Is David Ford safe this time?

I don’t think we’ve had an open thread on South Antrim yet, but here’s a thought.  A lot of the talk in 2003 and 2007 in South Antrim was over David Ford’s safety, at both elections he was the most vulnerable Alliance sitting MLA.  Indeed a couple of weeks out from 2007 when asked I told him he would lose his seat (which be seemed to think was possible, but my other assertion that both the SDLP and SF would both take seats wasn’t.  I guess you win some you lose some.)  At this election that debate seems to have largely disappeared.

In 2007 a Unionist seat vanished due to poor balancing and poor transferring between Unionist candidates. Four quotas slipped to three seats with on paper McLaughlin picking up the benefit.  However what really happened was that Tommy Burns got pretty lucky.

At this election the UUP should really pick up a second seat, there is no excuse for them not doing so, and this will be in the top three UUP target constituencies.  The seat can only realistically come at the expense of Ford or Burns.  Assessing which seems at first easy.  Tommy Burns has a pretty decent profile in the constituency and is seen as a reasonable sort of bloke, but David Ford has been Alliance leader for going on a decade and spent the last year or so in the Executive.  He appears on the big ticket media events and as a result is probably the biggest name on the ballot.

So what does he need to do to be safe? The short answer is add another 1% of vote share to his 2007 total and he is home on the first count.  That kind of rise is what he achieved between 1998 and 2003, and he added four times that figure between 2003 and 2007, so it should be a simple enough task.  But what if he doesn’t? The 2010 election saw Alliance vote share half since 2007 (though in no way a fair comparison) and drop slightly from 2005.  At the European Election there were enough votes in South Antrim for two nationalist quotas, and only about half an Alliance quota. Boundary changes also seem to indicate that the nationalist electorate will drop slightly from the lucky break in 2007.

So he should be fine.  If (and it is still an if) the UUP pick up a seat, it will probably be from the SDLP. But if they balance properly and Ford remains 500 votes short of a quota, he could just be the first sitting Minister to fail to be re-elected.

  • Mr Crumlin

    Comrade Stalin – APNI are, in my opinion a unionist party – perhaps a smallish U but unionist nonetheless – I think the defections of Brashaw, flash etc reinforces my view.

    ‘There are several republicans in the party’ – two swallows do not make a summer!

    However it is only my opinion.

    Regarding your other point – yes I am a SF supporter – but the decisions of APNI are down to that party not SF – any decisions they take are for them and them alone.

    I don’t have a problem with Ford as Justice Minister – it reassured unionists to have a small U unionist in the job. As a supporter of taking decision making away from London that worked for me – I commend SF for giving the DUP the space to help them deliver one of SFs key objectives.

  • PaddyReilly

    The difference between Alliance and Unionism is small, but significant. The party at its inception was blatantly Unionist, though genuinely determined that Catholics would participate fully. Today it has moved more to a neutral stance. Unionist politicians do them the honour of criticising them for being unsound on the Union. There is talk of a pan-Unionist candidate to unseat Naomi Long.

    As I understand it, their policy follows the terms of the GFA. Partition is valid for as long as there is a pro-Union majority: when there ceases to be one, Alliance will move seamlessly into the ranks of an all Ireland party.

  • Mr Crumlin

    Hence the small U!

  • Comrade Stalin

    ayeYerMa :

    Well, indeed.

    I remember the discussion at the time around redesignation (which, I might add, happened under what was essentially a massive and co-ordinated intimidation effort from all three governments). Alliance initially refused to budge and suggested that the SDLP could redesignate as unionist. The SDLP were able to persuade the governments against this idea on the basis that it would undermine the system. In other words, the SDLP’s conception was that for the system to work correctly, everyone had to wear a badge saying “prod” or “taig”, and it was more important to keep the sectarian designations intact than it was for them to act to preserve the Executive.

    They persuaded the governments to force Alliance to redesignate because they thought that the party, and its electorate, were expendable. That is all fine and well, but you can’t actively try to destroy a political party and then expect them to help you out a few years later when you are in a jam.

    The other thing to add, and this is relevant to the part about CSI, is that Alliance extracted a token concession – in exchange for redesignating, the SDLP and UUP would agree to a review both of d’Hondt and of community designations. Both parties welched on the deal after the assembly had been saved and refused to initiate an in-depth review.

    I hope this makes some kind of sense in terms of how I react very badly to lectures from SDLP politicians that Alliance is supposed to act honourably and somehow shore them up. The SDLP have never acted honourably at any point within the past 20 years. It’s a real shame they didn’t anticipate that the day might come when they might need help or to form a common platform.

    Mr Crumlin :

    Comrade Stalin – APNI are, in my opinion a unionist party – perhaps a smallish U but unionist nonetheless – I think the defections of Brashaw, flash etc reinforces my view.

    The political dynamics within unionism and republicanism are very different, so I accept that Alliance is an easier jump for soft unionists than it is for nationalists or republicans.

    But if you’re going to start calling people “unionist” (small U or not) then you better be sure what the word “unionist” means. A unionist is someone who is ideologically committed to the union; the union carries a meaning to them that goes beyond simple economic or political expediency. A unionist can’t be persuaded of the benefits of Irish reunification. Anyone who can possibly accept that reuniting Ireland might be a good idea is not a unionist. In the same way, a republican is someone who can’t be persuaded that the union might be worth keeping. Anyone who would argue otherwise is quite simply not a republican. Wouldn’t you agree ?

    [this is why I always thought the old unionist refrain of “you can’t have constitutional change unless a majority of unionists accept it” was such a loaded notion. There will always be a 100% majority of unionists against constitutional change, even if there is only one unionist left!]

    There is a broad spectrum of opinion in Alliance. Some people would be ideologically attached to the union. Others think that it’s OK mainly because it keeps things stable and keeps the economy in good shape, but otherwise wouldn’t care. Others still don’t really care either way and think that reunification would be worth a shot, and we’d figure things out one way or another (that view would be closest to my own). Finally there are some actual republicans, republicans rather more in the 1920s Michael Collins sense rather than the 1970s Gerry Adams sense, but still nonetheless republicans who can’t be persuaded that the union is a viable long term solution.

    Calling someone (or a party) unionist because quite a few people in it are very softly in favour of the union is no different from calling it republican because a few people (fewer, I’d concede) are softly in favour of reunification, at some point. It’s a lot easier to stop trying to pigeonhole the party and accept what it says, which is that it is neither; and that more importantly there is other, more important business to get on with.

    Regarding your other point – yes I am a SF supporter – but the decisions of APNI are down to that party not SF – any decisions they take are for them and them alone.

    It’s the Alliance decision to accept the nomination, so yes, you are right on that level.

    But it isn’t Alliance’s decision that really matters. Alliance has no power to ensure that it gets the ministry. The power lies with the DUP and SF. Alliance are only there because SF allow them to be. So I ask again, if you have an objection to an Alliance justice minister why on earth are you arguing that the people who made it happen should not be held accountable ?

    I mean, isn’t this a bit ridiculous ? Isn’t it a bit like a shop giving away free ice cream and then accusing them of theft ?

  • Mr Crumlin

    C S – I accept that APNI are fully signed up to the GFA and in that regard would accept any referendum result on ending the union but wouldn’t all democrats? Isnt that what we all compromised on and agreed to?

    How do you think alliance voters would vote in that referendum? Would the party take a neutral line or would they make the call on how their supporters should vote? I believe APNI is the natural party for any Catholic unionists and liberal unionists. I can not see the circumstances when APNI would actively campaign for Irish unity but I certainly would not be surprised if and when they campaign to maintain the union.

    At some point they will have to decide what side of the referendum vote fence they are on.

  • jeep55

    Mr Crumlin

    There have been opinion polls in the past suggesting 90% APNI voters would support the union. However the more neutral stance of recent suggests more like 70+%. It should be remembered that where such polls interviewed 1,000 voters and were run at the nadir when APNI support was at 5% or below then maybe 50 interviewees might be intending APNI voters and so estimates of proportion of APNI voters supporting ther union are subject to considerable error. However the same polls have suggested 30+% support for the union from SDLP inclined voters. If anything that figure may have increased due to the across the board appeal to voters from the ‘majority community’ for SDLP candidates in constituencies like South Belfast, South Down and Foyle.

  • Comrade Stalin

    C S – I accept that APNI are fully signed up to the GFA and in that regard would accept any referendum result on ending the union but wouldn’t all democrats? Isnt that what we all compromised on and agreed to?

    Indeed it is, although I don’t see what that has to do with being a unionist or not. It’s still possible to believe that reunification will always be wrong while accepting the outcome of a democratic poll.

    Reunification would be a long slow process involving extensive talks, timetabling, and all-island constitutional reform. The corralling of unionists against their will as happened up here following partition wouldn’t be acceptable.

    How do you think alliance voters would vote in that referendum?

    I don’t know and I don’t care; why should I ?

    Would the party take a neutral line or would they make the call on how their supporters should vote?

    There would certainly be no party whip, or party line, which is the important part.

    The only possible exception to that I can think of would be to call for people to abstain for some reason, perhaps if the poll would only serve to inflame tensions etc. – the SDLP did this in 1972, IIRC. But that’s pure speculation on my part.

    I believe APNI is the natural party for any Catholic unionists and liberal unionists.

    You’re welcome to believe whatever you like, but please resist the urge to pigeonhole people. Some people find it quite offensive. I certainly regard being described as a unionist offensive as it is an attempt to disenfranchise me and my politics.

    I can not see the circumstances when APNI would actively campaign for Irish unity

    Neither can I.

    but I certainly would not be surprised if and when they campaign to maintain the union.

    Won’t happen. And if it did, I’d be extremely surprised. If I were in that position, I’d resign immediately and I know a bunch of other people who would do the same. It’s not a case of being anti-union (I don’t really mind being in the UK) but a case of being anti-tribal.

    I’ve got a question for you, while we’re on the “I wouldn’t be surprised” thing. What would you do if the population of the 26 voted against reunification ?

    At some point they will have to decide what side of the referendum vote fence they are on.

    Why ?

    jeep55:

    However the same polls have suggested 30+% support for the union from SDLP inclined voters.

    In some ways this is quite understandable. It’s better the devil you don’t know.

    Anyone campaigning for reunification would have to explain how certain things would be done. For example there is no way that the Republic would nationalize its health service. So would nationalists have to advocate the privatization of the NHS ? A very dangerous position to be in. I definitely don’t think it’s as simple as counting up the tribes from the census and then imposing that onto the outcome of a vote on the border.

  • Mr Crumlin

    CS – Thanks for the reply. I fully respect your bona fides, even if I disagree with your overall analysis.

    Regarding your question about the 26 counties – I’m tempted to respond that it wouldn’t happen – which of the southern parties would vote against it if the north votes for it.

    However if that happened and the north voted for it – well what a quandary we would be in. I honestly don’t know what I would do – invade the south?