Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Constituency profile: South Belfast

WHAT’S THE STORY?

South Belfast is often regarded as a leafy suburban enclave of liberalism. There is an element of truth in this caricature, but in other ways South Belfast is the typical Northern Ireland constituency.

In terms of community background it is 41.4% Catholic and 52% Protestant, just about average. Wealthy areas like Malone and Stranmillis are counter-balanced by working class districts like the Markets, the Village, Donegall Pass and Lower Ormeau.

There was a feelgood factor in 2007 when the election of Anna Lo of Alliance, the first Chinese ethnic candidate ever returned in the UK or Ireland, made worldwide news.

The SDLP is the largest single party here with two MLAs and the Westminster seat. However, the combined unionist vote is close and population change may have made the constituency very slightly more unionist than in 2007.

MAIN RUNNERS

Carmel Hanna, the veteran SDLP MLA, is absent from the field and has been replaced by Conall McDevitt, who was co-opted to the Assembly to replace her and has made a big media impact.

The SDLP’s Dr Alasdair McDonnell did particularly well in 2010 with 41%, but this was partly because Sinn Fein withdrew to give him a clear run. The big question is how many of these ‘borrowed’ Sinn Fein votes Alex Maskey can win back for the party.

The Ulster Unionists are running two candidates, sitting member Michael McGimpsey, the Health Minister, and the younger Mark Finlay.

Both can’t get elected and the atmosphere between them is said to be tense.

The DUP is hoping that it will split first preferences evenly enough to let both Jimmy Spratt, an outgoing MLA, and his running mate Ruth Patterson to slip through at the UUP’s expense.

The Green, People Before Profit, UKip, Workers Party, Socialist Party and even a lone Pro-capitalism campaigner are also running in the constituency.

VERDICT

Lo scraped in last time but the Alliance vote has increased and she has enjoyed a high profile since, so she should be safely returned.

Alliance candidates always do well on transfers. Sinn Fein is the unknown quantity for the SDLP; it would be nice to have a poll to gauge opinion, but on paper three nationalist seats and one Alliance leaves room for a unionist gain.

Within unionism the DUP is hoping to wipe out the UUP and could conceivably do so. Much will depend on transfers, turnout

and vote management. The most likely result is no change, but the DUP may gain at the expense of the SDLP or UUP.

OUTGOING MEMBERS (asterisk denotes running again)

*Jimmy Spratt (DUP)

*Alasdair McDonnell MP (SDLP)

*Alex Maskey (SF)

*Anna Lo (Alliance)

Carmel Hanna (SDLP)

*Michael McGimpsey (UUP)

2010 Share of the vote compared to 2007

SDLP 41.0% (+14.2%)

DUP 23.7% (1.2%)

UCUNF/UUP 17.3% ( -1.1%)

Alliance 15.0% (+2.4%)

Green 3.0% (0.6%)

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