The key difference between Assembly 2016 and Assembly 2017 is that only five MLAs will be elected from each constituncy. For at least eighteen MLAs and their staff, this election has come four years too early.
The percentage of votes required to get elected…the quota…will be higher but I am not thinking in terms of percentages. Rather I am thinking in terms of votes cast in May last year and the number of votes likely to be cast this year.
Too often …analysts with some justification …focus on the statistics of elections. Arguably this one is different. There might actually be Politics involved.
So …West Belfast
May 2016: Quota: 5182
Sinn Féin: (4 seats) 19752
People Before Profit: (1 seat) 8300
SDLP (1 seat) 2647
Others: DUP 3766, UUP 654, Workers Party 532, Green 327, Alliance 291.
Sinn Féin: Pat Sheehan, Alex Maskey, Fra McCann, Orlaithí Flynn
All outgoing but Flynn was not a candidate last year. She was co-opted.
People Before Profit: Gerry Carroll, Michael Collins.
Carroll is outgoing.
SDLP: Alex Attwood.
DUP: Frank McCoubrey.
Stood in 2016.
UUP: Fred Rogers.
Alliance: Sorcha Eastwood.
Workers Party: Conor Campbell
Stood in 2016.
Green: Ellen Murray.
Stood last year.
There are three scenarios.
People will be so disgusted at Stormont itself, that they just dont come out.
They are so disgusted at DUP-Sinn Féin, they will turn out.
DUP and Sinn Féin will play the bogey man card and people do turn out.
My gut feeling is that this election is a little like the 1998 Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. Unlikely people will vote.
I am guessing at most 39,000 votes and a quota of 6,500.
So….three words …..TURNOUT…..TURNOUT……TURNOUT.
A low turn-out or a high turn out.
Last year it was about 58% and maybe the same or higher.
I would look at the also-rans first. There is maybe 1,350 lefty/ centre votes with Green, Alliance and the Workers Party and maybe 950 will go back into the mix as transfers.
The UUP vote might well collapse but whatever about Mike Nesbitt, most of the transfers will go to DUP and 4,800 would be short of a quota.
I wont totally ignore DUP claims here but that leaves seven serious candidates (four Sinn Féin, two PBP and one SDLP ) chasing five seats.
Turning to People Before Profit….have they peaked? Is their pro-Brexit stance damaging? Is the second candidate, Michael Collins “weak”? Or is there a momentum to be built on?…a protest vote?
I think there is more than one quota there but I cant see PBP balancing their vote.
I think Collins will be excluded.
DUP unlikely to gain.
Would SDLP on (say) 3,500 first preferences and boosted by some Alliance transfers (and fewer Workers and Greens who will filter thru PBP) be ahead of DUP and fourth SF candidate when Collins votes are distributed?
With vote management, this will be decided from the bottom.
I am of course from West Belfast. I joined the SDLP there in 1973 and was even the Secretary of the Falls Branch in the 1970s. I dont think I stopped being a West Belfast man when the family moved to County Tyrone in 1979. But really when I married a West Belfast woman in 1982 and we decided NOT to live in West Belfast, then I really lost any entitlement to tearfully claim that this is my true home.
Nevertheless it was home to my parents, Uncle Jackie and Auntie Mary and Auntie Sheila and Uncle Charlie …all now dead….who fought the good fight loyally voting SDLP thru the 1970s and 1980s.
Since then Sinn Féin have tried to present West Belfast as a “one-party fiefdom” with their festivals, murals, ex-prisoner groups, their rallies and protests, their canvassers outside polling stations, monuments etc. They have been facilitated by people like me who agonise about West Belfast from the comfort of Carryduff, Glengormley and Crumlin.
People stood up….Paddy Devlin, Gerry Fitt, Desmond Gillespie, Dr Joe Hendron….and Alex Attwood.
Maybe this is the election where the SDLP presence in West Belfast ends.
Maybe it isnt.
But not so long ago, Sinn Féin strived to have six out of six MLAs.
What is it this time…3:1:1….4:1 …..3:2?
Three Sinn Féin, one PBP….and the fifth seat SF or SDLP?