The DUP has started messaging ahead of next years assembly election that the combined Unionist parties need just five seats to remove the protocol. Now this claim has been fact checked that they can only remove certain parts, rather than all of it. But I thought it would be interesting to look at where Unionism could potentially find those gains.
To start with, this is a very tall order for the combined Unionist parties. If the results of elections from 2017-2019 are even close to repeated, that bloc will shrink rather than grow. Also another important factor is, winning seats from other Unionists doesn’t help the end goal. Only taking seats off the Alliance, SDLP, Sinn Fein and Green parties is moving the ball down the field. Essentially the Unionist parties need to see a decent uptick in turnout and maximise their internal transfers. All of this is before you get to the seats in places like East Antrim and Strangford that will see Unionist seats under threat from pro-protocol parties.
Home to the new DUP Leader, Edwin Poots and one of his high profile supporters, Paul Givan. The DUP used to hold three seats in this constituency but with the reduction to five seats and the tick up for the SDLP, the party lost out by just over 400 votes. Since 2019, the Alliance Party have been recording record results in this constituency and will be targeting two seats here next time and the SDLP will be fighting hard to see that Pat Catney will be retained. This will be a key pro vs anti protocol constituency battle.
The constituency of the outgoing First Minister, Arlene Foster., the DUP will have a very new MLA and a likely new running mate in this vast rural area. Last time the DUP lost out due to a strong Sinn Fein vote and transfers working against them. They lost out here by just over 300 votes, so if they want to make it to that magic number of 45, they need a win here.
This constituency was a loss for the UUP back in 2017, but the results for the party in the constituency since then make this a tough ask but it’s a necessary one for the forces of Unionism to win a majority. Sinn Fein were just under 800 votes ahead of the UUP, but the Alliance Party are a real contender in this seat at the next election.
Newry and Armagh
Another big loss for the UUP back in 2017, Danny Kennedy lost his seat here by more than 1,000 as Sinn Fein held their three seats. Again this is another tall order, but if they want to make that majority figure this will need to be a seat that they attempt to win back at the expense of Sinn Fein.
This constituency was odd in 2017, it saw the DUP lose out but an unexpectedly strong UUP result. This is constituency is always a knife-edge for the final two seats in particular. With the UUP performing not badly in 2017, I wonder will they mount a more ambitious run this time and potentially try to oust the Green leader, Clare Bailey? As with the other seats, this will require a real get out the vote effort and those transfers from other Unionists need to be managed incredibly well. The other parties will have the advantage of pro-remain transfers.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs