It’s been a weirdly uneventful campaign, on the Irish side of the water. All the action has been over in Britain. But it is precisely because of that action that the outcome in Northern Ireland may be that bit much more important than usual.
Realistically, there are only two seats in play: Fermanagh South Tyrone (where, if the raw figures are anything to go by, will be SFs first northern loss for years) and South Antrim (win or lose, Reg will surely slide out of UU’s leader role). South Belfast is not certain, but at this stage your money on the SDLP incumbent should be safe.
East Belfast will be close, but the circular firing squad of liberals should take care of any awkward outcomes there. Mind you, if the Vance vote hits anything much over 4k, it’s going to be a wobbly ride home.
With the personal life of Mike Nesbitt making news Strangford must be trending towards a hold. North Antrim is looking like a two horse race, but junior should hold on, if only by dint of a huge store of nearly 20,000.
North Belfast should see a squeeze of both the SDLP and the UUP voters, as people run to their respective tribal champions in the DUP and Sinn Fein… but despite claims to the contrary, the seat should stay where they are…
Watch Foyle for a depletion of Mark Durkan’s lead over Sinn Fein. Boundary changes take 2k voters from SDLP and only 1k from Sinn Fein. Slugger understands too that Durkan’s campaign (which prominently references Irish unity) has not been going down well in the Waterside.
Upper Bann should in theory be in play, but the TUV have pulled out for fear of tipping it into John O’Dowd’s lap. Without them to cut into the DUP vote, and the CU’s decision to run a non Orangeman is a gamble in an area in which the Orange is still an strong influence, should get David Simpson over the line.
Watch the nationalist total in East Londonderry and the performance of Willie Ross. See too the SDLP performance in West Tyrone where a decent performance should haul back one from Independent next year. South Down should stay SDLP, but as much for unionists voting to keep the unpopular Caitriona Ruane out (though all good Tories should vote SF if they want to get DC over the line).
But turnout will be crucial. We expect a high turnout in FST where Sinn Fein are literally throwing the kitchen sink at the problem. But we expect a drop overall. Many parties are not taking this election seriously as a thing in itself, but as a dress rehearsal for the Assembly elections next year.
That’s why Jim Allister and the TUV will be looking at raw tallies and trying to extrapolate onwards how many Assembly seats will be in play next year.