Alliance to burst through middle in South Belfast?

Well, it turns out that the Alliance’s candidate for the next Assembly election in south Belfast is Anna Lo, currently Chief Executive of the Chinese Welfare Association. It is a bit of a coup for a party that has consistently found itself outside the unionist/nationalist carve up at Stormont. If elected, she would be the only Chinese member of legislative Assembly in the UK. A classic match for one of Northern Ireland’s most diverse constituencies.The Chinese population in Northern Ireland are by far the largest single ethnic minority. According to the CWA:

Currently there are around 8000 Chinese resident in Northern Ireland, representing 51% of the total ethnic minority population. The Chinese community is currently the largest and most dispersed ethnic minority group living in the North. The majority of this community lives in the Greater Belfast Urban Area; there are also significant numbers in Craigavon, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and North Down. Irwin and Dunn, noted in their study of ethnic minorities, that the Chinese community is growing at a faster rate than the general population.

Undoubtedly the quality and profile of the candidate that will draw votes in from right across the community in South Belfast. It would be hard to bet against her taking the seat.

Figures last time out were:

UUP 8,469 (27.0%, +3.6%) 2 seats

SDLP 7,176 (22.9%, +1.2%) 2 seats

DUP 6,529 (20.8%, +6.7%) 1 seat

SF 3,933 (12.6%, +6.2%) 1 seat

NIWC 2,150 (6.9%, -2.7%) Best result for NIWC in Northern Ireland

Alliance 1,849 (5.9%, -4.1%)

With a total of valid votes 31,330 the quota stood at 4,476. As well as the Alliance vote, she might expect to take the lion’s share of the Womens’ Coalition are not standing this time. More recently, the Local Government election figures from last year show the usual consolidation of Alliance at the local level. But also their potential to get a good candidate pretty close to the quota first time out:

SDLP 8,538.5 (26.9%)

DUP 8,057.8 (25.4%)

UUP 6,250.5 (19.7%)

Alliance 4,045.6 (12.8%)

Sinn Fein 3,274.7 (10.3%)

Independents 425.8 (1.3%)

PUP 385.3 (1.2%)

Green 369.0 (1.2%)

Socialist Party (229.3 0.7%)

WP 142.0 (0.4%)

Lo could take votes from right across the piste, but she could also unlock a substantial ethnic minority vote, who traditionally have been reluctant to get involved in a set of political arguments that by and large treat their social and economic interests as something of an afterthought.

On the face of it, this is not (contrary to Seamus McKee’s line of questioning on Good Morning Ulster this morning) a gimmick. It puts considerable (and much unwanted) pressure on the second candidates from the both UUs and the SDLP, each of whom were always going to struggle this time out.

In the case of Esmond Birnie, the DUP were already biting at his heels, and the party’s capacity to manage the vote in this constituency seems virtually non-existent. The direct loser is likely to be the SDLP, although it is less than clear which of Alisdair McDonnell or Carmel Hanna would take the fall.

Alliance may end up chalking this up as a gain. But they will need a few more gifted candidate choices (and a bit of luck), if they are to fight their way out of their own tight spots elsewhere.