Emma Little Pengelly: There has been no increase in the nationalist vote in 25 years

A letter from the former DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly:

By Letters
Monday, 9th May 2022, 6:04 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 2:56 am
Counting for the Stormont election at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast. The nationalist share of the first preference vote across Northern Ireland in 2022 – SDLP and Sinn Fein – was 39.4%. It was 39.9% in 1998. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Counting for the Stormont election at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast. The nationalist share of the first preference vote across Northern Ireland in 2022 – SDLP and Sinn Fein – was 39.4%. It was 39.9% in 1998. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Predictably, the election result has been wrongly reported across the UK and wider as a lurch towards Irish nationalism. There are some key things about this Stormont election to note.

Sinn Fein went in on 27 MLAs, they came out of this election on 27 MLAs.

The DUP went into this vote on 27 (having lost Alex Easton during the last term to independent and he got re-elected as such) and came out with two seats down.

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That is a two seat difference. This needs to be put into perspective. The hysteria and misinterpretation is unwarranted. This is not a signal of constitutional change.

The nationalist share of the first preference vote in 1998 – SDLP and Sinn Fein – was 39.9%. The nationalist vote in 2022 – SDLP and Sinn Fein – 39.4%

No change in the Irish unity vote in Northern Ireland in almost 25 years. This is a failure of nationalism. Indeed, the nationalist designation lost more seats in this election than those of a unionist designation.

The centre vote is a vote for people who are content with the status quo. Voters who do not wish to agitate for constitutional change. This is the very opposite of nationalism. The centre has consolidated. Most of their growth came from other middle ground parties – taking four from the SDLP, one from UUP and both Green Party seats.

In 1998, UUP and DUP was 39.4%. The unionist share of the vote in 2022 — DUP, TUV and UUP and others — was 42%.

Make no mistake though, the fractured vote cost seats, allowing Alliance to use the opportunity to come through the centre of the split. Lack of transfers back from unionists to the DUP in North Antrim, lost the seat to Alliance. Likewise in Strangford, the DUP and TUV had enough votes for a fourth unionist seat, yet it was lost. A house divided against itself will fall. We must work better together, in the interests of our Union and against those who wish to abolish this place that we cherish and remove us from the UK.

We have a strong and positive case to make, and a valuable constitutional position to protect. Let us work together, not pull ourselves apart.

Emma Little Pengelly, Former DUP MP & barrister, Belfast BT6

More commentary:

• Owen Polley: Unionists have an issue with sectarian SF, not with nationalism

• Editorial May 9: It is clear that unionists need to have option of voting for a liberal party