Surveying the Nationalist Battleground

Now that we’re in the final phase of the election campaign, I thought it pertinent to throw my hat into the speculative ring and declare my predictions for the battle within nationalism in this election. Here they are in sum: Sinn Fein to consolidate lead position within nationalism in both vote and seat tallies; SDLP to return as was, with possibility of solitary net loss or gain, and the dissident/ disaffected republicans to experience a painful lesson at the hands of the nationalist electorate. Oh- and the overall nationalist seat figures to rise modestly for the first time since 1998.
When surveying the eighteen constituencies, it quickly becomes clear that the nationalist battleground in this election centres on five key constituencies: West Tyrone, Newry and Armagh, Upper Bann, Lagan Valley and South Antrim- though in the latter two areas, it’s more likely the battle will be between Sinn Fein and the DUP and Alliance respectively, with the SDLP losing the former and retaining their seat in the latter.

In three other constituencies, the two nationalist parties find themselves primarily in competition with non-nationalists for seats- in Sinn Fein’s case, vying with the DUP for West Belfast and Alliance in South Belfast; for the SDLP, battling it out with Alliance in Strangford.

Sinn Fein are clearly well positioned to take a new seat in South Antrim from Alliance and in Lagan Valley from the SDLP; and there is a real battle for the Independent Kieran Deeny’s seat in West Tyrone and Diane Dodds’ seat in West Belfast. The final seat up for grabs is the solitary SDLP seat in Upper Bann, though that would require a more dramatic fall in the SDLP vote.

Similarly, for the SDLP, the more modest pickings at their disposal are divided between those they are targeting at the expense of Alliance in Strangford, Sinn Fein in Newry and Armagh and Dr Deeny in West Tyrone.

Personally, I’m expecting Sinn Fein’s Assembly team to be consisting of 26 or 27 members come March 10th, though I’m not going to speculate about which seats are likely to fall to the party- I’ll save that detail for Nick Whyte’s site when I get round to visiting it; for the SDLP, I’m anticipating the party to return with the same number of MLAs as they enter this election, give or take one seat (hedging my bets I know.) Clearly the SDLP fancy their chances in Strangford- which should compensate for the loss of Lagan Valley- but additional gains will be restricted to the party’s fortunes in Newry/ Armagh and West Tyrone, whilst any significant slippage in vote and transfer patterns could see the party lose its solitary seat in South Antrim.

I do, however, expect to see the overall nationalist percentage of the vote rise to match the increased tally of nationalist seats I’d expect to see in the new Assembly. For the dissident/ disaffected republican candidates, I would predict a poor vote return across the north, with only Davy Hyland bringing in a respectable vote- in spite of the fact that his courting of the dissident/ disaffected lobby has undoubtedly harmed his appeal to his traditional personal voters. In what’s likely to be a fascinating count, Hyland’s transfers could determine the last seat in Newry and Armagh.

Similarly, Lagan Valley is poised for a long wait to find out whether or not Sinn Fein or the DUP claim the sixth seat in this constituency- a tussle liable to be replicated in neighbouring West Belfast.

In any event, we’ll soon now the outcome….

  • slug

    Interesting, Chris. And quite brave of you to put your neck on the line.

    I hope you don’t mind my linking to another set of predictions.

    Billy Kennedy’s Predictions in the Newsletter

    The interesting thing is what he predicts for Newry and Armagh – a DUP loss to Berry and an SDLP gain from SF.

  • SuperSoupy

    To me the two big representative constituencies for Nationalism are Lagan Valley and South Antrim, in both it is very possible that the only Nationalist returned in a hugely Unionist constituency will be the Sinn Féin rep. If this happens in one seat battles it will emphasis the massive shift in Nationalist voting patterns.

    (I hope two Nationalist seats can be retained in S.Antrim but think the SDLP feud will gift the last to a DUP supported Ford)

    I agree the only ‘independent’ of note will be Hyland but as his vote is ego rather than credibility based it should be limited and transfer back fully to SF on his elimination.

  • SuperSoupy

    Correction: attained in S.Antrim

  • John Farrell

    There are only 7 real battlegrounds but I dont expect any change in WEST TYRONE (except that Deeney will join AP after election by doing a “Jeffrey Donaldson”)
    MID ULSTER no change
    NEWRY ARMAGH…SDLP gain from SF
    LAGAN VALLEY…SF gain from SDLP
    SOUTH ANTRIM…SF gain from AP (there is a fairly safe quota.
    SOUTH BELFAST…literally anybodys call. But Im inclined to think AP gain SF

    STRANGFORD…I think its one election too soon for a nationalist quota.
    All of which means SF 24 SDLP 18 (exactly as it is now) but I admit from a nationalist point of view I am looking on the pessimistic side of the marginals.

  • parcifal

    my bet’s looking good with ingram .. YES !

  • DMCM

    FOYLE – 3 SDLP 2 SF
    25 SF 21 SDLP

  • Give me strength

    “SF to do well, their enemies to suffer” – brave and free thinking even by SF standards [puke].

  • bootman

    Quick question:

    When does the count start and when will first/final results be in?


  • Redmo

    Am I the only one who thinks this is funny? Sinn Fein ‘consolidate their position’ while SDLP ‘hang on to what they’ve got’?

  • informedinsider

    count starts on thursday morning at 9am and all the results should be in by friday evening.

  • brendan,belfast

    Chris – are you suggesting that Deeney will lose his seat in West Tyrone? he polled 12,000 as recently as the 2005 westminster election. Even if his vote halfs he is still well over a quota. i think he will be elected.

  • jeep55


    I’m afraid you only view these seats through green coloured glasses. There is absolutely zero chance of 2 nationalist seats in Lagan Valley – in fact if SF go ahead of SDLP as expected but are well short of a quota, the elimination of the SDLP candidate could net seats for Alliance and the second UUP runner and leave no nationalist representation at all. There are not 3 nationalist quotas in South Belfast – they only got 3 seats last time because DUP did not vote down the ticket. This time it will very likely be UUP transfers looking for a home (with 2 DUP and 1 UUP already elected) and they will transfer to Anna Lo. Almost zero chance of a repeat of the SDLP success in East Antrim. In 1998 this was achieved by Alliance polling well and balancing badly. And there are not 2 nationalist quotas in Sout Antrim (yet) – you need David Ford to run badly, be eliminated and then help the SDLP home. Bookmakers have now edged Kieran McCarthy ahead of Boyle in Strangford (4/5 vs 6/4) and that seems to reflect opinon on the ground. It looks like 41-43 N seats at most.

  • nmc

    I reckon there will be a drop in votes for SF in W Belfast, I think that there are many people who will vote for independents, and another chunk who won’t vote at all.

    This is based solely on conversations with friends and family, so certainly I could be totally wrong.

  • sms

    much attention has been paid to the negative impact of the policing issue on the Sinn Féin vote
    and there should be some, but very little commentary on the positive impact of attracting new voters and especially transfers. any blogger have a view on this?

  • gerry

    Any one would think from Chris’ attitude that this was not an election but a pissing contest. Lets see who the biggest pisser is, will it be SF or the SDLP or will the disaffected get pissed on. Typical shinner attitude to those who have taken part, whether they be a small minority or not. It doesn’t change the position regards a nationalist/republican ideal of a united ireland. SF are now a partitionist party who have failed along with the others to even go round the doors. Go out and vote to secure the politicians their jobs thats all the electorate will get out of it, nothing else. The politicians get most out of it, blair gets his legacy, Hain his new position possibly, the MPs get their jobs secured and the ordinary person gets more of the same.

    At best I’d give Stormont 6months before a major bust up. Thats when the disaffected can wipe the egg off their faces and say we told you so.

  • colette


    Regarding ‘consolidate their position’ vs ‘hang on to what they’ve got’ statements…

    This is a feeble attempt at PR styled spin and hype by the blinkered-eyed sycophants who have bought in to the Shnner shite rhetoric. I’m sure that being so one-sided and biased is is not always a conscious decision.

  • nmc


    In most cases, where a significant change on policy creates a negative impact, there will be a positive impact elsewhere. It will usually be the case that some people disagree with a policy change, and others agree with it.

    In the case of the PSNI policy change, I believe that the negative will outweigh the positive in terms of SF votes. I know very few people who have made the decision not to vote SF solely due to their lack of support for the PSNI. Those people have a variety of reasons for not voting for SF.

    The flip side of this is that those who have voted SF for years, now have one reason not to that wasn’t there last year, and for some people, support for the PSNI is a step too far.

    If I may go off topic, I see the DUP losing votes too. A large number of Unionist voters will now see that all Paisley’s bluster about the UUP and Trimble selling out was bullshit. It wasn’t what Trimble did that big Ian had a problem with, it was that big Ian wanted to be the man doing the doing. He’s been lying to his voters for years, and in the end it’s turned out to be power play.

  • padraig

    Everyone I have talked to… Everyone at work… Everyone at home within the family… Everyone round in the club believes SF and the DUP can not make the Assembley work.

    Nobody wants to have to pay a new water bill. that’s the issue here. Nothing to do with policing. Nothing to do with health. Nothing to do with housing or roads. Water billd based on the value of your house regardless of your income and ability to pay. I counted over a dozen people who have said they won’t be voting SF this time. They don’t have a bad word to say against them but the Shinners have been unable to retain their confidence. I counted a dozen or so but suspect the number is going to be far higher. I’m guessing these votes will be going to the SDLP or the Greens.

  • John Farrell

    DMCM……I hope youre right at 46 Nationalist and Republican seats. It seems high. I see very little variation from 2003 but I am as pessimistic as you are optimistic.
    We all have a tendency to talk up our own side. Ive no problem with that. Ive read Sammys 18 constituency profiles and even the “experts” seem to do this.
    You predict 46 SF/SDLP seats
    I go for 42 or at a stretch 43.
    Sammy goes for 40.

    Your analysis is as I say optimistic but prolly more accurate than Sammy.

  • Valenciano

    Slug, the Newsletter ‘Oracles’ predictions are totally pathetic and lacking in any substance. To read them you could be forgiven for thinking that the Greens in North Down are a Nationalist party or that Cedric Wilson will be instrumental in Strangford. SF to win in Lagan Valley but not South Antrim?! Berry to win? SDLP to go to the wire in East Antrim? Did he even look at any recent election results? Pitiful.

    To John Farrell. The question here is where are the Nationalist gains going to come? West Belfast, South Antrim and Strangford are the only ones where they might gain. Also West Tyrone but Deeny is already SDLP lite. Against that Nationalist seats are under threat in Belfast South, Lagan Valley and (admittedly a long shot) North Antrim.

  • jeep55

    I don’t think some of the Newsletter predictions for the UUP are realistic but I’m happy that they concord with Sammy Morse on Alliance to notch up 7 seats. SF gain in Lagan Valley while not in S Antrim? Well at least Butler is local to LV while McLaughlin is an imposter and should be sent straight back home. Also McLauglin is targeting Ford who is more likely to receive late-stage Unionist transfers.

  • Cato

    Berry to keep his seat?! Is this some kind of joke? Has Darwin Templeton lost his mind, asking someone with such an obvious lack of comprehension of politics, the DUP, Northern Ireland, and indeed life itself, to write the Newsletter predictions?
    I would be comfortably willing to stake £1 million of my hard-earned cash against Paul Berry retaining a seat, if someone wants to lay me 1/100,000.
    Of course I know that no-one on Slugger would be willing to waste a ten pound note in such a foolish manner.
    With a prediction like that though, maybe Mr Kennedy will take me on?

  • Valenciano

    Jeep: “SF gain in Lagan Valley while not in S Antrim? Well at least Butler is local to LV while McLaughlin is an imposter and should be sent straight back home. Also McLauglin is targeting Ford who is more likely to receive late-stage Unionist transfers.”

    re:Butler/McLaughlin the locality factor is not going to make a blind bit of difference, after all, the Unionist frontrunners Burnside and McCrea are also ‘blow ins’ who were previously elected/based in different constituencies. I almost mentioned another Unionist candidate in that, but he doesn’t really count.

    McLaughlin is targetting the SDLP as much as Ford and I think the likely result is 3 DUP, 1 UUP, Ford and SF.

  • John Farrell

    I cant see Paul Berry getting more than 2,000 votes.

  • The Watcher

    Lagan Valley is definately one to watch. I suspect people hve been too quick to write of the SDLPs Marietta Farrell and I think it will be a closer call than most are suggesting. Not long now and I suppose time will tell!