Could South Down provide the shock of the night?

Chris has taken a look at South Belfast, but one seat that needs to be examined is South Down. At the start of the race, I would have punted that this seat would have been more likely than not to remain in SDLP hands, but as the campaign has progressed it has become much more difficult to call.

We have had a campaign were some of the issues have benefited Hazzard, from the Jim Wells tweet fiasco which would help motivate his base, to the SDLP attack on him for not voting for Special Status for Northern Ireland when it turned out he was meeting the Secretary of State about  Loughinisland whilst the vote was taking place.

There are people within the SDLP who have become concerned that this seat is under real threat from Sinn Fein, add into the mix that there is an expectation within the Unionist parties for tactical votes to the SDLP to fall in this election, it does become much harder for Margaret Ritchie as messages over Brexit are seen as a turn off for voters.

30 years ago this year, Eddie McGrady won this seat from Enoch Powell in a stunning victory that was a real boost to the Nationalist forces locally. Ritchie has held this seat since 2010, but since 2015 the SDLP vote has taken a serious hit in the constituency.

 

I have punted that Ritchie should hold this seat but with a sharply reduced majority. However, in every Northern Ireland Westminster poll since 2001, there has been a shock seat that we didn’t expect to fall or really come off (East Belfast; 2010, South Antrim 2015 for example). South Down could tick that box in 2017 if the numbers that we saw in March are repeated on June 8th.

For Chris, his task is to get out the vote that backed him and Sinead in March and ensure that nothing happens between now and polling day that makes the SDLP more attractive for tactical votes.

For Margaret, her task is to convince voters that after three decades in SDLP hands that it would be too risky to make a change now.  She may have a difficult task that the tide is just going out for the party which despite her reputation as a hard worker might just cost her this seat.

As Enoch Powell found in 1987, sometimes even the highest profile candidates can run out of road eventually, but this could be the closest race that the constituency has seen in 30 years.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs