#AE17 West Belfast: Will the SDLP or SF lose out – or both?

If North Antrim is Unionist heartland, West Belfast is the Republican heartland, with SF dominant for decades. Yet their vote share here in 2016 was the lowest since 1996, with the People Before Profit Alliance emerging as new challengers. The fact that the PBPA do not sit as Nationalists in Stormont knocked the Nationalist vote share here down to 61.8% which still delivered five MLAs, four SF and one SDLP. PBPA with 22.9% won their first seat, and the Unionists with 12.2% were not all that far off.

2016 result
DUP 3,766 (10.4%, +2.9%)
UUP 654 (1.8%, -2.4%)

PBP 8,299 (22.9%, +18.1%) 1 seat (+1)
WP 532 (1.5%, -0.2%)
Green 327 (0.9%)
Alliance 291 (0.8%, -0.3%)

Sinn Féin 19,752 (54.5%, -11.6%) 4 seats (-1)
SDLP 2,647 (7.3%, -5.9%) 1 seat

2017 candidates
Frank McCoubrey (DUP)
Fred Rogers (UUP)

Sorcha Eastwood (Alliance)
Ellen Murray (Green)
@Gerry Carroll (PBPA)
Michael Collins (PBPA)
Conor Campbell (WP)

@Alex Attwood (SDLP)
@Órlaithí Flynn (SF)
@Alex Maskey (SF)
@Fra McCann (SF)
@Pat Sheehan (SF)

All six incumbents are standing again (Órlaithí Flynn being a recent SF co-optee). SF are defending four seats on 3.3 quotas; the PBPA are defending their seat with 1.4 quotas; and the SDLP are defending theirs with 0.4 of a quota. In 2016 Unionist parties had 0.7 of a quota and Nationalist parties (not counting PBP, who do not designate as Nationalists in the Assembly) 3.7 quotas. On the face of it the PBPA seat looks safe, and indeed they are in a strong position to mount a challenge for a second one. SF have three safe, and the last will be a fight between the down-ticket fourth SF candidate and the SDLP, with the latter starting from a much weaker position – and there is always the possibility that both could lose out if the PBP vote is robust and well-managed, and the Unionists again do well enough to finish as runners-up (though that last is a tough proposition). If the SDLP fightback is to start anywhere, it must be here; otherwise they will lose representation in a seat which they held at Westminster twenty years ago.