I have long thought that people have been over-stating the dates of the next “Election” and the boundaries on which those elections will be fought. And by “Election”…I mean Westminster and Stormont. And yes I do know that fixed term parliaments make that more difficult.
The decision by five Sinn Fein MPs to stand down from Westminster to concentrate on Stormont provides an opportunity for Sinn Féin and SDLP to again battle for nationalist/republican votes. Ironically the last time, there was mass resignations …by unionists……over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, it allowed Seamus Mallon of the SDLP to take the Newry-Armagh seat of Jim Nicholson.
If there is a unionist unity candidate in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew looks vulnerable. Over to you Mr Nesbitt.
As this is not a General Election there remains the intriguing possibility that there might be some tactical voting by unionists in other constituencies. And with the exception of Fermanagh-South Tyrone, these are straight fights..if a tad uneven between Sinn Féin and SDLP. The Alliance Party, west of the Bann is a total irrelevance……and in a political sense…West Belfast is west of the Bann. For some bizarre reason UTV quote an Alliance councillor….new rent-a-quote Councillor Conrad Dixon from Craigavon on the weighty matter.
Yet the people of West Belfast may not be thrilled to discover that they are being asked to vote in a by-election for the second time in this Parliament. Gerry Adams stood down in 2011 to concentrate on an Dáil. An opportunity perhaps for Colin Keenan the SDLP man who broke the Sinn Féin monopoly of the Lower Falls at council level. Or Conall McDevitt in anticipation of a South-West Belfast Assembly constituency. An opportunity also for Brian Heading, former Mayor of Lisburn. Sinn Féin will win…….but who will their candidate be? Will one of their MLAs stand down (Gerry Kelly?) for the co-option of another to the Assembly.
In West Tyrone, Sinn Féin got 50% of the votes in 2011. SDLP got less than 10% so clearly not winnable. Allowing for a fall in the SF vote, increase in SDLP vote and tactical voting by unionists…..there is not really enough for a SDLP candidate……Daniel Wray McCrossan or Barry Brown to do anything other than increase their profile ahead of Assembly and Council Elections. SF candidate….Barry McElduff?
Newry-Armagh…..is actually winnable for SDLP. And I expect that is the message that they will want to project. Conor Murphy is the only real SF big hitter in the area. And the SF lead over SDLP is just fifteen points…..unionists score around 30% here so do the maths. SDLP ……probably Dominic Bradley will run very close to winning the seat and will be a major threat to SF.
Mid Ulster…..the most likely SF candidate here is Michelle O’Neill…which would allow Ian Milne to be co-opted. SDLP candidate……Patsy McGlone surely. Clearly with SF on 50% and SDLP on 15%…..that is too big a gap even allowing for unionist tactical voting.
Fermanagh-South Tyrone……impossible to predict without knowing what unionism is doing about an agreed candidate.
Still shades of those mass resignations by unionists (DUP and UUP) in 1986. Sinn Féin go into these by-elections with five seats and clearly cannot come out of the by-elections with more. There is at least an even chance that they could lose one seat or more.
The SDLP problem here is ……money. Finding the money to fight elections is clearly an issue…..but under Alasdair McDonnell there has been more cash coming in. And SDLP fundraising events are now likely to have a degree of urgency which will persuade donors to dig deep. The SDLP (and indeed Sinn Féin) wont lack resources….there is a highly motivated army of SDLP Youth…….and they will be descending en masse….particuarly in Newry-Armagh and Mid Ulster.