Over the next week or so e’re going to give people a chance to dig down into the ward detail of specifics of constituencies. We propose to do it two at a time, featuring one constituency with lots of changes and giving rise to a range of issues, and one less complicated one. That way we’ll not overburden the non anoraks with too many constituency conversations…
But before we start, a reminder. This is a set of draft proposals, not the final finished article. The public consultations will get underway in October when no doubt party tacticians will do their best to make further gains, or prevent expected losses.
However the Boundary Commission will not take amendments based on what their decisions will mean for individual parliamentarians or the fortunes of one party against another. With this in mind you should note the specific guidance they’ve been expected to follow themselves:
· local government wards would be the building blocks of the new constituencies and, so far as practicable, would not be split between constituencies;
· the flexibility permitted by Rule 7 would be used only where we considered that the application of the UK quota range would unreasonably impair our ability to exercise our discretionary powers;
· existing constituency boundaries would be respected as far as possible, while recognising that even where an existing constituency has an electorate which is within the quota range, its boundaries might need to be altered to accommodate changes in neighbouring constituencies;
· where practicable, we would take account of special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of proposed constituencies; major transport links; the continuity of urban settlements;
· and natural features such as rivers, loughs and mountains; where possible, we would take reasonable account of any clearly identifiable local ties which would be broken by our proposed changes.
Discretionary changes may be made for the following specific reasons:
· special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency;
· local government boundaries as they exist on the most recent ordinary council-election day before the review date;
· boundaries of existing constituencies;
· any local ties which would be broken by changes in constituencies;
And here is how they did it:
In its consideration of the requirement to reduce the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland from 18 to 16, the Commission modelled a number of options beginning variously in the north west, the south west, the south and Belfast. Irrespective of the starting point and direction of travel, these models produced a similar overall pattern. The Commission concluded that incremental changes (i.e. the transfer of seven or fewer electoral wards) would be required in nine existing constituencies: Belfast North; Fermanagh and South Tyrone; Foyle; Lagan Valley; Newry and Armagh; North Down; South Antrim; South Down; and Upper Bann. In other places more substantial changes would be needed.
In Belfast, the Commission noted that the existing 4 constituencies amounted to 3.2 quotas. It considered a number of options which would maintain a four-constituency Belfast. These would, however, all have required substantial extensions of the Belfast constituency boundaries into adjacent rural areas and settlements outside the city. The Commission concluded that its Provisional Proposals should be based on 3 Belfast constituencies, with the consequence that a number of wards in the existing Belfast constituencies would be transferred to adjacent constituencies.
As a result of this preliminary work, the Commission concluded that the starting point for the review should be Belfast and that the first constituency to be delineated in a 3-seat Belfast configuration should be Belfast North.
There are two reasons for this: (i) the geographical layout of the city around Belfast Lough argues against combining elements of Belfast North with Belfast East, which means that the process should begin with one of these two; (ii) the existing electorate of Belfast North is closest to the quota.
After the delineation of 3 constituencies in Belfast, the Commission proceeded to delineate constituencies in immediately adjacent areas and then to work in a northerly and anti clockwise direction, beginning with South Antrim.
Having looked at a range of constituency groupings, the Commission noted that the 5 western constituencies of Fermanagh and South Tyrone,West Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Foyle and East Londonderry amounted to 4.2 quotas. They concluded that 4 seats should be delineated for this part of the region.
Okay, so we’ll launch the first thread later this afternoon, with links to maps and demographics to each one. In the meantime, any general thoughts, links or ideas of how to take this further forward would be very welcome…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty