Straight battle between Sinn Fein and the DUP in Lagan Valley?

Sammy Morse has turned his psephological eye to the constituency of Lagan Valley. In another impressive analysis piece in the latest of his series of constituency profiles, Sammy identifies the real battle in Lagan Valley as being the fight between Sinn Fein and the DUP for the last seat- something which the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Fein’s Paul Butler have both identified as a key pitch in their electoral canvassing in recent times.I must declare a personal interest in this constituency. As a former Sinn Fein election candidate for Lisburn council and a party activist in the constituency, I am naturally finding most of my time at present being occupied by issues surrounding the electoral campaign in Lagan Valley.

I find Sammy’s analysis to be fairly accurate. The DUP have three seats in the bag, with the UUP another one and the final two seats a toss up between the Alliance, Sinn Fein and either of the two large unionist parties. Personally, from my own knowledge of the constituency and the feedback from canvasses across the area, I believe the Alliance seat will be safe and that the final seat will come down to a tussle between the fourth DUP candidate (likely to be Paul Givan) and Sinn Fein’s Paul Butler.

Sammy hits the nail on the head when he identifies the pattern of transfers between the SDLP and Sinn Fein as being the critical dimension in this constituency. From personal experience, I can categorically state that the SDLP voter in Lagan Valley has been responding very positively to the campaign slogan being used by Sinn Fein, which stresses that only Sinn Fein can retain a seat for nationalists in Lagan Valley.

It is a theme which has been used – with undeniably effective results- by nationalists in the past decade to secure electoral victories. Indeed, the four new nationalist MPs elected to northern constituencies since 1997 have all utilised it as a key plank to win their campaigns (in 1997- Martin McGuinness; in 2001- Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew; in 2005- Alisdair McDonnell.)

For what its worth, my prediction for Lagan Valley is 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance and 1 Sinn Fein.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interestingly Chris, both Sammy and Adrian Eastwood were saying that Basil McCrea might poll big there. There has to be a chance of five Unionists and a last seat battle between you and Alliance, surely?

  • joeCanuck

    “impressive analysis piece in the latest of his series of constituency profiles”

    I’ll second that. As someone who has been away for over 25 years, I have found his analysis to be extremely helpful in understanding how things work on the ground.

  • Eastwoods Bookmakers are quoting Paul Butler at 1/5 to win a seat so I think that Sammy’s assertion that Butler will narrowly fail is somewhat wide of the mark.

  • Nevin

    I suppose it’s possible that Unionists could win all six seats in Lagan Valley. Close has gone and Butler may well struggle to get enough transfers.

  • Continental Drifter

    It could just be Eastwood’s making sure no one wins *too* big if 26 million happens to be staked on a Butler victory?

  • SuperSoupy

    The Irish News gave this seat a tiny amount of coverage in it’s constituency reviews despite it being clear the SDLP seat is gone and only SDLP transfers to SF will ensure a Nationalist seat in Lagan Valley.

    Their practically non-existant coverage couldn’t have made it clearer that even they have written the SDLP off in the area.

    They certainly didn’t given any coverage to the view that only Butler can win a Nationalist seat – maybe they’d prefer the DUP to SF?

  • PaddyReilly

    Once again Sammy’s analysis is spot on but his final predictions are probably coloured by his own bias.

    It is true, the (3 major) non-Unionist parties have rather spoilt their chances by fielding three candidates, when they could only hope to take two seats.

    But at the same time, the various Unionist parties have put up eight candidates, where they currently only have four seats, and could only really aspire to five. This evens the score somewhat.

    Equally Jeffrey Donaldson’s determined pluralism– he has to have an Assembly seat as well as a Westminster one– is going to spoil the balance somewhat.

    Calculations based on religious adherence should viewed with the caveat that the available figures are now slightly out of date: there are probably 2% less Protestants around than there were in 2001.

    Finally, the hate campaign against Paul Butler (SF) might tempt certain UUP voters to give their final transfer to Marietta Farrell (SDLP) to keep him out. Not many, mind, but you don’t need many.

    So my prediction is 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Alliance, with the last seat going to SDLP or SF.

    A look at the voting pattern for the 2003 Assembly:-

    yields a couple of interesting patterns, which we might even call rules:-

    1) In no constituency did Sinn Féin win a seat, unless there was at least one other successful Nationalist candidate;
    2) In no constituency did Alliance win a seat, unless there was no successful SF candidate, at least four Unionists, and not more than one SDLP.

    I would suggest that the proportional representation system makes this the natural order.

    For this reason, I wouldn’t write the SDLP off in Lagan Valley, or expect an Alliance win in South Belfast.

  • Eastwoods Bookmakers are quoting Paul Butler at 1/5 to win a seat so I think that Sammy’s assertion that Butler will narrowly fail is somewhat wide of the mark.

    Eastwoods are not infallible – what were their odds on McDonnell, Meehan and McLaughlin in recent campaigns? And neither am I infallible. Besides I didn’t ‘assert’ Butler would lose – I think he’ll fail narrowly as I just don’t think there are the votes and transfers there for SF but he won’t be far off. Chris Donnelly, who knows a thing or two about elections in the Lisburn area, obviously disagrees.

    But I also said there’d be a bit of a crush between him, Trevor Lunn, the second UUP and fourth DUP candidate at the end of the count.

    Hedging my bets? Maybe. Giving the most accurate assessment my ability allows? Certainly. Owning a crystal ball? No. Nobody does.

  • John Farrell

    I wouldn’t completely write off Marietta Farrell. I think the odds are clearly against her and I am reasonably confident Butler will get a seat and presumably the “cat in hells chance” one correspondent here quoted is slightly higher that the more traditional “snowballs chance in hell”

    But I still think seats 5 and 6 are much more open and will at least keep Paul Bew, Sidney Elliott etc in overtime money.

    With Close and Lewsley out of the race, it frees their personal loyalties to switch.

    Close was Catholic, Lunn presumably not so. Does it make a difference? Yes it does, the parishioners of the local churches freed up.

    Isnt there a Lunn Polo Trophy sponsored by the Jewelry people at the Maze? Is Lunn one of the jewelry family? Is a man of the people like Close?
    Personally I’ve never had the courage to go into Lunns the Jewellers. Argos is my limit.

    Lewsley…brave woman as her husband Hugh is a brave man. …similarly her personal vote goes. And the generational momentum is with SF. Butler finished ahead of her in 2005 (an unfair comparison with first past the post and STV) but this time round Butler is the senior non-unionist.

    But with four seats safe, transfers will be floating around for seats 5 and 6. Some to positively elect someone and some to work against people. The transfers here being in play longer it adds up to a long wait for Butler (most likely), Lunn (probably) Farrell (unlikely) and any other (also unlikely).

  • I’d be interested to see if Basil McCrea can nail the one safe UU seat in LV (strange to type that) and edge out Billy Bell. He is generally held to have fought a decent campaign in 2005 against an established MP. Bell has been around for 30+ years and, although a former Mayor, no one could say that he has ever set the world alight.

    It’s easy to see why the DUP has directed such ire at Big Bob here. They obviously fear that he is an unwanted variable who could deny Paul Givan crucial trnasfers needed to edge out Paul Butler for the last seat.

    There are many imponderables here. But no one should forget the Meehan lesson from South Antrim. Butler lacks popularity, to put it mildly, amongst unionists and hopefully people will work out with their lower preferences how best to ensure that he loses out again.

  • Word is coming through that the SDLP’s Lagan Valley office was attacked shortly before 7pm this evening with windows being broken. Marietta Farrell has reported that no one was injured although staff suffered shock. Police are on the scene at the office at Railway Street in Lisburn.

  • picador

    Maybe this incident will cause the Irish News to give the Lagan Valley campaign more coverage. What effect wil it have, who knows? What effect was it intended to have, who can say? A bit ‘obvious’ to point the finger at SF. I hope a condemnation and urging of the public to contact the PSNI is forthcoming from Butler (as I’m sure it will).

    What effect will the reverses to the electoral register requirements have? I would have thought that there would be a higher SF vote.

  • Paul

    What about the tory candidate Neil Johnstone many people I have been talking to feel he is worth a vote instead of the battle between McCrea or Donaldson

  • SuperSoupy
  • john, lagmore

    I think one thing missing when we speak about Butler’s inability to attract transfers is that we haven’t seen how the SDLP transfers pan out in previous contests.

    This year it looks very likely that Butler will be in the race up to the point that Farrell is eliminated. It’s at this point that Butler will be elected.

    Sammy talks about needing half of Farrell’s transfers. Mark my words Sammy, in this election Buler will attract at least half of Farrell’s transfers and probably many more.

    The outcome in LV will almost certainly be 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 APNI, 1SF.

  • I hope the PSNI takes a particular interest in polling stations and the times of closing in the Dunmurry, Lagmore areas. In a close contest, one hopes that no one attempts to “do a Garrison” in LV.

  • Crataegus

    Clearly it is anything but a straight fight Straight battle between Sinn Fein and the DUP

    The DUP will take 3 seats on 45-50% of the vote. With about 3-4% transfers available

    THe UUP at 21-25% have one safe seat and will gain from UUP transfers.

    The last two seats are between Alliance, UUP, SF, and SDLP.

    THe question is how will both the Alliance and SDLP votes hold? If Alliance go down I think it will benefit the SDLP more than anyone else and in parts of this constituency if the SDLP vote sinks it is as likely to benefit Alliance as it is SF.

    So please it is not a straight contest between the frying pan and the fire.

  • Sammy Morse,

    You have certainly got me with this one ;

    “Besides I didn’t ‘assert’ Butler would lose – I think he’ll fail narrowly”

    Please expalin the difference?

    NB : I wasnt having a go at your overall analysis Sammy, which was both excellent and well researched. I simply think that you have under-estimated the considerable ‘weight’ to the argument that Sinn Fein are giving on the doorsteps; i.e. that only they can capture a seat for the Nationalist community. This will (I believe) lead to considerably more tarnsfers from SDLP voters than we have witnessed in the past.

  • A post vanished on me here!!!!!! I’ll redo it in shorthand.

    Why do I think Butler will get less transfers than 50% (and less than Trevor Lunn)? Look at the last Assembly elections – there were two cases where the SDLP had a transfer with no other SDLP candidates in the running and SF still looking for votes.

    In West Belfast, SF got 57% with only the DUP left to take transfers.

    In Fermanagh S Tyrone, SF got 54% with no-one else left.

    I.e. almost half of SDLP voters in these cases did not give SF any preference at all.

    Lisburn is not Lisnaskea and Hillsborough is not Twinbrook. If that’s the best SF can manage in W Belfast and FST, what’s the best they can hope for in Lagan Valley? With Alliance still looking for transfers and therefore soaking up the papers that go SDLP 1, Alliance 2, SF 3?

    The tactical message might help a bit, but there’s a certain type of SDLP voter it’ll drive straight into Alliance hands, for example. I’ve used tactical messages in NI elections before and they can be a very pointy double-edged sword, especially in an STV election.

    PS, macswiney, no worries, I think the point I was trying to make is that while I think the odds are against Butler, I don’t think he has no chance. He does have a chance, but just less of a one than other candidates; I clearly put him in the crush for the last two seats. I think that’s a bit softer than asserting he won’t win. But it’s a semantic point and not worth bickering over.

  • J F Hughes

    Lunn is not connected with jewellers. Sold insurance business recently to Hughes & Co.
    He will not win seat as he sold his vote to give DUP control of Lisburn Council in exchange for Mayor’s chain.
    Heard Ronnie Crawford on Radio Ulster this am and he was quite impressive. I reckon he and McCrea will get the two UUP seats. Billy Bell is in his seventies and was never a big gun. DUP 3seats UUP 2 SDLP 1


  • brendan,belfast

    the contest between SF and SDLP for the nationalist quota is very far from foregone. for a start the Shinners have the wrong man. Butler is a whinger, its all he does. he has also adopted the failed SDLP rallying call – “Stop the DUP”. how can the non MLA stand the ‘only chance’ of getting elected over a sitting MLA? people aren’t so easily fooled. this one is worth watching.

  • John Farrell

    I was under the impression that Marietta Farrell is based in Downpatrick but in fact the address in the Electoral Office is Rostrevor an even longer journey by parachute to Lagan Valley.
    I would not read too much into Brian Heading not canvassing for Farrell as Heading is Alex Attwoods election agent in neighbouring West Belfast….so he probably is not too disenchanted.

    Could be interesting when Eddie McGrady retires as to who gets the SDLP nomination to succeed him.

    Margaret Ritchie ran his onstituency office for years and she might be great at photocopying stuff but I watched her on TV a couple of times and she is a very poor performer.
    Step forward Ms Farrell …..South Down needs you.

    But is fighting the good fight in Lagan Valley (and losing a seat) actually a recommendation?