It is likely to be a few months until the next election but I thought a brief look at the constituencies and the prospects of the parties might be interesting. I do not like giving predictions, am bad at it, and do not pretend to understand nationalist voting habits so this blog will dwell mainly (though not exclusively on unionism). In addition I am no expert on exact voting numbers. However, I thought the following might be fun:
There is relatively unlikely to be a change here. The UUP have been heavily beaten here in 2001 and 2005 and are unlikely to make a strong resurgence even with the help of the Conservatives. There remains a prospect that Sinn Fein could take the seat if the SDLP vote continues its downward trajectory. If the TUV did stand it would be considerably more likely that SF could win but of all the seats in the province this must be the least likely to be contested by the TUV.
Going by the simple arithmetic this is a unionist seat and it has become fractionally more so with the latest boundary changes. However, as we all know Alasdair McDonnell took the seat last time due to a split between the UUP and DUP. If an electoral pact could be agreed (and provided the TUV did not stand) there would be a very high chance of the seat reverting to unionist control. However, the UUP especially now with their link up with the Conservatives must regard this as the sort of seat they might win, largely (though by no means entirely) affluent and by NI standards highly cosmopolitan. In addition McDonnell has been a fairly effective MP and has avoided doing anything which might significantly antagonise the unionist population. As such there is a significant possibility that the SDLP will hold the seat and one might see a change in the unionist proportions within the seat.
The critical question here is whether or not Peter Robinson will stand again: if he does it would be a very major surprise if he lost. Recently he has suggested that he might not but I have heard very recently that he is willing to be persuaded by his constituency association to stand again. If he did not stand he seat might become surprisingly open. It is largely (though again not wholly) prosperous and might make a good place for the UUP / Conservatives. If they run Empey and the DUP fail to run Robinson, Reg might have a good chance. If neither Empey nor Robinson run it will be even more interesting as a good TUV candidate might stand a fair chance in what is a fairly hard line constituency and in a completely contrary possibility oi Alliance ran Naomi Long as the highest profile candidate it is possible that she could win.
A practically guaranteed TUV win. Okay seriously what is there for a unionist to analyse? I would not be at all surprised by an anti agreement republican being put up here but I would be astounded if they did SF any real damage in this election. More interesting would be, however, if they took enough votes to mount a credible challenge for one of the assembly seats next time round.
This will be an interesting seat to see the amount of damage the DUP have suffered since 2007. The CUs might fancy their chances of an upset here but to be honest if there was to be an upset it would be more likely to come from the TUV for whom this seat will be a secondary target after North Antrim. If they can find a high quality (preferably local) candidate they might have a significant chance.
After so many years of being the least exciting seat in Northern Ireland this will become one of the most interesting. I still find it difficult to believe that Dr. Paisley will stand again in view of his age. If he does or does not it will be a battle royal. I suspect if he does not that will somewhat increase Jim Allister’s chances but even with the Big Man on board the DUP will have a stern test here. They will, however, throw everything into this seat to defeat Allister. The other interesting factor is of course the CU vote. I doubt the CUs could take the seat but who they put up might make a significant difference: a strong hard line candidate with a good campaign would probably help the DUP. However, the CUs might run a fairly low profile candidate and a very quiet, soft campaign, hoping that some of their traditional support will defect to Allister in order to defeat the DUP. If the CUs make the calculation that a TUV win suits their purposes better than a DUP one and act on it, Allister might be the favourite to win.
This will be one of the major CU targets. The TUV will also of course have designs on the seat but I would have thought that of all the potential CU targets, they must feel that this is amongst the most winnable. Indeed if they cannot take seats like South Antrim against Willie McCrea then their ambitions will take a major knock. The CUs must also be hoping to eat into the Alliance vote to maximise their chances of election.
North Down deserves its own essay: it has always been a bit of an enigma. If Hermon runs as a CU or with some sort of CUish backing, I cannot see her being beaten. If, however, she runs as an independent all sorts of possibilities open up though then I still suspect she would be the one to beat. A good CU, however, might win it or open the door for Peter Weir of the DUP. Incidentally as one of the people who got me interested in politics and someone I still hold in high regard, I would like him to win (hi Peter).
I will defer to almost anyone in the analysis of this one as it is not my area, my field etc. I would have thought the South Down and Londonderry Party should hold on here. Either McGrady or Ritchie (less likely Ritchie now) could hold the seat especially as both might get significant unionist support in order to keep Ruane out. If SF have any sense they will not run Ruane unless they want to run her, have her make a spectacular mess and use that as a lever to get rid of her. On the unionist side, apart from the guesses as to the level of unionist tactical voting for SDLP, the battle between TUV, UUP and DUP will be interesting. The TUV think that the DUP’s Jim Wells is very vulnerable in the next Stormont election and may try to make calculations about this from Westminster.
Fermanagh South Tyrone
This will be an interesting seat for a number of reasons. If the CUs and DUP had a joint candidate it would be likely (though by no means certain) to fall to unionism. Even in the absence of a pact in 2005 Foster came fairly close. Now, however, with the CUs supposedly determined to stand everywhere and seeming to have increased confidence (though that may be misplaced) they are likely to run here. If they run and more so if they run a good candidate (Tom Elliott is popular down here) SF should be safe. The CUs would no doubt like to eat into Foster’s lead over them. The TUV are unlikely to run but will be sad at that since they feel that judging by the European poll they would have a very good chance of an MLA at Stormont and running a good local candidate and campaign would help them for that election. However, they will probably sit it out here. Of course on the republican side unless the all anti agreement republicans are determined to boycott elections they have to run here: this is constituency with the highest anti agreement republican vote. Although they would be very unlikely to stop Gildernew taking the seat if the unionist vote is split, anti agreement republicans would surely find it very difficult not to mount a challenge here and would expect to do well.
Another seat I have little insight into. With Durkan standing here it is again likely to be an SDLP hold. It will be interesting to see who SF put up here (Martina Anderson?) but I doubt she can beat the SDLP: then again on this one I have little constructive to say.
A major target for both the CUs and TUV. Donaldson once held the safest UUP seat in Northern Ireland and kept it just as safe for the DUP when he moved to them. He is a hard working constituency MP, will attract a good personal vote and will fight tooth and nail to hold the seat. Whom the UUP run will be interesting as Basil McCrea is an obvious choice but I believe is not especially popular. In addition the TUV will put a great deal into this seat and in Keith Harbinson have a good potential candidate.
Again an interesting seat. Once a solid UUP hold with Willie Ross, it fell in 2001 to Gregory Campbell and David McClarty made little impact on winning it back in 2005. Campbell is a good MP but he has a few weaknesses. He is not local but from Londonderry itself. If the CUs run good candidate they might pick up a good number of middle class liberal Triangle types to go with traditional country UUP ones. In addition the TUV would dearly love to take this seat and it has some very hard line areas. A good local candidate should be able to take much of Garvagh, the Prod areas around Kilrea, Upperlands, Mascosquin etc. In addition Limavady Prods were a bastion of hard line UUP support and might flit to the TUV from DUP. Coleraine itself of course hold sthe key being the most populous area but could split several ways. In a three way unionist fight SF or the SDLP could theoretically take the seat but that would be a major surprise. Although Campbell is the most likely winner, of all the seats apart from North Antrim, this (with a good candidate) might be one of the TUV’s best chances.
Weigh McGuinness’s vote (not worth the bother of counting). The interesting issue here will be the prospect of an anti agreement republican and their support, I suspect considerably less than Fermanagh South Tyrone. On the unionist side, I would have thought the TUV will run a strong campaign: they have a large well motivated party and would be very keen to eat into McCrea’s vote. South Londonderry and the adjoining parts of Tyrone also have very hard line unionists so a major loss in DUP support is quite possible. A major CU gain is also unlikely.
Newry and Armagh
Another very safe SF seat. I get the impression that the anti agreement republicans will not make as much headway here (maybe that is completely wrong?). On the unionist side again like Mid Ulster the percentages will be interesting but the TUV are not as strong there and as such the UUP DUP split will be more interesting
Probably the safest DUP seat. Iris Robinson is likely to run again and is likely to hold the seat. I doubt the CUs have someone to beat her and the TUV is a small party there. They have recently gained new councillors and will undoubtedly run but if anyone can beat Iris it would be the CUs and I would be surprised.
Weigh SF vote again except that almost everyone agrees that Pat Doherty is not the most dynamic MP. Another stunning split which gave the UUP’s Willaim Thompson the seat is extremely unlikely but an anti agreement republican might do well as a protest against Doherty. Provided SF replace him with a more active candidate SF should avoid any significant problems here.
One of the most interesting seats. The CUs apparently are set to run a big name and that would significantly increase their chances of taking the seat. There are also rumours that David Simpson might not run again. Whether or not he does it would still be a major fight and one the UUP would have to hope to do well in or even win if their claims to be growing are to be taken seriously. In addition the TUV are very keen to run here. If they do Simpson is very likely to lose to the CUs but it could open the door to the danger of SF taking the seat on a unionist split. Although the TUV have always been very keen to avoid the charge of vote splitting, there is considerable antipathy towards Simpson as many who are now in the TUV were dismayed by his supporting the DUP going into government with SF. As such I think the TUV will be likely to take the risk and stand here which would in turn make a CU gain the most likely outcome.
There are my brief thoughts on each constituency. In terms of the parties:
SDLP. Need to hope to hold what they have. Little prospect of gaining much. They could lose one without much trouble, especially South Belfast but any more loses would be a problem.
Sinn Fein. Little to worry about. They are relatively unlikely to gain any seats. They would be delighted to pick something up from unionist vote splitting but even in Upper Bann it is unlikely. They might lose FST (unlikely) but could cope with that. Their only concerns must be the size of the size of the dissident vote and any (realistically only likely to be modest) rise in the SDLP vote.
CUs. Need to gain something. They could theoretically lose their only MP which would be an abject disaster. They need to gain at least 2 seats to proclaim any major victory and do have a fair chance of that.
DUP. Any gains would be a major success. 2005 was them at high tide and holding what they have would be a significant achievement. Losing 1-2 seats would not be a disaster but any more would be a problem. In addition everyone will calculate their likely Assembly numbers and that could pose problems.
TUV. Really want and I suggest need to do well. That probably means taking North Antrim. Failure to do so would be a set back. Not disastrous if they run the DUP close and if they do well elsewhere but a win would gain them major momentum whereas no wins would lose some of the European momentum. If they could get 2-3 seats they would be delighted.