Home > Electoral history, Northern Ireland politics > Same again, but more so, in Northern Ireland

Same again, but more so, in Northern Ireland

An election where no party’s total differed by more than two seats from last time. The DUP and Sinn Féin consolidated further their leads against the UUP and the SDLP respectively. And elections are very much still in these terms, as the table below shows. It shows too that the movement between communities in seat totals is far less sharp than if seen through the first past the post Westminster elections. MLAs are required to designate as Unionist, Nationalist or Other on the Assembly’s register, and votes require a support by qualified majority of both Unionists and Nationalists. This does create a systematic bias against Others, which is perhaps balanced by the Minister for Justice being decided by a full vote on a cross-community basis of the Assembly, rather than through d’Hondt, in effect a guaranteed Minister for the Alliance Party. Even without different rules, however, I’d still expect voting to be along community lines at this stage.

Year Unionist Nationalist Other
1998 58

28 UUP
20 DUP
3 Ind


18 SF


6 Alliance

2003 59

30 DUP
27 UUP


24 SF


6 Alliance
1 Ind

2007 55

36 DUP
18 UUP


28 SF


7 Alliance
1 Green
1 Ind

2011 56

38 DUP
16 UUP
1 Ind


29 SF


8 Alliance
1 Green

There really is no better analyst on Northern Ireland elections than Nicholas Whyte, son of historian John Whyte, so check out his blog and site. Slugger O’Toole is good too. But rather than just present a neat table, I might as well add a few thoughts of my own.
The big story is really the further ebbing at support of the Ulster Unionist Party, which is dependent for its second seat on the Executive on bringing back into the fold an MLA who was deselected but then elected as a Independent. Otherwise, as things stand, it will lose out to the Alliance Party. The party’s active membership and outside commentators will ask how much Tom Elliott, who beat the moderate Basil McCrea to the leadership last year, should be blamed. There was a contrast between the leaders of the two Unionist party leaders between Elliott’s tribalism, talking of Sinn Féin scum and foreign flags, and the dignity of Peter Robinson, First Minister and leader of the DUP, who in his victory speech quoted the words of the mother of constable Robert Kerr, the hope to have a united community and a shared society that we might go forward with real hope and real opportunity. While it’s certainly good that there is a continued presence of moderates like Basil McCrea and John McCallister in the UUP, will they be able to bring the party from the position Elliott has brought it, somewhere to the left of the Traditional Unionist Voice.

The SDLP will also need to continue to work to maintain its base. It will continue to have a presence on the Executive, but they are in danger of losing their Westminster seat in South Belfast to Anna Lo of the Alliance Party. They will need to keep trying what they have been doing, to find a new way of winning votes back from Sinn Féin, understanding that at this stage more and more see their history of violence as no longer being a deciding factor in voting.

The election also saw the two Independent Unionists in the last Assembly lose their seats, Alan McFarland in North Down, elected for the UUP, and an ally of Sylvia Hermon and who left the party when she did, and Dawn Purvis, elected as leader of the PUP, who left because of their continued slowness to disavow paramilitarism. Two who could be in the British Labour Party, if of the New Labour and John Prescott types respectively.

  1. Stephen Buggy
    8 May, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    This is an election where SF and DUP were rewarded for very little, Alliance voters rewarded their party for influence and the SDLP and UUP did everything they could to try the patience of their base. The big parties were rewarded for acting civilly to each other: another example of the Northern voters terriblly low standards. Alliance voters now know they get a ministery out of their franchise and see their vote as less of a waste because of that. The SDLP and UUP just held onto their base rather than attracting any kind of protest vote. Policy – such the horrendous NI Water debacle or Alliance’s sensible but very unpopular support of watercharges – did not really feature. This was not an exciting election by any stretch of the imagination.

    It is a disappointing election for the SDLP and the UUP. The best that can be said is that they are treading water. They were always in for a difficult election. Their paltry share of ministries gives them little to run on, they are too small even together to be an effective opposition if they left the executive, and they would get no favours from their more powerful rivals even if they were cooperative. All this said, the UUP and SDLP could at least be competent and professional. Neither Richie or Elliott get even a passing grade on that account. Elliot in particular is a goner. It doesn’t matter whether what he said was true, false or justifiable or unjustifiable in context, it was amateure politics. Both parties are in dangerous waters. Treading water isn’t a viable long term. If they do not work out their internal party problems it is only a matter of time before the other three parties work out how to kill them.

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