Sammy Morse, on West Belfast…

Sammy gives excellent background on the safest seat in Westminster, and the largest singe Catholic population in Northern Ireland. But the story of West Belfast very much lies on the Unionist side of the fence. Diane Dodds barely scrapped home ahead of a fifth Sinn Fein candidate, and may struggle to do the same. Not, as Sammy points out, because there is not enough people on the Loyalist side of the fence, but because traditionally the turnout is significantly lower. On the upside, Dodds was fighting in new territory for the DUP last time out. Last time out they took half the Unionist vote, and only the UUs stand against them.

There is no question that people on the Falls are better at getting out and voting than people on the Shankill. I’ve heard people on Slugger claim that the turnout in 2003 was 74% in Nationalist areas and only 59% in Unionist areas. That doesn’t quite fit the figures, but it’s certain that differential turnout is significant. For example, in the City Council elections in 2005, turnout in Lower Falls was 68%, in Upper Falls 68%, in Court only 57%. My own view is that this gap is closing as turnout falls across West Belfast (from 74% in the 1997 General Election to just 64% in the 2005 one). Still, a 10% differential might be less than the traditional handicap for Unionists here, but it’s hardly nothing either.

That meant that the combined vote for candidates from the Unionist tradition in 2003 was 4754 – just 60 more than the quota, or 14.4%. That’s just a bit too tight to be certain of a seat if there are a large number of Unionist candidates in the race. In 2003, Diane Dodds ran alongside UUP and PUP competitors as well as an Independent from the Highfield area. Transfers are never 100% perfect – some voters just like to buck the party line, others insist on voting for one candidate only, or three candidates only. At the crucial point in the count when both the UUP and PUP were eliminated together, only a miserable 70% of their votes transferred to Dodds. That was nearly enough to cost Unionists their seat.

Two factors will make things easier for Dodds this time. Firstly, only the UUP will run a candidate to challenge Dodds from the Unionist side. Moreover, the DUP have considerably bolstered their position within West Belfast unionism – in 2003 they took just over half of unionist votes in West Belfast. By the time the Westminster election in 2005 came, they were outpolling the UUP by a ratio of 9:2. The DUP are less dependent on UUP transfers, and more masters of their own fate than before, although they will still want to try and increase their dismal rate of transfers from the UUP.

And that’s where the second ameliorative factor comes in. I haven’t seen anyone else mention the significance of this, but Joe Hendron will not be on the ballot paper in West Belfast. It’s hardly a trade secret that in the 1992 and 1997 general elections, Hendron pulled a significant tactical vote from the Shankill, much to the annoyance of Sinn Féin. What is less remarked on is that a small section of that vote stayed loyal to Hendron right to the end.

In 2003, on the elimination of the UUP and PUP, 12% of their transfers, or 259 votes transferred to Hendron. When Hendron was himself eliminated, 112 of his 3000-odd votes transferred to the DUP, and it’s reasonable to assume at least a small portion of the 416 votes that didn’t transfer from him – even to Alex Attwood – were voters who transferred to the UUP and/or PUP and then stopped. With Hendron out and only two unionist candidates in the running, it is likely that more of these votes will end up on the DUP pile by the end of the count.

All of that makes the DUP position better than it was in 2003 – as long as they can get their voters out in the first place.

Turnout will be key. There is some circumstantial evidence that Sinn Fein’s impressive electoral machine is still very much intact in Belfast, and they are working hard to get people on the electoral register either by proxy or through postal vote. Ostensibly to get rid of Dodds, though some insider the SDLP suspect that Alex Attwood is the real target.

However, Sammy is doubtful that Sinn Fein can pull off that last seat:

Firstly, in recent years Adams in General Elections has tended to outpoll the SF team in Assembly elections.

Secondly, Adams will top the poll and some of his surplus will leak. Last time, roughly 15% of his surplus, or 167 votes were lost to the Shinners. And there is a limit to the extent they can afford to keep Adams’ vote down; would you like to be the Sinn Féin press officer who had to explain to the world how their party leader (and alleged demigod) lost his seat in a quixotic, and failed, attempt to squeeze an extra seat? No, I can’t see that happening either, so Adams will have to be allowed to poll 6000 or so votes, and SF will effectively lose about 150 of them.

Thirdly, Sinn Féin were significantly helped last time by having about 1600 votes transferred from the SDLP at various stages. With less SDLP votes in play, there will in turn be fewer votes transferred from the SDLP to SF. Indeed, SF will probably have very few transfers to come from other parties at all. That raises the bar for them further.

Finally, it is very hard to balance five candidates, even when one of them isn’t called Gerry Adams. Sinn Féin are as good as it gets at this sort of game, but there ain’t no such thing as perfection. Last time, Adams topped the poll with 6199 votes, the three middle candidates were very well balanced with between 3800 and 4100, while Sue Ramsey was left somewhat stranded on 2988. That’s pretty good shootin’, but had Ramsey not been quite so adrift on the first count, or got more than a measly proportion of Adams’ Stage 2 transfers, she probably would have been elected. They might do a little better this time, but there is a limit. And Dodds will probably be closer to a final stage quota this time than she was last time.

All of this means that I think Sinn Féin need to be very close to the 5 quota mark, say polling around 69-70%, before they can be confident of taking five seats. I don’t know they can do that this year. They are going to have to work to get their vote out, and while Republican Sinn Féin’s Geraldine Taylor will not get the vote that her colleagues in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh will, the Republican base is so big here that she must be looking at a reasonable four figure vote – say around 1500-2000. Even if one previous SF voter in 20 stayed at home, and one in 40 voted for Taylor and failed to transfer, Sinn Féin would be 1600 votes down. They can’t afford that. Three months ago, I would have laid a big bet on 5 Shinners being elected here, but I just don’t see it quite happening this year.

All of which, Sammy believes should allow the SDLP to keep its seat, though he notes that with barely a quota they are playing with fire by running Margaret Walsh alongside Attwood.

  • Henry94

    Leaving aside from the natural competitiveness of an election it’s probably not a good idea to have a near monopoly of seats held by one party in a constituency. I don’t think the drive for a fifth seat is going to particularly motivate people when the party has four already.

    If it happens it happens but I’d rather see an extra seat come somewhere else. A seat in Soth Antrim would mean a lot more.

  • Yokel


    Perfectly understandable. Breaking new ground is definitely more exciting than mopping up strongholds and gaining depth of support geographically is critical in the long term.

    By the way can some advise whoever stuck Fra’s posters up on the Lower Springfield Road of two things:

    1. Lads either your cable ties are crap or you can’t tie, several are flopping around.

    2. Nice to see you landed one on a Lanark way lampost beside the gates…pointing towards the Shankill. We all know what you were thinking for a laugh…

    I have to say unless the unionists don’t turn out Dodds is definitely in. Initially I thought she’d be struggling but when you see the numbers, its very much in the hands of the unionists up there. Either they get off their arse or they don’t. With something to fight for, they may well actually do so.

  • jeep55


    You mean a seat for the Foyle ‘import’ who has set up shop about 3 metres inside the South Antrim constituency boundary? Unionists will transfer to David Ford in their droves and good luck to them (and him). My prediction is that SF will get 4 in West Belfast and will struggle very hard for the last South Antrim seat. If they do get it may well be at the expense of the SDLP.

  • Lads either your cable ties are crap or you can’t tie, several are flopping around.

    How is it possible to not tie a cable tie properly? Those things are idiot proof.

    Yokel – any idea whose posters are going up where?

  • Yokel

    I’ve only passed the lower Spingfield, Falls going on the city side though I’m meant to be in Upper Springield and Andy Pandy town direction this week.

    What I’ve seen is that Dodds is where she should be, Fra McCann No. 1 has got the lower Springfield Road at least and City Center side of the Falls Road stretch (I notice its just vote 2,3,4 & 5 for Sinn Fein, no other ordering). Walsh seems to be taking the City Center side of the Falls Road stretch as her No. 1 territory and I’m guessing at least the lower Springfield as well. I suppose that makes sense for Walsh since she is a local in that area isn’t she?

    No idea who is doing what on the other side of the Falls/Grosvenor Road junction.

    No one else has been sighted. Did cross the Shankill area late last week and the UUP didnt have a thing going whilst Dodds had her ‘Keep the Seat’ posters up early.

  • Yokel

    Clearly not these cable ties, I counted 3-4 flopping about within a mile and a bit stretch. My guess is that they have only been put up over the last 4 days or so so the damage has been quick.

    I understand Paisley & Co Plastics may have been the cheapest but maybe they should have looked more closely at what was on offer…

  • middle-class taig

    Sammy Morse

    Superb analysis.

    That beast even rarer than a Falls Road stoop; an Alliance member who knows something about West Belfast.

    Question, off topic: if Ford goes, who takes the leadership?

  • nmc

    I noticed several posters lying on the ground between the top of the Glen Rd. and the Shaw’s Rd. earlier. Although the cynic in me suggests these posters came down by force, as opposed to dodgy cable ties/cable tying…

  • Yokel


    One question, any chance of the DUP topping the first preferenec vote in North Down?

    Looking at the Local government elections on the Ark site, I’d say yes, at other elections, no. Would McCartney kill off that possibility?

  • Bog warrior

    Loads of Diane Dodds posters up in Suffolk. I didn’t even know that the UPP were running a candidate. Who is Louis West never heard of him? Didn’t one of the McGimpsey’s used to be on the ballot for WB.

  • Question, off topic: if Ford goes, who takes the leadership?

    Is there anyone other than Naomi Long?

  • if Ford goes, who takes the leadership?

    Nice attempt at flag flying, but I’m not biting. Ford isn’t going to lose anyway.

  • Yokel

    Bog warrior

    Yeah but McGimpsey got booted at in the City Council elections of 2005 so I suppose it new face time.

    Tim Roll Pickering

    Anyone else but Naomi Long……

  • the Sparrow

    Diane Dodds has her posters on nearly every last post on the Shankill! lol

    Having spoken to a friend in the DUP from West Belfast they certainly seem to be pulling out all the stops to keep the seat there. I am told they are getting an excellent response, but we will see when the results are published.

    The UUP have been totally decimated in north and west Belfast. Gone and forgotten!

  • middle-class taig


    DUP will keep the seat. Unionists have found a winner, and they’ll stick with her.

    Attwood will decline further, but keep his seat. There’s enough anti-Shinners out there to keep him alive – watch where Geraldine Taylor’s transfers go. Although running Margaret Walsh alongside is a very dangerous game in a constituency where the SDLP can’t rely on anyone. She failed even to take one of five council seats in Lower Falls, leaving the Shinners to pull off the only clean sweep of the election (I think). Pity in some ways, as she’s a nice lady. People might assuage their consciences voting for Maggie, then transfer back to the Chuckies, by-passing AA.

    Turnout, demographics and registration are unlikely to favour SF this time. Shinners will have to wait until 2011 for five seats. They’ll get them then.

  • Not only was Lower Falls the only clean sweep of the election, it was the only clean sweep in an STV election either side of the border since 1920! Margaret is a lovely lady, I don’t know anyone who has a bad word to say about her, she just happens to be an SDLP activist in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Shinners will have to wait until 2011 for five seats. They’ll get them then.

    The boundary commissioners are adding in Lagmore before then.

  • Yokel


    Any thoughts on the DUP (as a party) topping the poll for first preferences in North Down?


  • Yokel – genuinely don’t know; haven’t started doing my detailed sums and it’s hard to read how McCartney might do anyway.

    When do you have to get your bet in for?

  • Yokel

    Time yet, but to me it looks a possible error by Barnabas’ bookies.

    9/4 DUP to top poll for first preferences
    1/4 UUP

    Westminster 2005 looked unique in that there was a big block vote by Alliance types for Sylvia.

    If I’m reading Ark correctly, in the relevant local gov boroughs the same day however, the DUP were on 34% to the UUP’s 22%. In the 2003 Assembly the UUP overall polled out a good 10% above the DUP something that the local government elections 2 years later suggest could be overturned.

    Whilst these dont reflect 1st preferences (and I can’t find those on the Ark site), we have the possibility of further general UUP decline, under pressure of 1st preferences from the DUP and elsewhere.

    It seems on first glance to me that in a two horse race its good odds but I may be missing something because 1/4 on the UUP is pretty strong and it automatically makes me believe I may have indeed got it wrong.

  • smacs

    middle class taig

    watch where Geraldine Taylors transferes go…

    the only thing we can go by is rsf,s last attempt at influencing an election result when they asked people to destroy their vote in solidarity with Tommy Crossan,a republican prisoner. The number of spoiled votes in that election actually went down!

  • middle-class taig

    Sammy Morse

    “The boundary commissioners are adding in Lagmore before then.”

    I didn’t know that. I’m not sure how I feel about that at all! There’s a sense of “corral the catholics” about it. Lagmore is as much “of Lisburn” and it is “of Belfast”. And in a weird way, the democrat in me thinks the loss of the unionist seat mightn’t be a particularly good thing. No great lover of hegemony am I. I suppose if it reduces the number of DUP ministers…


    Bite their hand off – that’s a mistake.

  • Ian

    Why isn’t Bob McCartney standing in West Belfast? Anti-St Andrews Agreement Unionists don’t have a candidate to vote for in either East or West Belfast. Surely if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly, so six-headed Bob should be eight-headed in this election? (That’s one short of a Hydra!)

  • Yokel

    Hold on, checking the Ark site, they are first preferences and the DUP, based on local election results could well top the poll on 1st preferences alright.

    What the hell, its not as if I’m not going to be able to feed the family if I get this wrong….

  • Yokel – japers, you’re putting me on the spot here and I haven’t even got to work on North Down yet (Foyle done for tomorrow; Lag Valley nearly finished and Mid Ulster well on the way).

    Here’s my very unscientific take on it. I think the UUP will probably top the poll. But 9/4 are pretty good odds. I’d have to say I’d fancy a wee flutter but I wouldn’t bet anything that was going into paying the mortgage…

  • brendan,belfast

    Just drove in from the airport road. Ramsey seems to have ‘outer west’ including hannastown up to Riverdale on the A’Town Road. Paul Maskey’s posters take over at that point. The posters instruct the faithful to vote ‘person’ 1 and simply SF ‘2,3,4’ wihtout naming the order fo the others. They will try to nail that point on polliong day outside the various stations.

    AA to hold on – although the vote may detoriate even further.

    and a word of acknowledgement to Joe Hendron. The first west Belfast Assembly poll without his name on the ballot. It’s a day worth marking; an honourable man.

  • Yokel


    Thats all I need to know, thats its realistic and possible concept even if not probable.

    I am riding on two assumptions:

    a) McCartney will not poll as strongly as before. He doesn’t have to poll much for the balance to tilt to the DUP as regards this bet. He was the factor missing from the dismal UKUP local’s performance so you can obviously expect him to poll way better. On the other hand, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t shed at least a little of his first preferences to the DUP this time. It wouldnt take much.

    b) The UUP will just not improve very much. Based on the locals of 2005, they don’t have to do worse, simply stay put to make this bet viable. Under the circumstances thats a fairly realsitic scenario.

    A 10% lead on 1st prefernces, DUP over UUP is a lot. The only way the DUP are going to shed that lead is if it goes to McCartney, returns to teh UUP and/or they stay at home. I can’t see McCartney taking that difference himself, I geneuinely don’t see a UUP revival vis a vis teh DUP here, so it requires stay at homes.

    If ther stories are true, McCartney himself is under the cosh and the UUP are in some kind of decline still, however modest at this stage. I can’t see Alliance voters going to 1st prefernce UUP in a tactical vote, thsi is not the Westminster story, they will just vote further down the card to the UUP if they wish.

    I’m also going to throw in Leslie. He’s about the most noticeable candidate the Tories have had and may well take a further handful out of the UUP on first preferences.

    9/4 represnts a 33% chance of the DUP topping the 1st preferences. I’d suggest that they have a better chance than that. My money hasn’t gone down yet and I don’t expect a sudden rush to bookie by people so my odds are probably safe until the morning.

  • A 10% lead on 1st prefernces, DUP over UUP is a lot. The only way the DUP are going to shed that lead is if it goes to McCartney

    Just one note of caution – the Independents polled 10% in the 2005 locals – their transfers go all over the place, but probably slightly more to the UUs than anyone else.

  • Yokel


    That I understand which automatically boosts the UUP figures. If we take your estimate that more would find their way to the UUP that cuts the gap more than I guestimated originally.

    Yet still, it’s still sticking in my head as being excessive odds against the possibility of the DUP pulling it off.

    What you’ve reinforced is that if the DUP are to do it, we might be counting the advantage on a couple of hands.

    Mind you thats all it needs and as such I’ll have probably have a modest bet on it.

    One final factor, I expect Alliance to hold up or indeed improve on the 2005 locals.

  • jeep55


    9/4 as a fair bet represents just slightly over a 30% chance. 8/4 or 2/1 as it is better know is a 33% chance. Yes I agree this shades on the side of being better than a fair bet – but don’t wager the whole kitchen sink! Talk from the DUP camp is about consolidation of precentage first preferences and making modest gains through better vote management – so clearly they expect 3 seats in East Belfast but I think would be satisfied with 2 in North Down. Alliance could do you some favours if their vote claws back even more than might be expected. IJP might have some clues (but maybe he doesn’t yet want to share these with us!)

  • Alan Anderson

    And certainly the more of us (traditional unionists) realise the error of our recent past and turn back to the nationalisim that our community our people began in the late 1700’s the better for all of us. We have been manipulated for far too long.