Slugger O'Toole

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Profile for Nicholas Whyte

Husband, father of three, Irish, European, UK, Belgian citizen, liberal, Catholic, political analyst, science fiction fan, psephologist, lapsed medievalist, aspiring polyglot.

Latest posts from Nicholas Whyte (see all)

Nicholas Whyte has posted 5 times (1 in the last month).

The 11 new district councils – projecting the 2011 votes

Sun 6 April 2014, 10:35pm

Tweet For us anoraks, there is both frustration and challenge at the thought of the Northern Ireland council elections next month, taking place for 11 new local government districts, on completely redrawn electoral boundaries, with the full details of the last census not yet out in sufficient detail that the enthusiast can calculate changes down […] more »

Ending co-terminosity

Sun 29 April 2012, 5:19pm

Tweet One of the less frequently used buzz-words in Northern Irish politics is “co-terminosity”, which is shorthand for the fact that members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are elected from constituencies with the same boundaries as those used for Westminster elections. It seems to me that co-terminosity has had its day, and if the long-postponed […] more »

Brussels (and Durban)

Fri 9 December 2011, 6:52am

Tweet The EU summit is mostly over. A seven-page statement by the leaders of the countries using the euro outlines the solution: there will be a new treaty involving all the EU member states except the UK and Hungary, with the Poles Swedes (thanks for correction) and Czechs going away to think about it. (Edited […] more »

Thoughts from Brussels on the euro crisis

Sun 4 December 2011, 3:29pm

Tweet I have been prodded – both by being on a radio panel discussion today and by the awesome Catie – to assemble some thoughts on the euro crisis and what it means for both parts of Ireland. There is a certain air of pessimism at present, driven largely by recent pieces in the Financial […] more »

The SDLP leadership candidates, ranked on internet use and internal organisation

Thu 3 November 2011, 11:44am

Tweet The SDLP elects its fifth leader this coming weekend, with four male candidates in the running (the deputy leadership has been filled, without contest, by a woman). Since 1998, when the party topped the first preference tallies for the first Assembly election, the SDLP has lost votes and seats at almost every election cycle […] more »

Latest comments from Nicholas Whyte (see all)

Nicholas Whyte has commented 200 times (12 in the last month).

  1. Comment on If you want change, this is not the election to boycott: a response to Alex Kane
    on 22 April 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Basically, a vote that is cast is always worth more than a vote which is not cast. Nobody will care if the turnout is 25% or less, and it will not deter elected representatives from claiming a mandate. Bob McCartney got the votes of one elector in seven, 14.3% when he won in North Down in 1995, but he broadcast it as a triumph and most commentators bought that. Labour won the 2012 Manchester Central by-election with 69% of an 18% turnout, so Lucy Powell MP sits on the green benches thanks to one in eight of the electorate supporting her. Does it diminish her credibility in parliament?

    It is true, as a number of commentators have said, that spoiled ballot papers do make an impression on the activists who see them at the count. It’s a fairly small audience, but one that is easy to reach. Certainly it’s a more effective way of conveying a message than simply abstaining, but that is not saying much.

    Sure, politicians ought to be worried by low turnout. But in practice they are more worried by people voting for other parties than they are by people who don’t vote at all. If you just sit back and ignore them, there is no cost to them whatsoever in returning the favour.

    As long as everyone behaves as if every election is about the border (whereas in fact it can only be changed by a referendum rather than an election), many voters will respond to what they are told voting is all about. On the other hand, if there was a non-partisan body demanding better outputs from politicians, in the form of clear and deliverable policy commitments before the elections, and objectively assessed performance afterwards according to their own commitments, that could make a big difference.

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  2. Comment on The 11 new district councils – projecting the 2011 votes
    on 12 April 2014 at 12:14 pm

    On the discussion of the boundaries – I don’t like them much myself, but I think it is wrong to use the word “gerrymandering”, which means unfair manipulation of boundaries to ensure a particular electoral result. This was a bureaucratic process which was specifically instructed to prioritise conservatism ahead of service delivery, hence the result.

    No matter how you draw boundaries for X number of councils in Northern Ireland, with roughly equal population, you will find that you have a little over half of them with a Unionist majority and the rest with a Nationalist majority, and maybe one in the middle. And given current electoral trends, that is going to put the DUP and SF in pole position – but that is because of the way people vote, not because of where the lines are drawn on the map. So allegations of gerrymandering (or indeed of a “carve-up” from people who are still aggrieved that they got fewer votes in the last election) frankly go too far, and weaken the argument.

    Anyone familiar with Belfast must concede that there was an overwhelming case for it incorporating both Twinbrook/Poleglass and inner Castlereagh, which are socially very closely linked to the rest of the city; and the case for Glengormley, Holywood, Dundonald (and even Minnowburn, which is surprisingly far out if you are driving) etc is much weaker. The whole process was pretty transparent for those who cared to pay attention at the time. The Commissioner’s reports have vanished from the government website but are archived here (see Belfast boundaries specifically here).

    I do agree about the internal links in County Antrim (and indeed wrote about this at some length in my submissions to the parliamentary boundary commission). At the same time, once you have been given the remit to merge 26 councils down to 11 with a roughly similar population and only minimal surgery (Belfast apart), there aren’t a lot of choices. I note that in the original consultation document (see pages 41 and 43), not a single one of the proposed 7-council or 11-council models merged Antrim and Ballymena.

    I also agree that Lisburn/Castlereagh looks odd, though with all due respect to people who have been there more recently than I have, the Forestside decision looks about right to me – the remit was to include residential areas that look to Belfast in the city boundary, and Forestside isn’t exactly residential. The alternative to Lisburn/Castlereagh is to put Dundonald (including Carrowreagh which should be understood as northeast Dundonald) in with North Down and Ards (which is sensible enough) and then Lisburn has to take in Antrim (which makes a lot less sense, and also see above about internal linkages in County Antrim as a whole).

    Really I’d have preferred a much more wholesale revision of the districts, which would certainly have given us less sprawling output. To take three examples: the Dundonald salient, as discussed above; the north-south v east-west split in Country Antrim, also as discussed above; the inclusion of the Clogher Valley in a district which stretches up to Magherafelt, rather than the new Omagh/Fermanagh district. But the political choice was made pretty early on to stick to existing boundaries by and large, and we have what we have.

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  3. Comment on The 11 new district councils – projecting the 2011 votes
    on 12 April 2014 at 11:51 am

    Sorry to be slow in responding – I’ve been on the road for the last few days.

    Red Lion, as I said to Gopher earlier, these are 2011 numbers – a “pastcast” in Charles Gould’s elegant formulation – so no NI21. There simply are no statistics to go on. If I had to guess, I’d expect them to pick up a handful of seats in Lisburn/Castlereagh, south and east Belfast, and maybe County Down. Getting into double figures would be a very good result.

    Ulidian – all I’m saying is that there were enough votes for independents in Moyle in 2011 that I would have expected one to get in if the election had been held on the new boundaries. Of the four independent councillors elected in 2011, Padraig MacShane got the most votes, for what that is worth.

    Gingray – specifically on Lisnasharragh – I don’t have a strong view, but Irish Observer’s projection of 2 DUP, 2 Alliance, 1 SDLP and 1 UUP from 2011 looks sound to me. I understand that both the Greens and SF have hopes there for this year.

    Charles Gould – back in the day, I was always a bit mystified that Alliance did not do better in Ballymena. On the basic demographics it’s similar to a lot of places which are good territory for the party. But I am not a Ballymena expert.

    mjh – thanks for your detailed analysis. I can’t really challenge you on any of the specifics, but I’m grateful for your thought-provoking efforts.

    Long reply follows about the overall process.

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  4. Comment on The 11 new district councils – projecting the 2011 votes
    on 7 April 2014 at 1:54 pm


    I think our differences are probably within the realm of reasonable variation between reasonable people. I do note that you are consistently giving the SDLP slightly better results and SF slightly worse than I am. We’ll see; my feeling is that in 2011 the SDLP slipped behind in a lot of places – they were the only party that consistently lost seats everywhere – and my projection reflects that. If they can find the ignition key, of course, it’s a different matter.

    Lisburn/Castlereagh gave me by far the biggest headaches, as I think is apparent. Not all of Dunmurry Cross goes into Belfast, so that accounts for most of the discrepancy between our tallies right away. SF got 6860 votes in Dunmurry Cross in the last election; I transfer 5946 of them to Belfast keeping 914 in Lisburn. But you and I differ by 1100 rather than 900, so I’m not sure where the other 200 come from. (Possibly Castlreagh West.) But I’m prepared to accept that there are other ways to crumble this cookie.

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  5. Comment on The 11 new district councils – projecting the 2011 votes
    on 7 April 2014 at 6:39 am

    Gopher – no figures for NI21 because these are the 2011 votes and they weren’t around yet!

    Larne Man – I’m calling 2 Nats in Killultagh, Lisburn Town North and Castlereagh South, and 1 in Downshire West. Yes, three-quarters of SF’s vote in Lisburn, and 40% of the SDLP’s, is transferred to Belfast, but that still leaves a fair bit.

    Wabbits – I accept that most of those votes for independent candidates in Strabane in 2011 will make their way back to the SDLP one way or the other. That still leaves the SDLP behind SF in votes.

    Effect of increased quotas: makes it tougher for candidates with just one strong area of support (which normally means independents). Otherwise hits everyone equally.

    Demographics: Don’t forget the age differential (the figures I give include under-18s as well) and the None/Other category.

    Turnout affects parties as well as communities. My gut feeling in 2011 was that the SDLP voters in particular just weren’t motivated. Part of any election campaign is maximising your own supporters’ presence at the ballot box. (Except here in Belgium, where voting is compulsory.)

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  6. Comment on The 11 new district councils – projecting the 2011 votes
    on 6 April 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks to three of you. Good catch, Seamuscamp, I’ve corrected the error.

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  7. Comment on It takes the threat to Cameron’s survival to wake Westminster up to the threat of Scottish independence
    on 3 April 2014 at 10:10 am

    The precedent on this, actually, from both the non-Sinn Fein Irish MPs elected to Westminster in 1918 fro the 26 Counties, and the MPs elected from the future independent state of East Timor to the Indonesian parliament in 1999, is that the representatives of the seceding area keep their seats until the end of the parliamentary term, even if their electoral district is no longer part of the country. Of course the numbers were much smaller in both cases.

    South Sudanese members were excluded from the Sudanese Parliament in April 2010, between the January referendum and the July implementation of South Sudanese independence. But that is hardly best practice.

    The other question is, of course, what to do about the Scottish members of the upper house? The Irish representative peers were allowed to linger on in the House of Lords until they all died off. Again, the numbers were comparatively small, and there are a lot more Scots in ermine. It may spark the much-needed general reform, or even abolition, of the Other Place.

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  8. Comment on NI21 issue open call for council candidates: fresh politics or desperate measures?
    on 3 April 2014 at 7:50 am

    Sure. I don’t want to exaggerate either – in most election, 80%-90% of people do cast their votes on the basis of party preference, and Northern Ireland has a very slow electoral cycle; the shift from UUP to DUP and from SDLP to SF of the early 2000′s won’t be quickly undone (and when it ultimately is undone, for nothing is permanent, there’s every likelihood that the next dominant parties will be new groups that have not been founded yet).

    Taking this back to where the discussion started, this is in part because good candidates will tend to join successful or rising parties – it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but the fact is that a good campaign exploits both a consistent and attractive central party message, and the sorts of hardworking candidates who are able to appeal to the 10%-20% who are casting their votes on other grounds. And every vote matters to the candidate or party who gets it, whatever the reason it may have been cast for them.

    And in this particular case, seven weeks from the election is not very long to identify, select and establish your candidates!

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  9. Comment on Fianna Fail sets 2019 as a target date for running in NI elections
    on 2 April 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Dev, of course, stood as a Fianna Fáil candidate for Stormont in 1933, and won – as discussed in this 2006 Slugger thread.

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  10. Comment on NI21 issue open call for council candidates: fresh politics or desperate measures?
    on 2 April 2014 at 11:35 am

    DC and Tmitch57,

    Sorry to be slow in replying – it’s been a busy couple of days.

    I said:

    “Northern Ireland’s electorate is pretty sophisticated in some ways, and I find a lot more evidence for tactical voting, and votes for personality rather than party, than is sometimes expected.”

    Of course the volatility of the North Down electorate is the most striking example of this – Sylvia Hermon’s vote in both elections that she fought as a UUP candidate was way ahead of the votes the party has got in any other North Down election, and her vote as an independent was further ahead again; part of this is Alliance not standing in 2001 and then the DUP not standing in 2010, but that’s not the dominant element.

    But it’s not only the fluffy areas of expanded Belfast. Kieran Deeney in West Tyrone in 2005 clearly got votes from 1800 or so people who would normally have voted for one of the Unionist parties. Mark Durkan gets a thousand or so votes from similar sources; Margaret Ritchie perhaps two thousand. (Though equally they clearly outpoll their party anyway; they are getting voters who don’t vote for anyone at all in other elections.) Going the other direction, I reckon about 900-1000 votes for Ian Paisley jr in 2010 came from people who normally vote Nationalist.

    And it’s not just at Westminster elections either. A well-placed and well-organised independent candidate – ie one who has chosen to run some time earlier than six weeks before the elections – can usually break through, especially in smaller districts. Independents have been the largest or second largest grouping on Moyle Council (the smallest of the outgoing 26) since it was created in 1973.

    It is easy to fall into the trap of describing all of this as “tactical voting” and minimising its importance, or indeed looking for sinister deals which cause people to vote against their perceived “type”. But the fact is that if a “Nationalist voter” votes Unionist, then she is ipso facto not a Nationalist voter, and models of voting behaviour that equate census identification too closely with political preference are doomed to disappointment. I know – I’ve made that mistake often enough myself!

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