Down for the count…

From @Sir__Walsingham, ‘Daddy, What Did You Do In The Struggle?’

Something interesting is afoot in Northern Ireland.

Voting turnout is up sharply, at 64.78% the highest since 1998 and Good Friday, for yesterday’s second Assembly election in ten months. (This yielding the hash-tag #votetilliboak–the last a local synonym for the act of retching orally).

We won’t know until Saturday, but for the DUP this cannot be good news.

Voting systems with transfers, of which the north and south are both fond, take fiendishly long to work out. The Brits think we’re unnecessarily complex, it’s polite sometimes to indulge them.

But Nationalist and Alliance turnout appears much higher than Unionist, middle class than working class.

And respectable people are beginning to predict the DUP dropping below twenty-nine.

With thirty members, vitally, you can block legislation you find noxious through a handy Stormont trick called a Petition of Concern. There’ve been 115 of these in the last Assembly term, axing things like same-sex marriage–which actually was backed by a majority of MLAs in November 2015.

If Arlene Foster still breaks into the low thirties, then, as one wag said last night, the Shloer will flow like water at DUP headquarters. Also, in this case, expect Direct Rule in three weeks. (The ‘Vote Arlene, get Theresa’ scenario.)

But if she looks to have come back with fewer than 30 seats, the knives within her party will be out for her, maybe as soon as Monday. (This is the ‘taxi for one for Arlene’ scenario.)

DUP leadership selection processes are always opaque, but begging deputy leader Nigel Dodds back to Belfast North by way of the Chiltern Hundreds would top the runners and riders. (‘He wouldn’t like it, he’s quite happy in Westminster,’ a senior civil servant told me.)

The gormless intransigence of Arlene Foster, as good a political example as any for the Peter principle, may have reversed an electoral slide in nationalism – Sinn Féin and the SDLP managed 36% between them in May 2016 and (crucially, for the Union) haven’t kept pace with demographic growth among Catholics (who are at 40.8%).

An exit poll by Lucid suggested the nationalist parties improved their position by 2-3%, the unionist ones staying the same; while the first returns have suggested SF may have gained 3% with the DUP shedding 2%.

A word cloud of Foster’s speech launching the DUP’s angry, defensive campaign is dominated by two words, ‘Sinn Féin’ and ‘Gerry Adams’. Campaigning ostensibly for the same Union in the IndyRef, Scotland’s Better Together marched in Pride parades and leafleted in Gàidhlig. The DUP really didn’t.

‘If you feed a crocodile, they are going to keep coming back,’ Foster said about giving way on any issues to Sinn Féin in order to form another joint Executive. Cue dozens of people in Northern Ireland yesterday dressing up to vote in crocodile outfits – we’re a country known at least for humour.

It conjures up moral hazard: maximise your turnout by pitching for the hardliners, in the safe certainty that adults from London, Dublin, and Washington will arrive afterwards to patch together a deal with sticking plaster. The ones in London and Dublin are distracted, and in Washington there are no adults.

Overseen on automobiles parked by Queens University Belfast, by @SophieLong01

Never mind too that Sinn Féin actually was led in this election by Michelle O’Neill, blonder and younger and fetching a 72% turnout, up 13%, yesterday in her Mid-Ulster stronghold. She’s such a (refreshingly) new quantity, she was denied entrance to her count today in Ballymena for not having photo id. Just 40, she joined her party after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. If she pips the DUP at the post, it would be O’Neill as First Minister in any executive that forms. Talk about blows to Unionism, not to mention chance of a pro-Remain majority in Stormont.

And if, by the way, anyone was worried just how heavily concerned the rest of the UK was with Northern Ireland, it didn’t even make the headlines on the 10pm BBC News. On the website, it’s the ninth news story; Bruce Forsyth’s chest infection is number three.

Or on Question Time, broadcast last night not from Belfast but Bedford.

If you wanted to chance an errant fiver on the Stormont result, you can’t even do that on Paddy Power, for all love.

This weekend many of us were prepared to write the obits for the Good Friday institutions. But the people of Northern Ireland are turning out to be much more committed to the Good Friday institutions than the politicians they’ve left in charge of them.

Maybe, this weekend, Northern Ireland will surprise us.

  • Paddy Reilly

    The Unionist 1st Pref vote is 28.1% (DUP) + 12.9% (UUP) + 2.6% (TUV) + 0.7% (PUP) + 0.3% (Conservatives) = 44.6%. If we add in Claire Sugden’s 0.5% that would make it 45.1%.

    Under these conditions it seems unlikely there could be a Unionist Majority in the new Assembly. The balance of power will be held by Alliance and Green. Happy Days.

  • Maurizio Paciello

    I don’t think you can really call it “balance of power” in an NI assembly, since they aren’t free to choose with whom to govern anyways. And I doubt that 45% really indicates the substantial nationalist majority necessary to go with some of their pet projects. I’d say the big stuff is: Will the DUP retain 30 seats? I’m fairly new to STV counts but from what I see it doesn’t look to good.

  • I make it a record number of votes for the DUP (or for any party at a Northern Ireland assembly election), they topped the poll. I also cant see them not being the largest party. There are a few question marks around the 30 seats. It is going to come down to the wire in lots of constituencies. The lowest possible number I get is 28. I’m gonna guess they take 30. Sinn Fein look on track for 27.

    If they come away with 30, its a pretty big success in the face of all that has gone on. It also has been a very good day for Sinn Fein, and would not want to take away from that. the UUP and particularly the SDLP look to be fighting for their existence.

  • Paddy Reilly

    45% is the Unionist total, not Nationalist.

  • Sharpie

    The bookie at the Slugger event the other night mentioned Sinn Fein’s betting trends showed them landing 27 seats. Everyone gasped and said – it’ll never happen!!

  • Maurizio Paciello

    Sorry, that was a bit ambiguous; I meant that even with the Unionist vote share dipping below 50%, 55% for the nationalists would – in my opinion – still be too close to safely argue for a border poll or other stuff. but than again, i’m just an interested outsider; i’m reading this blog for two years now and i still don’t quite get NI politics.

  • Paddy Reilly

    It isn’t 55% for the Nationalists. It’s 55% for parties other than Unionists. Those of the Nationalist designation and those of the ‘Others’ designation.

  • Paddy Reilly

    If they get the same percentage as their first preference vote they will get 25.

    If they get the same proportion as the numbers to date (42 elected) they will get 28.

    The BBC coverage estimates that that could go up. By one. To 29.

  • Devil Éire

    This yielding the hash-tag #votetilliboak–the last a local synonym for the act of retching orally.

    Little did I think, when I opened this blog, that I would be forced to imagine forms of retching not involving the mouth.

  • Fear Éireannach

    SDLP gain in Upper Bann? With Kelly ahead of the SF candidate and the UU much more likely to give her a few votes than the SF lady.

  • Trasna

    If the DUP come back with 30 plus seats, unionist certainly have No problems with corruption and immorality.

  • Pál Teleki

    Looks like Sinn Féin will be the biggest party! 53 counted – SF 23, DUP 14!

  • I’ve looked at the results so far and my projection for the makeup of the assembly is: DUP: 29, SF: 28, UUP: 10, SDLP: 10, AP: 8, GRN: 2, TUV: 1, PBP: 1, IND 1. In terms of communities that is: Unionist: 41, Nationalist: 38, Other: 11.

    There’s a few uncertain seats, of course. So it is possible (though in my opinion, unlikely) that Sinn Fein could actually eke out a plurality of seats. Also note that I’m projecting that this is the first ever NI assembly without a majority for unionist parties. That said, in the last few decades, support for a United Ireland has always been far lower than support for the parties who support it.

    Despite the Province’s tumultuous history, voters in Northern Ireland have lately become surprisingly inert. And for all the hype, that situation had continued with this election. I suspect that many of the extra votes Sinn Fein got came from previous abstainers, rather than off their unionist opponents.

    A noticeable decline in seats for the UUP, even though their vote share was slightly higher. This is mostly due to the seats being cut from 6 to 5 seats. Had the 2016 Assembly election been conducted with 5-member seats, the UUP would have won 11 seats instead of 16. That said, the decline is real and I can’t see Mike Nesbitt staying on.

    There are also two places (Belfast North and South Down) where the Alliance could and probably won’t win an extra seat. They’re the party that offends the smallest number of people, so then tend to harvest transfers quite easily.

    The question for the new Assembly is whether it was worth electing it. Unless the DUP takes responsibility for the cashes for ashes scandal, I can’t see them resolving the dispute with Sinn Fein. So yes, direct rule for a few years is a real possibility. A second snap election would probably produce a similar result.

  • Nevin

    “Something interesting is afoot in Northern Ireland.”

    This is what happens when the media plays with matches. The RHI debacle had been smouldering for a lengthy period of time but it took BBC Spotlight’s incendiary device to set it alight on December 6. Whatever happened to meticulous investigative journalism? The governance process isn’t fit for purpose; it’s incredibly loose and the watchdogs are pretty toothless.

  • Slugger: expanding your thinking since 2002! 😉

  • MainlandUlsterman

    To be fair, Brucie is a national treasure.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Indeed Nesbitt is having an early bath. Real shame I think. The SF-DUP gridlock actually strangles centrists. Yet again we have the hardliners on both sides, the main cause of NI’s particular problems, rewarded by an electorate motivated more by the need to stop the nutters on the other side than any hope for better things. Depressing stuff. The worst is that it’s far from irrational. The other side really are led by nutters who need to be stopped. So here we are locked again in a coalition of the inadequate.

  • NotNowJohnny

    It’s what we voted for so we can hardly complain.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m here a loooooog time and I find it mystifying too. Sort of the opposite of common sense.

  • Fear Éireannach

    He’s been in the game for generations.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Speak for yourself 🙂

  • 05OCT68

    Jim Allister in an interview tonight suggested that if Unionism was not the largest group in the assembly, then Unionism should consider withdrawal. A disgraceful remark from a democrat. Tonight Trumpism failed, draining the swamp & blaming fake news didn’t wash. Nelson “Red Sky” McCausland paid the price for not caring about the state of the country after Brexit, why should he, insulated as he will be with a politicians pension. Unionism needs to wake up & smell the coffee the North, south, east & west is greening & I thank Paul Given for that.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    More important than a former Generation Game presenter?

  • John Collins

    Why would it? On a 52%, and against the wishes of three of its constituant parts, GB left the EU and anybody who mentions a re run is shouted down

  • John Collins

    MU I have seen several of those Thrsday night politics debates, on the BBC, since Brexit and if a remain supporter made the comment you made to a leave supporter above he would be eaten alive and told to stop taking the electorate for fools (Even though yourself, Jollyraj and myself agree that they were)

  • grumpy oul man

    So its all spotlights fault! Really nevin learnt nothing at all have you.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The electorate, being just people, is capable of making a bad decision. Electing Trump, electing Cameron, voting for SF and the DUP, voting for Brexit, voting for Communists or voting for fascists or whatever. You have to work with what people decide in a democracy of course but you don’t have to switch off your brain and forget it was a bad decision. And if you think it was a bad decision, you campaign to alleviate its worst effects and eventually build support for a better decision in future. That is democracy, is it not.

  • John Collins

    That is all true of course. I always of De Valera remark in that regard. He once said, when of course he did not like the result, that ‘the electorate have no right to do wrong’-Mind bogling stuff.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Does it?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Turns out you were closer to right than many. DUP increased its vote, rather incredibly.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    We have to remember Trump was fairly democratically elected, as was Hitler. Morality and democratic votes do not have a straightforward relationship.

  • John Collins

    Funny that , but the SDLP came back with the same number of seats, despite a one in six reduction in seats. The fact is the DUP lost 10 seats, well above the six or seven they might have lost allowing for the change in seat number, which shows just how transfer toxic they are.

  • Nevin

    gom, I’ve learned the value of exploring paper trails. It sometimes reveals gems like this one from increasingly information free minutes:

    Also the value of varying the focus of the analytical lens. There’s not much to be learned from the recycling of yesterday’s chip wrapping.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes of course your right, you never recycle yesterdays chip papers ( unless they have something something Gerry said years ago)
    And it is all the fault of the media.
    Before they report poltical corruption or incompetence they shoul think about the effect it would have on polticians.

  • Nevin

    gom, here’s one of Gerry’s gems from a few years ago. Enjoy! I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that he rarely gets a mention in my blogs.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yesterdays chip paprrs Nevin.
    Got any opinion on what unionism is going to do now.
    And how do you blame spotlight for Arlene insulting Irish culture and geting nationlists out to the polling booths.