Northern Ireland Assembly election – morning update #ae16

The first preference votes are now in, and over half the 108 seats have now been allocated. There has been no dramatic shift of support from the parties, and at least 11 of the 18 constituencies will return the same mix of MLAs as they did in 2011. But two themes are emerging for me.

First, the vote for all of the established parties is down. Down only slightly, 0.7%-0.8% for the DUP, UUP and Alliance, who will each return with (probably) the same number of seats as in 2011 but will have to struggle in some cases. Down 2.2% for the SDLP from an already low base, down 2.9% for Sinn Fein – the SDLP struggling mightily to minimise losses; the worst ever election in vote share for the SDLP and UUP. The beneficiaries are the smaller parties – the new Assembly will have two Greens rather than one, two new MLAs from the People Before Profits Alliance, and 19 29-year-old independent MLA Claire Sugden has held her seat, as has Jim Allister of the TUV.

Second, yet again the overall vote for Nationalist parties is down, even if you count in the votes for various independents in Nationalist areas; and the smaller Unionist parties failed to make a breakthrough – the PUP nowhere, Jim Allister unable to bring in a party colleague, UKIP wth a small chance of displacing SF in East Antrim and that's it. (The Northern Ireland Conservatives had another ultra-lousy election.) It's early days yet, but I think we are seeing the continuing fraying of the old ways.

In detail: the constituencies where there has been a change of line-up, or where one is still possible, are as follows.

East Antrim: Both Sinn Fein and the DUP are in trouble here, with the UUP and, uniquely, UKIP in the running for the last two seats. My guess is that the DUP's Alistair Ross will make it, but that SF will lose their seat to the UUP or UKIP. The latter are currently ahead, but I think they may prove less transfer-friendly.
East Londonderry: The SDLP seat here was under threat from SF. But I think Alliance transfers have now saved the SDLP so no change is now the more likley outcome.
Foyle: Veteran activist Eamonn McCann took one of the SDLP's three seats.
Lagan Valley: On first preferences I thought the DUP might repeat 2011's remarkable feat of winning four seats – despite having only three quotas, their balancing was good. But the UUP in the end managed not only to regain Basil McCrea's old seat but to add another.
South Belfast: For my money, the most dramatic result of the election, with likely two seat changing hands – the SDLP will lose one of their two to the Greens, and the DUP wll squeeze out the UUP.
Upper Bann: On first preferences, SF look well-placed to gain the SDLP seat, but I think Alliance transfer (as in East Londonderry) will save Dolores Kelly. Some observers are trying to convince me that there are not enough Unionist votes for four seats, and the SF could therefore gain from the UUP. I don't see it myself.
West Belfast: The other PBPA success, Gerry Carroll getting elected on the first count with a massive surplus, taking one of the five SF seats. It looked for a long time as if Alex Attwood was also in danger to the DUP, but in the end SF transfers salvaged the SDLP seat.

Two seats where no change happened: Strangford, where the SDLP yet again failed to make the breakthrough; and South Antrim where the UUP's success at Westminster failed to translate to the Assembly. Some optimists are trying to persuade me that Unionist transfers in Fermanagh and South Tyrone could sneak the SDLP in ahead of the third SF candidate, reversing the tightest result of the 2011 election. I'm not convinced.

My final seat tally:
DUP 38 (no change)
SF 27-28 (down 1-2)
UUP 16-17 (up 0-1)
SDLP 10-13 (down 1-4)
Alliance 8 (no change)
PBPA 2 (up 2)
Greens 2 (up 1)
TUV 1
Claire Sugden 1
UKIP 0-1 (up 0-1)

This gives the DUP 3 ministries, SF 2, the UUP 1 and the SDLP 1 of the seven allocated by d’Hondt – if they choose to take them – along with a DUP First Minister, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, and Justice Minister to be appointed by cross-community vote (likely from the Alliance Party).

Husband, father of three, Irish, European, UK, Belgian citizen, liberal, political analyst, science fiction fan, psephologist, lapsed medievalist, aspiring polyglot.