#AE17 #SluggerReport: FST confirms the Opposition will be forced to walk through treacle in this election

So here’s the first SluggerReport in a while (complete with comedy tie incident in the first few seconds). Subjects include:

  • The judgement of the UK Supreme Court in the matter of the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament over whether it has to be consulted before Article 50 or afterwards, which was a Government loss. And more positively for Mrs May, confirmation that sovereignty is not ceded to the devolved nations in the matter of whether the UK as a whole leaves the EU.
  • The success of Michelle O’Neill the post of, well, erm, ‘leader of SF in the North’ (as Aaron Callan says in the comment zone on FB, very Game of Thrones). Strengths are that she’s the longest serving SF Minister (a full term, plus seven months), she’s a woman, and was not personally involved in the IRA (even if members of her family were). Profiling Mid Ulster on Thursday’s edition.
  • Profile: FST. Given SF picked up 40% of the vote last time, and through their own poor selection only got two seats, if anywhere is slated for a gain in this tight election this has to be one of them. Without a political earthquake Arlene and Maurice Morrow look good for two and SF for two. The UUP’s Rosemary Barton may be stuck in a tussle between Richie McPhillips and a third SF candidate.


The feature of this election is the drop from six to five seats. Although, since they have more seats than anyone else the two larger parties will lose more than anyone else, they have an easier time of maintaining proportionality in the drop.

There was a time when the Sinn Fein electoral machine was second to none in Northern Ireland, but the DUP have been catching up rapidly. Somem of the smaller parties too have acquired key skills in building from nowhere.Machines and money will play a factor here.

Machines and money will play a huge factor here. Even moreso, if you have plenty of both. A glance at Fermanagh South Tyrone confirms the Opposition will be forced to walk through treacle in this election.

In the last few elections the Unionists and others have seen an increase in their fortunes whilst nationalist turnout has been falling. Last May the DUP got an 8.2% uptick, whilst the SDLP (1.1) and SF (0.3) both fell albeit slightly.

The quota last time was 6740. On the same valid vote total, I make it something like 7863. That means a steepening of the climb to election and puts immense pressure on Barton to retain her seat ( she was one of the few last time to gain a seat on less than half of last year’s quota). She had a running mate, Alistair Patterson, who would put her on more than 6k first preferences.

Despite pulling in 40% of the overall vote, Sinn Fein are on about 2.4 quotas this time in, whilst McPhillips barely clears a half. This time however, the SDLP is an incumbent (albeit of just 7 months, and has a reputation for work).

Two each for the DUP and SF is fine. Three for Sinn Fein would be a gift. It show just what a torture this is likely to be for the most innocent parties in RHI.


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  • ted hagan

    With Sinn Fein taking a harder line, and also with sympathy votes in support of the plight of Martin McGuinness, they must be the only party that can be confident of a possible increase in support at the election.

  • mjh

    No quarrel with your FST conclusions, Mick.

    In the five seat constituency last year’s votes would be worth:
    SF 2.40 quotas
    DUP 1.96
    UUP 0.77
    SDLP 0.51
    TUV 0.15
    Green, Alliance and NILab 0.22 between them.

    Looking at the actual transfers last year and, where these are not available, the average pattern of transfers in 2014, gives a notional result for last year of:
    SF 2, DUP 2, UUP 1 (elected last), with SF runner up.

    But SF would only have been around 190 votes behind the UUP on the final stage. So a 1.0% swing would be enough to give SF a third seat.

    This is the most marginal seat between nationalists and unionists at this election.

  • Gingray

    Voting age demographics are 57% Catholic, 40% Protestant, 3% Other/None, although over 60 years they are 50% Catholic, 49% Protestant.

    Party breakdown was 33% DUP, 13% UUP, 9% SDLP, 40% SF, 2% TUV, 3% Other.

    UUP would likely need to pick up 2-3% vote from the DUP/TUV to win the seat, which is more than manageable. SF should have just about enough to get 3 over the line here, although any swing to the SDLP or upturn in nationalist vote could keep the seat for SDLP.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    The judgement of the UK Supreme Court in the matter of the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament over whether it has to be consulted before Article 50 or afterwards, which was a Government loss. And more positively for Mrs May, confirmation that sovereignty is not ceded to the devolved nations in the matter of whether the UK as a whole leaves the EU.

    1. Good to know I’m not only one dithering over “judgment” (version preferred by Supreme Court) and “judgement” (version given priority by OED, on its derivation from Anglo-Norman).

    2. I’m amused by a possible sub-text of paras 134-135 of the judg(e)ment. In particular, it highlights that NI uniquely has an alternative to #Brexit being imposed on devolved assemblies.

    After a riff on Section 1 of the NI Act comes this:
    135. In our view, this important provision, which arose out of the Belfast Agreement, gave the people of Northern Ireland the right to determine whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or to become part of a united Ireland. It neither regulated any other change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland nor required the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

    A nod is as good as a wink …

    [And, yeah, I now see two other threads here which make a similar point.]

  • mjh

    It would take a big increase in the SDLP vote for them to take a seat, if the nationalists only retain their two notional seats. They would need to overtake the SF candidate who won their second seat, and the SF runner up. I make that a truly massive 6.6% swing of the total vote.

    I haven’t finished calculating what swing they would require from SF to take a seat if the total nationalist vote were sufficient to give 3 nationalist seats. But it is already obvious that it would take a swing of the total vote of 3.0% to see the UUP take 1 from the DUP (that’s about 1400 votes moving from DUP to UUP).

  • mjh


    Yes the swing required for SF to take the notional seat would be 1.0%.

    And yes this is the most marginal seat between nationalists and unionists.

    But the actual number of votes by which the SF runner up trailed the UUP on the final stage would have been about 960, not 190. I inadvertently compared the UUP with an elected SF candidate. Sorry.

  • Gingray

    With apx 49% of the vote, nationalists should pick up 3 seats here, bit of a shock if they do not given how the other vote predominantly went to them, offsetting the TUV vote.

    The SDLP picked up a good portion of UUP transfers, which may nip them ahead of a 3rd SF candidate if the UUP go out before the SDLP. If the SDLP go out before the UUP 3 SF would likely get over the line.

  • mickfealty

    Your grasp on figures is generally better than mine. Had to check mine over and over. Still have no idea which way it will go. Rosemary needs a good swing to make her competitive I think, but looks like there’s too many Nat voters to get her through as a third unionist?

  • mickfealty

    Here, yes. Elsewhere, not necessarily. Doing Mid Ulster on Thursday since its Michelle’s base. Prima facae loss for SF there.

  • mjh

    Hi Gingray
    So that we do not talk at cross purposes we need to draw a distinction between what DID happen in last year’s vote and what MIGHT happen in this.

    The transfers that took place last year are fixed, so we can apply them to those known first preferences with the new higher quota. Sooner or later a candidate will be eliminated in the five seater who was not eliminated in real life. But we know from previous elections the normal transfer distribution pattern of the party and can apply it with a high level of confidence that it will be reasonably accurate.

    On that basis nationalists did not pick up 3 of the 5 notional seats in FST and the SDLP did not take a seat.

    However you raise an interesting question of what happens if nationalists take a third seat this time.

    If we assume that they do so by increasing their turnout we can add the necessary votes to SF candidates in proportion to their first preferences last time. We also get a larger valid vote and quota. Of course if nothing else changes the result is 3 SF, 2 DUP.

    For the SDLP to take a seat would require a swing to them from SF of 0.7% of the total vote. If SF candidates were better balanced than last year this hurdle would rise, but not much higher than 1.4% or 1.5%.

  • Gingray

    mjh, I am happy for you to rerun last years election, but it is now irrelevant, and circumstances have changes – case in point, Sinn Fein are now running with 3 candidates instead of 4.

    I expect the UUP to do the same.

    Nicholas Whyte had a blog for the sort of analysis you are proposing (running last years election as a 5 seater without taking into account differing number of candidates and environment), would your comments be better there?

    SF and the SDLP have more votes than the DUP, UUP and TUV combined. Add in that surpluses from the smaller parties went to SF and the SDLP in larger numbers, that opens up to a significant lead.

    The likelihood is 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 2 DUP, 1 UUP will be left for 5 seats with apx 49% unionist and 51% nationalist.

    If the lowest eliminated is a nat, then internal transfers will more than likely put the remaining 3 candidates above one of the unionists.

  • mickfealty

    Massive Redner II. Barton had a running mate. Double it!!

  • Skibo

    Do you think the UUP holding the position of MP within the constituency will have any bearing on the assembly result?

  • Mirrorballman

    Can’t wait to see the UUP campaign in Fermanagh once Tom Elliot votes for article 50…

  • Gopher

    The problem candidates face here as everywhere else is there wont be a massive surplus if anyone makes quota. I cant see the SDLP posting a higher first round score than any SF or unionist candidate so they are out early doors. Does that not give SF a massive lift that at least 75% of SDLP transfers will be heading their way?

  • mjh

    On average even when there is no Alliance candidate competing for SDLP transfers, SF still only receive 48% of them. That figure is likely to be lower when the SDLP candidate has received any significant number of transfers themselves from non-nationalists.

    Given that SF has already squeezed the SDLP vote very hard in FST, and the bad blood that has existed as recently as last year between the local parties, I would be surprised to see a record-breaking transfer rate this year.

  • mjh

    I entirely agree with your analysis of the first preference vote and the transfers of the Green, Alliance and NILab candidates. I think the difference in our two analyses lies at the other end of the contest. In the penultimate stage the 3 surviving unionist candidates are closely balanced – 2 DUP are on quota, and their transfers have left the UUP candidate only about 1500 behind them. The nationalist vote is, however, spread across 4 candidates – and they are less well balanced with over 2650 votes separating the highest SF candidate on quota, and the lowest who is the SDLP. As a result the SDLP is eliminated on the final stage. At that point only about half goes to SF, most of the rest is not transferred and some 250 or so goes to the UUP candidate.

    This projected SDLP transfer is based on normal average rates of SDLP transfer. Of course nearly one in five of the votes being transferred from the SDLP candidate originated with non-nationalist candidates.

    I entirely accept that this is an analysis of what happened last year. However it can help us to understand what might happen this year.

  • Gopher

    Surely the “Get Arlene” campaign will transcend any petty differences between SF&SDLP. Last night fior instance the SDLP was in a twist at the mere suggestion it was advocating transferring to UUP. I just think it will be a more polarized election than usual which in the first instance will squeeze the SDLP further despite SF being part of the incompetence in Government. It will always be Green v Orange down there.

  • Lionel Hutz

    It’s definitely judgment

  • Gingray

    mjh, I just think so much has changed from last year that any assumption is flawed. It is time to use judgement as well, and my own personal judgement, which you can disagree with, is that things will not be the same.

    For example – SF running a more balanced strategy (look to West Tyrone for an idea as to how close that can be when they don’t feck up selection), UUP running one candidate, SDLP having an incumbent, TUV/UUP antipathy to DUP, RHI, perception of Unionist belittling of GFA and all things Irish, etc. The Arlene factor comes into play as well.

    But even then your numbers just are not adding up. Look at count 6 from the last election – 2 DUP elected, 1 SF elected, and we are left with 4 candidates for 2 seats.

    UUP – 7660
    SF1 – 6560
    SF2 – 5590
    SDLP – 5200

    Now, take into account it is 5 seats, so the quota is higher at 7860. So Arlene Fosters transfers to UUP would be halved as her surplus drops from Morrow would not have any surplus at this stage, so rather than 1500 surplus DUP votes at count 2+3, they would get apx 250.

    On the other side, Gildernew would not have made quota at count 4, so likely would have taken some of Flanagans surplus (3200 went SF, so take 500 from the 2 candidates and add to Gildernew and she reaches quota.)

    Left with:

    UUP – 6160
    SF0 – 7800
    SF1 – 6060
    SF2 – 5000
    SDLP – 5200

    More likely that a SF candidate goes out next rather than an SDLP, and that is underestimating the split from flanagan to gildernew. SF1 needs 1800 transfers to get elected. That leaves SDLP needing 1000 votes more than UUP from 3200 SF transfers.

  • Westie tyrone

    nope ,fermangh folk are different ,they will back foster ,too the last ,2 seats in fermangh for the dup ,

  • Skibo

    So the PUP have it right then. The DUP supporters would rather be robbed by a Prod than a Taig?