10 (and a half) observations on #EP2019

28 May 2019 - by Gráinne Walsh

With the UK taking part in an election no-one thought they would be contesting, what have the European Parliament elections told us?

  1. Getting out the vote is difficult. Turnout in Northern Ireland was 45.14%, however this is much higher than the UK average of 37%, while the Republic of Ireland fared better with average turnout of 49.3%. Belgium on the other hand had a 88.5% turnout.  
  2. Topping the poll isn’t everything.  While it gives supporters a boost, unless elected on the first count, topping the poll doesn’t always mean you’re elected first – Transfers matter in a PR/STV election. That’s why Naomi Long was elected before Martina Anderson.
  3. The DUP vote held up from the local government elections, with Diane Dodds coming second on first preferences and being first elected, thanks to TUV transfers.
  4. Sinn Féin vote fell by 3.3% from the 2014 election, but Martina Anderson still secured the highest first preference vote with 127,951.  This drop was replicated across the Island with SF losing Euro and local government seats in every constituency.
  5. The ‘Alliance Surge’ continued from the local government elections, with Naomi Long securing the party’s first seat in Europe.  Long received 105,928 first preference votes with transfers from unionists, nationalists and greens bringing her across the line with a final 170,370 votes.
  6. There are serious questions for the UUP, who saw their vote fall 4% from the 2014 election, and also drop from the recent local government elections.
  7. The SDLP saw their vote increase 0.7% from the 2014 election, but still not enough to win back the seat previously held by John Hume. Former party leader Mark Durkan conceded early in the day that he was unlikely to win a European seat after polling just 16,473 votes in Dublin.
  8. Voters backed parties with a clear message on Brexit.  The shift from a mixed UUP message to the unambiguous pro remain Alliance sends a signal to pro leave unionism.  
  9. In GB the Brexit Party and Liberal Democrats were the big winners, with significant losses for the Conservative and Labour Parties. The accepted wisdom is that this will push any new Tory leader towards a no deal Brexit while senior Labour figures were quick to call for a change in approach, echoing the call for a second referendum/peoples’ vote.
  10. We still haven’t moved on. There is still a clear remain / leave vote split.  In GB there was a similar vote share amongst leave and remain parties as the 2016 referendum, while Northern Ireland again voted for leave or remain parties similar to the vote in the referendum.

So, here are some of the questions the team here in Stratagem are thinking about

  • Who will replace Naomi Long as an MLA? Will it be a caretaker or someone with a future in the Assembly?
  • Are we looking at a new UUP Leader? If so, who? And what can they do to halt the decline?
  • Where did those 30,000 Sinn Féin votes go?  
  • What do these results mean for the next Conservative Party Leader? Jeremy Hunt has already said that he would have the DUP in any negotiations team with the European Union - They may not thank him for that honour.
  • Are we looking at a second referendum or a ‘no-deal’ Brexit? Or another extension as the reality of the Brexit Project crystallises for another Conservative Party leader.
  • Will there now be renewed emphasis on the talks in Northern Ireland with no more elections scheduled this year? Given Sinn Féin’s disappointing results across the Island, do they need to get back into government in Stormont?

And finally, as a recount begins of 14th round of votes in the Dublin European constituency, every vote counts.