As previously promised, with these scheduled for March 7th, here are my seat by seat predictions:
(For those not familiar with NI politics, the Assembly is elected by Single Transferable Vote, with six members elected from each of the 18 Westminster constituencies. Nick Whyte has a very useful and heavily cited website - Northern Ireland Elections - with the recent electoral history for each seat.)
Please note these were written a few weeks ago, before the final confirmation of candidatures and some recent developments.
Previous results: 1998 4 Sinn Fein (SF), 2 Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP); 2003 4 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (DUP gain from SDLP although in practice the DUP just snatched the seat from Sinn Fein)
One of the easiest to start with. Sinn Fein should retain their current four seats, whils the SDLP vote may be in decline but is still enough to retain their seat. This leaves the sixth seat, currently held by the DUP. Recent elections have shown that although the overall Unionist vote doesn't quite reach a quota it is relatively resiliant and the DUP have been doing ever better at consolidating it. Sinn Fein are good at vote management but balancing five candidates without any leakage is a tall order. I think the DUP have the factors in their favour.
Prediction: SF 4, SDLP 1, DUP 1 (no change)
Previous results: 1998 2 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 Northern Ireland Women's Coalition (NIWC); 2003 2 UUP, 2 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 SF (SF gain from NIWC)
Also of note: Allianace won one of the five seats here in the 1996 Forum, albeit elected on a party list basis. Their candidate came third in 1998 but fell behind four others on transfers.
A difficult one to predict on the basis of recent election results. The Women's Coalition has now folded and Alliance are optimistic about gaining votes as a result. The general election result seems to have had quite a lot of tactical voting whilst the locals suggest things are tight.
I think three seats will remain Unionist, with recent results suggesting a 2 DUP, 1 UUP split. There are definitely two Nationalist seats and the SDLP are considerably ahead of Sinn Fein, who have been affected by some local factors. However Alliance are optimistic and have selected a candidate from the Chinese community, who may or may not bring in currently unpredictable votes. However on the votes alone Alliance have appeared close before and failed to come through.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 SF (DUP gain 1 from UUP)
Previous results: 1998 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Alliance; 2003 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Alliance (no change)
The DUP have quite a history of vote mismanagement in this constituency, getting fewer seats than the first preferences implied in 1975 (for the Convention), 1982 (for the Prior Assembly) and 2003. Last time both the PUP and Alliance are cited as the beneficiaries. David Ervine was facing an uphill struggle for re-election and with his death I think the PUP's chances are gone. The UUP have actually seen their vote increase in recent years, mainly at the expense of Alliance (historically this was Alliance's strongest seat) but I don't think it's anywhere near enough to make a third seat viable (and the UUP is historically bad at vote management). Alliance should hang on.
Prediction: 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (DUP gain 1 from PUP)
Previous results: 1998 1 SF, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 independent anti-Belfast Agreement Unionist; 2003 2 DUP, 2 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 UUP (DUP gain 1 from ind U, SF gain 1 from PUP or the other way round)
This seat used to be quite unpredictable due to the main parties all doing well - in the 1996 forum the DUP, SDLP, SF and UUP all polled between 17% and 19%, with other parties taking a quarter of the vote. Since then the UUP have collapsed big time, SF and the DUP have both grown and consolidated the vote. On the nationalist side the SDLP are in a strong position to hold their seat, leaving two for Sinn Fein, whilst on the Unionist side the DUP vote is looking like reaching three seats.
Prediction 3 DUP, 2 SF, 1 SDLP (DUP gain 1 from UUP)
Previous results: 1998 DUP 3, UUP 2, SDLP 1; 2003 DUP 3, UUP 1, SDLP 1, SF 1 (SF gain 1 from UUP)
The 2005 Westminster elections implied the DUP could hit four seats, although Ian Paisley normally outpolls his party as a whole and vote management is unlikely to make up the gap. The UUP vote has been declining here but they seem strong enough to hold onto their one seat. On the nationalist side Sinn Fein's growth has been enough to secure their current seat, whilst the SDLP's decline doesn't look enough to make their seat vulnerable, especially when it seems doubtful there'll be a strong challenger.
Prediction: 3 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF (no change)
Previous results: 1998 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 Alliance, 1 UK Unionist Party (UKUP), 1 SDLP; 2003 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (DUP gain 1 from UKUP and 1 from SDLP)
The 1998 result was surprising both for the UKUP breakthrough and the SDLP seat - they gained only 6% of the vote and had only one councillor in the seat but benefitted from transfers and lousy vote balancing all round to narrowly beat the DUP for the final seat. In 2003 a defragmentation effect meant that despite both the SDLP vote and the nationalist vote as a whole increasing the seat was lost. More recent results suggest the trend is going Sinn Fein's way and on current boundaries it's very doubtful a nationalist seat will be gained in the near future. The Alliance seat looks secure for now. Of the Unionist seats I think the DUP will find it difficult to make it to a fourth seat, leaving it likely that the UUP will keep their two. (As this is the first appearance of a past UKUP seat, I'm generally sceptical that anti-St Andrews Agreement Unionists will be able to mount a significant enough challenge to upset the results and Bob McCartney has fallen out with so many and already shattered one developing party so he'll find it hard to find sustainable allies.)
Prediction: 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 Alliance (no change)
Previous results: 1998 2 UUP, 1 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 UKUP, 1 Alliance; 2003: 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 Alliance
Another seat where the UKUP's past success was just a flash in the pan. Alliance's David Ford (now the party leader) took the final seat in 1998 and managed to hold it by the skin of his teeth in 2003, scraping home on Unionist transfers after the Sinn Fein candidate had claimed victory! The four current Unionist seats should stay as they are but this leaves two seats with the DUP, SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein all looking hopeful and all with a serious chance!
The SDLP are still stronger in the local government elections which suggests they might edge Sinn Fein if there's only one nationalist elected. The DUP vote in the Westminster election was, if anything, probably below what it might have been - William McCrea is a *deeply* divisive figure, even compared to Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson. The political demise of Alliance is often predicted and often fails to happen but notably this is a seat where they've never topped 12% on the current boundaries and in most elections they have trailed both nationalist parties. My guess is that they'll lose out this time.
Prediction: 2 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF (SF gain 1 from Alliance)
Previous results: 1998 UUP 2, DUP 1, Alliance 1, UKUP 1, SDLP 1; 2003: UUP 3, DUP 1, Alliance 1, SDLP 1 (UUP gain 1 from UKUP)
However since the 2003 election Jeffrey Donaldson and Nora Beare both moved from the UUP to the DUP.
Prior to Donaldson's change of party this seat saw the DUP repeatedly failing to advance significantly. All this has changed with Donaldson's party and both Westminster and local government elections suggest that the DUP will win at least three. I'm sceptical that they can make it to four although this is not impossible. The UUP should hold onto one seat and on the local government results they may have a chance of two.
The two current non-Unionist seats are amongst the most open and unpredictable in the entire election. The sitting Alliance and SDLP members are both retiring,and both are estimated to have a personal vote that's been crucial in past elections. The Alliance vote is generally in decline here anyway and I think they're likely to lose their seat without Close. By contrast the Sinn Fein vote is growing. However there clearly aren't two nationalist quotas. What complicates it all is uncertainty as to where Close's personal vote might go. I'm inclined to call one seat for Sinn Fein and at a stab the other for the UUP.
Prediction: 3 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 SF (DUP gain 2, SF gain 1, UUP lose 1, SDLP lose 1, Alliance lose 1)
Previous results: 1998 SDLP 3, SF 2, DUP 1; 2003 SDLP 3, SF 2, DUP 1 (no change)
Sinn Fein have been heavily targetting this constituency in the hope of both a third seat and the Westminster seat for some time now, but it keeps eluding them. Mitchell McLaughlin is transferring to South Antrim in the hope of gaining a seat there, making a shift even less likely. Eamonn McCann has achieved comparitively good results for the Socialist Environmental Alliance but I doubt they'll make a breakthrough either. The DUP seat looks safe.
Prediction: 3 SDLP, 2 SF, 1 DUP (no change)
Previous results: 1998 UUP 2, SDLP 2, DUP 1, independent anti-Belfast Agreement Unionist 1; 2003 UUP 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, SF 1 (DUP gain 1 from ind U, SF gain 1 from SDLP)
The two nationalist seats look safe. On the Unionist side the question is whether the DUP can take one of the UUP seats. The UUP vote appears to be levelling off here, whilst the DUP have been performing better in Westminster elections than others. I'm doubtful they'll breakthrough this time.
Prediction: 2 UUP, 2 DUP, 1 SDLP, 1 SF (no change)
Previous results: 1998: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1; 2003: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1 (no change)
Sinn Fein appear to be levelling out here, so they should hold all three seats. The SDLP has also been rather static since 1997, with all results within 17-22% so they should hold their single seat. The DUP should also hold their own seat (is Willie McCrea going to restand here or relocate to South Antrim?). The UUP seat is vulnerable to the DUP but it will take a push. I'm doubtful it will happen.
Prediction: 3 SF, 1 SDLP, 1 DUP, 1 UUP (no change)
Previous results: 1998: SF 2, SDLP 2, DUP 1, UUP 1; 2003: SD 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1, Independent 1 (Ind gain 1 from SDLP)
A very difficult one to predict becase of Kieran Deeny, a local doctor who was elected in 2003 on the single issue of saving the hospital in Omagh and got a huge vote in the 2005 Westminster election (and, it seems, a genuinely cross community vote, although some was more anti-Sinn Fein than pro hospital). His transfers in 2003 suggest that the seat he won would otherwise have been gained by Sinn Fein.
There's not much precedent for single issue independents seeking re-election in Northern Ireland. Some independents in the Republic have managed to find new issues to get re-elected on; ditto some of the independent Mayors in the UK. Richard Taylor was re-elected in Kidderminster in 2005, but with a third of his vote gone and Health Concern as been drying up at the local government level. From what little I've heard it seems the hospital campaign in Omagh doesn't have the momentum it did in 2003, suggesting that Deeny will struggle to get back in if he stands. Equally his vote base may be shifting. As a further complication, one of the SDLP candidates is an Omagh based local doctor herself.
In a Deenyless election it's relatively easy to predict SF taking his seat whilst the other three parties hold theirs. With Deeny in the field, it's easy to predict 2 seats for Sinn Fein and 1 for the DUP, with the other three going to any combination of Deeny, SF, SDLP and UUP. As a wild guess, I'll go for the UUP holding onto their seat, the SDLP holding theirs and Deeny taking the other.
(Since writing this, it's been confirmed that Deeny is restanding. But I'll post my original thoughts anyway.)
Prediction: Without Deeny: SF 3, SDLP 1, DUP 1, UUP 1 (SF gain from Independent)
With Deeny: SF 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1, Ind 1 (no change)
Fermanagh & South Tyrone
Previous results: 1998: SF 2, UUP 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1; 2003: SF 2, UUP 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1 (no change)
However since the 2003 election Arlene Foster moved from the UUP to the DUP.
Recent election results have been comparitively static save for a UUP to DUP shift coinciding with Foster's defection. Other than Foster's party change being upheld, I doubt there will be notable gains.
Prediction: SF 2, DUP 2, UUP 1, SDLP 1 (DUP gain 1 from UUP)
Newry & Armagh
Previous results: 1998: SDLP 2, SF 2, UUP 1, DUP 1; 2003: SF 3, SDLP 2, UUP 1, DUP 1 (SF gain 1 from SDLP)
Since the Assembly election Paul Berry has left the DUP to become an independent Unionist.
Let's keep the joke out of this thread! Davy Hyland and Patricia O'Rawe have both been deselected, although O'Rawe may be reinstated. Hyland has left the party. Both Hyland and Berry seem likely to stand as anti-St Andrews Agreement candidates.
Berry has been at the forefront of the DUP growth here and even when the stories were at their height he still beat the UUP in the general election (albeit with about the only clear swing to the UUP). In the past Unionists who have fallen out with their parties generally haven't managed to at the very least deprive their old party of the seat, let alone win it themselves when running as an independent (with the notable exception of James Kilfedder and, arguably, Bob McCartney, though North Down is electorally a law unto itself) and there's no party with an existing machine for Berry to go to (unlike Donaldson, Beare and Foster). So I think the two Unionist parties will continue to hold their seats.
On the nationalist side, the local government results suggest that the SDLP has a chance of retaking a second seat from Sinn Fein, and the latter's problems may help to fragment some votes. However the SDLP vote hasn't noticably climbed so I reckon Sinn Fein will edge it.
Prediction: SF 3, SDLP 1, UUP 1, DUP 1 (no change)
Previous results: 1998: UUP 2, SDLP 1, DUP 1, SF 1, independent anti-Belfast Agreement Unionist 1; 2003: UUP 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, SF 1 (DUP gain 1 from ind U)
The two nationalist seats look safe. On the Unionist side the votes have some way to go for the DUP to take a third seat from the UUP. This looks like another no change.
Prediction: UUP 2, DUP 2, SDLP 1, SF 1 (no change)
Previous results: 1998: SDLP 3, SF 1, UUP 1, DUP 1; 2003: SDLP 2, SF 2, UUP 1, DUP 1 (SF gain 1 from SDLP)
Another seat where the recent election results suggest no change all round. There appears to have been some tactical voting for the SDLP by otherwise UUP voters for the Westminster election. The Greens are targetting this seat with a local councillor but it seems doubtful they'll come remotely close.
Prediction: SDLP 2, SF 2, UUP 1, DUP 1 (no change)
Previous results: 1998: UUP 2, DUP 2, Alliance 1, UKUP 1; 2003: DUP 3, UUP 2, Alliance 1 (DUP gain 1 from UKUP)
This is becoming the DUP's strongest constituency and they're pretty much assured of three seats. A fourth is not out of the question but as with North Antrim this isn't the easiest thing to achieve and their Westminster result seems to be ahead of their core vote. The UUP vote has been declining and their second seat will need transfers to survive (and bad vote balancing could sink them). Alliance are looking decidely shakey and didn't get quota last time, though local government results give them more optimism. The SDLP have been hoping to make a breakthrough for a while but I doubt it will happen. As a stab I'll go for another no change.
Prediction: DUP 3, UUP 2, Alliance 1 (no change)
Previous results: 1998: UUP 3, UKUP 1, Alliance 1, NIWC 1; 2003 UUP 2, DUP 2, UKUP 1, Alliance 1 (DUP gain 1 from UUP and 1 from NIWC)
This is one of the most difficult to predict as Westminster elections have seen a lot of tactical voting whilst there are a lot of independent and small party votes in locals. Last time round the election counts were almost completely based on eliminations. Alliance's Eileen Bell is standing down and we also have the recent move of ex Alliance turned independent councillor Brian Wilson (who got 4.4% of the vote last time) to the Greens which could put them into serious contention (as the local results hint). The Conservatives are also targetting the seat with James Leslie, a former UUP minister. All manner of votes seem up for grabs.
I think the following can reasonably be expected: 1 seat definitely for the DUP, 2 seats definitely for the UUP. I'm sceptical they can take a third seat. 1 seat definitely for either the DUP or the UKUP - I suspect the DUP this time. Of the remaining two seats I'm very doubtful the DUP could take a third. UKUP's McCartney will need a boost in his appeal - last time he scraped home and his party's local government base has evaporated, although he's always polled in excess of it, and current politics make it unlikely the DUP will want to throw him a lifeline. Alliance's local government base gives them cause for optimism, though it's only two points down from last time, yet in the last Assembly elections they still struggled. With the Greens running a strong candidate (and ex North Down Alliance) they could be able to surprise us. As a stab in the dark let's have a flutter on both the Greens and Alliance taking the last two seats.
Prediction: UUP 2, DUP 2, Alliance 1, Greens 1 (Greens gain 1 from UKUP)
Overall (compared to 2003)
DUP = 36 (up 6)
SF = 26 or 27 (up 2 or 3)
UUP = 23 (down 4)
SDLP = 17 (down 1)
Alliance = 4 (down 2)
Greens = 1 (up 1)
Independent = 1 or 0
UKUP = 0 (down 1)
PUP = 0 (down 1)
Feel free to laugh at these results when some of these predictions are proved totally wrong on the night!