The General Election on June 8th does not come with all the usual predictability or the boring routine of past contests.
Those days of certainty – of being confident and sure about predictions – are gone.
Take the constituency of South Down for instance; wrestled from Enoch Powell in 1987 when Eddie McGrady topped the poll and an SDLP seat ever since; a winning way that has spanned three decades.
Margaret Ritchie has been MP since 2010, but if not loudly, then quietly, there are those in her party who will whisper that, this time, things are “very, very precarious”.
Chris Hazzard could win the seat for Sinn Fein. On the party totals from the March Assembly election he is the favourite.
For the SDLP, this election is a real battle – not just in South Down, but also in Foyle and in South Belfast.
“I’ve no idea.” “I don’t think anybody has a clue.” “It’s fascinating.” These, just some of the responses when I asked for a prediction in South Belfast.
Can Alasdair McDonnell hold on for the SDLP?
“It’s between Alasdair and Emma [Little-Pengelly],” one source commented; the fear expressed here that Paula Bradshaw of Alliance and Mairtin O Muilleoir of Sinn Fein could damage McDonnell and allow the DUP through.
Bradshaw and O Muilleoir have higher ambitions. Alliance leader Naomi Long believes Bradshaw could be South Belfast’s next MP, and park-running, marathon running O Muilleoir will tell you he is in this race to win.
Alliance and Sinn Fein are chasing the SDLP and the DUP from a distance behind, but not an impossible distance.
There is no clear picture in this crystal ball; no certainty, no predictability, no clear or obvious result. This could be a photo-finish.
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“We are in the throes of one of the big changes of our times,” a republican source commented; his view, that this pattern and trend “isn’t finished”.
Will there be a unionist fightback?
Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson of the DUP (favourites in North and East Belfast) will need their best results and their best running on June 8th to stay ahead. John Finucane (Sinn Fein) and Naomi Long are serious challengers.
Dodds has a big lead from last time. So, what about this time?
One source – a non-unionist – speaking to this website, predicted that the DUP deputy leader will beat the combined nationalist vote.
Republicans accept this is an “uphill struggle”. But one source spoke of “real excitement” about Finucane, with another describing a very specific focus on several thousand voters in the constituency who, if they can be persuaded, could turn this into “the tightest of tightest fights”.
That close? Who really knows? We will have to wait until the adding up is done on June 9th.
Fermanagh South Tyrone is another battleground, Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott is trying to hold onto the seat but, again, on the March election trends, Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein is probably favourite.
“I’m told the Shinners think they have it in the bag,” a unionist commented.
“It’s very tight,” this source added. His view, that the SDLP candidate Mary Garrity would need to poll 3000-plus votes to give Elliott “a reasonable chance”.
There will be interest in South Antrim also. Danny Kinahan (UUP) versus Paul Girvan (DUP). Others think Upper Bann could be interesting.
This is just some of the reading of the tea leaves with ten days to go to voting. In some places, calling the winners is still an easy task.
But not everywhere. Not this time. Not in a place where so much has changed and is changing.