Reading Morse code
We all know that Malcolm is an election wonk, and he is actually relishing the prospect of a few days in Northern Ireland. He is fully aware that not many share this dementia, and that most mainlanders couldn’t care less about Northern Irish local elections.
He is even happier when somebody does the heavy-lifting. So we hear him loudly and at length recommending Sammy Morse’s continuing efforts to do a Prufrock on the eighteen constituencies for the Northern Irish Assembly election in a fortnight’s time:
Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats…
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
The rude electoral arithmetic of Northern Ireland is on the QUB’s Ark site, which is the continuing blood, sweat and tears of Nicholas Whyte, to whom much kudos. Sammy Morse is glossing this with astute observation of the street scene as it is today. So far he has knocked off half of his constituency reports. Together these two sources are exemplary, and show how it should be done readably, in depth and in detail.
For mainlanders, the first problem is STV (the single transferable vote) in multi-member constituencies. This is quite simple: instead of voting X, one votes 1,2,3 … down the list of one’s preferences. The “quota” to achieve election is the total of votes divided by the number of seats to be filled plus one. Any “surplus” is then distributed on the basis of that candidate’s “second preferences”. And so on. The Electoral Reform Society (who recommend this system) explain it all in detail. The system is used in the Irish Republic and Tasmania: the Irish electorate, Malcolm has heard claimed, is the most sophisticated in the world, able to calculate—almost instinctively—the implications of subsequent preferences. At least one “safe” candidate, by anecdote, was done down thereby, when, across his would-be constituency, pubs were invaded, late afternoon of election day, by strangers declaring: “Sure, ’tis sad about himself. Heart attack. Stone dead before the doctor arrived.”
Sammy Morse started his survey with East Belfast, which is when and why Malcolm started to become interested. The East Belfast is solid Proddery, the nauseating Peter Robinson’s Westminster patch, and last outing delivered 2DUP, 2UUP, 1PUP and 1 Alliance. Nationalists amount to only a twentieth of the total vote (so not likely to be in the prizes), and in an ideal world would transfer to the Alliance, buffering Naomi Long‘s prospects. The PUP seat was the late David Ervine‘s, and is now up for grabs. Morse is forecasting that the DUP can pick up this as a third seat, which is also the view of Whyte‘s site.
The other headliner in Belfast is South Belfast. The ethnology of this constituency is 42% Catholic and 52% declared Prod; but in 2005 the SDLP’s Dr Alasdair McDonnell squeezed through the DUP/UUP vendetta and took the Orangeman Rev Martin Smith‘ s Westminster seat. More interestingly, the Unionists may have slipped below the 50% mark. So Whyte is marking this one 2DUP, 2SDLP with Alex Maskey for SF and Anna Lo for Alliance scraping up the crumbs. Morse splits it 2DUP, 1UUP, 1SF, 1 SDLP and Anna Lo, but flagging that SF feel this is their most vulnerable seat. Both assessments may equally reflect some dewy-eyed romanticism over mould-breaking Lo.
Outside Belfast, there’s more gore yet to spill on the carpet in Lagan Valley (that’s Lisburn and Banbridge, and (hold-your-nose) Jeffrey Donaldson‘s Westminster seat. The story here continues to be mass defection from the UUP to the DUP: the DUP could hoover up four seats here, leaving one for the UUP and one for the non-unionists to fight over. Whyte admits to being doubtful at the split, and Morse has yet to utter on this one. Watch both sites, suggests Malcolm.
And does it all matter? And if so, what is Eliot’s bloody question? Yes, indeedy, says Malcolm. Any doubters should find an answer in Barry White’s recent Belfast Telegraph bodice-ripper.