Lagan Valley scramble for seats…

There were some interesting pieces in the Irish Times yesterday that I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up… Dan Keenan was in Lagan Valley (subs needed), one of the most difficult seats to call, not least because of the retirement of Seamus Close and Patricia Lewsley, and the UUP’s decision to run three candidates where arguable Jeffrey Donaldson’s vote holds vast sway. But, argues Keenan, it is precisely this popularity that could lose them the chance of taking a coveted fourth seat.Their fourth candidate who will need some of those Donaldson first preferences is like occasional Slugger commenter Chris Stalford in South Belfast, both young and a first tim councillor. The type, perhaps, who might have joined Trimble’s Ulster Unionists ten years ago:

Paul Givan (25) is one of the bright young things of the DUP who is not satisfied with winning a council seat last year. He wants Stormont. Affable and clear-headed, he’ll tell you why it’s the DUP and not the Ulster Unionists that is attracting a new generation of politicos born during the hunger strikes.

“I looked at Peter Robinson, Gregory Campbell, Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson. Compare them to the likes of Ken Maginnis, John Taylor – and I said ‘Nah’.” For him and his pragmatic brand of politics there’s no crisis of conscience in sharing power with Sinn Féin. He doesn’t like it – but he’ll do it. He is anxious to get on with things, though there’s a slight worry. There is a canvass this evening – but no party literature. It’s a problem, but it’s a laugh too. He’s enjoying it. David Trimble lives in this constituency too. His door will be knocked. It’ll be fun.

Interestingly, with only a single nationalist quota, the fate of both the UU hopeful Basil McCrea and the SDLP Marietta Farrell could rest with how the Alliance vote holds up, or, they hope, doesn’t hold up. Sinn Fein on the other hand are front loading all their efforts into getting first preferences on a number of private housing estates on the edge of Twinbrook. Keenan’s constituency profile (subs needed):

The SDLP did well here in 2003 to retain its sole Assembly seat against the rising Sinn Féin vote. Good council and Westminster elections since then have given Sinn Féin fresh confidence that the sole nationalist quota in this constituency is finally in its reach. A registration drive by Sinn Féin in new housing developments close to Twinbrook boosted that confidence.

The SDLP has lost its high profile incumbent, Patricia Lewsley, and her less well-known replacement, Marietta Farrell, will be hard pushed to fend off a strong challenge from Sinn Féin’s Paul Butler.

The retirement of Alliance stalwart Séamus Close makes this seat very unpredictable. He attracted a considerable personal vote from both unionists and nationalists and it is anyone’s guess where, if anywhere, the Alliance vote will go.

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