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….