Tuesday 23 March 2010

Upper Bann – one to watch

The Westminster election promises to throw up some surprises (though, of course, it may not actually keep its promises – this is politics, after all!). One constituency that could just surprise everyone is Upper Bann.

The seat is held by the DUP's David Simpson, who won it in 2005 with 37.6% of the vote, ousting David Trimble, then leader of the UUP. The Assembly election in 2007, however, showed a weakening of the DUP's lead – they won 31.4% of the vote, still well ahead of the UUP's 21.3% - but not so far ahead of Sinn Féin's increased score of 25.3%.

There are two aspects to watch out for in Upper Bann: demographic change, and the TUV.

Although the nationalist score in 2007 (38.9%) was much the same as that in 1998 (38.0%), change is coming slowly in the constituency. The graph below shows the approximate shape of the electorate by age (Catholics shown as the green line, Protestants by the blue line) in 2010, based on the numbers in the 2001 census:

Obvious, of course, is the fact that at all ages bar those under 30 Protestants are in a majority. This remains a majority-Protestant, and thus majority-unionist, constituency. Of those aged 18 and over, around 55% are Protestant, and thus likely to be unionist, and 42% are Catholic, and thus likely to be nationalist. These figures are within a small margin of the scores actually achieved by the two blocks in 2007: Unionist 56.5%, Nationalist 38.9%.

However, the unionist advantage will very likely be threatened by the fact that there are now three unionist parties in the battle.

The DUP, as defending incumbents, must stand again. The UUP/UCUNF have announced that they will stand Harry Hamilton, aka 'Flash Harry', a Freddy Mercury impersonator. And Jim Allister announced as long ago as September that:

"I look forward to the Westminster election and the verdict on the betrayers of Traditional Unionism. In politics you expect most from those who know the truth and brag of their steadfastness. That is why one of the men who disappointed me the most is the outgoing MP for Upper Bann. He won his seat by opposing the betrayal of Trimble. Now, he deserves to lose it for operating the very Belfast Agreement system which Trimble bequeathed us."
The TUV have, on the few occasions when they have stood against the DUP, taken around 40% of the combined TUV-DUP total. If they achieve a similar score against Simpson, then his percentage share of the vote may drop from 37% to the low 20s. A three-way split in the unionist vote may leave all three unionist parties in the range between 15-25%, and if nationalists see their chance and plump for Sinn Féin, the seat may be taken by Sinn Féin. In fact, if the TUV take even one-third of Simpson's votes, his 2005 score falls below a level that Sinn Féin have proved they can exceed.

This is an election count that many people will be watching very closely, unless the TUV stands down.


hoboroad said...


Anonymous said...

I can't understand why there are so many parties in N.I.? Given the danger of vote splitting in so communally divided an area and the first past the post system it is very odd.

hoboroad said...


Paddy Canuck said...

"I can't understand why there are so many parties in N.I.?"

I've never understood why the unionists in Northern Ireland don't have the usual British parties as their typical slate... in particular, the Tories. I can see why none of them would appeal to nationalists and why they'd want things like SF and the SDLP, but why would unionists need special parties of their own? Doesn't that just isolate them from the vast body of people they otherwise claim to belong to?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations horseman on an informative blog. Just some observations and questions for you on demographics. Firstly you talked about South Belfast as being a borrowed seat but surely this constituency has seen the greatest demographic change in the last 30 years as a result of an influx of affluent nationalists aswell as an increased nationalist student population so even if a unionist takes the seat back in 2010 I think you will find it will be nationalist again very soon. I agree with your analysis of North Belfast and Upper Bann but do feel they will be safe Unionist seats for the forseeable future unless the SDLP or SF have a complete collapse in their vote at the expense of the other Nationalist party.
Finally what are your thoughts for the future - If South Belfast, North Belfast and Upper Bann are Nationalist with the exception of maybe east londonderry surely the remaining consitituencies will remain unioist indefinitley - unless your aware of any other major demographic change elsewhere.
Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Horseman said...

Anonymous at 30 March 2010 19:39,

I think you're right about SB in the medium-term, but at least in 2010 it is still a unionist-plurality seat. Next time, though, who knows.

Yes, UB and NB are also possible gains for nationalism in the medium (or short?) term. Don't overlook South Antrim - not this time, or even next, but its demographics are also changing fast and will continue to. It is less nationalist at present than East Derry, but will probably evolve faster. However, there may end up being significant boundary changes before either SA or ED 'turn', and that may change things entirely. The long-term is definitely a foreign country!