Belfast Telegraph

EU Referendum: Could Northern Ireland end up deciding it?

By Bill White

I attended the recent Conservative party conference in Manchester - NB as a press representative not as a Tory! Funny that, you always feel you have to sort of apologise for attending Conservative events!

The main reason I like attending the big UK party conferences is for the fringe events. There were more than 200 of these at the Tory conference covering subjects like tax, health, Syria, police, housing, etc., and of course there were several events on the upcoming UK in-out EU referendum.  

It was at one EU referendum fringe events, that I met up again with Professor John Curtice, who was on the event panel. John is a professor of politics at Strathclyde University and is recognised as one of the UK's top elections and polling experts. You may remember him from election night as he co-ordinated and presented the famous (and pretty accurate) Exit poll on the BBC.

It was a surprise to me when John, who was going through the figures, mentioned that the UK EU referendum result could be so close that Northern Ireland (NI) could end up deciding it. So taking John's point, I decided to go through the May general election figures and apply the latest polling figures to see how it all turned out.

May's Great Britain election figures (not including NI) were as follows: Conservative 11.3M, Labour 9.3M, UKIP 3.9M, Liberal Democrat 2.4M, SNP 1.5M, Green 1.2M and Plaid Cymru 0.2M. As far as the EU referendum is concerned the current internal polling within the Conservative party is running at 60% Leave and 40% Stay-in.

Within Labour it's 35% Leave and 65% Stay-in. We have to assume that all the UKIP voters will vote to Leave, for obvious reasons. The LibDems, according to the polling of their voters and members, is running at 80-90% for Stay-in (not surprising).

SNP voter polling shows a 90% score for staying in (again not surprising), and the Greens and Plaid Cymru are 90% pro staying in as well. So sticking all these figures into the sausage machine, or in our case an excel spreadsheet, we end up with: Leave 14.7M and Stay-In 15M. That's only 300,000 votes in it, in terms of the Great Britain vote - that's close!

So we can see how NI could play a crucial role in the UK EU referendum. Incidentally, this analysis is backed up by the latest Great Britain poll carried out by top London polling company ICM which showed Stay-in on 53% and Leave on 47% (excluding don't knows) - NB the ICM polling didn't include NI. 

Of course all of this is mostly conjecture, and there is still a long way to go in the campaign. The final outcome will be hugely affected with what happens between now and the referendum, whenever that will be. Cameron could come back from the EU with what he says is a fabulous deal and swing most Conservative voters behind a pro-EU stance, thus leading to a probable comfortable win for staying-in.

Likewise there could be another EU crisis like Greece which could persuade the undecided to vote to leave. As always, you can cut it several different ways. But the key point is that there are many, many scenarios, showing the end result to be close - and NB these are all perfectly realistic scenarios. Northern Ireland voters could yet have a big role to play.

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