We are now so used to the Proportional Representation voting, it is difficult for young people to conceive that in 1973, when it was re-introduced after decades…it was considered so new and so confusing that a series of TV adverts was run to explain the process.
For the benefit of readers living outside Ireland, I should explain that there are eighteen constituencies and six MLAs will be elected in each.
The Proportional system ensures that thru a process of reaching a quota or benefitting from transfers from elected or eliminated candidates, people not reaching the quota on the first count can accumulate second preferences in subsequent counts.
Norn Iron politics is a spectrum. The serious parties are Sinn Féin and SDLP who are nationalist, the Alliance Party (letsgetalongerist) and UUP and DUP who are unionist. Smaller parties include TUV, UKIP and PUP who are unionist, Green (pain in the arse) and various left wing Labour splinter groups who consider themselves neutral in constitutional terms. LIke the Conservatives to the right and unionist, they have little chance of a seat. A group calling itself People Before Profit might gain up to two seats.
There is no shortage of choice. Typically in one constituency, there will be seventeen candidates….with varying degrees of likelihood of success chasing six seats.
Therefore if your preferred candidate reaches the quota early or eliminated early, there is an opportunity to make your vote count to elect your second or third choice.
Some electors vote down the card…maybe voting for all (say) seventeen candidates (#1-17) while some might only exercise (say) #1-10 being too indifferent or too hostile to the remaining candidates. A “nationalist” voter might contemplate preferences for SF, SDLP and maybe Alliance, Green or even UUP but draw the line at DUP or TUV. A “unionist” voter might vote DUP, TUV, UUP, Alliance, SDLP but draw the line at SF.
Some completed ballot papers can be unique because of variables like Geography, personal votes and animosity to other individuals.
There are some people who are so hostile or indifferent to other parties that they will only give a #1 to their chosen candidate or just #1 and #2 to their chosen Party. This…the 1973 public information adverts told us…is a process called “Plumping”.
Talking to some younger people this week, this is not a phrase with which they are familiar. Yet I am struck by the number of people who have told me over the past ten days that they only intend to vote for one Party. I suppose with dwindling turn out figures in recent years it is inevitable that those barely motivated to vote cant be bothered voting thru the whole card.
I wonder if the election post-mortem conducted by academics will confirm this as one of the stories of the year. Inevitably I tend to talk to political geeks such as myself.
Reflecting on the South Belfast hustings….it is NOT my constituency and is deemed unusual as it is diverse enought to elect six MLAs from five different parties….I found it unusual that I was impressed or unimpressed beyond the Party label. Inevitably I found myself how would I vote if I lived here.
Looking at the undercard, I was most impressed with Bob Stoker, a decent man in a bad Party. Although unimpressive in terms of Politics, Billy Dickson (Ind Unionist) seemed decent. Arguably the most impressive in terms of Politics was Lily Kerr (Workers Party) but giving any preference to a “Sticky” is something I could not do.
Of the major players obviously I would vote #1 and #2 SDLP…for vote management reasons, areas in South Belfast have been allocated to Claire and Fearghal.
I would not give a preference to Claire Bailey (Green). She has an outside chance of winning a seat and Is therefore a threat to SDLP. Máirtin O’Muilleoir of Sinn Féin will be elected on First Count. A preference for him is without value…and I am glad. Apart from SFs U-turn on Welfare, I cannot warm to Máirtin. Typical Falls Road spoofer….he reminds me too much of myself.
I would not give a preference to UUP…simply too Tory and I think they could well lose the seat they hold (to DUP, Ruth Patterson or even Green) but I would give a preference to Duncan Morrow (mainly because Alliance have a safe seat and Id rather see it go to Duncan than his running mate Paula Bradshaw). Likewise DUP have a safe seat and I would give Christopher Stalford a preference as it might help him beat running mate, Emma Pengelly.
So in South Belfast terms, Id vote SDLP (no surprise) and probably #3 Stalford, #4 Morrow #5 Stoker #6 Patterson.
South Belfast is….different.