Sammy Wilson, DUP MP, MLA and Belfast City councillor, has announced that he will stand down from Belfast City Council with effect from 1 March 2010.
If Belfast City Council fails to agree a co-option, this could mean that there will be a council by-election in Pottinger electoral area.
Wilson topped the poll in 2005, and the DUP got 41.7% of the vote in Pottinger – but how much of the DUP's success was a personal vote for Wilson remains to be seen – and, of course, in 2005 there was no TUV.
Pottinger is a strongly unionist part of east Belfast, so the question in a by-election would be 'which unionist party will win?' A TUV candidate could eat into the DUP's vote sufficiently to allow a UUP win.
A by-election in Pottinger before the Westminster election would act as an interesting 'opinion poll' of unionist opinion, but the timetable for council by-elections is sufficiently elastic to allow the by-election to be held any time between 13 and 20 weeks after Wilson's resignation. Even if the procedure was accelerated as far as possible, it is almost impossible for the election to take place before the latest possible date for the Westminster election. The likelihood is that it will actually take place, if at all, quite a few weeks after the Westminster election. Which may, of course, be precisely why Wilson chose to resign his council seat on 1 March, rather than on any earlier date.