Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Will Sinn Fein and the DUP slim away a few UUP MLAs?

Liam Clarke reported on a study done by the Belfast Telegraph in which present voting trends were projected on to a future Stormont assembly with only five or four seats per Westminster constituency rather than the present six. He reported that the UUP would be the biggest loser--reduced to only nine seats from its present 16. This is only one seat ahead of Alliance at present. If the UUP drops down to nine seats it will lose its second minister and be reduced to a single minister on the Executive like Alliance and the SDLP.

Alliance would not lose any seats because its members are all among the top four in each of its Greater Belfast constituencies. All the other parties would lose, but none to the same extent as the UUP.  The big loss would occur in the reduction from six to five seats and not from five to four. This is because the party now has many marginal seats scattered around the province, as opposed to Alliance, the SDLP and Sinn Fein who have their seats concentrated in a few geographic areas. The UUP has multiple seats--two each--in only two constituencies: Strangford and Upper Bann (David Trimble's old seat).

Alliance is concentrated in a "donut" around Belfast taking in Strangford, East Antrim, South Antrim and North Down. The SDLP is concentrated in Foyle, the former constituency of both John Hume and Mark Durkan; South Down, the former constituency of Eddy McGrady and Brid Rodgers; and in South Belfast.  The DUP is spread around the country but most concentrated in Co. Londonderry, Co. Antrim, and in Lagan Valley. Sinn Fein is most concentrated in the southwest of the province--west of the River Bann that splits the province in two and south of Co. Londonderry--and  in West Belfast. 

This would give the DUP incentive to reduce the number of seats per constituency, ostensibly as an economy measure. Sinn Fein could probably be talked into going along because of the marginal improvement it would give it over its rival, the SDLP. And Alliance could be counted to go along. The UUP and SDLP would not be strong enough by themselves to block such a reduction and there is a very good case to be made that the Stormont assembly is indeed much too large compared to other regional parliaments in the UK.  This is all the more reason why the two former leading parties should go into opposition. The Northern Ireland Office might be more opposed to weakening the official opposition than to weakening a few superfluous parties in the Executive.

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