Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

SDLP buoyed by claims party has hope of winning Euro seat

Wednesday's front page
Wednesday's front page

An election analysis which predicted that the SDLP had a real chance of seizing its first European seat since John Hume stood aside in 2004 has given the party a boost – and caused concern in the unionist camp.

SDLP candidate Alex Attwood was elated by the result of yesterday's prediction that there was a possibility he could snatch a European seat from Jim Nicholson of the UUP.

LucidTalk's projection of voting intentions found that the most likely outcome was that Mr Nicholson would hold his seat by a margin of less than 1% on the eighth count.

But unionists were still alarmed by the possibility of a nationalists taking a second seat, even as an off-chance.

"It's actually a catalyst for us to be able to say to our voters, 'This is now winnable for us'," Mr Attwood said, describing the figures as encouraging.

The SDLP has not had an MEP in Brussels since its former leader Mr Hume – who was strongly pro-European – stood aside in 2004.

"People understand that there has been a weakness in Europe since John Hume left and I think people see that Alex Attwood is someone who gets things done," said Colum Eastwood, Mr Attwood's campaign manager.

"I think we can get the votes out," he added.

Sinn Fein backroom staff felt the result of the survey was broadly in line with what they expected – but discounted Mr Attwood's chances.

"Our aim is to win the seat by getting a quota on the first count and I believe we can do that," said one of Martina Anderson's campaign coordinators.

Ms Anderson herself said if the party believed there was any realistic prospect of nationalists winning two seats it would have fielded two candidates.

Unionists generally used the findings to rally voters behind them.

While the DUP's Diane Dodds is expected to comfortably keep her seat, colleague Arlene Foster sounded a note of caution over the fact that six pro-Union candidates are running while there are only two nationalists.

"People must now ask the question if they can afford the luxury of having so many smaller unionist parties each attempting to carve manufactured points of difference for electoral gain. Such bickering, however, only serves to weaken the overall strength of unionism," she said.

The UUP, whose seat is most at risk, focused on the need for vote transfers between unionist parties. LucidTalk predicted that around 10% of votes would not be transferable.

The TUV, whose leader Jim Allister is expected to get almost 8% of the first preference vote, rejected suggestions that he could cost Mr Nicholson his seat.

Alliance – whose candidate Anna Lo was predicted to get around 6% of first preferences – said that the only result that counts is on polling day.

Green Party candidate Ross Brown said: "This is projection of past voting intentions but we are hoping for a change of heart this time. I am a new candidate and I am a younger person in the race and that may sway some people to vote for me."

QUOTES

"Whilst it is important to use transfers within the PR system, it is impossible for some votes not to be lost when there are so many unionist candidates in the field. With only two nationalist parties contesting the election it is not difficult to see who benefits from this."

Arlene Foster, DUP

"This can help us get the votes out."

Colin Eastwood, SDLP

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