If the 2016 Assembly election had had five seats per constituency…

There has been some speculation about a possible early election for the Assembly. While I personally am sceptical – the institutions have a habit of creaking on through – it’s worth noting that all future elections, including an early one if called before 2021, will be for an Assembly with five seats in each of the 18 constituencies rather than six. (The new boundaries for 17 seats, currently being prepared, won’t kick in for some time yet.)

To see who is at risk in such a process, it’s tempting but incorrect to look at who came sixth in each constituency in May. While it is true that the last candidate elected is often the one with the most vulnerable seat, that’s not the case if the runner-up would have provided transfers which might have carried the sixth-placed further up the list, and/or if a candidate elected earlier had a restricted pool of votes adequate for a 14.3% quota but not for a 16.7% quota.

I’ve crunched the numbers, and this is what I get if I re-run the 2016 election as 18 five-seaters. (Obligatory health warning: if there had been only five seats at stake rather than six, parties would have pursued different nominating and campaigning strategies, so this is a strictly counter-factual exercise.)

East Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Robin Newton (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Robin Newton (DUP)

North Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Nichola Mallon (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Carál Ní Chuilín (SF) – Alliance transfers would let Mallon close 64-vote gap

South Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Christopher Stalfod (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Christopher Stalford (DUP)

West Belfast
Last elected in 2016: Alex Attwood (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Alex Attwood (SDLP) – I can’t see enough DUP transfers to help him close the gap with SF

East Antrim
Last elected in 2016: Oliver McMullan (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Oliver McMullan (SF)

North Antrim
Last elected in 2016: Daithi McKay (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Robin Swann (DUP UUP) – SDLP transfers help SF close 72-vote gap

South Antrim
Last elected in 2016: Trevor Clarke (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Trevor Clarke (DUP)

North Down
Last elected in 2016: Stephen Farry (Alliance)
Likely loser if only five seats: Peter Weir (DUP) – Alliance transfers from Andrew Muir save Stephen Farry

South Down
Last elected in 2016: Colin McGrath (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Harold McKee (UUP) – not enough Unionist votes for two seats out of five

Fermanagh South Tyrone
Last elected in 2016: Richie McPhilips (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Richie McPhilips (SDLP) Actually now I think Rosemary Barton (UUP); total Unionist vote tracks behind total Nationalist vote at every count

Foyle
Last elected in 2016: Eamonn McCann (PBP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Eamonn McCann (PBP) – difficult to know where Anne McCloskey’s transfers would have gone, but can’t see them making up the difference between McCann and Martin McGuinness

Lagan Valley
Last elected in 2016: Brenda Hale (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Brenda Hale (DUP)

East Londonderry
Last elected in 2016: Caoimhe Archibald (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Claire Sugden (Ind) – just enough Nationalist votes for two seats out of five

Mid Ulster
Last elected in 2016: Keith Buchanan (DUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Linda Dillon (SF) – just enough Unionist votes for two seats, not enough SF votes for three

Newry and Armagh
Last elected in 2016: Justin McNulty (SDLP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Conor Murphy (SF) – just enough Unionist votes for two seats, not enough SF votes for three

Strangford
Last elected in 2016: Philip Smith (UUP)
Likely loser if only five seats: Philip Smith (UUP)

West Tyrone
Last elected in 2016: Declan McAleer (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Declan McAleer (SF)

Upper Bann
Last elected in 2016: John O’Dowd (SF)
Likely loser if only five seats: Doug Beattie (UUP) – very tight but I reckon there are enough SDLP transfers to SF to keep the second Nationalist seat.

Real seats won in 2016: DUP 38, SF 28, UUP 16, SDLP 12, Alliance 8, Green 2, PBP 2, TUV 1, Ind 1
Overall losses: DUP 5, SF 5, UUP 5, SDLP 1, PBP 1, Ind 1, Alliance 0, Green 0, TUV 0
Counterfactual seats with five per constituency: DUP 33, SF 23, UUP 11, SDLP 11, Alliance 8, Green 2, TUV 1, PBP 1

As you would hope for a more-or-less proportional system, the losses are evenly spread, After corrections, the UUP are hit worst here, and it’s interesting that the Alliance and Green seats look fairly robust.

If all parties took their seats in the Executive, the DUP would have been entitled to 3, SF to 2, and the UUP and SDLP to one each of the seven chosen by D’Hondt, the same as in the real election.