Mid Ulster by election: Reassuringly boring and predictable…

Funny this

Had there not been a unionist unity candidate the SDLP might have hoped to pick up some small-u unionist votes, as they do in South Down for example. But most of the electoral evidence suggests that a section of the SDLP’s core vote will simply ‘lend’ their votes to Sinn Fein on this occasion—sending a not particularly subtle message to unionists that they don’t like this sort of sectarian headcount.

If you are tempted to believe that everything at Stormont is about to go belly up, just consider the pleasing win win effect of this absentee campaign in which neither OFdFM backed candidate deemed it worthy to show on BBCNI’s The View last week:

As Eoin Rooney writes on the NICVA blog:

Fifteen years after the Agreement, and in the wake of the economic crisis, it is disappointing that our politics remains dominated by orange and green issues. There are two years before the next election. If politicians are unwilling to take the lead then civil society should work to ensure that 2015 marks the beginning of a new political culture in Northern Ireland – one focused on social and economic issues.

I wish him luck with that, but politics is still very much where it’s at.


  • Big Boss

    Judging by the mood of people iv been talking to in Mid-Ulster I don’t believe that we will see that many votes going from the SDLP to SF because of the UU candidate. The threat posed simply isnt big enough to get their attention.

    This is a very boring and predictable campaign yes. Molloy will win, but Ill be a bit rash and say he will finish with around 40% of the vote (probs around 42) and SDLP to get close to the 20 mark.

  • Charles_Gould

    So in good old by-election style I want to register a protest vote against the parties in the Executive. So I just have to find a candidate that does not respresent a party in the executive.

    Oh wait….

  • Gopher


    Can’t agree more, the executive is a joke without the option of having an opposition. How can you democratically express your will? Needs to be sorted out before next assembly election.

  • Mick Fealty

    That would just about save everyone’s blushes BB.

  • Brian Walker

    Nigel Lutton is part of an ignoble tradition of token public representatives in the west. Shades of another political hero the independent sort-of-republican Frank Maguire MP.


    During the second 1974 election campaign I was being given the run around trying to hunt Frank down for a filmed interview for a constituency survey. In those days by law it was all or none: if one candidate refused to take part the filmed report couldn’t happen. Ah no, he’s not in the Lisnaskea pub, he’s in Dungannon.. So driving up near midnight into the town a bomb went off near an army landrover at the top of the hill and nearly blew us both off the road. Five seconds later and who knows?

    Yet I saw the miserable point. A word from inarticulate Frank could have lost him votes in a knife edge contest when the SDLP this time weren’t splitting the nationalist vote. When I saw him months later I remonstrated that at least he might have openly refused to take part and saved us such trouble but he just laughed.

    Maguire became a (non-speaking and non –voting MP but not quite an abstentionist. He couldn’t even be straight about that. He turned up at Westminster the night the Labour government fell in 1979 “ to abstain in person”. It seems that Mr Lutton won’t get that far. Frank’ sudden death in 1981 led to Sinn Fein seizing the opportunity of the hunger strike to fill a political vacuum and secure the election of two complete abstentionists in succession who met stickier ends, the hunger striker Bobby Sands and his election agent Owen Carron.

    Here’s a short account of Frank Maguire’s Finest Hour.


    The Seventies had proved a turbulent time in British politics under the thrall of striking public sector workers, rejecting the government’s pay policy in the Winter of Discontent of 78-79.
    But The Night the Government Fell sheds new light on the significance of decisions about Northern Ireland in determining the outcome of the vote of confidence.
    The Leader of the SDLP at the time, Gerry Fitt was a key player in negotiations and his support that night would have carried the Government.
    But the lifelong socialist decided he couldn’t support the Government that night because of the Northern Ireland Secretary.
    “Roy Mason went native as far as Unionists were concerned. Whenever he went on TV or made speeches, he made himself out to be totally in support of the unionist case to the exclusion of other political opinion,” says Lord Fitt.
    He continued: “The more Roy Mason went on TV, the more inflamed nationalist opinion got My conscience couldn’t allow me to vote for a government which retained Roy Mason as its Secretary of State.”
    Even the Prime Minister tried to get the SDLP leader on board with a summons to the Cabinet Room at Downing Street.
    But Lord Fitt didn’t like Mr. Callaghan’s tactics: “He did something that put me in a position where I couldn’t retreat. He signalled to someone and they put in front of me a bottle of gin and a bottle of tonic. And I didn’t like that one little bit.”
    ‘Lost Leprechaun’
    And ever since the vote, Westminster has wondered what happened to the Irish Nationalist MP Frank Maguire on that night.
    Yet to make his maiden speech, Mr Maguire flew over to Westminster especially for the landmark division but on the night he didn’t vote.
    Then Education Secretary Shirley – now Baroness – Williams believed he may have simply been locked in the lavatory – she called him the “lost leprechaun”.
    And the energy secretary at the time, Tony Benn, believed he was presented with a bottle of whiskey to buy his vote.
    But according to Lord Fitt, Frank Maguire was being held by the whips, aided by a few drinks, in one of the bars in the Palace so he could be pushed into the relevant lobby for the 10pm division.
    And Mr Fitt informed the House of the government’s machinations when he stood to address the House in the confidence debate.
    “Frank Maguire was an Irish publican. He could have drank the entire government into oblivion!” Lord Fitt told BBC Parliament.
    His story concludes with the intervention of Mrs Maguire who – on hearing the SDLP leader’s revelations – went to find her husband to instruct him not to vote for the government

  • BarneyT

    Anyone seen the Alliance getting an increased share? Sympathy? Embarrassment? Maybe not. Anyhow, going back to the Kia post..more more fun

  • Mick Fealty

    Would not be surprised. They’ve had more visibility than either the Unionist or SF candidates. anything north of 1% is good for them. More is even better.

    The hidden quantity is how Lutton will do when he has no realistic chance of winning the seat.

  • SDLP supporter

    Was down in Mid Ulster canvassing on Saturday. Patsy McGlone, in terms of work rate, brains, personality and articulateness is the outstanding candidate, no question. And, yes, I would say that, but it’s true.

    If Patsy McGlone did get 20%, Big Boss, it would be amazing, but I’m not hopeful. What struck me most about the place I was in was the air of economic depression and the prevalence of numerous small poorly-built and unfinished housing estates whose developers have gone bust.

    I think the welfare cut-backs, including the abolition of DLA, “reform” of housing benefit and the like will have a devastating effect on people like Mid Ulster and their chosen Sinn Fein representatives don’t have a word to say about it.

    It is startling to think that one person in ten (180,000) in NI is on DLA and this rises to one person in four in constituencies like West Belfast.

  • BarneyT

    I have no time for unified candidates and its a thinly veiled sectarian act in most cases. It amounts to tribal religious opposition more than political. Whilst I appreciate that there is a desire for many to have the area represented by an active Westminster parliamentarian (or rather someone that will attend), this is not an excuse for producing effectively a protestant candidate.

    On this basis I hope you are right. Nationalism has been guilty of this too however historically I would say the motives are just wee bit different.

    Elected politicians from this region need to focus on the Assembly and the form of “government” that exists here…and try to make it function.

    However whilst the failure of SF to warm westminster seats offends some, it seems fair game over here. Attendance is an issue in Stormont.

  • sonofstrongbow

    So to send a message about a unionist unity candidate (aka sectarian head count ) nationalists will take the moral high ground by ‘lending’ their vote from one Catholic candidate to another Catholic candidate?

    Someone been using the green magnet on the moral compass again?

  • boondock

    Wee Jeffrey and gonzo oops sorry I mean Tom Elliot have been writing in the newsletter about the importance of turnout and also representation for mid ulster. Seeing as a maximum of 30% for Nigel is never going to win why didnt they just pull out and ask their voters to get behind Patsy McGlone. With unionist votes and the SDLP vote not being squeezed then there is a chance all be it incredibly slim. I know thats cloud cuckoo talk but if representation is so important then surely thats a better option than no hope Nige

  • Drumlins Rock

    If the SDLP was sitting within 5% of SF then you have a similar case to South Down, but they have less than a third of their vote so the possibility of getting enough Unionists to lend votes is a non-starter (and many of those who lend votes in South Down are very much Unionist with a capital).

    We all know of these lent votes, which happen in Foyle too I believe, but I have yet to hear of the SDLP lending any in return in other areas!

    This election is about keeping your opponents voters at home as much as getting your own vote out, SF don’t want too many protest votes going to Patsy, but I think he will do OK and wont “lend” many to Molloy at all.

    Mick, what planet are you one that you can call 1% a good result !!! In the last election there were nearly twice as many spoilt ballots as Alliance votes. Their vote would need to triple to even make a ripple, maybe it will considering the publicity they have had over the past months, or maybe it will drop to less than a large family picnic. We shall see tomorrow.

  • Mick Fealty

    Planet Mid Ulster?

  • Kevsterino

    I will say one good thing about the Parliamentary model of government. Your election campaigns are short and sweet compared to ours. Over here it seems like perpetual campaigning.

  • Drumlins Rock

    So can we have it both ways ? If you want to treat mid-Ulster as a barometer on how Stormont is performing then all parties should run candidates, and a centre ground party coming in anywhere under 5% yet having 2 executive seats would be an absolute disaster. However the media much prefer focusing on “implications for the Assembly” than the real local issues.

    But this isn’t an elaborate opinion poll, its a local parlimentary bi-election, caused by political intrigues in Sinn Fein who think they can simply pass the expenses claims form from Marty to Francie for both not doing the job.

    You can’t blame the local UUP & DUP for seeing they have little to gain fighting it individually, the turnout would have been abysmal and resentment for not backing a single candidate would have cost more votes next time round.

    In Planet Mid-Ulster the split between various Unionists is as strong as anywhere, but they still know who it was that terrorisied them for decades and are prepared to set aside differences if even a slim chance exists to see some proper representation.

  • Turgon

    DR is of course correct. The prospect of unionists lending their votes to the SDLP in Mid Ulster is remote: there is no history of it and in view of the recent positions the SDLP has adopted on a range of issues it is highly unlikely.

    I do not know about this election but I well remember that most of the pressure to have an agreed candidate for FST at the last general election came from the grass roots unionist community: mainly non party member unionists. I suspect there may have been similar pressure this time: again DR might be well placed to comment. Furthermore the selection of Molloy by Sinn Fein is likely to have increased the calls for a unity candidate. Suggesting that Molloy’s candidature would have increased unionist votes lent to the SDLP is naive in the extreme.

    The only plausible scenario whereby any significant lending of unionist votes to the SDLP would have been likely would have been if no unionist candidate (and possibly even no Alliance candidate) had stood. That would clearly have been a non starter, would have handed SF a huge propaganda victory and damaged the SDLP still further.

    As an aside I have no time for Frank Maguire’s politics (though he died when I was 10) but the attack above on him is really quite unfair and completely irrelevant to the discussion.

  • If the SDLP and the UUP were incapable or unwilling to urge their supporters to vote for the other party between 1999 and 2002 when they were supposedly both pro-Agreement parties wanting to implement the GFA and encourage the IRA and loyalists to decommission, there is hardly any hope that unionists backing an agreed unionist candidate will vote en masse for Patsy McGlone or that nationalists will support an agreed unionist over Sinn Fein with their preferences. Even a voting system that is ideal for cross-party alliances is unable to bridge the sectarian gap.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I think that those saying that unionists should step aside for the SDLP are missing the main objection to unionist unity. The main objection is that you have a token candidate. In this case token protestant. If it was left to Patsy, then he would be the anti Sinn Fein candidate, which I am sure he does not want to be. He wants to be the SDLP candidate, standing on a party platform.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Lionel, can you produce evidence that Nigel Lutton is standing as a “protestant” candidate, you can call him a token Unionist if you want but a catholic Unionist would be just as good in that case. Obviously the parallels between religion and voting are strong, but to date the only ones playing that card have been Nationalists & the “getalongerists” as FJH calls them.

  • oakleaf

    Alliance can only do better in this election with the amount of airtime they recently had plus getting soft uup votes. They should get around 4/5 % of the vote.

    This would be a perfect opportunity for them to bring all their resources into the area and broaden their appeal but they do not seem to be making the most of the opportunity.

    I also thought Pasty McGlone would have made more of the abortion issue to try embarrass Francie. Again another missed opportunity.

    I expect turnout to be 50% or so. Immigration will have a bearing on the lowest turnout.

  • Kevsterino

    @Drumlins Rock, I think if you’re an Orangeman your standing as a protestant is understood, or is that wrong?

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru


    If you’re genuinely that naive to think that Nigel Lutton, is anything other than pan-prod candidate then bless, I think that’s adorable.

    If like me, you reside in the real world, then you read real newspapers with publications like this from the orange order and apprentice boys then you realise that the only overtly sectarian organisations that exist know who exactly who their horse is, and want their members to see it that way too.


    Of course if you’re about to show us an example of a loyal order backed catholic ….

  • Framer

    If Alliance does really badly on Thursday will any media have the cochones to ask them why they get next to no votes outside greater Belfast and then only in Protestant or mixed areas?
    Thought not.

    And the notion that the SDLP voters might switch to Sinn Fein to send “a not particularly subtle message to unionists that they don’t like this sort of sectarian headcount” is risible.
    No SDLP voter would ever leave the sectarian safety of a nationalist party, and if they switch to a more nationalist party whose last MP was a gunman to make a protest against sectarianism I would have to say we are into the realms of surrealism.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Framer, virtually the whole lot voted for Sands in Fermanagh South Tyrone, it has never been forgotten.

    Alliance had less than 400 votes before, can you get much worse than thart?

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    The last unity candidate in Mid Ulster was Willie McCrea and his platform with Billy Wright. Most nationalists have never forgotten that.

    What’s your point?

    The difference is, nationalist parties at least have the pretence of bread and butter politics by offering their electorates a choice. The same can’t be said of Nigel ‘No policies’ Lutton

  • Lionel Hutz

    There are bound to be some Unionists who do not like the Unionist Unity candidate who will make a protest vote for Alliance. I mean, its not like the vote is going to count anyway.

  • Gopher

    I think non voting will be the “protest” vote in this election.

  • boondock

    Out of interest does anyone know what Mike and Peter will class as a succees for the Unity candidate. The unity candidate Rodney Conor in FST had a reduced % of the vote compared to the combined unioinist vote in the previous Westminster election. In 2010 the 3 unionist parties had around 33% in Mid Ulster – will somewhere around 30% be ok? will that rubber stamp more unity candidates at the next general election?

  • aquifer

    There should be an incentive to vote, one pound given to your number one party. Getting votes often costs them £2.00 each so they should get something for showing up at this hatefest.

  • carl marks

    If I had a vote in this farce I would vote Alliance out of respect for the way they have stood up to the bully boys lately.
    Outside that there’s no one who i could vote for, not a left winger among them, Alliance make no off their liberal policies, SF do the talk but not the walk, the SDLP, well Paddy Devlin must be spinning in his grave, as for the agreed candidate i doubt any agreed upon by 3 right wing parties would be of the left.
    Having no one who represents the left is all too common in elections, so if i don’t spoil my vote (by far the most common event) then I make it a protest vote.
    I would vote green but no green candidate stands in the place where i have my vote.
    So here is a thought, at the bottom of each ballot paper the line; None of the Above; with a box beside it, if it gets the most votes then the election is run again with none of those who stood the first time allowed to stand again, for this to work i think that voting should be a responsibility not a right perhaps enforced by fines if you fail to vote (of course exemptions for illness, madness , not in country, etc would apply) i would be interested in opinions on this.

  • redstar2011

    Would the “madness” exemption also cover candidates?

  • carl marks

    redstar2011 (profile)
    7 March 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Would the “madness” exemption also cover candidates?

    If it did it may well mean the end of politics as we know it!

  • Dixie Elliott

    I see Marty has been using the old and badly worn ‘Death Threat’ card again.

    Often a hand played by the Shinners come election time – so often in fact that an election without a SF death threat or smashed car windy etc would be like Christmas dinner without the turkey.

    Then lo and behold after the last voter has wandered off home we hear no more about Shinners getting ‘death threats’ until the next election.

    Anyway polling is closing in a few hours and Marty will be safe to stick his brass neck out the door again.

  • Comrade Stalin


    That comment is shameful. SFers have received a number of death threats recently, including around the time of the flags business when there was no election in the offing.

    Personally I appreciate in particular McGuinness’ comments supporting the PSNI in the face of these threats.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Alliance’s lack of traction among nationalists is a difficult one to answer and it doesn’t really matter if the someone in the media chooses to press this question (I don’t know why you think it takes cahones to ask Alliance tough questions – the party doesn’t have a policy of boycotting troublesome journalists, unlike say the DUP). But I don’t think it’s an exclusively Alliance problem – I doubt we’ll see the Greens, for example, doing too well outside of the Belfast suburbs either.

    With funding and the right candidate it can be done. The party’s momentum at the moment will help in putting these things in place. I am expecting Alliance in the long term to make gains in places where it has not traditionally done well, but it is going to take some time for that to come to fruition. The current political climate is, to me, a demonstration of the bankruptcy of the existing political parties, and it is very clear that this bankruptcy runs much more deeply within unionism which has thrown itself behind thuggery and illegal roadblocking. My prediction is that unionism will be a net vote loser out of this, but we’ll see.

    What I’m a lot more sure about is that, as with FST, unionist voters will send another signal that they are not at all interested in unity candidates, especially not crap candidates who run a mile whenever they spot a TV camera. We will see how unionism once again finds itself weakened when it responds to difficult problems by criticizing the police and standing idly by while masked thugs block roads and engage in riots.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Aye but Stalin they received those threats from the loyal sons of Ulster not Republican groups.

    If you’ve noticed its only around elections that they get ‘death threats’ from Republican groups and afterwards we hear nothing more until the next election time.

    Anyway Marty has been kept safe from imprisonment in the North and assassination by loyalists since 1972 so the Brits are hardly likely to let anything happen to him now that he is in his prime.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Alliance suffer in most rural wards, I’m surprised they hang in there in Strangford. The party is too full of idealists and community workers to get the numbers out to canvass. Also their strategy on cross-border issues seems weaker than most Unionists and many Greens.

  • Coll Ciotach

    The great exposé of this election was to lay bare the myth of the catholic unionist. It is quite clear that the getalongerista have no following outside the coffee mornings in Cultraland.

    The repackaging of unionism as a “shared future” has failed to win over the nationalist people.

    The myth of support for integrated education is the next bubble to burst.

  • @Stalin,

    “The current political climate is, to me, a demonstration of the bankruptcy of the existing political parties, and it is very clear that this bankruptcy runs much more deeply within unionism which has thrown itself behind thuggery and illegal roadblocking.”

    So I guess we can be glad that the Republican Movement hasn’t engaged in anything serious like illegal roadblocking, and merely limits itself to kidnapping and threatening the candidates of the other nationalist party, mass personation during elections, and running candidates who are convicted felons who like to lie about their past?