Election: Is North Belfast in play?

There has been a considerable amount of talk in recent days about North Belfast being elevated to a ‘one to watch’ constituency. Both Irish News editor, Noel Doran, and UTV’s Ken Reid made reference to it following UTV’s Leaders Debate Thursday night, and Jim Fitzpatrick has followed that up with more speculation in his preview of Sunday’s Politics Show programme. Here’s Sammy Morse’s 2007 preview of the constituency (pre-boundary changes, which, according to Nick Whyte’s Northern Ireland elections site have marginally increased the overall number of catholics in the constituency.)

Below I’ve included Jim Gibney’s piece in Thursday’s Irish News (with kind permission from the writer) which, unsurprisingly, presents an optimistic interpretation of how things stand for Sinn Fein’s candidate as election day approaches. The numbers would suggest Kelly requires two mini miracles to pull this one off. Firstly, he’ll need to persuade the solid SDLP voter  in the Castle and Glengormley areas to make the leap to Sinn Fein; no mean feat when the SDLP’s continuing dominance at a local government level in these areas is taken into consideration. Secondly, he’ll need the much speculated- though yet to be proven- voter disaffection with the DUP to translate into both voter apathy and a significant hemorrhaging of support from Dodds to Cobain.

Whatever the outcome, it would appear that, come 2015, Belfast will have two constituencies where the electoral contest will not be simply an in-house affair, Orange or Green.

The withdrawal of Sinn Féin from South Belfast almost certainly guarantees the seat for the SDLP’s Alasdair Mc Donnell, regardless of the posturing of Margaret Ritchie.

The Sinn Féin decision, aimed at maximizing nationalist representation, will have a ripple effect across other constituencies, the goodwill gesture encouraging nationalists to use their votes tactically.

The outworking of the peace process has caused deep differences within unionism, even though unionists have managed to agree a pact in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Lady Sylvia Hermon has been given a clear run by the DUP in North Down and the TUV has stood aside in some constituencies.

Initial unionist smugness that this pact, and the intervention of Ferghal Mc Kinney would split the nationalist vote and virtually guarantee the election of Rodney Connor, has turned to dismay.

The poor performance by Mc Kinney in a television debate last Sunday, all fluff and no substance, on its own significantly damaged his credibility. But the actual statistics present an even more powerful argument. Michelle Gildernew outpolls the SDLP by 11,400 votes, has been a great Minister for Agriculture and a very active abstentionist MP.

Clearly, she is the only nationalist candidate who can win.

If Sinn Fein’s South Belfast gesture does encourage tactical voting, then nationalists could, astonishingly take three of Belfast’s four seats!

The North Belfast contest has been ‘under the radar’, so to speak, and could cause a major upset to the DUP and unionism. Has any of our political correspondents had a real look at this battle and at how vulnerable is the DUP?

There, the Sinn Féin vote has been on a relentless rise and the party has put every man, woman and eighteen-year-old on the electoral rolls and registered every overseas student and sick person for a postal or proxy vote.

The candidate, one of two Sinn Féin MLAs for the area (the SDLP has just one), is Gerry Kelly who sits on the executive, advising Martin Mc Guinness. His recent television debate with Ferghal Mc Kinney demonstrated a superior grasp of detail on policy and policy implementation.

In the 2007 Assembly elections in North Belfast Sinn Féin was 5000 votes in front of the SDLP and Gerry Kelly was elected on the first count, his nearest nationalist rival Alban Maginnis, on the ninth count.

If you are a gambler, put your money on Kelly as the taking of this seat could well be the story of the election!

The party leaders of Sinn Féin and the DUP are defending their seats in the West and East of Belfast, Gerry Adams more assuredly than Peter Robinson, if the blogs and twitters are to be believed.

UUP leader Reg Empey’s foray into South Antrim will decide Reg’s future. Margraet Ritchie is hoping to inherit the mantle of Eddie Mc Grady in South Down, and TUV leader Jim Allister is out to scuttle the DUP’s involvement in power-sharing if he can seize North Antrim which has been held by a Paisley called Ian since 1970.

Sinn Féin is the preferred party of a majority of nationalists, the DUP of a majority of the unionist people. It is healthy to politics that no party has a monopoly and that there are balances and checks. But it would be naïve to think the ‘numbers game’ is unimportant.

If, as a result of vote-splitting or diffused voting, a disproportionate number of unionist MPs are elected you can be sure that this will be flaunted to demoralize the nationalist people.

To this day, we are still redressing the injustices of partition. The state we currently live in is certainly not the ‘Northern Ireland’ state of 1921 or 1969 which humiliated and tried to crush us.

Today, nationalists own this state with all its flaws, have more power than they ever and are entitled to run every aspect of government. Some unionists cannot cope with the centrality of nationalist and republican involvement.

I can understand their suspicion because, to be frank, as a republican, I view these political structures as being temporary, subject to change and in transition.

However, as a political activist, I respect elections, which democratically empower the young, the old, men and women, opponents, cynics and dissidents, as equals.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Cobain is a contradiction – a trade union man who calls himself a socialist, standing on a Conservative ticket. I can’t see him taking votes from Dodds to any significant extent.

  • RepublicanStones

    Indeed Companero, I asked a few weeks ago on another thread how a man with such a solid trade union background could square that circle. I see old eyebrows himself in the gym the odd time and think about asking, though politics doesn’t mix well with sweat, so never bother.

    I see McCauley’s posters adorning lamposts up here, you have to give the young lads credit.

  • The Raven

    Very O/T but “…..has been a great Minister for Agriculture…”

    Sorry, wha’? I seem to keep missing this Oscar-worthy performance everyone is on about….

    Anyway…McCauley gets my vote. 🙂

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Does this mean that if this comes off the results could stack up as

    DUP – 7
    SF – 7 (NB, SD gains, FST hld)
    SDLP – 2 (Foyle, SB)
    Ind U – 1 (ND)
    CUNF – 1 (SA)

  • Count, your count is out a little, I reckon.
    I think Dodds will hold NB, and DUP hold NA. SD to be SDLP held. And SA in play.

  • Harry Jay

    SA in play.

    What planet are you on Skinner?? You deluded clown.

    Willie McCrea is one of the greatest assets unionism was ever blessed with. EVERYONE in South Antrim knows this and Willie will win by a landslide.

    Bye Bye Reg, Bye bye UUP

  • South Antrim BOY

    I have yet to see Reg in south antrim, i know the DUp have a large team working the constituency

    THe news that David Cameron will make big cuts wont play well in many places here

  • Harry Jay

    i know the DUp have a large team working the constituency

    Thats because all of us in the dup are fine fellows and everyone agrees with us and wants to slog out to get willie elected!

    bye bye reg bye bye UUP

  • “Today, nationalists own this state with all its flaws, have more power than they ever and are entitled to run every aspect of government. “

    That is of course nonsense. Nationalists are entitled to share ownership of the state and share running of the government. Mr. Donnelly of course is not interested in that: rather he is the enthusiastic supporter of the murder of thousands of people to get what he actually wrote to own and run the state for nationalists.

    Except of course not for nationalists. Mr. Donnelly supports the campaign waged by a small minority of murderers (who happened to claim to be nationalists) in order that the murderers themselves run the state.

    Now that they have failed to complete their objectives by murder, Mr. Donnelly rewrites history to say that all nationalists like him wanted was equality. Wrong Donnelly, you supported murder for the reasons you accidentally wrote: to own the state and run it.

  • PrivateBob

    Turgon, I’m a huge fan of your analysis of Unionism, I don’t think anyone has a better handle on the DUP than you. But it might be best to stick to that side of the political divide, your forays into analysis of Nationalism usually seem to slide into blame-game, name calling and mud slinging.

    Anyway, I think the hopes for Kelly taking North Belfast are pretty slim but optimism never hurts I guess!

    On an other note, does anyone think that McAuley has any sort of chance or will be lucky to scrape a few hundred votes? I’m as yet undecided on him as a potential player..

  • Private Bob,
    I was merely pointing out that Donnelly far from being the liberal analyst he tries to portray himself as is a dyed in the wool supporter of sectarian murder.

    His comments may have been unintended but they are actually what he has previously admitted to supporting. He supported and still supports the IRA’s murder campaign in order to gain power and run Northern Ireland and of course the RoI.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Chris,

    SF only really use these Westminsters elections as a guide to party support and for political pride – the assembly elections are the big one. You cannot simulataneously argue that you wont take your seats and that the elections are important – it simply does not make sense.

    Although it is an unlikely scenario, even with a hung parliament – are SF actually saying that they would refuse to take an oath even if it materially improved the Republican position a bit like Dev saying he wouldnt swap involvment in WW2 for a UI becuae the Englezes held the 6 counties.

    Deputy Dodsy will undoubtedly hold NB and SF will probably lose FST though come close in SD and they will make all sorts of funny noises about the SDLP letting down Nationalism but privately they wont give a flying feck and will simply use the issue to beat the arse of the SDLP in the Assembly elections.

    ps Where is my old friend the ‘preview’ button gone.

  • orly

    Wouldn’t call North Down a formality either.

    The constituency has a history of “interesting” results.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    In my post on Maskeys decision to pull out of South Belfast, I pointed out that the decision was based on the likely effect in three constituencies….South Belfast, FST and “16 others”.Jim Gibney refers to this as a “ripple effect”.

    But Mr Donnellys analysis is I think too optimistic from a nationalist perspective. For SF to take the seat requires a “perfect storm” and I dont see one forming.

    1 The boundary changes will have minimal effect.
    2 There is no TUV candidate.
    3 Dodds is not mired as much as Robinson……playing solid deputy AND alternative.
    4 Magennis remains SDLP candidate. There might be 1,000 or so extra votes in play if a SDLP man like Convery had been selected.
    5 Alliance will actually be boosted by Billy Webb, Glengormley and previously Independent “Im a Ratepayer” type councillor. He is a natural conservative therefore and will appeal to middle class……although his previous career as a Tax Inspector might not play well with them.
    6 McAuley…….yeah right royal pain in the ass I know but he will siphon off a few of his mates votes as part of the wheeze.
    7 Crucially…..while the boundary changes themselves are not that important, the changing demographic in North Belfast is more important. BUT……..I think it will take Catholics/Nationalists another electoral cycle before they realise the strength of their position.
    8 The unionists KNOW this and will rally round their main standard bearer.

    Taking all these factors into account, Id say Gerry Kelly will still come up 2,000 short. But certainly a marker will be put down.

    The one mitigating factor (apart from the ripple effect Jim Gibney mentions) is the Margaret Ritchie question. Her performance was frankly so poor in the TV debate that it must now actually be an issue on the doorsteps as it appears to be in Blogs…..not just the usual suspects claiming she was poor…….but SDLP supporting blogs being defending the impossible.

  • Co. Down man

    If SF lose in Fermanagh south Tyrone, the sdlp will be destroyed, if SF win, the sdlp will be destroyed, Ritchie is a disaster for the sdlp and a God send for SF. North Belfast will be held by the DUP but it will be the last time they do. South Antrim DUP to hold and bye bye to Reg.

  • Co. Down man

    Ritchie is a God send to SF. She will finish the SDLP off, they will gain no votes with her only lose them!

  • Chris Donnelly

    Turgon

    Amidst your fit of pique you seem to have missed the fact that the comments you attribute to me were actually written by Irish News columnist, Jim Gibney.

    Oh, and on the ‘murder supporter charge,’ it is with irony of course that I note your many gloating references to British military activity.

    [Text removed]

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Turgon,
    By all means voice your support and/or distaste for anything. But it would be presumption to say that the “rest of us” are in agreement/disagreement.

  • orly

    It’s so easy to be on the wrong team these days

  • RepublicanStones

    Turgon, I do despair at you sometimes. On the one hand you are a unionist commentator that i look forward to reading, but then you (with increasing frequency) come onto threads and have your standard list of atrocities which you try and serve like tennis aces, even though centre court is empty, because nobody is listening to you, as this thread is about an interesting race shaping up in the north Belfast.

    And as Chris pointed out, and you seem to have ignored, the quote which seems to have stoked your ire, wasn’t even written by the man you’re directing your venom at. Furthermore, as Mr Donnelly also points out, your continued attempt to paint unionism as lacking any cordite on their cuffs, would hold a little more water if there was utter condemnation and intense appeals for investigations and prosecutions with regard to collusion, from you instead of just trotting out the Provo bogeymen at every available juncture.

    British crown forces have always enjoyed unqualified support from your end. The fruit analogy is long past it’s sell by date at this stage of the game.

    I’m assuming you got a flat wheel or something today.

  • Big John

    Just one question, not directed at anyone. How can so many so called “Roman Catholics” vote for a party that has defended terrorism and waged a grubby war against their fellow countrymen?

    It is interesting to watch SF ‘politicans’ talk about more investment into businesses in NI, when only a few years ago they were blowing them up.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Athough not agreeing with Turgon we should recognise that his view that PIRA were nothing more than a ‘sectrain murder gang’ and that the ‘good’ old British security forces were justly deployed to stop them and that there is simply no question of any equivalence between the ‘terrorists’ and those out ot stop them is a view which is shared by the vast majority of Unionists and by the vast majority of British people although for tactical reasons only the TUV, or its supporters like Turgon, choose at the moment to highlight their very firmly held belief.

  • Mr. Donnelly,
    Care to cite any evidence for that comment in your second sentence.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Fair enough: not everyone condemns murder and Mr. Donnelly for one supports it.

    Excluding, of course, a few fellow members of your party.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Turgon
    See third sentence….and still awaiting acknowledgement that this latest little tantrum of yours was thrown after you wrongly put words in my mouth.

  • Chris Donnelly & Turgon

    Will you get over yourselves?

    Mr Donnelly As far as I know very few Brit soldiers hid behind chidlren or murdered a widowed mother of ten. As for the allegations of child abuse and rape: I do not wish to go there.

    Mr Turgon: The British army can be relied upon to leave no stone unturned to get what they want, they may not have hid behind children but there is not doubt they allowed crimes to happen to protect their ‘source’, and some of those crimes were murder.

  • JohnM

    Sorry Turgon, but that is rubbish. Just because one supports the IRA military campaign, doesn’t mean one can’t find some of their actions horrendous and totally unnecessary.

    I am sure you are glad the Allies won the Second World War, but I would hope you would be able to condemn some of the barbaric Allied acts (Dresden for example?)

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite so JC. I would FST is also in play.

    FJH’s analysis of NB below is about perfect. When I do a constituency guide I suspect he will accuse me of cribbing off him, but it is only because in this election the options ar extremely limited.

  • RepublicanStones

    pippakin, if you think British crown forces dirty hands extended only as far as allowing things to happen and protecting sources, you’re very much deluded.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I agree with your assessment of North Belfast totally. The articles that the Irish News have published in their opinion pages has been a nonsense. I don’t see a big ripple effect from SDLP to Sinn Fein. In fact, I would be very surprised if the SDLP didn’t make a small amount of gains in the Sinn Fein votes – very small, but enough to claim that they are recovering.

    As regards Ritchie, I do not like her and never will. However, her performance was not nearly as bad as people are claiming particularly because none of the others were any good. Only Reg came across as a credible politician – almost dignified by comparison to the others. I doubt many watched enough of that awful debate for this to become an issue. Its only too months in for a leader who hasn’t even been on the networks much before this year. Do you not think she willl get better with confidence and experience? There was nothing in what she said that was embarassing, it was just the lack of presence and what some people believe was reading (I dont, as she always looks at the table when she is interviewed)

  • Lionel Hutz

    yes i did say too instead of two. A number of mistakes in that one but I’ll only correct that one

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Good question BJ,
    If you consider that this is a large sample of people (or Roman Catholics if you like), you would contend that they would be representative of their peers in western europe. Relatively well educated, desire for peace and prosperity and wish to build a better future for their children.
    So the question, then becomes what made this large group of people turn away from establish political processes in order to further their aims? Were they so disenfranchised by the current political system that they thought they would only be heard if they acted outside it. If that were true then they would have had to accept they had less to lose and more to gain by this route, latterly supporting a party that you consider defending murder and terrorism.
    That is if you think this group of people are normal human beings. A popular unionist analysis is that they are a psychotic blood thirsty underclass.
    I wont give you any answers but let you come to your own conclusions

  • Republican Stones

    I have no doubt at all the Brits were up to their eyes in everything, up to and possibly including using incest and child abuse as suitable weapons to subdue.

    I am getting tired of the old tribal thing rearing its head all the time. One day these people, clear thinking and articulate on almost everything else, are going to wake up and realise for sectarianism to work it takes more than one side. Both sides did things, there are no winners in such an argument.

    How does Turgon feel knowing his beloved Brits may have been covering up child abuse, incest and rape.

    How does Chris Donnelly feel knowing senior members of S/F may have been involved in and covering up child abuse, incest and rape.

    Before anyone starts to complain that I am going on about child abuse again, I think it is by far the most important and so far unmentioned subject in this election. So if some do not like it – tough.

  • PaddyReilly

    Sinn Fein do not deserve to win this seat. They should have stood aside and let Alban have a go. Equally, they could have found a better candidate: Gerry Kelly is a reminder of a past that we do not need.

    But what they lack in diplomacy they make up for in persistence. Registering everyone and his grandmother, making sure the postal vote is there for people studying in California or dying of emphysema, sounds like a good way to win to me.

    Cobain can have no effect on the contest, his tiny vote (2000 odd) has been squeezed as far as it will go already.

    In 2007 SF were only 2000 votes behind the DUP. With all the hard word mentioned above, I don’t think they will be that far behind this time, whatever Fitzjameshorse says.

    There will be movement in this election: it will show which direction we are moving in. It will show how, in 2015, Nationalist parties can win a majority of the Westminster seats.

    The SDLP’s problem is that by being too nice they are not taken seriously. Unionists think them a walkover, as allies in a struggle in a United Ireland even. Civilised behaviour is taken as weakness. It may be that they will have to disappear before a United Ireland is feasible.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    PaddyReilly,

    The Nat. % in North Belfast has hardly moved in 10 years and when you factor in the traditional lower Unionist turnout (and the potential for growth if the seat is seriously under threat) then although the longer term demographics point to an eventual Nat. victory 2015 is surely too soon? What other constituencies are you projecting as turning Green by 2015?

  • PaddyReilly

    The supposed lower Unionist turnout is only in the extreme East of the province, where there is no Nationalist threat.

    I will be able to make more accurate predictions when the results are in, a couple of weeks from now, so there is no pint in doing so at the moment.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Paddy,

    what would be an interesting analysis is a league table of those assembly constituencies that are likley to increase Nationlaist representation (ie more seats) based on the probable percentage that is needed for change – of course some constiuencies may increase Unionist representation because of boundary changes and any analysis would need to leave out the complicating factor of a third Unionist party and possible unionist unity.

  • John O’Connell

    PR

    You should be honest and mention the fact that that united Ireland can only come through civil war if you go down the Sinn Fein line. Bosnia is the choice for those who take this road. Let’s be honest about it.

  • Ryan South Down

    As for SD, I could see a backlash against Catriona Ruane for what she has done to the education ministry, while on the other hand Margaret Richie has a golden record for her work in DSD. Not only that, but tactical unionist voting also works to the SDLP advantage if you look at 2005 figures for Westiminster v Local council.

    The chances of SF having a bad election look likely, especially with the number of resignations that have occured since 2007, in contrast however this did nothing to stop their European election victory in 2009.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Thank you Mr Fealty.
    But I wouldnt dream of accusing you of cribbing……as you rightly point out options are limited…as any long term “watcher” like you and I know.
    Indeed on Friday night I started to compose a profile of a certain constituency for my own blog……but in going round a few Blogs I like, I found practically the same Blog I would have written word for word.
    I reverted to Plan B and blogged about another constituency.
    Indeed a feature of Blogging has been the division between what I might call “mature” bloggers and “naive” ones who perhaps only see things as Statistics rather than the whole range of personality, demographic, district loyalty (in rural areas) and many other issues.
    We have perhaps been at this lark too long.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Hutz,
    To some extent I am hostile to Ritchie.
    Her getting the Executive seat seemed reasonable enough in the context of a platform to taking South Down from her mentor McGrady. Something which increased her profile.
    It was a good move by SDLP.
    But it spectacuarly backfired. When she along with McGrady (and frankly that resigning/not resigning/resigning stunt sticks in my craw) used the promotion to launch a leadership bid.
    The SDLP top people under-estimated her as a candidate.
    So did I.

    Will she improve? I dont know. She would need Time, the Ability, and Goodwill. She doesnt have the Time
    To some extent she needs something to hold on to after May 6th.
    …holding South Down
    …McDonnell still a MP
    …good results from other 16.
    …possibly she needs Gildernew to hold on too.
    and prior to that she needs a better performance in the next Debate (it cant be worse).
    She needs a “united” Party.
    But I dont think she can beat the Momentum of the growing feeling (which I will do my small part to support) that she is hopeless. Ultimately all politicians can survive everything except Ridicule.
    She is now a slightly detached and ridiculous figure.
    And the SDLP will quickly catch on that they dont need that kinda leader.

  • Co. Down man

    Completely disagree Ryan, the only thing you are correct on is Unionist voting – and they will in their thousands vote SDLP and save Maggie. That only masks the real problems facing the SDLP in the county, SF’s membership has grown steadily as has their branches and presence on the ground. The SDLP vote has continued to fall election after election. When places like Rostrevor and Warrenpoint are polling in favour for SF things are bad for the SDLP. Margaret Ritchie is a disaster for the SDLP, her decisions in terms of FF have only caused division in the party, with PJ Bradley voicing concerns to the media over that issue. Her preformance on UTV coupled with Fergal Mc Kinney’s on the politics show was embarrasing to watch. Never mind the disaster with Fermangh south Tyrone. I have no doubt Ritchie will hold the seat for the SDLP but it will be the last time.

  • Macgiolla

    It may be premature to put Glengormley into Alban Maguiness’s column. The antics Noreen McClelland, with the Alliance, DUP and UUP in Newtownabbey Council to deny SF a replacement Cllr after B Meehan resigned is not going done well. The SDLP will have some explaining to do as to why they colluded with these others to deny Glengormley voters (1800+) proper representation. One thing for people to decide who to vote for and then lose, another altogether to have political opponents steal a seat after voters have made a decision for a perticulat party.

  • Mick Fealty

    Macgiolla,

    My understanding was that SF did not put anyone up to replace her in Newtownabbey…

  • Macgiolla

    That’s what’s being reported but in actual fact both the electoral commission and the Chief Executive of NBC were contacted about a replacement. NBC Councillors chose to ignore new legislation introduced on April 1st and moved to fill the vacancy with a “Catholic Independent” on April 7th. New legislation would have resulted in a SF nomination having to be accepted or a bye-election being forced. Alliance and the SDLP supported the DUP and UUP in this anti-democratic move. So much for their taking the high moral ground in politics. When it comes to political expediency this takes some beating.

  • John Joe

    Sorry, am from North Belfast and just can’t see this being a surprise.
    Dodds has probably enough clear daylight to be completely unconcerned by this. On previous Westminister numbers he should be a shoe-in (probably +10%). In PR contests, the margin is closer to +6%, although SF have seen typical growth of 1-2% per year in their take of the vote, so Dodds’ margin may be even lower, say +4%. But its FPtP not PR.
    The DUP could spill some votes to Cobain (how ineffective a candidate can you put up?) but it seems unlikely. The UUP have been polling historic lows in North Belfast and a return close to 10-12% might put Dodds under a little pressure, while topping that would suddenly turn this into a contest. I don’t think that will happen, though, and TUV supporters won’t find Dodds objectionable enough to not vote and risk North Belfast going to a non-unionist. That might change a little if there is an increase in the amount of abuse the TUV and DUP heap on each other during the run in. But again, either consciously or subconsciously, there has been some disciplined management of a few seats between the DUP, UNCUF and TUV which is perhaps best exemplified by North Belfast. It’s still a safe seat for Dodds but it has little margin for error for unionism. The only imagineable ‘error’ that could have crept in is differential voter registration.
    However, as a whole this has been a rampantly boring election campaign to date with amazingly little direct conflict between the different parties. Whether that will change in the last days doesn’t look likely, unless it is to try and land a late sucker punch.
    So, North Belfast is only up for grabs if (a) you are pan-unionist in sentiment and want to avoid voter apathy, or, (b) you’re a bookie and no-one is biting.

  • John Joe

    Sorry, am from North Belfast and just can’t see this being a surprise.
    Dodds has probably enough clear daylight to be completely unconcerned by this. On previous Westminister numbers he should be a shoe-in (probably +10%). In PR contests, the margin is closer to +6%, although SF have seen typical growth of 1-2% per year in their take of the vote, so Dodds’ margin may be even lower, say +4%. But its FPtP not PR and there has been a consistent unionist vote of 50-53%.
    The DUP could spill some votes to Cobain (how ineffective a candidate can you put up?) but it seems unlikely. The UUP have been polling historic lows in North Belfast and a return close to 10-12% might put Dodds under a little pressure, while topping that would suddenly turn this into a contest. I don’t think that will happen, though, and TUV supporters won’t find Dodds objectionable enough to not vote and risk North Belfast going to a non-unionist. That might change a little if there is an increase in the amount of abuse the TUV and DUP heap on each other during the run in. But again, either consciously or subconsciously, there has been some disciplined management of a few seats between the DUP, UNCUF and TUV which is perhaps best exemplified by North Belfast. It’s still a safe seat for Dodds but it has little margin for error for unionism. The only imagineable ‘error’ that could have crept in is differential voter registration.
    However, as a whole this has been a rampantly boring election campaign to date with amazingly little direct conflict between the different parties. Whether that will change in the last days doesn’t look likely, unless it is to try and land a late sucker punch.
    So, North Belfast is only up for grabs if (a) you are pan-unionist in sentiment and want to avoid voter apathy, or, (b) you’re a bookie and no-one is biting.

  • well others were wondering where the SF South Belfast vote would disappear to…

  • slug

    I think the SDLP would not be destroyed if SF lose. Remember that a lot of SDLP people don’t like SF at all.