One of the unexpected outcomes of last week’s Westminster election in Northern Ireland was that the result was extremely proportional. In general the first-past-the-post system does not lend itself well to proportionality, but by chance the results last week were very close to what would be achieved by a PR system – as far as the major blocks are concerned, at any rate.
- Unionism won 50.5% of the vote, and won 50% of the seats.
- Nationalism won 42.0% of the vote, and won 44.4% of the seats.
- The Alliance party won 6.3% of the vote, and won 5.6% of the seats.
Within the blocks there was some proportionality too – Sinn Féin, with 60% of the nationalist vote, won 62.5% of the nationalist seats – the SDLP with 40% of the nationalist vote won 37.5% of the nationalist seats.
Only within unionism was there a distinct lack of proportionality. The DUP, with 50% of the unionist vote, won 8 out of its 9 seats (89%). The UCUNF, with 30% of the unionist vote, won precisely nothing. The ninth unionist seat was won, of course, by Sylvia Hermon, who won 6.2% of the unionist vote – but this was concentrated in one constituency.
The lesson appears to be that chance can also lead to a proportional outcome, but will not necessarily do so.