Was McGuinness’ Foyle ‘gamble’ just about shoring the local SF vote…?

Back in January, Chris wrote, “the McGuinness to Foyle gamble has added much-needed spice to the electoral contest within nationalism”. So how did that go?

The answer is: not that well. He topped the poll, but only 37 votes ahead of Colm Eastwood, and he needed the transfers of sitting MLA he effectively ejected for the privilege of ‘coming home’. Or ‘the vanity project’ as Mark Carruthers described it.

In fact, both main nationalist parties suffered a near 10% loss here on a rising turnout. Colm Eastwood’s cheeky ‘3 into 2 won’t go’ from his leader’s speech came back to bite him in the form of the loss of Gerard Diver.

In his own town, it might be observed that the deputy First Minister is no big voter getter. Or if he is, then how much worse would it have been had he not run? Eamonn McCann has tapped a weakness here that was not that obvious to outside observers before.

But it was clearly real enough to bring the big yin back from Mid Ulster and sacrifice a capable and well-regarded female MLA.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Msiegnaro

    I think the electorate as a whole, Unionist/Nationalist/Other/None are getting tired of being taken for granted by having candidates parachuted into constituencies to save the party’s vote. One can argue that it failed here but it also failed for the UUP in FST, NB and SB.

    If people are going to be parachuted into constituencies they need time to build up their profile and to do the much needed groundwork which involves the mundane constituency work that many votes are gained from.

  • Declan Doyle

    But is she sacrificed? Sinn Fein tend to hang onto their good people. It is unlikely she will disappear under her blanket as a result of losing her seat. She will probably get a good job and stand again in the council elections ready to have another bash in 2021. MMG topped the poll and the SDLP lost a seat. Both parties suffered at the hands of a rising PBP. Maybe that is what the real motivation was behind McGuiness move. So, the story is that Sinn Fein held its two seats against the PBP threat and a falling nationalist turnout. Good days job.

  • Teddybear

    SF and DUP in a number of constituencies have fielded more candidates than necessary. Could it be that this was a sneaky ploy to rid themselves of low performing/I’ll-regarded sitting MLAs by bigging up the additional new candidate?

  • Msiegnaro

    I know the DUP wanted rid of McCrea in Mid Ulster but this is the only example I can think of.

  • Gingray

    Potential SPAD role beckons?

  • Neil

    MMG topped the poll and the SDLP lost a seat.

    That bears repeating, as one would almost think the reverse was true.

    The answer is: not that well. He topped the poll, but only 37 votes ahead of Colm Eastwood
    In his own town, it might be observed that the deputy First Minister is no big voter getter.

    If it was bad for SF in Derry then it was truly abysmal for the SDLP.

  • Mick

    In fact, both main nationalist parties suffered a near 10% loss here on a rising turnout.

    Those UTV figures don’t look right, or, at best, are misleading.

    By my reckoning there was a slight increase in numbers voting, up by less than a thousand to over 40,000, but a slight drop in percentage turnout of the electorate on 2011, 55.3% compared to 57.8%.

    The BBC figures look more realistic. They give a combined SF/SDLP drop of 10.8% on 2011 first preferences.

    SF dropped a couple of thousand votes and 5.5% of first preferences despite McGuinness ‘going home’, with the SDLP losing a similar number and 5.3% of first preferences to leave the gap between the two parties at 1.5%.

  • Ryan A

    The DUP didn’t. The local selection convention chose Buchanan. The leadership added McCrea.

  • Gopher

    Marty looks tired, SF look tired. His standing did not influence the poll one bit

  • Msiegnaro

    Rumblings of some sort then? I know the Mid Ulster Times report that some canvassers advised that Buchannon was “Arlene’s” choice.
    This is the only example of the DUP losing a potentially weak candidate.

  • Croiteir

    I would not read two much into it. The vote for both SF and SDLP was squeezed by the addition of Eamon McCann and Ann McCloskey. Both done very well and in doing well highlighted the dissatisfaction of a significant amount of people. I cannot see McCann wanting to stand if he is around, (a touch indelicate I know but he is 73), in 5 years and who will succeed him? (he is a flash in the pan, Belfasts Carroll smacks of permenancy), and McCloskey will not run as there is no chance she can win in a 5 seater against the resources of a party machine. There is a caveat of course. Will the SDLP be there in 5 years? Perhaps, and I say this to raise the question as I take their promises with a pinch of salt, FF will have came north and delivered the coup de grace that the SDLP need to put them out of their misery.

  • Dessie

    Phil Flanagan was wanted rid of in FST and SF got rid of him superbly. By running too many candidates and losing a seat to SDLP

  • Msiegnaro

    Flanagan still polled well despite his howlers during the term, agreed though – SF wanted him out.

  • mickfealty

    How else would you put it. She was co-oped and failed to get elected. After the fact, it’s legitimate to ask why?

  • Declan Doyle

    The reason or reasons appear clear and as you alluded to yourself. Maybe SF saw the writing on the wall regarding the challenge posed by PBP and the good Doctor. They both took a hell of a chunk out of the nationalist vote between them. Dissidents were lining up to vote against SF. The party might have thought they could only avoid the loss of a seat if MMG put his name up. Had he not done so and the party ended up with one MLA to SDLP’S two, McCann and independent and a Unionist; no doubt we would be hearing phrases suggesting ‘SF decimated in McGuinness heartland’ ‘Sinn fein loses seats in both back yards’ or other such headlines. As it is SF have maintained two seats. Job done.

  • Declan Doyle


  • Ryan A

    I’m not so certain the only case. It certainly looks like the Lagan Valley association, who have been reported to be hard line made sure the Free Ps topped the poll.

  • Gerry Lynch

    At every election the Shinners hype up their chances of coming out top in Foyle and every single time the SDLP get more votes than they do. And every time I get a good laugh out of it. In stark contrast to Belfast, there’s still a healthy working-class SDLP vote in Derry and it isn’t disappearing. As for McGuinness’ personal vote, the Shinners will have sensibly managed his vote (and generally did better in vote management than in 2011, when they were strangely off target lots of places). I don’t think that can be held against him or Sinn Féin.

    I’m not sure there’s much to see here. Eamonn was runner up last time and polled respectably in 2003 and 2007. I would have been surprised if he hadn’t won this time, to be honest. I was surprised that Anne McCloskey polled as well as she did, but she’s clearly a popular figure on the ground. I’m not sure that an electoral coalition of dissidents, generally on the hard left, and conservative Catholics, generally punctiliously law abiding, is sustainable, especially over several election-free years. But we’ll see.

    I think the more interesting question is whether there is space for a socially conservative Catholic party, or indeed a socially conservative party broad enough to encompass both conservative Catholics and the bits of Evangelicalism that are uncomfortable with the DUP’s tribalism and with the Loyal Orders. I don’t think Derry City is natural territory for a grouping like that to emerge, but most of rural NI could be. You could see conservative Catholic party – if it was competent and credible and polling, say, 4-5% – putting the SF seat in North Antrim under pressure and challenging in the 3 Fermanagh/Tyrone seats, Newry and Armagh and possibly South Down. Any candidate that could appeal to both conservative Catholics and the hipster Evangelical crowd in the Coleraine Triangle would be a banker in East Derry, pulling votes from the SDLP, SF *and* the DUP.

    The SDLP, in particular, are going to be in a bind for as long as abortion remains a significant issue in NI politics. Move pro-life, and they risk losing the urban middle-classes, something very obviously on display in South Belfast and that might prevent them ever taking Eamonn’s seat back in Foyle after he retired (and neither the North or West Belfast seats is that safe). Move pro-choice, and they risk the “strong farmer” type vote that is the backbone of their three seats in the rural West, none of which is all that massively safe either.

    And do nothing, and they end up looking like a rabbit in the headlights like they do on a dozen other issues.

  • Gerry Lynch

    As far as PBP goes, I think their missed opportunity – and every party always has one at every election – was not finding a strong candidate in North Belfast and then pulling resources away from the West to back them. If they’d have taken, say an extra 1000 votes from SF and 500 from the SDLP, then Nicola’s seat was in jeopardy, and Alliance (unfortunately from my pov) didn’t repeat their council election vote for what was their best chance of a gain anywhere this year. Next time, either the SDLP will have stabilised and Nicola will have bedded in or they will be going belly up and, in North Belfast, that means they will be haemorrhaging votes to Alliance and the Greens.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I hardly think it’s fair to call Lesley Carroll (Minister of Fortwilliam Presbyterian for nearly 20 years) a “parachute”. There just aren’t enough UUP votes in North Belfast for them to be competitive any more. Alliance often had this problem in the West – excellent candidates but the party brand was just far too weak.

  • Msiegnaro

    Parachuted in that she had done no prep work beforehand at a political leval and in fact according to Radio Ulster, Andy Allen was originally to contest this seat. What the UUP needs to do now is build up Carroll’s profile, however will this happen?

  • Gerry Lynch

    And the SDLP got more votes in Foyle than Spin Féin. It really is as simple as that.

  • Gerry Lynch

    She may not be interested in 5 years time. It’s a long slog, and the UUP is nearly moribund in Belfast generally. She was the perfect UUP candidate to take votes from Alliance but didn’t make a dent and finished 700 votes behind Nuala McAllister. I just don’t think there’s a UUP seat in North Belfast any more. Everybody else’s vote is locked up and the brand is too weak. As, I said, I remember excellent Alliance candidates in Foyle and West Tyrone having a similar incapacity to break through in the past.

    Without her, they’d have been looking at several hundred fewer votes.

  • Neil

    No one is saying otherwise. The SDLP lost a seat in Foyle though. The shinners broke even. McCann (as has been stated elsewhere) did not take a seat from SF in Foyle. One seat has changed hands and it was an SDLP seat. It really is as simple as that.

  • Msiegnaro

    Valid points Gerry, however the UUP has to do something – it can’t simply concede defeat?

  • Nevin

    “Was McGuinness’ Foyle ‘gamble’ just about shoring the local SF vote…?”

    Perhaps it was about putting manners on the new SDLP leader?

    “Eamonn McCann has tapped a weakness here that was not that obvious to outside observers before.”

    Caricaturing the SDLP and SF as ‘Uncle Tom’ parties would probably have gone down quite well with republicans who retained the faith, the followers of James Connolly.

  • Skibo

    Come the next election it will be a new battlefield completely. A five seater with possibly part of wast Belfast included. We could see three Nationalist and two Unionist.

  • Skibo

    Are dissidents voting? would it not be completely against their ideal that you do not give the state credibility by engaging in voting? Is that not their very complaint about SF, implementing British government?

  • Declan Doyle

    Oh for sure, it is an open secret in Derry and Belfast that dissident republicans organised to vote against SF.

  • Skibo

    How very cynical and duplicitous. To condemn SF for taking positions and administering British government and then use the same system to try and bring them down.