Analysis: Nationalism sweeps Scotland, but loses ground in Ulster

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Electoral analysis, by News Letter politics correspondent Sam McBride

For the UK, this was a bad election for unionism as the surge towards the SNP swept Scotland for nationalism.

Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew tastes defeat against UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott

Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew tastes defeat against UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott

But in Northern Ireland, it was a good night for unionism, which won back two seats — one from Sinn Fein and one from Alliance.

Within unionism, the UUP will be by far the happiest. Having been widely written off five years ago when for the first time in its history the party failed to elect a single MP, even one victory would have been a big turnaround. But to elect two is a massive boost — not just to morale, but to party finances as a second MP brings significant additional Westminster funding.

The DUP will be content with the result, which came after a horrendous final three weeks to its campaign.

Suggestions that the party’s vote would implode over Jim Wells’s comments about homosexuality proved utterly wrong and even Mr Wells’ own vote was barely down despite him hardly campaigning because of his wife’s illness.

Comparing the DUP’s vote with its performance five years ago (removing the pact seats and North Down, which it did not contest in 2010), it polled almost precisely the same vote as in 2010.

For both main unionist parties, this is a vindication of their pact — both have benefited; and, despite the near-universal belief that Mike Nesbitt negotiated a poor deal for his party, the UUP has arguably benefited the most.

It was a bad night for the TUV — in fact, a worse night than five years ago when some in the party believed that it was finished after its 10 candidates took just 26,000 votes.

This time, the party stood seven candidates but the vote fell significantly to just over 16,000. That undermines one of Mr Allister’s key efforts in this election — to show that the party isn’t a one-man band. Ukip, by contrast, performed strongly in Northern Ireland and in many ways usurped the TUV. It now has a realistic chance of a seat in East Antrim.

The NI Conservatives, having had a torrid few years, showed signs of life, particularly in Strangford, where it beat the TUV — in an area which the TUV was targeting — into seventh place with a vote of more than 2,000.

But as Scottish nationalists toasted their stunning success, Irish nationalism had a poor election. The SDLP kept its three seats (and Mark Durkan impressively increased his vote), but has seen its vote fall yet further.

Sinn Fein, which for years has benefited in such circumstances, also saw its vote fall. It seems that disillusioned nationalists are turning to Alliance (which despite losing its seat polled exceptionally strongly) or to smaller parties such as the Greens (which doubled its vote to one per cent) or — as in West Belfast — to hard leftists such as People Before Profit which broke through to be runner-up in Sinn Fein’s heartland with a vote which would guarantee it an Assembly seat next year.

Nationally, the DUP has not got to be kingmaker — a potential outcome around which the party built its campaign. But with David Cameron having a majority even slimmer than that of John Major in 1992, Ulster MPs’ votes are almost certain to be crucial at some point.

And if that one extra representative from Fermanagh ever proves key, Mike Nesbitt will with great satisfaction point back to the pact for which he was lambasted.