Predicting the nationalist contest

With the Westminster election campaign due to be officially launched later today, I thought I’d steal in with a post predicting what I believe will be the key outcomes of the intra-nationalist contest.
Sinn Fein will safely coast to victory in four of its five seats, with Fermanagh South Tyrone providing the only real challenge- and expect the pressure within nationalism to mount if, as expected, unionism fields single candidates in Fermanagh South Tyrone and/ or South Belfast. The focus for republicans- and the SDLP- in these constituencies will be on how the electoral performance next month sets up the respective parties for the forthcoming Assembly election.

South Belfast apart, the SDLP should hold its seats in South Down and Foyle, though Sinn Fein should close the gap on the 2005 Westminster figures. For South Down, the 2005 SDLP majority of 9,000 shrank to just 300 votes in the 2007 Assembly election. I don’t expect the Ritchie-Ruane battle to be close due to a number of factors, tactical unionist voting and the on-going transfer debacle amongst them. At this stage I’d suggest that a deficit of 3,000-4,000 would keep both sides happy, ensuring the Assembly balance remains unaffected.

In Foyle Sinn Fein will target matching the 2007 Assembly election performance, which saw the party pull within some 2,500 votes of the SDLP in the latter’s heartland. Again, unionist tactical voting could widen that gap but I don’t envisage Durkan pushing the gap back out to the 6,000 vote mark achieved in 2005.

The most interesting aspect of the remaining battles, apart from seeing how close Sinn Fein come in North Belfast to closing the gap on Nigel Dodds, will be on how the boundary changes leave both parties in specific target constituencies. In particular, the changes to the majority unionist constituencies of Strangford and East Antrim should mean that a nationalist MLA will be elected to both constituencies soon, and both parties will want to establish themselves in pole position to claim the favoured tag ahead of the next Assembly electoral outing. Given that Sinn Fein have no real tradition of mounting serious electoral challenges in either constituency (barring the Glens section of the new East Antrim) the SDLP would start in both of these areas as favourites, a crucial two seat head start for Ritchie in the next Assembly election when she will be aiming to bring the party back over the 20 seat mark and into a position to mount a more serious challenge to Sinn Fein’s supremacism in the subsequent electoral cycle.

And so to the two potential pact seats. With unionism shaping up for a unity candidate (my prediction would be that the DUPers will blink and withdraw ‘for the greater good of unionism….’), Sinn Fein will rely on the grassroots pressure locally to force the SDLP’s hand and withdraw their new celebrity candidate from the field. It’ll be interesting to see how Ritchie plays it, but McKinney’s move appears to have been badly timed at best. Contest the seat and he’ll be blamed if unionism reclaims it due to splitting the vote. Fail to do so and his big decision to jump into politics will have ended with an embarrassing withdrawal. Worse still, if he does run against Gildernew and a unity unionist candidate then he’ll be guaranteed an abysmal electoral turnout as the story focuses on the unionist push to unseat the republican incumbent.

Which brings us to South Belfast. Always a steal in its own right, the SDLP will need the cards to fall again to hold this seat, but a unity unionist candidate would surely have it in the bag.

Finally, Sinn Fein should comfortably top the poll again, making history as the first nationalist party in the state to do so in a Westminster contest. The DUP’s decision to not contest North Down will immediately shave more than 10,000 votes off their total, which could be further reduced with talk of unity candidates and pacts- not to mention the anticipated vote slippage to the TUV.

Let the games begin….

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  • Drumlins Rock

    Chris, mot peopel are predicting a low poll even over here, do you think the total will drop across the board or be more in Unionist or Nationalist areas?

  • I’m usually not a fan of your posts Chris but I think this is pretty good, and dare I say it reasonable.

    I’m not sure I agree regarding FST though:

    the idea that the DUP will withdraw for the greater good of unionism for a start; they didn’t do it last time. Although there was a lot of talk of withdrawal from Arlene, offering to withdraw back a few months ago (eg ) but I remain to be convinced that it wasn’t just fucking about on her part, giving the DUP ammo for the unionist unity “blame game” as blogged about by Turgon not so long ago.

    Are you assuming that Rodney is the candidate ?(little chance of Arlene and Tom working it out).

    And it’s even less likely the SDLP would withdraw.

    Don’t stoops and shinners hate each other?

    And with nationalists queuing up to tell us that a single candidate is a foul, disgusting suggestion, then do two wrongs make a right.

  • John McCormick


    I could not see any Nationalist pact at this election however if a Unionist Unity candidate takes the Majority Nationalist seat of FST then for the next GE the pressure would mount for a Unity candiate.


    Only 845 of a gap between the two voting blocks at the last NB election. It was over 2200 at the 2005 general election. Boundary changes have been
    kind to both Nationalist parties. Ditto SB with 900ish gap. Nationalist parties could end up with only a third of seats or a half imo.

  • BigBossBoo

    SDLP will not pull out of F/ST….. they done that once before which some counted as a mistake then!

    Plus unlike the 2 Unionist Parties, SDLP and SF are opposed on the Westminster Issue….it simply wouldn’t be democratic for one to stand aside since they are offering 2 different thing! and could you really see Alex Maskey withdrawing and shouting support Alasdair????? not even if a UI depended on it!

    McKinney seems to be in there to give the SDLP a wake-up call that they desperately need in the face of a falling vote and the FF threat. They are looking for a good result here. This could be telling point on the future of the SDLP….. i suspect even without a unity candidate they may take enough votes of Gildernew to stop her taking the seat…

    South Belfast

    Any Unionist unity and its good-bye McDonnall, which would make a very bad year for him after losing the leadership. But this isnt a seat for the SDLP to hold, but win all over again! I know his work on the ground has been good, even in the places like the sandy row…. If their is no unity i think he will hold the seat, with maybe even a tiny increase (as the SDLP did increase their vote in SB last election) SF have all but given up on winning much here anyway! Like the Stoops in West Belfast (As long as Attwood is around anyway…..) there will be no gains for either Alex

    South Down

    I dont really see SF making much ground in South Down. At the last assembly elections was SF high point! “They” had got the St Andrews Agreement…. that was there strong selling point…… This time their Candidate is one of the most unpopular ministers going up again one of the more popular ones… who is now Leader of the SDLP. You have also Unionist tactical voting to keep it very safe. Foyle will always be safe.

    I suspect the vote in North Belfast will be interesting, Not just if SF can draw closer to Dodds (or indeed if Dodds slides down closer to them!) Alban has also be getting a lot of publicity last few years… will that have an effect (indeed is he running?)

    Places like Mid-ulsteR (basically SF 2nd stronghold) will stay the same vote for SF. SDLP are running a local Cllr instead of McGlone, and i think that could maybe turn a few heads. West Tyrone i suspect will still be a basket case of the SDLP…. depending on their candidate and also if Deeny runs as an Indp…… I think Pat will hardly bother coming over the border.

    I see SF maintaining their vote, Don’t see anywhere they will get a big increase, similar with the SDLP cause i dont see them slipping down anywhere (unless maybe WB and WT)

    thats my 2 cents anyway

  • The Original Sam Maguire

    In a nutshell – Nationalism stays exactly where it was 5 years ago after this election.

    WT/MU/WB/N&A are all safe SF seats. If we’re being reasonable it would taken an ABSF candidate to win any of them given the strength of SF in those constituencies now.

    Foyle and South Down are still safe for the SDLP. If SF were serious about Foyle then MMG would be the candidate. Michelle O’Neill or Francie Molloy would hold Mid Ulster for SF at a canter. Martina could win a seat but to win Derry SF need a big hitter and for her sins Martina isn’t the woman for the job. In South Down – despite what people think – 2007 is a closer reflection of fact on the ground than 05 – but Ruane is a major problem for SF. I genuinely believe that if they had Mick Murphy running there would be literally a kick of a ball in it. Ruane keeps the SDLP majority at about 5000.

    FST – it’s a SF hold short of a Connor or Baxter candidacy. While McKinney is a decent candidate Gildernew is well established at this stage. Tom Elliot will probably claw a few votes back this is but Arlene’s final hurrah in FST before she’s shifted somewhere more winnable.
    SB – Bug Alistair will probably slide through the middle again. But a hold would be pretty impressive

  • Crow

    Although unlikely there is a possibility of the Shinners coming up through the middle in Upper Bann. Sinn Fein are targeting a second seat here at the next Assembly election that they so narrowly missed in 2007. Look for the nationalist vote to be maximized and a near even split between Flash and Simpson. Interesting to see where Calvert’s vote goes given the TUV’s abstention.

  • Crow

    “the SDLP would start in [East Antrim & Starngford] as favourites, a crucial two seat head start for Ritchie in the next Assembly election” – Not if they are off-set by corresponding losses in North & South Antrim.

  • Have there been any local polls to show just how much the transfer issue has damaged Ruane?

    There is a tendency in Irish politics, perhaps more prominent in the Southern territories to rally behind their own in times of attack from ‘outsiders’. As Ruane is simply carrying out SF policy I fail to see how she is to be held personally responsible for the ‘debacle’ and even less so now that the Roman Catholic Church has effectively given up on selection.

    On that basis it should be very close if not a SF gain.


    Would it be fair to accuse you of being deliberately conservative in your estimaton of the insurgents chances in SD and Foyle?

    Protocol warning: Please adjust your mindset
    For those of a particulalry tribal and/or sensitive disposition and those unable to judge an arguement on it’s merits please be aware that the term Unionist in my name is not an entrirely accurate reflection of my political views though it should also be noted that my paternal grandfather was a keen supporter of the Union and I am invoking the FIFA grandparent rule and am opting to call myself so. (I’m sure he would have approved.)

  • Drumlins Rock

    Are there any Eirigi or other fringe republicans standing this time?

  • the future is bright the future is orange

    I ain’t holding my breath for unionist unity in FST or SB but there is a chance. Can’t see SF/SDLP coming to any kind of arrangement. If SF took their seats then it could be a possibility in the future but I think the SDLP would be shooting themselves in the foot under the current arrangements. I expect a lot of folk are dissillusioned about the whole thing and with most of the really contentious subjects dealt with we could see a very low turnout.

  • Chris Donnelly

    D Rock
    Might be, but wouldn’t matter (which is why they’re unlikely to field.)

    Upper Bann more of a realistic Assembly target for Sinn Fein- at least before the party lost its bright hope in the Banbridge end. It’s back to square one now.

    SDLP won’t be losing Sth Antrim- Burns works it too hard and the Boundary Commission has been kind to him, bringing in Glenavy and area.

    North Antrim could be lost by the SDLP to unionists given they were clinging to the seat before the loss of the Glens.

    Nope, just my thoughts, pure and simple.

    I note SDLP stalwart, Tom Kelly, is even in favour of an electoral pact for SB and FST. I’d say that sentiment would be even stronger within the grassroots nationalist base, and the SDLP would be foolish to simply dismiss it out of hand.

    There is no chance of McKinney getting anything like a respectable vote. Once unity candidates were mentioned he was beat; now he’s a choice of either pulling out to (marginally) save face or contesting and performing abysmally facing either wrath (for losing the nationalist seat) or ridicule (for performing so badly.)

    The McKinney maneouvre was badly timed by the SDLP.

  • nick

    Sinn Fein has handed South Down on a plate to Ritchie by running Ruane. Aside from her ministerial performance, she is an absentee figure who is rarely seen in the constituencey apart from election time. South Down nationalist voters are very parochial and are unlikely to vote in a Nationalist Enoch Powell!

  • granni trixie

    Chris: arent you overlooking Anna Lo who is a very popular candidate in S Belfast, one who can take votes from all sides.

    However,a determining factor in all outcomes is voter apathy:who is more fed up with their politicans,nationalists or unionists?. Answers on a postcard please…

  • Chris Donnelly


    Lo hasn’t Hume’s snowball’s chance in Hell of winning that seat, not least since ‘all’ sides will be more interested in getting ‘their’ candidate elected. This is first past the post- Alliance’s profile is more suited to PR elections, and even then there wouldn’t be a Westminster seat for the party to realistically challenge for at this stage.

  • RobertEmmett

    nationalists get to vote between SDLP and SF? God, what chice is that? either way, we end up with the SDLP.

  • granni trixie

    I refuse to accept that because sectarian impulses tend to prevail they will always prevail. Someone like Anna Lo had the potiential to break the mould.

    As for not there not being a realistic challenge from Alliance, as stated on previous posts, Naomi Long is the best chance Alliance has had for Westminster seat in E. Belfast since Oliver Napier was a few hundred votes short of doing so. Look at her story:local girl who went on in adulthood to become Lord Mayor,MLA,Councillor and she has greater voter recognition than many of her rivals plus can attract votes from across the divide.

    Sounds promising to me.

  • Chris Donnelly


    I admire your optimism. Don’t bother putting any money on your hopes though….

  • vengador vindicativo

    I mean really, Who Gives A Folk, about this rubbish.

    The definition of ‘Not News’

  • granni trixie,

    The Alliance vote in Belfast South is potentially soft: 12.6% in 2007 Assembly election and 12.8% in 2005 local government election but in the the 2005 Westminster election it was only 6.3%. This suggests Alliance do much better in PR-STV elections. I would guess that a significant amount of Alliance voters would vote for Alasdair McDonnell as the least worst option with a chance of winning the seat.

    Naomi Long is a very strong candidate for Belfast East but I can’t see how she can win easily. Even with 3 DUP candidates running, Robinson still came ahead of Long in 2007. It will need a very strong vote for Vance and a big drop from Robinson combined with a boost in the Alliance vote.

  • union mack

    all seats will remain in the same hands, except for potentially three:

    South Antrim – if the CU’s sort out that mess they’re in, and stand someone like Reg Empey, Willie McCrea could be dislodged. McCrea is unpopular, pompous and doesn’t have a great track record of working hard for his constituents. Reg, for all his faults, is personable, and a big-hitter (in UUP terms)

    Fermanagh South Tyrone – a united unionist candidate will win, unionists there will vote for anyone to get Michelle Gildernew out.

    South Belfast – again, a single unionist candidate will see McDonnell ousted. Neither of the unionist parties have a clear lead here so two candidates will see him sneak through.

    Unionist tactical voting will ensure Ritchie and Durkan remain safely in the lead in their respective constituencies. Anyone who thinks unionists in North Belfast (the singularly most polarised constituency in the land) would risk getting Kelly as MP by not voting Dodds is naive. Essentially, nationalism stands still. No room for gain, but scope for losing one ‘natural’ nationalist seat, and one ‘stolen’ unionist seat

  • Drumlins Rock

    I predict Billmanwaring to win West Belfast and Ross Hussey in West Tyrone.

  • I have a feeling that Ross Hussey may beat the DUP in West Tyrone

  • granni trixie

    1967: With such a popular candidate as Anna Lo to vote for why would Alliance supporters vote for any body else stil less Alaister McD, who is clearly not even popular within his own party.
    What you appear to be getting at is that Alliance voters would prefer any SDLP person rather than a unionist and the truth is that Allinace is composed of people with a more complex outlook.

    Your analysis is based on too many wrong assumptions.

  • Granni, I agree that Alliance voters aren’t all going to rush out to vote stoop. (as the somewhat partisan 1967 may wish to believe)

    But really, you must learn that Unionist voters only a few miles away are going to run to the polls to vote Naomi.

  • watcher

    SDLP pretty safe in South Belfast. Paula Bradshaw was third choice for most Unionists and her association with Ian Parsley (they are getting married soon) ensures that the hatred most Conservatives now have for IJP will rub off on her too.

    She runs a DUP-esque line, (and boasted about this in her selection meeting – where she lost!) in the working class ghettos and has nothing to offer the middle class centre.

    DUP will go nowhere so McDonnell will keep the seat.

  • BigBossBoo

    To be honest… I get the feeling from some of the people i know in the SDLP that some of them would rather that McDonnell doesn’t get the seat! And from the in-fighting from the leadership campaign here on slugger i think that is very much the case.

  • granni trixie

    Conquisador: I indeed know that Naomi is a great candidate in a winnable seat of E. Belfast.

  • union mack

    hopefully, Conall McDevitt will lend his support to McDonnell, then he hasn’t a hope of winning

  • [i] With such a popular candidate as Anna Lo to vote for why would Alliance supporters vote for any body else stil less Alaister McD, who is clearly not even popular within his own party.
    What you appear to be getting at is that Alliance voters would prefer any SDLP person rather than a unionist and the truth is that Allinace is composed of people with a more complex outlook.

    Your analysis is based on too many wrong assumptions.[/i]

    Because Anna Lo won’t win? It is called tactical voting and I have presented evidence of it rather than your biased and ridiculously optimistic analysis.

    That is not at all what I am getting at- it is your assumptions about me that are incorrect. What I am saying is not that Alliance voters would prefer a ‘nationalist’ over a ‘unionist’ but that the pattern of Alliance’s vote indicates they do better in PR elections and therefore that some of their voters vote tactically in FPTP elections. Alliance voters do appear to have complex attitudes and undoubtedly some lent votes to the SDLP rather than see Jimmy Spratt win. Not because he is a ‘nationalist’ but perhaps because he is seen as more moderate than the DUP.

    The SDLP vote in 2005 was up to 32.3% whilst the Alliance vote was only 6.3%; the SDLP vote in 2007 was only 26.8% whilst Alliance had an impressive 12.6%. That would indicate [i]some[/i] of the Alliance vote may have went to Alasdair McDonnell in 2005. Nor is it a surprise that this happened because the combined Unionist vote in Foyle in PR-STV Assembly elections is higher as a percentage than it is in FPTP Westminister elections, evidence of Unionist tactical voting for Mark Durkan.

  • granni trixie

    Its not rocket science,PR does suit Alliance and in certain circs Alliance voters vote tactically. But I do not think such circumstances hold thhis time round in South Belfast,especially when they have such a good option in Ms Lo. You know, sometimes people do vote for the person that fits the bill. You are making it all too trixsy!

    BTW, re SDLP, in the past Alliance sometimes voted Alliance lite, Carmel Hanna, but that is unlikely to transfer to McDonald or in future elections to her replacement MLA.

  • PJM

    As a Lo voter at Assembly time I would love to vote for her but in a first past the post system, I have to vote negatively to keep out the parties I really hate (DUP in S Belfast). If the election is close I will probably have to vote SDLP even though I can’t stand McDonnell. If it isn’t I will defintitely vote for Lo. Still undecided and may yet vote Lo just to give two fingers to the tribal parties. I suspect many Alliance voters find themselves in this boat.

  • granni trixie

    PJM: I have on occasion voted for both unionist and SDLP but I repeat again – the circs where I did so do not now prevail so as well as just admiring Anna Lo for her undoubted talents, I vote for her to do my bit to break the mould.

    But I suspect your decision will, as you say, depend on how you perceive things on the day which is fair enough.

  • I indeed know that Naomi is a great candidate in a winnable seat of E. Belfast.

    You can’t ‘know’ that, because it isn’t true

  • granni trixie

    You would have to say who “knows” anything….but you have a point,in that I could call it “my guesstimate” of Naomis potential to take the seat is based on solid evidence (listed previously,but since you ask):

    *track record of working in the area
    *very experienced politican,
    *risen in the ranks to becoame deputy leader of Alliance Party
    * has been successful in a mans world (poltics and engineering, her former profession )
    * dick wittington factor (local girl becomes Lord Mayor)

  • union mack

    Jim Rodgers was Lord Mayor twice, you saying he would win if he was standing?

  • Dunumian

    In South Down there is a different political landscape with Eddie Mc Grady retiring from politics his heir apparent Maggie Ritchie does not draw the same respect from all communities thar EK took for granted-
    Her views on the Orange Order and her “green” credentials are a major no no to decent unionist people
    People overlook the fact that in recent elections when the SDLP incumbent retired such as Newry & Armagh huge personal majorities were overturned in favour of Sinn Fein
    In recent times with the economic downturn and jobs etc being lost and people loosing jobs etc the antics of the double jobbers like ritchie are turning people off they see her and her ilk as clapped out and past their sell by date
    and are now looking for new alternatives – South Down will be a interesting contest and with Mc Grady gone you can be assured that this will be one of the most interesting contests of 2010.
    Handbags at Dawn no doubt