DUP: Sydney Anderson. Carla Lockhart.
UUP: Joanne Dobson. Doug Beattie. Kyle Savage.
TUV: Roy Ferguson.
UKIP: David Jones.
Alliance: Harry Hamilton.
Green: Simon Lee.
SDLP: Dolores Kelly.
Sinn Féin: John O’Dowd. Catherine Seeley.
CISTA: Martin Kelly.
NILRC: Emma Hutchinson.
Conservative: Ian Nickles.
Independent: Stephen McCarroll.
This is a constituency where the established pattern is four unionists and two nationalists. The demographic time bomb is talked up, especially by Sinn Féin. In 2011, they openly campaigned on the basis that three nationalist seats was possible but SF/SDLP only managed 40% of the vote. They won few converts with a tactic that claimed “Dolores Kelly is safe” on some doorsteps and “Dolores Kelly is toast” on other doorsteps.
Likewise SF claimed in 2015 that the Westminster seat could be won. All that was needed was for nationalists to rally round Catherine Seeley. As it transpired the SF vote was almost the same in terms of numbers (11,500) but SF lost 2.5% of the vote from 2011 and actually came third behind two unionists DUP and UUP. Crucially in my view, the 2014, the key SF figure is 8,500 votes in the 2014 council elections.
Media talk up reports of SF taking the second nationalist seat at the expense of Dolores Kelly (SDLP).
No three successive elections can ever be the same in terms of votes cast, percentages or quotas needed.
But I do not see any reason for SF optimism.
Consider that a reasonable guestimate of a quota for 2016 is 6,000 votes.
Consider SFs three most recent performances:
Consider the three most recent SDLP performances.
Of course the context of the three elections are different…2011 Assembly (PR voting), 2014 Locals (PR election) and 2015 Westminster (First Past the Post).
In view of the fact that the key plank in last years SF platform was borrowing SDLP votes to beat the unionist…the tactic did not succeed but it would be reasonable to assume it increased SF vote and decreased SDLP vote.
It would be reasonable to assume that 11,500 (25%) is an over-statement of SF strength and 4,200 (9%) is an under-statement of SDLP strength. There was little incentive for SDLP voters to leave their homes last year.
Of course the real question is what is the “real” strengths.
I am inclined to think that SF will not break above 10,200 and that SDLP will be around 5,200. Impossible to be precise about quotas but I think that SDLP will be closer to reaching one quota than SF are to reaching two quotas.
At that stage transfers from successful candidates and from eliminated candidates come into play and SDLP seem better positioned to take transfers.
There are of course other factors…the cliche that “there is a good response on the doorsteps” should always be treated with caution. The real point is what the same people said in 2011, 2014, 2015 and this week. It is different. There is effectively a rolling canvas going on over at least three years.
There is an Eastwood “bounce”, an increased footfall in the SDLP constituency office and a feeling that Sinn Féin did not cover themselves in glory with local emergencies such as winter flooding. And of course the issue of Sinn Féin handing Welfare back to London. People who gave SF the benefit of the doubt in May last year are unforgiving.
It is not all about SDLP. It is about Sinn Féin.
Key local activists do not seem to be taking an active part in this campaign.
Well the 2011 candidate Johnny McGibbon left Craigavon Council (was he leader of SF Group? ). Catherine Seeley seems to be fast-tracked….Co-opted to Council, she became Deputy Chair. And elected to the new Super Council in 2014, is current Deputy Chair. And of course, she was the Westminster candidate.
Of course Sinn Féin would claim that their candidates are being treated equally but I think that Ms Seeley has got a good share of allocated territory to campaign. In contrast, John O’Dowd seems lack-lustre in recent TV performances and has openly said that he will not be coming back as Minister of Education. Maybe he wont even been elected. Shades of John O’Dowd taking running mate Dara O’Hagan’s seat in 2003.
There is a certain SF seat….but O’Dowd or Seeley?
It is still likely that unionists will take four seats (it is currently two DUP and two UUP).
DUP are playing it safe, fielding just two candidates, outgoing Sydney Anderson and new candidate Carla Lockhart who is a former Mayor of Craigavon. Both should make it. They will outvote the fringe unionists, who will have some very localised support.
Joanne Dobson (outgoing MLA) has a good reputation locally. She performed well last year. There are two other UUP candidates and it seems that Doug Beattie, the Portadown-based former British Army officer seems favoured. Beattie is hardly aristocratic (he came up thru the ranks) but it is a curious throw-back to the 1960s, when UUP favoured anyone with a prefix “Major” or “Captain”…so UUP seem to have rediscovered the whole “Queen and Country” thing.
Alliance did not get over 4% in 2014 and 2015 but did better in 2011. Popular as Harry Hamilton is (he is Freddie Mercury tribute act…Flash Harry) he wont take a seat.
So prediction….No Change. DUP 2, UUP 2, SF 1, SDLP 1.