Sammy reckons that there is going to be no change here within the nationalist fight. It looks set to provide one seat apiece for Sinn Fein and the SDLP, though there is some interesting detail on the geographical spread. The real fight is going to be on the Unionist side. Here the UU’s face a similar challenge to that of South Belfast: ie they are standing “three candidates in a constituency where they have a difficult defence of two seats”.
Even in 2003, the DUP considerably outpolled the UUP here and since then the DUP have outpolled the UUP by 43% to 21% in the Westminster Election and by 32.1% to 24.3% in the local elections. As in many other places, based on the local government figures the Ulster Unionists would have a fighting chance of holding both seats, whereas based on the general election figures, the DUP would sweep three seats relatively easily. This is very difficult to call but I’m inclined to think the odds favour the DUP.
One reason is that those local election figures almost certainly understate the DUP’s level of support a bit. The ‘United Unionist Coalition’ a small anti-agreement group associated with former Assembly member Boyd Douglas polled a further 3.8%, mostly in the Dungiven area where they were given a free run by the DUP. Similarly, in the 2003 Assembly elections, Boyd Douglas and anti-Agreement former UUP MLA Pauline Armitage polled 8.2% of the vote between them, well over half a quota. This indicates plenty of room for right-wing Unionism to grow.
Secondly, the Ulster Unionists are, once again, running three candidates in a constituency where they have a difficult defence of two seats. Sitting Assembly members David McClarty (based in Coleraine) and David Hillis (based in Portrush) will be joined, once again, by Limavady Councillor Edwin Stevenson. While one might argue that this gives them geographical width, it also leaves them with three candidates fighting over less than two quotas, with all the problems of leakage that brings with it. Last time they lost 19% of Stevenson’s votes when he was eliminated.
McClarty has traditionally been the leading UUP votegetter in East Derry, with 4069 votes in 2003, and I don’t expect that to change. Hillis did not poll all that well last time, with 2292 first preferences and although he has incumbency on his side, his base is rather isolated geographically. A stronger challenger may have given him pause for thought, but Stevenson managed only a measly 1408 first preferences last time. In any case, if the DUP are well organised, McClarty may well be the only UUP candidate elected anyway.