When asked by a journalist outside Sinn Fein’s Belfast Headquarters this morning, Gerry Adams (standing in the rain) said “Alisdair McDonnell has no chance of winning South Belfast”. It was something of a throwaway line. But he argued that McDonnell was motivating Unionists to come out and vote for their people. So it’s a safe bet that Sinn Fein’s hard core will not be backing McDonnell for this one.But, much against the trend elsewhere, they don’t really figure in this run off. The SDLP in South Belfast has already calculated the margins discounting that Sinn Fein support. They think it’s a three-way fight, with the winner taking it by less than 1000 votes. The idea that it is possible is motivating their activists to get out on the streets.
Last time out the figures were (roughly): DUP 21%; SDLP 23%; and the UUP: 27%. The SDLP will have to do two things: maximise their core vote and hope the Unionists cancel each other out. To that Mr Adams’ prediction valid if the Unionist voter has a clear choice to make.
How are they doing. Well it’s impossible to tell. This is not like other constituencies, where the DUP have put in good organisation years in advance and worked the electorate over four plus years. It helps too that key players from Martin Smyth’s constituency are canvassing. One of them told Slugger “I thought early on that we’d have a problem with name recognition, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more”.
The bookies took a lot of early money on Spratt. And they needed a good start. The problem for them is that they need to follow through hard, first to take McGimpsey and then to put the Nationalist challenger well to the rear.
Who’s going to win? Well put it this way, this is such uncharted territory for all concerned that none of the parties themselves really know. So whoever you choose: don’t bet the farm on it!
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