Voting reform could breathe life into UUP

A MAJOR hope for the Ulster Unionist Party's chances of revival is that a UK-wide referendum on electoral reform – due to be held in the coming years – abolishes the current voting system.

The electorate will be given the opportunity to support the Additional Vote system (AV) to replace the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system that is used in Westminster elections.

AV does not reflect the vote share as precisely as the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system that is used in Northern Ireland for council and European elections.

But it will probably alter the outcome of the 18 Westminster seats from the Province, and the party that is most at risk is the DUP.

Under STV, the DUP would certainly lose out: They could expect five seats instead of their current eight, losing three to the UUP. The other main parties would probably get the same number of seats under STV – Sinn Fein five, SDLP three, Alliance one.

But STV is not on the table for Westminster, or at least won’t be for many years.

So the key question for election pundits is how many seats the UUP would get under AV.

Because AV includes the use of transfers, it tends to work against parties at the ends of the political spectrum who lose out more than parties in the centre.

This means that the DUP and Sinn Fein are at disadvantage to their more moderate rivals, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.

Under AV, voters list the candidates in order of preference – 1, 2, 3 and so on – and the winner has to get 50 per cent of the vote before they are elected.

If they get 50 per cent or more of the first preferences, there is no need to count the second preferences.

But if they do not reach that level, the candidates who performed least well are deleted and their next preferences distributed.

Only three MPs in Northern Ireland would reach the 50 per cent target at the first vote – Gerry Adams in West Belfast, Martin McGuinness in Mid Ulster, and Lady Sylvia Hermon in North Down.

Of the eight DUP MPs, Jeffrey Donaldson’s 49.8 per cent share of the vote in Lagan Valley is highest, and so close to the threshold that he would almost certainly be elected at the next count.

Ian Paisley Junior in North Antrim, who got 46.4 per cent on May 6, would likely have little difficulty reaching the 50 per cent in next counts.

Sammy Wilson’s 45.9 per cent in East Antrim would likely go past 50 per cent.

Jim Shannon got the same 45.9 per cent in Strangford, although he might then have a bumpier ride to 50 per cent [see below].

Nigel Dodds, who got 40 per cent in North Belfast, would be favourite to be the first candidate to get 50 per cent in that constituency, but he would have a struggle against a nationalist rival, most likely Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein.

And three MPs would have a fight on their hands to make 50 per cent.

Gregory Campbell, whose first preference vote in East Londonderry was 34.6 per cent.

William McCrea in South Antrim who got 33.9 per cent [see below] and David Simpson in Upper Bann who got 33.8 per cent.

In East Belfast, under either AV or the existing FPTP system, Naomi Long’s re-election fate will depend on whether the 7,305 people who supported Trevor Ringland last week vote for her or a unionist unity candidate.

In South Belfast, neither unionist party on their own would unseat the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell. A unionist unity candidate would be neck and neck with him under AV, with the winner decided by Alliance’s Anna Lo who would have had 5,000 transfers on May 6.

The two other SDLP MPs and three Sinn Fein MPs who fall short of 50 per cent would all be favourites to keep their seats under AV.

Of these five nationalist MPs, Margaret Ritchie is closest to 50 per cent – her vote was 48.5 per cent – while Conor Murphy in Newry and Armagh on 42.0 per cent is furthest from target, but he would comfortably win after other candidates were eliminated.