February 13th, 2017


#AE17 North Antrim: DUP third seat tough to defend

North Antrim is the northeast corner of Northern Ireland, including the heartland towns of Ballymena, Ballymoney and Ballycastle. It had the second highest Unionist vote share in 2016 at 74.4%, narrowly pipped by Lagan Valley. That got five Unionist MLAs elected comfortably, and a 20.4% Nationalist vote elected one MLA from Sinn Fein.

2016 result
DUP 17,655 (43.1%, -4.5%) 3 seats
TUV 7,354 (17.9%, +6.2%) 1 seat
UUP 4,406 (10.7%, -1.0%) 1 seat
UKIP 1,027 (2.5%,)
Conservatives 92 (0.2%)

Alliance 1,318 (3.2%, -1.4%)
Green 513 (1.3%)
NI Labour 243 (0.6%)

Sinn Féin 5,297 (12.9%, -2.4%) 1 seat
SDLP 3,093 (7.5%, -1.6%)
2017 candidates
@Paul Frew (DUP)
@Phillip Logan (DUP)
@Mervyn Storey (DUP)
@Robin Swann (UUP)
@Jim Allister (TUV)
Timothy Gaston (TUV)

Patricia O'Lynn (Alliance)
Mark Bailey (Green)
Adam McBride (Ind)

Monica Digney (Ind)
Connor Duncan (SDLP)
@Philip McGuigan (SF)

All six incumbents are standing for re-election, SF's Philip McGuigan having replaced previous winner Daithi McKay a couple of months ago. There are only two women among the twelve candidates. The DUP are defending three seats with 2.6 quotas; the TUV are defending theirs with 1.1 quotas; and SF and the UUP are defending theirs with 0.8 and 0.6 of a quota respectively. In 2016 there were 4.5 Unionist quotas and 1.2 Nationalist quotas.

On the face of it, the TUV and SF seats look pretty safe (even with a former SF member standing as an independent), and the question is whether the DUP will make a clean sweep of the other three, or the UUP will manage to hang on (I suppose theoretically the second TUV runner might have a chance, but that would require better balancing than they have demonstrated hitherto). In theory, perfect vote management could keep the DUP ahead; in practice, I think their third seat is the most vulnerable of the current six.


#AE17 West Belfast: Will the SDLP or SF lose out - or both?

If North Antrim is Unionist heartland, West Belfast is the Republican heartland, with SF dominant for decades. Yet their vote share here in 2016 was the lowest since 1996, with the People Before Profit Alliance emerging as new challengers. The fact that the PBPA do not sit as Nationalists in Stormont knocked the Nationalist vote share here down to 61.8% which still delivered five MLAs, four SF and one SDLP. PBPA with 22.9% won their first seat, and the Unionists with 12.2% were not all that far off.

2016 result
DUP 3,766 (10.4%, +2.9%)
UUP 654 (1.8%, -2.4%)

PBP 8,299 (22.9%, +18.1%) 1 seat (+1)
WP 532 (1.5%, -0.2%)
Green 327 (0.9%)
Alliance 291 (0.8%, -0.3%)

Sinn Féin 19,752 (54.5%, -11.6%) 4 seats (-1)
SDLP 2,647 (7.3%, -5.9%) 1 seat
2017 candidates
Frank McCoubrey (DUP)
Fred Rogers (UUP)

Sorcha Eastwood (Alliance)
Ellen Murray (Green)
@Gerry Carroll (PBPA)
Michael Collins (PBPA)
Conor Campbell (WP)

@Alex Attwood (SDLP)
@Órlaithí Flynn (SF)
@Alex Maskey (SF)
@Fra McCann (SF)
@Pat Sheehan (SF)

All six incumbents are standing again (Órlaithí Flynn being a recent SF co-optee). SF are defending four seats on 3.3 quotas; the PBPA are defending their seat with 1.4 quotas; and the SDLP are defending theirs with 0.4 of a quota. In 2016 Unionist parties had 0.7 of a quota and Nationalist parties (not counting PBP, who do not designate as Nationalists in the Assembly) 3.7 quotas. On the face of it the PBPA seat looks safe, and indeed they are in a strong position to mount a challenge for a second one. SF have three safe, and the last will be a fight between the down-ticket fourth SF candidate and the SDLP, with the latter starting from a much weaker position - and there is always the possibility that both could lose out if the PBP vote is robust and well-managed, and the Unionists again do well enough to finish as runners-up (though that last is a tough proposition). If the SDLP fightback is to start anywhere, it must be here; otherwise they will lose representation in a seat which they held at Westminster twenty years ago.