NI ASSEMBLY ELECTION ’16: SOUTH BELFAST PREDICTION

The South Belfast constituency is one to watch this May – it has gone through massive changes to its sitting MLA’s since 2011 and that could have an impact on the outcome this time around.

In 2011, the candidates elected were as follows:

  • Anna Lo – Alliance (retiring)
  • Alex Maskey – SF (replaced by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir within the term)
  • Jimmy Spratt – DUP (replaced by Emma Little-Pengelly within the term)
  • Conall McDevitt – SDLP (replaced by Fearghal McKinney after resigining)
  • Alasdair McDonnell – SDLP (stepped down, replaced by Claire Hanna)
  • Michael McGimpsey – UUP (retiring)

So, none of the originally elected representatives will be seeking to hold their seats in May 2016.

Looking at the data, it would seem the SDLP is in real trouble in this constituency.  Alasdair McDonnell held the seat for the Party at Westminster, but suffered a cataclysmic drop of 16.5% in his vote.

At the 2011 Assembly election, the combined SDLP vote was actually behind that of the DUP, 24.3% as opposed to 23.9%.  The SDLP still held two seats, but this was with two very well known, relatively popular candidates.

Fearghal McKinney, the SDLP deputy leader is an untried electoral animal in the Assembly, having run for Fermanagh and South Tyrone’s Westminster seat in 2010 with an abysmal 7.6% – down by over 7% on 2005.  Will his deputy leadership help him hold on?

Claire Hanna is another untried Assembly candidate, though she was a sitting Councillor on Belfast City Council for Balmoral, coming third in the five seater ward with just under 1,500 votes.

Rodney McCune will be the UUP standard bearer in May, replacing big hitter and former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.  He ran for Westminster in the constituency, and had a disastrous turnout, down 8.2% on the previous election.  The combined UUP candidates in 2011 polled 13.5%.  There should be a relatively safe seat there for the UUP, but it is by no means set in stone.

Emma Little Pengelly, a former OFMDFM Special Adviser replaced veteran Jimmy Spratt relatively recently, and ignited a furious row with outspoken Councillor Ruth Patterson who believed she was ‘parachuted’ into the seat having never held elected office before.  Cllr Patterson resigned and will run as an Independent.  She amassed 3,800 first preferences last time, and narrowly missed out.

Alliance will miss Anna Lo, she topped the poll for the party in the constituency in 2011.  She is being replaced by one time UCUNF candidate Paula Bradshaw who joined the party in late 2013, and Duncan Morrow.  Bradshaw is a sitting Balmoral Councillor, polling just over 800 first prefs in 2014, whilst Morrow lost out in Botanic.  Running two candidates seems risky to me, but tight vote management might just get Bradshaw over the line.

The dark horse in this constituency is the Green Party’s Claire Bailey.  She ran in 2011, getting just over 800 firsts, but then at the 2015 Westminster, almost doubled the Greens’ 2010 total.

Sinn Fein is running sitting MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, in a safe seat.  Sinn Fein did’t run for Westminster in 2010, an he gained almost 14% in 2015.  Alex Maskey has moved constituency, and will be a big loss, but Ó Muilleoir is a name in himself, having been a popular Lord Mayor.

PREDICTION

A very tricky one to call for the most part.  SF will definitely hold their seat here, no doubt about that.  We can’t see the SDLP holding both seats, Hanna is from a well-known local family, her mother Carmel is a former MLA and Minister.  McKinney is the one to lose out here if they drop a seat, which will be a massive story.

Alliance have taken what we think is a strange route here with running two candidates, the votes are there to hold the seat as Lo was very popular, but this needs to be carefully managed, if it turns into a bloodbath, the seat may well be lost.

The big story here is the fight for the sole DUP seat.  Ruth Patterson is running off her own steam with flag protester Jamie Bryson as her election agent, and she has garnered a loyal electoral base over the years.  Little Pengelly is high profile on the Hill at present, but untried in electoral contests.  I can only predict here that Patterson will come out on top.

The Greens have a real chance here in my opinion, starting from a relatively buoyed and steady base from 2015.  This chance stems not only from their own electoral base, but from the relative disarray of the Unionist vote in particular created by Little Pengelly v Patterson.  The SDLP losing one of their two here, and the well known chance of it happening, may spook some of their voters, especially those who are not die-hards.  They may well go Green.

The UUP seat looks relatively safe, though there have been what looks to be some bloodletting in the South Belfast Association when Michael McGimpsey stepped down, to the shock of many.

Here’s how we call it:

SF 1

AL 1 (Bradshaw)

SDLP 1 (Hanna)

UUP 1

IND 1 (Patterson)

GP 1 (Bailey)

 

 

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6 thoughts on “NI ASSEMBLY ELECTION ’16: SOUTH BELFAST PREDICTION

  1. This constituency is the most intriguing. In my own opinion I would call out 4 seats as safe – 1 SDLP (Hanna), 1 DUP (?), 1 SF (Ó Muilleoir) and Alliance (Bradshaw).

    The last 2 are a bit more difficult – Likely DUP (2) v UUP v Patterson for one of them. On the Unionist side Stalford is who I’d forecast to do better to win the easy DUP seat. However, I’m of the mind if there is one seat for them here, the Leadership want Pengelly to win it. A lot will depend on the split of the territory. I predict Pengelly will be handed the more affulent southern part of Ravenhill, Hillfoot & Castlereagh Wards, where the DUP are likely to poll a lower share of the vote, but one that is much more resilient to the challenge of Patterson – Stalford will get shafted with areas like Woodstock, The Village, The Pass Taughmonagh etc where Patterson is likely to do much better. Just a prediction but I’ll be surprised if the opposite is the case. McCune will struggle here having been uprooted from East Antrim. McGimpsey’s vote was in long term decline and I predict this seat might go but there is an out – If he out polls one of Patterson, Stalford or Pengelly, I think he will take the seat on being more transfer friendly than any of the rest.

    Alliance will likely return Bradshaw. First past the post is different to STV but she improved the vote despite a potential big squeeze from the SDLP to keep Jonathan Bell of the DUP out last year. Duncan Morrow has an impressive resume – but from 2 media performances I have seen so far, he really needs to up his game. A good balance could both candidates elected if they both remain ahead of Claire Bailey throughout the count, but I’m increasingly of the opinion Bailey will take a seat and potentially end up with somewhere around 8-10% of the first preference vote. As for the SDLP, Balmoral based Claire Hanna is likely to be returned whereas McKinney is yet to face a South Belfast electorate in any form. If anything the alphabet will favor Hanna in an election where recognition is unlikely to be on the side of either candidate. If Ó Muilleoir (who I predict tops the poll) is elected with a small surplus it will likely help out Hanna over McKinney.

    For Alliance, the SDLP and DUP candidates I think winning the turf war against their running mate will likely be key to winning a seat.

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  2. If you are talking about Claire Hanna’s 2014 council election I think she came second (1524) one vote behind Mairtiin O’Mulleoir and also had an SDLP running mate on 589 1st preference votes.

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  3. This is an interesting analysis. I am a member of one of the big 5 political parties in South Belfast and we’ve been running lots of numbers.

    There will certainly be elected 1 SDLP, 1 SF, DUP and 1 ALL. The remaining two seats is SDLP, ALL, TUV or DUP. Greens and UUP unlikely to win. Keep a close eye TUV.

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    1. TUV? Surely Patterson will be competing for the same vote and would have more of a chance. Agree that the UUP in SB have collapsed and their candidate doesnt seem great but they should still sneak in. I cant believe the author predicts no DUP cant see it myself but would love it to be true as I cant stand either of their candidates

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