Category Archives: Blog

Assembly Election fundamentally alters NI

The comparative gains for non-Unionists in last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly Elections have changed the political landscape here forever.

The election, under a preferential system called ‘STV’, saw a reduced number of legislators (‘MLAs’) elected, with the 18 constituencies choosing five rather than six members.

Of the 18 seats thus lost, Unionists lost 16, emerging with just 40 out of 90, only one ahead of Nationalists and an overall minority for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland.

The DUP lost just over one percentage point in its vote share, although this was shielded by a marked reduction in the number of candidates from smaller Unionist parties. The result, however, was a loss of ten seats – including incumbents Nelson McCausland (Belfast North), Emma Little Pengelly (Belfast South), Maurice Morrow (Fermanagh/South Tyrone), Brenda Hale (Lagan Valley), Adrian McQuillan (East Londonderry), Philip Logan (North Antrim) and Trevor Clarke (South Antrim) as well as non-incumbents in Belfast East and East Antrim and an undefended seat in North Down. The outcome was 28 seats on 28.1% of the vote.

Sinn Fein gained nearly four points in vote share, to its best share ever in an Assembly Election. This enabled it to maintain all but two of its seats (losing incumbent Oliver McMullan in East Antrim and a seat in Upper Bann) and in fact gain one (Jenna Dolan in Fermanagh/South Tyrone). The party also produced new MLAs replacing retirees at the top of the poll in Foyle and South Down, Elisha McCallion and Sinead Ennis. the outcome was 27 seats on 27.9% of the vote.

The SDLP moved up to third place despite a narrow decline to its worst vote share ever. As expected it lost seats in Fermanagh/South Tyrone (Richie McPhillips) and Belfast West (Alex Attwood), yet it also secured its seat in East Londonderry despite a candidate replacement (through John Dallat) and made last-gasp gains in Upper Bann (Dolores Kelly) and Lagan Valley (Pat Catney). This it returned with as many seats as in the last Assembly, 12 on 11.9% of the vote.

The Ulster Unionists had a disaster. Their vote share was up, though mainly because there were generally fewer Unionists standing overall, and particularly in Greater Belfast where a gain in East Antrim (John Stewart) was off-set by losses in Strangford (Philip Smith) and Lagan Valley (Jenny Palmer). However, away from Greater Belfast the party’s vote fell as between Lough Neagh and the border fully five further seats were lost – incumbents Jo-Anne Dobson (Upper Bann), Danny Kennedy (Newry/Armagh), Sandra Overend (Mid Ulster) and Harold McKee (South Down) fell alongside another loss of a non-incumbent in West Tyrone. Thus the Ulster Unionists return with just 10 seats on 12.9% of the vote.

The Alliance Party picked up its best share in any election since 1987 and retained all its seats, narrowly failing to pick up any further gains. Thus eight members were returned on 9.1% of the vote.

Elsewhere the Green Party saw a small decline in vote share but retained its two seats; People Before Profit lost a seat in Foyle (Eamon McCann) to be reduced to one; and TUV suffered a decline in vote share despite retaining its one seat. Independent Unionist and outgoing Justice Minister Claire Sugden was returned in East Londonderry.

The outcome, therefore, is a much more even Assembly than the one before – and thus one which is more anti-Brexit, more social-liberal, and broadly younger.

The question now is if it will ever sit and, if so, on which terms. The four overall options here are:

  • a deal between the parties enabling the establishment of an Executive before the first meeting on 27 March;
  • an extension in the time allowed for a deal, with civil servants carrying out the administration of services and handed some budgetary powers;
  • no deal and no extension and thus, under the current law, a further election on 4 May;
  • no deal and no extension and a law passed to enable the effective restoration of “Direct Rule” by Ministers appointed by the Conservative Government in London.

These are probably in rough order of likelihood. Absolutely no one serious wants the latter, so it is unlikely; the possibility of a further election has already been noted in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State; the possibility of extension has been put forward publicly by his predecessor; and the potential for a deal exists, even on a temporary basis, since neither main party would really wish to risk a further election.

We shall see!

Guide to US Election

Americans go to the polls on Tuesday to elect their House of Representatives (lower legislative house, from 435 districts electing one each), a third of their Senate (one from two thirds of states), various State legislators… and of course their President (and Vice President).

The President (and Vice) is elected by an Electoral College of 538 delegates; 435 from each State in proportion to population, another 100 two from each State regardless of size, and 3 from the District of Columbia (the federal capital of Washington). Of the 50 States, 48 have their delegates elected “winner takes all”; thus, whichever candidate wins California gets all 55 available delegates from California voting for them. The remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, appoint two delegates based on the State-wide result and the remainder (two in Maine and three in Nebraska) individually based on the winner in each Congressional District.

A candidate requires only a plurality of votes to win the state (i.e. more votes than anyone else, regardless of whether this constitutes an absolute majority), but needs an absolute majority of the Electoral College (270 delegates) to win the election. Should no candidate attain this, regardless of who wins the overall popular vote or who has most delegates, the President is elected by the House of Representatives and the Vice by the Senate.

The United States is of course spread across numerous time zones and, in any case, each State manages the election. Thus electoral law varies across the country, including what the arrangements are for balloting, the circumstances under which a candidate may appear on the ballot paper, and the time at which polls close.

Additionally, there are variations in when networks feel content to “call” States for one candidate or another, bearing in mind the embarrassment caused by the erroneous early call of Florida for Al Gore in 2000. Nevertheless “calling”, based on early vote counts and exit polls, remains a feature of the night.

So, what are we looking out for (with thanks to the Washington Post and APCO Worldwide), all times GMT (EST+5, PST +8, CET -1):


Rumours usually fly about exit polls at this stage, but no polls have actually closed before midnight.


Kentucky (8) and West Virginia (5) will by now be called for Trump.

Vermont (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Other than rumours, we will still know relatively little at this stage.


Texas (38), Indiana (11), Tennessee (11), Alabama (9), South Carolina (9) and Oklahoma (7) will by now be called for Trump.

Massachusetts (11), Maryland (10), Rhode Island (4) and the District of Columbia (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Illinois (20), Connecticut (7) and Delaware (3) should by now be called for Clinton; any significant delay is a real problem for her.

New Jersey (14) may initially be deemed too close to call but should soon be called for Clinton.

Georgia (14) should initially be deemed too close to call but may soon be called for Trump.

Maine‘s state votes and one of its districts should be called for Clinton, but its other district may be too close to call.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) should at this stage be too close to call – an early call for either candidate in either state, particularly for Clinton in North Carolina, would be big; do not expect either to be called soon, however.

Trump should be on at least 98 and Clinton 64 at this stage if all is as expected.


Arkansas (6), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6) and Wyoming (3) will by now be called for Trump, as will Nebraska‘s state votes and of its districts (but not the third).

New York (29) will by now be called for Clinton.

Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should at this stage be deemed too close to call; they will probably not be called for some time.

Trump should be leading at this stage on at least 123, but Clinton closing on at least 93.


Louisiana (8), North Dakota (3) and South Dakota (3) will by now be called for Trump.

Pennsylvania (20) will be deemed too close to call; if it is close, this state may well be decisive, but the winner may not be known for some time.

Ohio (18), Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should also at this stage be deemed too close to call.

New Jersey (14) should by now be called for Clinton and Georgia (14) for Trump; ongoing delays in either signify real problems for the supposed winner.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) may finally be called around now; they are both significant, particularly if they change hands (on the basis of the last election, the former should go for Trump and the latter for Clinton).

Trump must be extending his lead on at least 151 and probably 166 at this stage to win; Clinton must be on 107 and probably 111.


California (55) and Hawaii (4) will by now be called for Clinton.

Missouri (10) and Idaho (4) will by now be called for Trump.

Florida (29) and Iowa (6) will at this stage be deemed too close to call.

Washington (12) and Oregon (7) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Clinton.

Arizona (11) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Trump.

If it is to be a close election, the scores should now show it – with Trump on at least 180 rising towards 191 and Clinton 170 rising towards 189.

On the other hand, if either candidate has won clearly, this will be apparent by now and networks may begin to call it at this time.


Montana (3) and Alaska (3) will immediately be called for Trump.

Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) will at this stage be too close to call.

Virginia (13) should at this stage be too close to call; the earlier the call for Clinton, the better for her.

Utah (6) may at this stage be too close to call because of a local Independent candidate, but should soon be called for Trump.

All polls are now closed.

Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should by now have been called for Clinton; if either has not been, particularly if there is a real chance she has lost either, it is a real problem for her.

Iowa (5) should by now be called for Trump if he is to win.

Trump could still win from 202, Clinton probably needs to be ahead now around 215228. That said, the overall scores could be affected by a range of things – the issue really is whether close States are being called, and for whom.


Ohio (18) should by now have been called for Trump; if it has not, it is a real problem for him.

Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should by now have been called for Clinton.

Unless it is very close, we should by now have a clear idea of the winner. If it is very close, all eyes should be on Pennsylvania (20) and perhaps Colorado (9).


Virginia (13) should be now have been called for Clinton, if she is still in with a chance.

Florida (29) may by now have been called for Trump, if he is still in with a chance.

If it is very, very close, we may even be looking at one of Maine‘s and one of Nebraska‘s districts.


We should now have calls everywhere, including in Pennsylvania (20), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), any of which could be decisive if it is very close.

If it is close, we may also have to wait in some cases for mailed votes. Some States allow these up to two weeks after polling day, provided they are postmarked no later than polling day. Regardless, if the outcome is still unclear at this stage, we are probably heading for recounts and the courts.

Event – Parkinson’s UK

Ultonia Communications is sponsoring What Matters Most.

This is your chance to have a real influence at a fun, innovative event aimed at establishing what matters most to people with Parkinson’s and working together to improve those matters.

The event will take the form of four interactive workshops designed to answer four questions, emphasising on how people can work together to do so.

Those at the event will include Parkinson’s UK members, health professionals, businesspeople, community representatives and prominent politicians.

  • Venue: Girdwood Community Hub, Belfast
  • Time/Date: 12.30pm to 3pm, Wednesday 9 November 2016

A light lunch will be served; and tea/coffee will be available throughout.

Please join us!

Attendance is by invitation only but you can secure an invite simply by leaving a comment below, emailing or leaving a voicemail on 07956045764.

Central Political/Economic Forecast

This is our Central Forecast currently for Northern Ireland (and the UK/EU generally) after last week’s referendum. Clearly, there are hugely varying scenarios possible, including political and economic conditions spiralling out of control.

The UK will exit the EU (under Prime Minister Theresa May) in Spring 2019, agreeing an EEA deal minus Financial Services access in return for some additional controls of movement of labour (somewhere between “Norway Model” and “Swiss Model”). Significant variations of this scenario are possible, ranging from remaining within the EU with some additional border controls to a completely disorderly exit with no deal.

The UK (and Northern Ireland) will enter recession in Spring 2017 and the economy will contract during 2017, with recovery not beginning properly until 2019. It is possible the UK (but not Northern Ireland) will avoid technical recession; conversely a disorderly exit could cause an economic shock beyond that of the 2008 “Credit Crunch”.

The UK debt burden will hit 100% of GDP in 2017 and the deficit will remain almost as high in 2020 as it was in 2015. Although we do not expect the debt in itself to be more expensive to service (contrary to some forecasts), a combination of inflation plus the fact the deficit was due to have been closed by the end of the decade means there will be a marked reduction in funds available for public services and welfare provision (we estimate this reduction will be around 3% versus previous, pre-referendum forecasts). There is little variation of this forecast as it is determined by uncertainty around the UK’s future status, rather than the status itself.

UK public spending and welfare provision will be reduced by 8% versus previous pre-referendum forecasts which, combined with higher unemployment (thus welfare bills) will see spending on public services reduced by 14% versus pre-referendum expectations. This will lead to significant strain on Health and Care services in particular. As with the above, there is little variation on this forecast.

UK consumption will reduce 3% in 2017 and will not stabilised until late 2019. This will particularly hit the retail and hospitality sectors, and there will be disinvestment in city centres. The property sector will also be hit, with a knock-on effect on local government services. Again, there is little variation in this forecast.

EU funding will cease to be available for most cases, particularly Rural Development, from 2020. UK will retain access to EU funds for business R&D (except in financial services and agri-food) and for infrastructure. CAP and CFP will be withdrawn from 2019/20 and, outside England, will need to be replaced by devolved Executives.

There will be neither an immediate General Election or a second Scottish independence referendum, but this is an uncertain forecast. There remains the possibility of an early UK General Election to approve a negotiating strategy or exit deal; a Scottish referendum is highly unlikely this decade although we do expect polls consistently to indicate in-principle support for Scottish independence.

UK party political turmoil will continue through the next election, with potential for radical change up to a potential change in electoral system and the Barnett Formula. UKIP is currently likely to form the Opposition after the next General Election. Political debate will shift from internal social issues to immigration and economic development. Despite reductions in public spending, there will be downward pressure on taxation with Corporation Tax potentially being abolished altogether. It is this political uncertainty which feeds into instability in the real economy.

Northern Ireland will attain “Special Access” to the EU, including potentially a Shared Customs arrangement, as its citizens generally qualify for EU citizenship and it shares a land border with the EU. This will mean more EU support is available than elsewhere in the UK, but CAP and CFP will cease as elsewhere in the UK. There will be a surprising degree of political stability but significant strain on public services due to reductions in funding provision versus previous assumptions (these will be marginally less marked than elsewhere in the UK, but still significant). The voluntary/community sector will be particularly hit in Northern Ireland, as many EU or EU-related funding streams simply come to an end without prospect of replacement. There will be the need for significant reform and collaboration.

The UK’s long-term economic outlook is marginally poorer than it was pre-referendum, but with the potential advantage of regional re-balancing due to less dependence on the finance sector and the City of London. The most significant risk to the UK is its loss of reputation for political stability, and loss of faith in its institutions. The longer-term viability of the Union itself, however, remains in question, which could bring further economic shocks. This forecast cannot now be made with any precision, as there are too many variables.

The Eurozone will generally avoid recession but will be subject to a marked slowdown in the short term. There are also significant political risks, with notable elections in 2017 in the Netherlands, France and Germany and the increased focus on issues forced by populists across the continent. Recession, and the election into government of populists opposed to EU membership, remains a risk in almost every EU country currentlyalthough there is no prospect of any committing to an in/out referendum.

Sterling will stabilise at just under $1.30 and €1.20, but will be subject to occasional significant volatility. It remains possible that Sterling will stabilise significantly lower than that, particularly against the US dollar.

UK Referendum – what now?

At Thursday’s referendum, the UK voted to leave the European Union, 48:52.

  • England outside London voted 43:57 for Leave, relatively evenly across all regions of the country;
  • London voted heavily (60:40) for Remain;
  • Scotland voted heavily (62:38) for Remain;
  • Northern Ireland voted (56:44) for Remain;
  • Wales voted (47:53) for Leave; and
  • Gibraltar voted (96:4) for Remain.

Turnout was higher than some projections, at over 70% in much of England, but this was not as helpful to Remain as some suggested. Indeed, much of the pre-vote punditry (which also assumed the Welsh vote would be similar to the Scottish) was nonsense.

So, what now?

European Process

The UK has voted to leave the European Union, but in fact remains a full member until it actually leaves.

It is envisaged in treaties, notably Article 50 of Lisbon (2009), that withdrawal from the European Union be carried out upon notification of intention to withdraw to the European Council, over the course of a two-year negotiation including future relationship. However, as there is no real precedent for this (the example of Greenland is given, but that was a territory not a member state and long pre-dates current treaties), so we are definitely in uncharted waters.

There is already a debate about what constitutes “notification”. It is assumed by most that this needs to be in writing, and thus would be carried out by the next UK Prime Minister in the autumn (note that the Prime Minister has the authority to invoke Article 50 without reference to Parliament). Even this alone, however, is uncertain.

UK Process

Legally, the UK Parliament’s role is to approve any treaty in departure from the European Union (including the new relationship with the European Union and any relevant deals with countries with which it currently has trade deals as a member state of the European Union).

The UK Parliament would also wish to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 which applies EU Law to the UK (either Regulations or Directives). This will be extraordinarily complex as it would create an astonishing and unprecedented legal wrangle if EU Law in its entirety were all assumed no longer to apply (as if the UK had never been a member), so some means will have to be found to clarify it still does apply, up to the date of withdrawal, with some mechanism in place for repeal of particular regulations as required. There is another constitutional wrangle here as both Scotland and Northern Ireland have to give consent in their devolved legislatures to this repeal, even though neither voted to leave the EU.


For now, the UK remains a member of the European Union. UK passports remain EU passports; on security, intelligence and warrants continue to apply; the UK retains trade deals it has as part of the EU and remains part of the single market; agreements on EU funding for everything from major infrastructure to housing projects stand; nothing, in fact, has changed.

Of course, the risk is forward-focused. Devolved governments, local authorities, universities, housing associations, R&D departments, community associations and all sorts of other bodies may have to think again about applications for EU funding or other assistance and certainly should not bank on them in the medium term. There is uncertainty in the longer term about what trading relationships will apply, and this uncertainty also applies to sharing arrangements for everything from intelligence to medical research. Any contracts already signed for EU funding programmes will be honoured until at least late 2018, but nothing should be assumed behind that.


The notion that the UK would have more money to spend on public services through not having to make a contribution to EU funds was seriously flawed, for the simple reason that economic uncertainty would reduce economic growth and investment and thus revenue from the creation of wealth and jobs into the UK Treasury for allocation on public services.

The most direct hits will be felt by Third Sector bodies reliant on EU funding, which will no longer have access to it. This is a problem because even if the UK were to set up replacement funds (which is unlikely), they would not be as reliable in the long term. Thus, jobs in the sector will go.

Some of the projections for jobs leaving the UK in business are probably overstated, but there will be a loss of interest in inward investment over the period of negotiating its withdrawal.

There will be significant problems with funding public services because the cost of borrowing for the UK Government will rise as its credit rating declines.

In the longer term, one trend should see the rebalancing of property prices in the UK, and thus less consumer spending. That will be presented initially as a problem, but may well bring longer term benefits to the rebalancing of the UK economy.


Scotland and Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the European Union and the consent of devolved legislatures would be required to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 with reference to devolved issues.

There is an assumption that a second independence referendum now becomes likely, given not only Scotland’s desire to remain in the EU but also the marked divergence of opinion between it and England & Wales. However, there will be a balance between increased sympathy for independence on one hand and referendum fatigue on the other. The chances of a second independence referendum depend on the negotiations around withdrawal.

The EU has also already spoken of a favoured relationship with Scotland and Northern Ireland specifically. This may in fact make more sense in the case of the latter, given the importance there of cross-border relationships (everything from the desirability of customs union to maintenance of the European Arrest Warrant will be on that table). It is hard to know whether such status would stabilise the UK or make its existence even more precarious.


No one knows what will happen in the short term, and anyone suggesting they do is not to be trusted! There are numerous potential scenarios and versions of them; apparent promises made during the referendum campaign are to be ignored.

One scenario is a quick exit, based on what is often referred to as the “Norway Model” with free movement of labour. This may be done temporarily to enable further negotiations to take place, but end up becoming the norm; or it may be the deliberate outcome (less likely for a range of reasons).

Another scenario is a longer period of negotiation requiring at some stage further consultation with the people, most probably in the form of an early General Election. Such a route is entirely unpredictable, not least given there are scheduled elections in both Germany and France during 2017.

Another scenario, which is bizarre (but we live in bizarre times) is that Scotland and Northern Ireland remain to almost every intent and purpose members of the European Union, by maintaining the European Communities Act in operation for devolved matters and a favoured access status of some kind. Such a status may even include a contribution from them to the EU for “favoured access” but also, by return, access to funding streams (including potentially maintenance of CAP and options around research funding programmes). Reciprocal programmes (for example access to healthcare) could also be retained in the basis these are devolved. Northern Irish people already have the option of taking Irish citizenship thus retaining EU citizenship.

Another scenario which has been suggested is that the UK simply does not leave the EU. It is wishful thinking by those who lost to think that an incoming Prime Minister will not move fairly quickly to open negotiations with the intention of exiting the EU, and indeed anything otherwise would be a democratic outrage. However it is not impossible, as implied above, that the new Prime Minister would consult the people again either to seek a mandate for the negotiating position or (more likely) to endorse the outcome of the negotiations. This would more likely take the form of a General Election than a referendum, but anything is possible.

Those are just a selection of the potential scenarios and variations of them which now lie before us.

Public Affairs

Those lobbying on aspects of government policy will find themselves in uncertain and challenging times.

Nevertheless, the best thing for now is to continue as if nothing has happened, while keeping a very careful eye on monitoring negotiations between the UK and the EU. Pundits are largely to be ignored; they represent a particular segment of public opinion (generally the losing segment, in the case of this referendum).

COURSE: Ulster-Scots Literature

Ulster-Scots Literature: An Introduction

at Queen’s University, Belfast.

10 weeks, 2pm-4pm each Wednesday from 28 September to 30 November 2016.

To register interest either comment below or email with your details.

COURSE: Advocacy and Campaigning

Successful Advocacy and Campaigning

at Queen’s University, Belfast.

10 weeks, 10am-midday each Wednesday from 28 September to 30 November 2016.

To register interest either comment below or email with your details.

COURSE: Linguistic Identity in Modern Europe

Linguistic Identity in Modern Europe

at Queen’s University, Belfast.

10 weeks, from 2pm-4pm each Thursday from 29 September to 1 December 2016.

To register interest either comment below or email with your details.

UK Devolved Governments


SNP minority government (63/129 seats)

Cabinet Secretaries:

  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP (SNP)
  • Education (& Deputy First Minister) John Swinney MSP (SNP)
  • Communities Angela Constance MSP (SNP)
  • Culture & External Affairs Fiona Hyslop MSP (SNP)
  • Economy Keith Brown MSP (SNP)
  • Environment Roseanna Cunningham MSP (SNP)
  • Finance & the Constitution Derek Mackay MSP (SNP)
  • Health & Sport Shona Robison MSP (SNP)
  • Justice Michael Matheson MSP (SNP)
  • Rural Economy & Connectivity Fergus Ewing MSP (SNP)


Lab/LD coalition government (30/60 seats)

Cabinet Secretaries:

  • First Minister Carwyn Jones (Lab)
  • Leader of the House Jane Hutt (Lab)
  • Communities & Children Carl Sargeant (Lab)
  • Economy & Infrastructure Ken Skates (Lab)
  • Education Kirsty Williams (LD)
  • Environment & Rural Affairs Leslie Griffiths (Lab)
  • Finance & Local Government Mark Drakeford (Lab)
  • Health, Wellbeing & Sport Vaughan Gething (Lab)
  • Lifelong Learning Alun Davies (Lab)
  • Skills & Science Julie James (Lab)
  • Social Services Rebecca Evans (Lab)


DUP/SF/Ind power-sharing executive (67/108 seats)


  • First Minister Arlene Foster (DUP)
  • Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (SF)
  • Agriculture & Environment Michelle McIlveen (DUP)
  • Communities Paul Givan (DUP)
  • Economy Simon Hamilton (DUP)
  • Education Peter Weir (DUP)
  • Finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (SF)
  • Health Michelle O’Neill (SF)
  • Infrastructure Chris Hazzard (SF)
  • Justice Claire Sugden (Ind)

Latest Offer: Analysis of new Stormont institutions

Stormont has 33 new MLAs and a cross-community opposition for the first time ever.

What does this mean for you, for your organisation, and for your campaign goals?

Breakfast, lunchtime and tea-time briefings with our Chair and one of Northern Ireland’s foremost political analysts, Ian James Parsley, are selling quickly!

Priced at just £195 and available to groups of any size, just contact us below, or via chairman<at> or 07956045764, to arrange.