New Borders, new names?

If you persevered to the end of yesterday's "Inside Politics" on BBC Radio Ulster you would have heard my discussion with the BBC's election number cruncher Nicholas Whyte about the likely impact of tomorrow's provisional proposals for new Westminster boundaries.

As part of a UK wide plan to cut the number of MPs by 10%, a three strong Commission has been tasked with reducing the number of constituencies here from 18 to 16. The Commission has tight parameters to work with - each seat is meant to have a minimum population of 70,000 and a maximum of 80,000.

The text of the report is being kept tightly under wraps until its publication after midnight on Monday. However, there are strong expectations that the two seats most likely to be axed are South Belfast and West Tyrone.

The question over whether Belfast should be reduced to just three seats goes back a long time. Eight years ago, prior to a previous review, I wrote that "South Belfast, which is the smallest, would appear the likeliest constituency to face the chop, perhaps getting subsumed within larger East and West Belfast seats."

Ripple effect

Local politicians may - as they have done in the past - oppose any proposed change. But the pressure from London for an overall cut in seats leaves the Commission with little wriggle room.

On "Inside Politics" Nicholas Whyte guessed that Sinn Fein would take a new South West Belfast seat and the DUP and Alliance might fight it out for a new South East Belfast seat. Either way it doesn't look great for Alasdair McDonnell and perhaps explains his reluctance to give up his Assembly seat.

Over in West Tyrone, Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty could suffer from any move which rolls the constituency into the neighbouring Fermanagh South Tyrone. Until we can peruse the new political map it will be hard to work out the ripple effect of any changes.

There are indications, however, that the map will contain some new names - possibly a "Glenshane" seat replacing East Londonderry (perhaps a less controversial name for prospective republican candidates) and maybe a "Causeway" seat taking in North Antrim.

I have also heard chat about an expanded South Down getting a new geographical name, perhaps "Mourne", "Shimna" or something similar. I don't know what Margaret Ritchie makes of either name but - given the potential abolition of South Belfast - she may reflect that it's better to have your seat renamed than removed altogether.

P.S. Prior to making up her mind not to continue as SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie quite literally spent a "night on the tiles". Stuck in Italy after a flight cancellation, she had to sleep on the floor at Rome airport before arranging a flight back just in time to welcome Prince Charles to her constituency.