to each other for the final seat.

As noted above, Unionists combined will struggle to elect a second MLA here, and the UUP start from much the worse position. Transfers from non-aligned parties have tended to favour the SDLP here in the past. So it looks rather likely that the UUP will lose out, though one can't discount the possibility of imbalance between candidates on the Nationalist side making the final counts exciting.


Sunday reading

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (a chapter a month)
THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the U.K., 1930-1980, by Rob Hansen
To Lie with Lions, by Dorothy Dunnett
Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch
Short Trips: Time Signature, ed. Simon Guerrier

Next books
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
The Parrot's Theorem, by Denis Guedj
The Eye of the Tyger, by Paul McAuley