Martin not for the FM role (not this year at least)…

In the first of a series of analysis pieces for Stratagem, Nicholas Whyte looks at an issue which is only obtusely refered to in public but which may be responsible for the only substantial voter churn in this election: who gets to be First Minister:

The St Andrews Agreement is perfectly clear: the nominating officer of the largest political party after the election gets to nominate the new First Minister of Northern Ireland; the largest political party of the other designation shall nominate the new Deputy First Minister.

But despite the multiplication of stories on this subject at the beginning of the campaign, Nicholas thinks it’s a non starter:

The DUP had an exceptionally good election in 2007, winning 36 Assembly seats on 30.1% of the vote – the best result in percentage terms for any party in a regional election since 1973 (unless one tallies together the various divided factions of the UUP in that year). That is unlikely to be repeated. But they were almost four percentage points of vote share, and eight seats, ahead of SF in the 2007 election, and I would be astonished if they lost even half of that margin this year. The DUP are likely to remain the largest single party.

If you are looking for a bit of drama, Nicholas reckons you might get it in the basement:

More interesting, perhaps, is the competition for third place between the SDLP and UUP. The SDLP, like SF, have delivered consistent results in the last few elections, in the 15%-17% range. They actually won more votes than the UUP/Conservative alliance in 2010 (where the UUP vote is perhaps depressed by the Rodney Connor and Sylvia Hermon factors, but was also enhanced by the DUP’s travails). Alban Maginnis was a hair behind Jim Nicholson in first preference votes in the 2009 European election. But the SDLP was also – just – ahead of the UUP in the 2007 Assembly election, with 105,164 first preferences to the UUP’s 103,145.

Those 2,000 extra votes actually delivered two fewer seats for the SDLP, and one less minister in the Executive. Their own disorganisation lost a seat that they should have won in West Tyrone, and the UUP benefitted from other parties’ disarray in Upper Bann to win a second seat that they should not have won. Under the Single Transferable Vote, that can sometimes be the breaks. But if I were looking for interesting bets in this election, I think that the margin in both seats and votes between the third and fourth placed parties might repay scrutiny more than the margin between the winners and the runners-up.

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  • Delta Omega

    Anyone who looks at the numbers knows that Marty as FM is not feasible this year, but that still won’t stop the DUP using the threat to try and scare unionists into voting for them – that’s why they came up with this change in the first place and why they didn’t vote against it when this was going through Westminster.

  • Pete Baker

    Given the focus in the article on % of votes, I think it’s important to note that the St Andrews Agreement Act is specific in how the “size of a political party is to be determined” for the purposes of nominating the NI First and deputy First Ministers.

    (2)For the purposes of sections 16A and 16B and this section—.

    (a)the size of a political party is to be determined by reference to the number of seats in the Assembly which were held by members of the party on the day on which the Assembly first met following its election; but.

    (b)if two or more parties are taken by virtue of paragraph (a) to be of the same size, the respective sizes of those parties is to be determined by reference to the number of first preference votes cast for the parties at the last general election of members of the Assembly;.

    So before % of votes would be taken into account the DUP’s majority of 36 seats to Sinn Féin’s 28 seats [27 following McHugh’s resignation] would have to be overcome.

  • “The SDLP, like SF, have delivered consistent results in the last few elections, in the 15%-17% range.”

    The SDLP’s vote looks stable on the face of it. Liam Clarke, writing a few weeks ago, suggested that Sinn Fein could have an unstoppable momentum following their success in the Dail.

    Is that likely to be a factor?

  • Here’s a link to the Whyte article on the Stratagem website.

    “The St Andrews Agreement is perfectly clear”

    I presume he meant to say St Andrews Agreement Act. AFAIK the modification was made after the Agreement was published.

  • SM, there are so many factors to be taken into account.

    London and Dublin will be anxious to ensure that the DUP-SF axis continues and both may be indifferent as to who sits in which upholstered seat.

    The Alliance Party, with its eye on the Justice portfolio, is unlikely to be too critical of the Executive decision-making process where there appears to be a fairly crude DUP-SF carve-up.

    I don’t see any immediate political threat to SF from those who’ve maintained the militant republican tradition. Any further encroachment into the SDLP domain may depend on whether or not Unionists adopt an ‘anyone but SF’ approach in certain constituencies.

    The DUP might be vulnerable in an Assembly election to the political threat posed by the TUV. Don’t be surprised if the MSM is encouraged to join in a black-ops exercise directed against the TUV. This vulnerability could be more than compensated for by the ongoing failure of the UUP to get its act together.

  • All the assessments from the bookies on the FM question seem to dismiss the squeeze on the smaller parties on both sides, in a voters race to the post for SF and DUP. If the UUP suffer a colossal abstention from their voters, that surely would be reflected in a smaller overall turnout for Unionist group. I don’t see a corresponmnding slump in the SDLP vote which I expect to see stagnating especially since Ritchie is less than inspiring so far at least. Interesting exchange on Nolan this morning where Jim Allister’s democratic credentials were exposed totally. He said the mandate given by nationalist voters to Sinn fein was a mandate, ]for him], only to be in assembly, not in the executive. That’s a novel reading of voter mandates, and rather convenient?

  • summerhill

    Is this really not a ‘sham fight’ – is it not the case that the FM and DFM are totally equal in EVERYTHING and that therefore who has the title FM and who has the title DFM is irrelevant? Some might say that the title has psychological significance for Unionists – over and above Republicans being at the very heart of and on every level of power in the North?

  • Summerhill. It has psychologigal significance for unionist parties who, because, as they see it, they invented the statelet, therefore they don’t have to observe normal democratic rules, so they’re finding it a bit claustrophobic in the stalelet, with their gerrymandered majority fast diminishing. the logic of the creation of NI is that repartition must be engineered to reproduce the cushion the had since 1922. But they know the British wouldn’t wear that now, so they just have to lump it.

  • summerhill, they have equal powers on devolved matters, including the power of veto. I think you’ll find that the FM seat has just as much significance for Nationalists as it has for Unionists, irrespective of hue.

    Sadly, the tug-of-war weakens the position of moderate politicians and strengthens the lands of ‘good’ local paramilitary godfathers.

  • Dewi

    It might be fanciful but two TV seats, a couple of Hermonites in North Down, an Alliance gain or two, then you ain’t far away.

  • Dewi

    ..two TUV seats…

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    As a unionist I find it difficult to care which particular t*** sits on top of the odious arrangement that has been the outworking of the Belfast Agreement. If paying them and offering baubles and titles keeps them relatively quiet let them get on with it I say.

    What does it matter who is ‘Napoleon’ and who is ‘Squealer’ it’s all a massive job creation scheme at the end of the day to keep the unemployable employed.