#AE16 Predictions

I learned last year never to try to predict an election. As one newspaper put it after everyone missed the outcome of the 1992 UK General Election, if votes were cast by electrons we could predict them; but as they are cast by electors, we cannot.

For the sake of a laugh, let us have a go as polls close. My instinct is that the DUP and SDLP have had the biggest challenge getting their vote out, but of course even that could be wrong (I was on the doors but was not asking on their behalf).

Even with that, predicting the final seat is almost impossible even once first counts are known! So take this all with a lashing of salt!

So, here we go:

  • Antrim, East: DUP 3, UU 1, AP 1, UKIP 1 (UKIP gain from SF; last seat UKIP from AP/SF)
  • Antrim, North: DUP 3, TUV 1, SF 1, UU 1 (No change; last seat DUP from UU)
  • Antrim, South: DUP 2, UU 2, SF 1, AP 1 (UU gain from DUP; last seat UU from DUP)
  • Belfast East: DUP 3, AP 2, UU 1 (No change; last seat DUP from UU)
  • Belfast North: DUP 3, SF 2, SDLP 1 (No change; last seats SDLP from AP and DUP from UU)
  • Belfast South: AP 2, DUP 1, SDLP 1, SF 1, UU 1 (AP gain from SDLP; last seat AP from SDLP/DUP/Green)
  • Belfast West: SF 4, PBP 1, DUP 1 (PBP, DUP gain from SF, SDLP; last seat SF from SDLP)
  • Down, North: DUP 3, UU 1, AP 1, Green 1 (No change; last seat DUP from UU)
  • Down, South: SDLP 2, SF 2, UU 1, Ind 1 (Ind gain from DUP; last seat Ind from DUP)
  • Fermanagh/South Tyrone: SF 2, DUP 2, UU 1, SDLP 1 (SDLP gain from SF; last seat SDLP from SF)
  • Foyle: SDLP 2, SF 2, DUP 1, PBP 1 (PBP gain from SDLP; last seat PBP from SDLP)
  • Lagan Valley: DUP 4, UU 1, AP 1 (No change; last seat DUP from UU)
  • Londonderry, East: DUP 2, UU 1, SF 1, SDLP 1, Ind 1 (UU gain from DUP; last seats Ind from DUP/TUV and SDLP from SF)
  • Mid Ulster: SF 3, SDLP 1, UU 1, DUP 1 (No change; last seat SF from SDLP)
  • Newry/Armagh: SF 3, SDLP 1, UU 1, DUP 1 (No change; last seat DUP from UU)
  • Strangford: DUP 3, UU 2, AP 1 (No change; last seat DUP from SDLP)
  • Tyrone, West: SF 3, DUP 1, UU 1, SDLP 1 (No change; last seat SDLP from Ind)
  • Upper Bann: DUP 2, UU 2, SF 2 (SF gain from SDLP; last seat SF from SDLP)

That would give us DUP 36, SF 27, UU 18, SDLP 11, AP 9, Other U 4, Other P 3 (Unionist 58, Nationalist 38, Progressive 12).

But, as can be seen from the proposed “last seat” contests, the actual result could be dramatically different if one or other party gets very lucky or unlucky (I suspect, for example, that the balance of probability is the DUP will do worse than 36 but the SDLP will do rather better than 11).

We’ll soon find out…

Assembly Election History – 2011

The election of exactly five years ago was very much as “as you were” election, with very few seats changing hands and the DUP and Sinn Fein given a clear renewed mandate with two thirds of Assembly seats between them. A calamity in Ulster Unionist selection also handed the Alliance Party its first Executive seat “as of right”.

Within Unionism, which picked up one seat overall, the story was subtle and on the margins. The DUP’s growth (based on an aggressive campaign to secure the First Minister’s position for Unionism) continued at the expense of the Ulster Unionists in the half of constituencies in and around Belfast, but in fact it lost votes to other Unionists in rural and border areas. Although neither Dawn Purvis nor her successor as PUP candidate could hold on to a seat, the Ulster Unionists threw away a seat to their former incumbent David McClarty (running as an Independent) in East Londonderry, and Jim Allister edged home for the TUV’s first ever seat in neighbouring North Antrim.

On the Nationalist side, the Unionist story was mirrored – Sinn Fein continued to grow away from Belfast and the suburbs but lost some ground inside them (though ultimately not, in fact, to other Nationalists). The SDLP’s decline was not halted by Margaret Ritchie, the new Leader (and first female Leader of an Executive party). Nationalists actually lost a seat despite supposedly favourable demographics – a trend which began to speed up in subsequent elections.

The Alliance Party was disappointed not to pick up more than one seat after its Westminster breakthrough the previous year, but did emerge as the third largest party in the nine Greater Belfast constituencies in terms of vote share and took the last Ministry from the Ulster Unionists. Despite a difficult election for other parties, the Greens (now with a single Leader, Steven Agnew) held on to their only seat in North Down.

2011 Greater Belfast Rural/








DUP 37.8% 24.0% 30.0% 38 4
SF 16.7% 34.8% 26.9% 29 3
UU 13.4% 13.1% 13.2% 16 1
SDLP 9.3% 18.0% 14.2% 14 1
AP 14.0% 2.8% 7.7% 8 1
OthU 5.1% 4.6% 4.8% 2 0
Oth 3.6% 2.7% 3.1% 1 0

Assembly Electon History – 2007

The election of 7 March 2007 took place in somewhat different circumstances from the previous one, following on from the deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Seeking a mandate for that deal, the DUP and Sinn Fein were very successful, securing the top two spots by a distance.

On the Unionist side, the Ulster Unionists (now led by Sir Reg Empey) were the big losers – seeing a third of their first preference vote share and seats disappear. The DUP was the main beneficiary, as other Unionists were reduced to a single seat (Dawn Purvis). Unionism in general lost seats, however – 55 was a bare majority.

On the Nationalist side, Sinn Fein’s gains were not quite so stark but created clear distance between it and the SDLP. Despite Nationalism’s haul of 44 seats collectively, the latter was reduced to just one Executive seat (having been the largest party in terms of vote share under a decade previously).

There was a notable rise in support for “other” parties, with the Greens picking up their first Assembly seat and independent Kieran Deeny holding on. The Alliance Party also picked up an extra seat – notable, because in Anna Lo, it provided the first ever ethnic Chinese legislator in British or Irish electoral history.

2007 Greater Belfast Rural/








DUP 36.0% 25.5% 30.1% 36 4
SF 17.2% 33.0% 26.2% 28 3
UU 17.0% 13.3% 14.9% 18 2
SDLP 10.0% 19.2% 15.2% 16 1
AP 10.2% 1.4% 5.2% 7 0
Oth 5.8% 4.9% 5.3% 2 0
OthU 3.7% 2.6% 2.1% 1 0

Assembly Election History – 2003

Even by Northern Ireland standards, the second Assembly Election, taking place in the dark and cold on Wednesday 26 November 2003, was bizarre – electing as it did a legislature which never actually sat as one.

The story was the emergence of the DUP as the largest party (led by Ian Paisley but in practice at Stormont by his deputy Peter Robinson), and of Sinn Féin as the largest Nationalist grouping at Stormont. This was expected, although the Ulster Unionists polled marginally better than predicted – their biggest problem came soon after the election, when three of their MLAs including Jeffrey Donaldson (who polled over 14,000 first preference votes on his own) defected to the DUP.

Within Unionism, the DUP overtook the Ulster Unionists primarily by sweeping up other Unionist seats and adding one to the Unionist total in Belfast West. The Ulster Unionists only lost one overall, but the DUP gained 10, leaving only two other Unionists (Robert McCartney and David Ervine) in the House. The Ulster Unionists actually remained the largest party in the Belfast Suburbs and narrowly outpolled the DUP in the Border area.

The SDLP was the only Executive party to change Leader between elections, to Finance Minister Mark Durkan. However, on the Nationalist side, positions were reversed exactly – the SDLP went from 24 down to 18 and Sinn Féin did precisely the opposite, generally outpolling its rival everywhere except the Belfast Suburbs.

There was also drama among the “Centre” bloc, with the Alliance Party (now led by David Ford after Seán Neeson’s brief tenure at the helm) suffering a near-death experience but clinging on to all six seats while the Women’s Coalition was wiped out – notably, given what was to come, Alliance newcomer Naomi Long only scrambled the last seat in East Belfast thanks to Mr Robinson’s determination to top the poll and consequent failure to split the DUP vote properly. However, the biggest story at the time within the bloc was the poll-topping performance of independent Health campaigner Dr Kieran Deeny in West Tyrone.

An oddity of the d’Hondt formula was that a relatively unchanged balance by designation saw Unionists pick up an Executive seat from Nationalists – not that it would ever matter.

2003 Greater Belfast Rural/








DUP 28.8% 23.3% 25.7% 30 3
UU 27.1% 19.2% 22.7% 27 3
SF 14.7% 30.5% 23.5% 24 2
SDLP 11.5% 21.3% 17.0% 18 2
AP 7.1% 1.0% 3.7% 6 0
OthU 1.0% 2.7% 3.6% 2 0
Oth 4.7% 3.2% 3.8% 1 0


Assembly Election History – 1998

The first election to the modern Northern Ireland Assembly took place on 25 June 1998, just over a month after the referendum on the Agreement.

The outcome was a disappointment for the pro-Agreement parties, particularly the Ulster Unionists (led by David Trimble, who became first First Minister) and Alliance (led by John Alderdice, who became first new Assembly Speaker).

Unionists in total won 58 of 108 seats, but no fewer than 10 of those went to candidates from outside the main two. Then North Down MP Robert McCartney’s originally fairly moderate but ultimately anti-Agreement “UK Unionists” were the biggest surprise, securing five. With fewer than half of Unionist seats, the complex Assembly arithmetic often required the two PUP MLAs to back Mr Trimble.

Nationalists won 42 seats. In fact, the SDLP (led by John Hume overall but by new Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon at Stormont) scored the highest first-preference vote share, at 21.9%, and generally outpolled Sinn Fein everywhere except Belfast. (Sinn Féin had a similar split in leadership – overall the Party President was and is Gerry Adams, but Leader at Stormont was and is Martin McGuinness.)

Among the “neithers”, the Alliance Party had expected better than six seats, effectively losing two directly to the Women’s Coalition.

1998 Greater










UU 23.8% 19.1% 21.2% 28 3
SDLP 13.2% 29.2% 21.9% 24 3
DUP 18.2% 18.0% 18.1% 20 2
SF 11.8% 22.5% 17.6% 18 2
AP 11.1% 2.6% 6.5% 6 0
OthU 17.0% 5.4% 10.7% 10 0
Oth 5.1% 3.1% 4.0% 2 0

Errors in understanding “STV” voting system

It is unfortunate that no one took up my company’s offer of free training in the “Single Transferable Vote” system.

It is widely misunderstood even by political analysts, and hopelessly so by many journalists assigned to cover the results. Really, a bit of training is required to ensure the public is properly informed.

A few key points:

  • the “quota” is the number of votes required to guarantee a seat (the next whole number after a seventh of the valid vote, in the case of a six-seater);
  • a “transfer” is best used exclusively to describe the transfer of votes from an eliminated candidate (these transfer at full value to any next preference);
  • a “surplus” is best used exclusively to describe the number of votes by which a candidate has exceeded the quota (and thus the total of votes which will now be transferred to other candidates in proportion to next preferences given);
  • such a surplus is allocated only from the votes which took that candidate past quota (not from the votes already allocated to that candidate in any previous counts);
  • thus, a first-preference vote for a candidate who does not reach quota on the first count but is ultimately elected (or is last eliminated) counts entirely for that candidate alone;
  • candidates do not necessarily have to reach quota in order to be elected, and indeed many do not – those simply left not yet eliminated when the number of candidates left standing is equal to the number of seats to be filled are deemed elected; and
  • “topping the poll” is a total irrelevance and is in fact often a strategic error (the objective for parties running more than one candidate is in fact to balance that party’s vote evenly between them, to try to keep both in the race – as above – until all other candidates have been eliminated).

It is a complex system which is why I personally do not like it. But it is not that complex – just beware of “analysts” making predictions who do not understand it!

DUP “plan” is simply garbage

Arlene Foster was mocked for talking of a five-point plan during the UTV Leaders’ Debate, which was in fact this:


So, a ten-point “plan”. Except it isn’t a plan.

And that is what really annoys people.

Who opposes “more jobs, rising incomes”? No one. But where is the plan to achieve it?

Who opposes a “world class health service”? Many would say we already have one. But her party has had five years to reform it and has comprehensively failed.

Who opposes giving “every child the opportunity to succeed”? But where is the analysis of why is not the case?

What exactly is “rebuilding Northern Ireland”? The SDLP also have a peculiar obsession with building.

Where is the plan to “reward hard work”, and how is it judged and defined?

What precisely is “smarter justice” and has she noted we have “safer streets”?

Are “stronger communities” to be “created” or are we just using random words now?

What does a “friend of the farmer” mean and how is that a plan?

Her party has had a decade as largest party to “change politics in Northern Ireland”, so why has it not?

And detail how someone plans to “take pride in Northern Ireland”?

There is not a plan there to be seen. It’s just vacuous nonsense. The DUP clearly has no plan – it just wants power for the sake of it. No wonder its representatives keep failing to turn up for panel events.

Plainly the DUP thinks we will fall for this bunkum; in other words, DUP candidates think we are all fools.

It would be a good idea to prove them wrong.

Populist candidates getting it wrong on infrastructure

No sooner had the CEO of Belfast International Airport tweeted that a crash on the main A57 road from the M2 to the airport demonstrated his case for a dual carriageway, Assembly candidates were lining up to agree – indeed, one first-time candidate for the local constituency instantly called for a motorway.

They thus demonstrated the whole problem with Northern Ireland politics. As soon as someone calls for something, politicians and would-be politicians are climbing over each other to agree. Yet, once they have attained office, they find it isn’t quite so easy… no wonder so many people thing politicians are dishonest!

To be clear, such an upgrade is not a bad idea. But it is not programmed; it is very complex; and in any case it shows a false priority between road construction and road maintenance.

It is a duty of candidates, before making pledges, to do some research into how viable they are. Even a cursory piece of research would have demonstrated that there is zero chance of a significant upgrade to the road from the motorway to the airport this decade, and almost zero even in the next decade. In fact, on this very blog, I provided the current list of programmed primary road projects in Northern Ireland just three months ago – these take us essentially to the end of the 2020s, and the A57 airport road does not appear.

Of course, a future Infrastructure Minister could decide to re-prioritise, and take a project off the list, replacing it with the A57. Yet a cursory look at Assembly debates and party statements notes that absolutely no one has seriously suggested this – there is the odd reference to an upgrade but no reference whatsoever to which project would be removed from the programme to enable it.

Were an upgraded road to the airport to be prioritised, it would become quite complex. It is far from clear that such a road should run along the current alignment of the A6/A57 from M2 J5 (at Templepatrick/Ballymartin) to the airport. In fact, there is perhaps a better case for a route from somewhere near J4 Sandyknowes (this would require the construction of an additional junction roughly where the new Templepatrick Services are, and in fact such a junction is proposed in the longer term for all kinds of reasons); or perhaps even from between J5 and J6 (near Parkgate). Either of these options would make it considerably easier to bypass Templepatrick with a high-speed road without causing significant public protest (and thus delaying the whole thing until well into the 2030s). In other words, it is not at all straightforward, which is one reason it is not programmed!

There is another problem here, which is that for all the understandable excitement about grand projects like the A12 York Street interchange or the A6 Moneynick upgrade, funding is being cut back from basic maintenance. Many readers in Northern Ireland will already have noticed street lights going unrepaired; resurfacing projects being delayed; even still road side verges going untreated.

While we protect funding for an unreformed education and health system and push for more and more grand infrastructure projects (hands up on the latter!), we are omitting many of the basics.

It is the basics the politicians (and those who would be politicians) need to get right. Meanwhile, beware anyone promoting a motorway to the airport. There hasn’t been a motorway constructed in Northern Ireland for over 20 years – and the maintenance of the ones we have is going under-resourced. Let’s fix what we have first…


#Brexit takes us away from most successful continent

So, what is the case for the European Union?

To answer this, let us forget about money, even though the financial and economic case for membership is unanswerable when actual facts are used.

For me, it is quite simple. Europe possesses the countries and peoples who most see the world the way we do.

It possesses the world’s foremost long-term state-sponsored/funded health systems; the most generous welfare provision; the best public transport. Far from falling behind the rest of the world, Europe continues to lead it in a vast range of ways.

It possesses the world’s most representative democracies. Astonishingly, to these, it has added the whole of Southern and Central-Eastern Europe in the past 30 years or so. Far from being a place which does not respect democracy, the European Union has been at the forefront of expanding it to hundreds of millions of people.

It possesses the world’s highest culture, of which the renaissance and the enlightenment are products. Thus the countries of the European Union receive more tourists and host more major events than anywhere else on the planet.

What Brexiteers are proposing is straightforward – they want us to be less like these countries of great social innovation, expansive democracy and high culture.

Do you?!

SDLP anything but “progressive” on women’s rights

Earlier this month a young woman was handed a three-month suspended sentence effectively because she couldn’t afford to travel to England.

What kind of obscene society would allow this, based on a 150-year-old law?

Yet “Precious Life” took the even more obscene position that the young woman should be imprisoned, depriving a living child of a mother.


Sometimes a picture (with the “Precious Life” spokesperson Bernie Smith left and the SDLP’s Minister and Deputy Leader right) paints a thousand words.

The Greens have embarrassed themselves too on this issue of course, by trivialising it with plans to legislate to extend the 150-year-old law rather than remove or replace it. But worse than that, remember, every single SDLP MLA went through the “no” lobby on an amendment even merely to allow termination in the event of Fatal Foetal Abnormality. This means the SDLP,  which likes to rant about “Tories”, actually takes both financial and social positions well to the right of the Conservatives.

So if you want a socially progressive option next month, as I do, you will obviously need to look elsewhere.


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