Morse on, South Belfast…

Name’s Morse, Sammy Morse… and today he looks at what has to be Belfast’s most intriguing constituency: South. He is certain that sitting UUP MLA will lose his seat to Chris Stalford. On the Nationalist/Centrist side of the house, it is a little more complex, particularly if Anna Lo can produce a beefy challenge.If, and only if, Lo can take back some of a highly fluctuating Alliance/Women’s Coalition base 6% and 15%, then it might produce problems for Sinn Fein or the SDLP’s sitting candidates.

The SDLP’s weakness:

…it’s worth bearing in mind that the only time the SDLP have broken the two-quota mark here is in Westminster Elections when there was clear evidence tactical voting. It’s hard to see both SDLP candidates being all that close to a first stage quota and if they balance poorly, their second runner might just lose out. Which of the two is more vulnerable? That’s anyone’s guess.

And Sinn Fein’s:

Their problem is transfer repellance. Throughout the 2003 count, Maskey attracted less than 100 transfers. It is very difficult to judge what will happen to the Sinn Féin vote here; Maskey’s unprecedented win in 2003 on 12.6% of the vote turned out to something of a high water mark for SF. In 2005, undoubtedly affected by the Robert McCartney murder and Northern Bank robbery, both of which occurred in the constituency, it fell to just 10.3% in the local elections, and aided by tactical voting in the General to just 9.0%. This would put Maskey deep, deep, in the danger zone.

Given his transfer repellance and a much stronger Alliance campaign than in 2003, I reckon Maskey needs to be about least 3% points ahead of Lo on the first count to keep Alliance out, or alternatively be about half a percentage point ahead of the SDLP’s weaker runner. That probably means that Maskey needs at least 12% to be in with a chance, and maybe 13% to be absolutely safe. Rumblings from the Sinn Féin camp indicate they believe they will have to work hard to hold this seat – this is the only seat in the Assembly they there is a risk (and it is only a risk) of them losing.

How does Maskey produce that winning 13%? Most of Sinn Féin’s vote here is ‘new’ SF, rather than ‘traditional’ SF. They musy hope that the negative fallout from 2004-5 has blown away, possibly aided by recent Sinn Féin decisions on policing. If so, Maskey should be around the 13-14% mark. On other hand they must hope that the traditional Republican vote isn’t too put off by the modernisation of Sinn Féin; contrary to popular belief, such a vote isn’t confined to the Markets – there’s a smattering of it in Ardmore and the Lower Ormeau. More importantly, there might be a lot of it among students and ex-students from traditionally republican rural areas. Nobody knows, but Maskey’s coalition is so broad that he must be careful of leaking too much at either end.

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