A word of warning.

Always expect things to be added slowly to this blog.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alternative Vision: the multi-seat constituency version of the 2010 election.

In a previous blog I'd reported on the hypothetical result that would arise from applying an AV type vote to the results of the May 2010 election results for the NI constituencies. The other potential electoral system that might be employed in future is the multi-seater constituency where a single-transferable vote (STV) is used to select candidates. Under the first past the post system used in May 2010, the DUP won 8 seats, SF 5, SDLP 3, Alliance 1 and Independents 1. I'd calculated that, under AV, the DUP would still have taken 8 seats (although not the same 8), SF 5, SDLP 2, UCUNF 2 and Independents 1. Multi-seater constituencies would alter this quite dramatically, giving DUP 5, SF 5, SDLP 3, UCUNF 3, Alliance 1 and Independents 1.

As with the AV system discussed previously, the shape of the parties after the final count would have provided for a markedly different post-election story.

The main issue with introducting multi-seater constituencies is definition. For the purposes of the analysis, I've simply used three six-seaters. The alternatives were either to employ six three-seat constituencies (to make up the eighteen seats), or two four-seaters and two five-seaters. I decided against going with the smaller options, or uneven seats.

As for the geographic extents, the two obvious complications are whether to divide either east-west or north-south, and, how to incorporate Belfast. Without doing any runs on the numbers, I've separated the four Belfast constituencies and added North Down and South Antrim to form a rough Greater Belfast constituency. Arguably, it would make sense to include Lagan Valley or East Antrim instead. Since a portion of East Antrim was moved from North Antrim by the last boundary commission and the urban sprawl into North Down from Belfast is more or less unbroken, I went for these two instead. The remaining division was fairly straightforward as a rough north-south dividing line separates those south of the line (Fermanagh-South Tyrone, Upper Bann, Newry and South Armagh, Strangford, South Down and Lagan Valley) from the remainder.

Finally, a note on treatment of the Independents for the analysis. All but one were retained as individual candidates, although the only one with a significant vote (from a statistical point of view) was Lady Sylvia Hermon. As a former UUP MP, for transfer purposes, she was treated as a UUP candidate and, where necessary, split equally with UCUNF. As a candidate agreed by two parties, UCUNF and DUP, Rodney Connor was not included in the analysis. As such, his vote was simply split equally and added to that of the DUP and UCUNF.

First 'Greater Belfast'. Based on the combined votes of the various parties in the six constituencies, with a quota for election set in the standard fashion, the first count would see the number of quotas received by each party as: DUP - 1.6399, SF - 1.4029, UCUNF - 1.1646, SDLP - 0.9471, Alliance - 0.8453, Independent (Hermon) - 0.7345, TUV - 0.1810, Green - 0.0707, and, Ind (Macauley) - 0.0137.

Holding one quota each, seats would immediately go to the DUP, SF and UCUNF. At this stage, with three seats filled, the relative quotas for each party would be SDLP - 0.9471, Alliance - 0.8453, Independent (Hermon) - 0.7345, DUP - 0.6399, SF - 0.4029, TUV - 0.1810, UCUNF - 0.1646, Green - 0.0707, and, Ind (Macauley) - 0.0137.
Based on the Assembly 2007 voting transfer patterns, it is clear that the elimination of Macauley and the Greens would be insufficient to take another candidate over the quota and only make minor changes to the votes of each surviving candidate. The next to be eliminated would be UCUNF which, regardless of the nature of the transfers, would not lift the TUV vote over that of SF, thus seeing the TUV eliminated next, presumably followed by SF as the combined TUV-UCUNF vote would not be sufficient to allow the DUP to achieve a second quota (and assuming that UCUNF transfer first to Hermon). It would be assumed that the next elimination, SF, would elect the SDLP. Their vote (minus the quota) would be the lowest ensuring they would be eliminated next. At this point the remaining parties would be (in order) Alliance, Independent (Hermon), DUP.

The distribution of the SDLP vote would, in turn, be sufficient to see the Alliance complete an electoral quota. The final seat would be between Hermon (Ind) and the DUP. Based on the pattern of transfers in the Assembly from the SDLP and Alliance to the UUP, relative to the DUP, it would seem more likely that Hermon would take the last seat.

Greater Belfast result: DUP - 1, SF - 1, UCUNF - 1, SDLP - 1, Alliance - 1, Ind - 1.

Second, the 'Northern' constituency. Based on the combined votes of the various parties in the six constituencies, with a quota for election set in the standard fashion, the first count would see the number of quotas received by each party as: SF - 2.0469, DUP - 1.9854, SDLP - 1.2232, UCUNF - 0.9095, TUV - 0.4536, Alliance - 0.2547, People Before Profit - 0.0918, and, Independents - 0.0348. For the purposes of transfers, all independents and People Before Profit were distributed equally between all remaining parties, although the overall numbers are generally negligible.

The first count would see the following seats filled: SF (2), DUP (1), SDLP (1). Having filled four seats, the state of the parties would be DUP - 0.9854, UCUNF - 0.9095, TUV - 0.4536, Alliance - 0.2547, SDLP - 0.2232, People Before Profit - 0.0918, SF - 0.0469, and, Independents - 0.0348.

The remaining two seats would be filled in a relatively straightforward fashion, with the distribution of the remaining SF vote, People Before Profit and Independents sufficient to fill a second DUP quota. Any DUP vote over the second quota would be minimal and see them eliminated with only a minor impact on the vote carried forward by various parties. Whether the next elimination is either the SDLP or Alliance, it would undoubtedly allow UCUNF to achieve a quota and take the remaning seat.

Northern result: SF - 2, DUP - 2, SDLP - 1, UCUNF - 1.

Lastly, the 'Southern' constituency. Based on the combined votes of the various parties in the six constituencies, with a quota for election set in the standard fashion, the first count would see the number of quotas received by each party as: DUP - 1.9339, SF - 1.8665, UCUNF - 1.4335, SDLP - 1.2592, Alliance - 0.2796, TUV - 0.1852, Green - 0.0418, and, Independents - 0.0241.

The first count would see the following seats filled: DUP (1), SF (1), SDLP (1), UCUNF (1). With four seats filled, this would see the proportion of a quota held by each party as DUP - 0.9339, SF - 0.8665, UCUNF - 0.4335, Alliance - 0.2796, SDLP - 0.2592, TUV - 0.1852, Green - 0.0418, and, Independents - 0.0241.

The remaining two seats would be filled in a relatively straightforward fashion, with the distribution of the Independents and Greens insufficient to allow the TUV to avoid elimination. That would be sufficient to see the DUP attain a second quota. The last seat would be similarly straightforward as the transfer of the remaining DUP votes would not see the SDLP pass the Alliance or UCUNF catch SF, thus eliminating the SDLP. Their 0.2592 (+) of a quota would, based on Assembly 2007 transfers, produce enough transfers for SF to reach a second quota and take the last seat.

Southern result: DUP - 2,  SF - 2, UCUNF - 1, SDLP - 1.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Creating Nelson; Sharing Nelson

This is one of those lie down in a darkened room days. If you haven't actually come across this yet then none of the following will make any sense.
Briefly, it seems that Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), Nelson McCausland, MLA, has written to National Museums Northern Ireland to request that the museum (mainly the Ulster Museum - UM) gives more prominence to Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and alternative views on the origin of the universe. Nelson wrote to the trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) saying he wants the issues given consideration in the short term. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) said it was part of its commitment to a shared future strategy. The letter was leaked, which apparently disappointed Nelson, since he intended it to remain confidential (he is widely reported as having said this on BBC's the Nolan Show).
Now, two things immediately come to mind even before we get to the whole 'alternative views on the origin of the universe' issue.
The first one we'll make a positive. Who cares what Nelson thinks about Ulster-Scots and the Orange Order? Not in the sense that his views are irrelevant. Where there is a feeling that additional emphasis or multiple voices are required to provide sufficient depth to a particular story, that is not a problem. The content and context should be provided by professionals, informed by expert opinion and guided by well established international principles. The learning outcomes expected by visitors at museums and the way they are delivered is a widely explored field. Politicians, including Nelson, can request the emphasis but have to stand over the delivery. In short, he can make reasonable requests, but will have to live with the consequences.
So if there were negative aspects in the displays (e.g. if, for instance, a display board pointed out that the term Ulster-Scots only emerged in the 1990s), Nelson would have to live with it. By and large, there is at least debate around the validity of terminology like Ulster-Scots and the history and role played by the Orange Order and it's 'fraternal organisations'. So at least any exhibition can be tested against the common ground of opinion for balance etc.
Unfortunately, we know that whatever is expected, Nelson already has in mind the intended learning outcomes for visitors.
This is where the second point comes in. By intending to send a request to the trustees in the background, what was Nelson trying to achieve?
A considered review of where UM currently stands would show that there are no archaeological curatorial staff. Read that sentence again. The museum, not just a show house, but also a repository of objects and a named institution in legislation, has no archaeological curators (i.e. experts who can identify objects, advise on their curation and presentation etc). The head of that particular section (it was once known as Human History but under the circumstances I'd wonder what it might become known as) is a recent appointee, so you might give some leeway here to allow for new staff to be brought in. But, in this context, it is possible to be cynical about the potential motives that might be read into a letter directly from the Minister. This is at a time when the talk is of cutting budgets, deficits etc. That he freely admits that he expected it to be confidential is all the less reassuring. He also indicates that he expects changes in the short term (i.e. before the summer).
Okay. Now creationism (which Nelson is careful to characterise as alternative views of the origin of the universe). Now we've already Mervyn Storey on the subject so we know that Nelson is not alone in his views. The only problem is that, outside of fundamentalist circles, creationism is treated as a tenent of religious belief. I'm not saying it has no place, it has, but it is an appropriate place of worship for that particular brand of religion. Not a museum or any institution whose content is derived from research, science and academic endeavour.
I did say earlier that politicians can make reasonable requests. In this context, a museum that started collecting in 1821 and displaying objects in 1833 is being asked to open itself up to international ridicule to satisfy the fundamentalist religious views of a government minister. If UM introduces creationism it will no longer be recognised by other museums as an institution of any standing.
Finally, a small point on the concept of sharing and the whole notion of a shared future agenda (Nelson's own words). It appears that some of the senior staff in DCAL have woefully misread their chief in his remit. Mainly his understanding of the word 'share' in this context. Sharing, in this sense, means things like participation, identification and empathy. Nelson appears to believe that it means giving us the dubious benefit of his personal views whether we like them or not. That is not the kind of sharing most people want!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

AV - Alternative Vision - Alternative Votes

This is a brief review of the impact alternative electoral systems might have had on the last election in NI for Westminister on 6th May 2010. In this, the first of two reviews, I consider what impact the Alternative Vote (or AV) might have had. After the May 6th election the DUP held 8 seats, Sinn Féin had 5, the SDLP had 3, the Alliance party had 1 and there was one independent. By my count, under AV, the final tally would have been DUP 8, Sinn Féin 5, the SDLP 2, UCUNF 2 plus one independent.

As a system, AV has been widely discussed by various electoral commissions in the UK, so this provides a rough test case for the type of result it might have generated. Given the complex electoral mathematics at Westminister, this is no little story. Whilst there are numerous flavours of AV, most suggest that, in effect, a successful candidate must get to over 50% to be elected. The method uses either a number one preference and an alternate (for the vote transfer), or applying a STV type system for single seats (i.e. to reach a quota of 50%+). In effect, I've fudged that below to carry the calculations through to the end.

In terms of the broader narrative of the election, both Peter Robinson and Reg Empey would probably have won their seats, whilst the failure of the unity candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone would perhaps have been off-set by the victory of Paula Bradshaw in South Belfast. The SDLP would have lost a seat and the Alliance (somewhat ironically given the LibDem link-up) might not have gained. So the post-election mood amongst the various parties would probably be very different (apart from SF, seemingly).

To do this - I simply ran the stats of the NI seats to see which (if any) might have changed hands. To date I've done some numbers for two forms of voting system - the alternative vote system (AV) where you nominate candidates in order with your vote transfered to the next candidate when yours is eliminated - and the single transferable vote system (STV) for multi-seat constituencies. I'll include that as a future blog. Today's concentrates on AV itself. For vote transfers, I've used the data provided on the 2007 Assembly election to assist in transfers from one party to another as a broad guide. Again, all these things have in-built health warnings and this should be largely inhaled as an exercise in navel gazing, anyway.

A quick demonstration of the niceties of the current first past the post principle is given by the DUP's David Simpson. He won Upper Bann with 33.8% of the vote, a lower vote share than Rodney Connor on 45.5% in the constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Gerry Kelly on 34% in North Belfast. Obviously, one seat does not provide a critique of the whole methodology, but a considered view of each seat shows that the overall result would have differed in a number of cases, some perhaps significant.

Basically, you need to get over 50% to take a seat under AV, so the likes of Martin McGuinness, Lady Sylvia Hermon and Gerry Adams would be elected immediately. Jeffrey Donaldson, on 49.9% wouldn't have much of an issue on getting to the 50%. Others that would be so close to the line that a loss would be very unlikely (factoring in sectional transfers) would be Margaret Ritchie (48.5%), Pat Doherty (48.4%), Ian Paisley Jr (46.4%), Sammy Wilson (45.9%) and Jim Shannon (45.90%). None would appear to under any real threat from an AV type voting system.

The first seat where AV might have produced a different result would be Fermanagh/South Tyrone, although a review of the electoral numbers suggests it is very unlikely. As Michelle Gildernew and Rodney Connor both polled 45.5%, whilst the third place candidate (Fearghal McKinney) only polled 7.6%, any elimination system would probably remove all candidates other than Gildernew and Connor since none could catch either of them up. While an apparent reluctance of SDLP voters to transfer to SF has been a feature of some previous elections, I wonder how much that would extend to this particular contest, following the polarisation of the election with a unionist unity candidate. That would probably have prompted enough SDLP voters (maybe 60%) to give their transfers to SF. In this case, if 4.5% of McKinney's vote transfered to SF with 3.1% to Connor, it would be enough to keep Michelle Gildernew in the seat. Although, in any event, it would still be very tight but SF would hold on.

A number of other seats seem relatively safe, such as Foyle, where Mark Durkan's 44.7% would have been enough to hold off the threat of SF, since even the first elimination would probably see the distribution of the votes of all candidates up to Maurice Devenney (on 11.9% for the DUP). Even in the (somewhat) unlikely event that all the 11.6% of votes transfered to Martina Anderson, it would still only have her on 43.8% and behind Durkan with the DUP vote to be distributed. So it wouldn't have any impact on Foyle either.

Similarly, for Conor Murphy who won on 42%. While the order of elimination may be an issue here, the three lowest candidates would be distributed first as the highest (William Irwin on 12.8% for the DUP) would not be able to pass out the next highest candidate. The distribution of those votes would possibly lift Danny Kennedy (UCUNF) from third on 19.1%, past Dominic Bradley (on 23.4%) in second, unless sufficient numbers of the Alliance (1.2%), Frazer (1.5%) and DUP transfer (12.8%) swung in behind Bradley to keep him ahead. Presuming that Frazers 1.5% would go solidly to Kennedy, and assuming (on previous transfers) that more Alliance votes might go to Kennedy than Bradley, it would require at least 4.15%, or one third of the DUP's 12.8% to go to Bradley. Since 80-90% of DUP transfers have gone to the UUP, this seems inherently improbable. The underlying issue here would be whether Bradley could be kept in the field against Murphy, assuming that an anybody-but-SF vote would combine to keep him out. It seems unlikely that such a high percentage of DUP transfers would be in-built to aid Bradley (over transfering to another unionist). So, the elimination of Irwin would probably benefit Kennedy enough to push Bradley back to third. In the event of Bradley's 23.4% (plus add-ons) being distributed, it would seem unlikely that less than one third would go to Murphy over a unionist (normally SDLP-SF transfers are in the region of 60%), so this, despite a little drama, this would probably be a SF hold.

Now South Belfast would, anecdotally, have been regarded as a much more likely seat for a change. However, while Alasdair McDonnell's 41% was matched by a combined DUP-UCUNF vote of 41%, the fate of the seat would likely be subject to the distribution of both Adam McGibbon's 3% (Green) and Anna Lo's 15% (Alliance) of the vote. Based on the 2007 Assembly transfers, the Green vote seems to go 50-50 to unionist and nationalists, whilst the Alliance vote goes 60-40, favouring unionists, generally UUP (about 85%). Applying this, I'd have Bradshaw up by 1.1% of McGibbons vote and 7.6% of Anna Lo's, taking her to 26%, while Spratt would have moved up to 25.5% slightly behind Bradshaw going into the last distribution of votes, with McDonnell on 48.5%. This order of the field would radically alter the last distribution of votes under AV. In the last Assembly election, general transfers from DUP to UUP/SDLP split 94%/6%, which amounts to an additional 1.53% for McDonnell and 23.97% to Bradshaw. It feels unlikely that, faced with a choice between a unionist and a non-unionist, that Spratt's voters would give a preference that might aid McDonnell, so AV would seemingly have given the seat to Paula Bradshaw.

Nigel Dodds would seem to be pretty safe under AV, as well. His 40% would have risen considerably on the elimination of the four lowest votes (since none could overtake either himself or Gerry Kelly on 34%). Again, using Assembly transfer figures (based on the ratio of DUP/SF from a particular party and a 50-50 split of McAuleys 1.1%) Dodds would attract a further 11.95% seeing him safely over the 50%.
East Belfast would present an additional challenge, given the circumstances of the election, probably more so than most other seats. Naomi Long's 37.2% is well short of the 50%, but the immediate elimination of all but her and Peter Robinson (on 32.8%) in the first redistribution would normally have put her into serious trouble, as one would expect significant numbers of Ringland's 21.2% and Vance's 5.4% to favour an openly pro-union candidate. While the context of the election may arguably suggest otherwise, if the UCUNF to DUP/Alliance transfers even partially followed the last Assembly election (94%/6%), Peter Robinson would have held onto his seat under AV as he'd probably have got upwards of the 17.2% he'd needed from Ringland and Vance who had a combined 26.6%.

David Simpson, despite the low winning take of 33.8%, would no doubt have won easily enough under AV. The elimination of Heading (Alliance) and Kelly (SDLP) would probably have pushed O'Dowd (SF) from 3rd to second, eliminating Harry Hamilton (UCUNF), whose vote would then have got Simpson over the line with ease. So no change there.

Gregory Campbell, despite winning on a modest 34.6%, would have been under relatively little pressure from the rest of the field. The elimination of Fitzpatrick (Alliance) would mainly benefitted the SDLP and UCUNF, whilst the elimination of Willie Ross (TUV) would mainly have transfered to Campbell, keeping him in the very low 40s. In this case, Ross and Fitzpatrick would probably have contributed enough transfers to Macaulay (UCUNF) to lift him above Cathal Ó hOisín (who may have gone up to 20% at most) into second, probably on around 22%. The distribution of Thomas Conway's SDLP vote (following the last Assembly transfers) would give maybe 6.5% to Macaulay and 8% to Ó hOisín, but perhaps not enough to displace Macaulay from second place. At the final re-distribution (of Ó hOisín's vote), there would be the odd spectacle of SF transfers deciding between a DUP and UCUNF candidate. Given a 50-50 split in the SF to DUP/UUP transfers in the last Assembly election, only a general Campbell-out campaign would have unseated him. But more than likely a straightforward DUP hold.
Lastly, South Antrim where William McCrea won on 33.9%. Close behind him was Sir Reg Empey on 30.4% leading the local branch of the Unionist-Conservative ticket which would, on policy terms, not support the likes of AV. The first eliminations would have included the TUV (5.4%), Alliance (7.7%), SDLP (8.7%) and SF (13.9%). The TUV vote would have probably have transfered strongly to McCrea, whilst the balance of the 16.4% of Alliance and SDLP transfers would have heavily favoured Sir Reg Empey with more than 14% going to Empey, taking him up to 44.4% or higher. SF transfers would split 50-50 between Empey and McCrea (although you'd feel that reaction to McCrea would be strong enough for that  percentage to lean more to Empey). Splitting McLaughlin's vote in two would bring Empey to over 50%. So the paradox is that the candidate fronting an alliance that opposes AV did not win a seat that he would probably have won under AV. There is probably a lesson there!