Stormont election: ‘Nationalist battle’ to be decided at count

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with his wife Rachel and daughter Rossa arriving at the Model School Polling Station on Academy Road. DER1816GS059
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with his wife Rachel and daughter Rossa arriving at the Model School Polling Station on Academy Road. DER1816GS059

Votes cast yesterday in the Foyle Constituency for the Assembly Election are being counted this morning at the city’s Foyle Arena.

A total of sixteen candidates contested the poll and it is anticipated that it will be tomorrow afternoon before the six political personalities elected to represent Foyle will finally be known.

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister speaking to the media outside the Model School Polling Station on Academy Road. DER1816GS056

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister speaking to the media outside the Model School Polling Station on Academy Road. DER1816GS056

The ‘main bout’ on this election bill has been mooted as a showdown for the primacy of nationalist politics between the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

The return of Martin McGuinness to seek election in his native city saw him take on SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

In the unionist camp the return of the Ulster Unionist Party to contest a regional election in Foyle means that for the first time in many years the DUP do not have a solo run at the one guaranteed Unionist seat in the constituency. The acrimonious departure of former MLA Maurice Devenney from the DUP earlier this year and his re-emergence as an Independent Unionist candidate will also ensure an interesting battle within unionism will develop here over the next 48 hours.

Traditionally, the bulk of the surplus vote of the victorious unionist candidate goes to SDLP candidates, but a three way unionist battle this time may mean that this normally reliable source of transfers could be heavily diluted.

For this reason and what has been a largely muted election campaign in Foyle it would perhaps be unwise to put your money on a straight forward division of the spoils of victory between the current kingpins the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

The entry into the race of veteran activist and journalist Eamonn McCann for People Before Profit and locally well-known Independent candidate Dr Anne McCloskey may just provide an upset for the two nationalist parties.

In 2011 there were 68,663 people eligible to vote in Foyle. In the end 38,847 people actually voted representing a turnout of 57.8%. Amongst the votes cast there were 839 spolit votes. The votes quota required to get over the line last time was 5,550.

There were 12 candidates five years ago. With an increase of four runners to 16 candidates this time and a nticipated lower turnout across the North, strategic vote management and transfers will without doubt play a more central role than ever this time around.

No matter the various permutations, this will be a hotly contested battle. The face-off between Eastwood and McGuinness may encourage those who have not voted in previous elections to come out again mainly based on personal and party allegiances.

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have run precision campaigns this time-simply because they have had to. The thought of the SDLP leader or the effective leader of Sinn Fein in the North losing out is something neither party will wish to countenance.

However, as with Westminster elections, voters do not always stick with candidates or parties across local, Assembly and European polls.

Traditionally, election counts in the Foyle constituency are amongst the longest across the North. Whilst the count proper began around 8am this morning, after the elimination of spoilt ballots last night, do not be shocked if there is no official declarations even late tonight.

The ‘Journal’ will be at the count for its duration: Follow us on twitter @derryjournal and our Facebook page for the latest election news this weekend.