Parties need to deprive DUP/SF of seats

Any outcome is possible, but the likeliest outcome of the current omnishambles at Stormont is an early (dark-night) election.

Any outcome is possible there too, but the likeliest is that we will get “as you were”.

“As you were” is, of course, the last thing we need. It will already be problematic getting good new faces, as who would risk a career currently to risk entering a thoroughly unstable Assembly? Then, to make matters worse, the party line-ups will remain largely unchanged, in terms both of senior figures and Assembly/Executive numbers. Since the “crisis” was caused by the current figures in the current numbers, it follows that “as you were” will merely deliver more “crisis”.

As an electorate we must be very, very clear. With nearly two thirds of all Assembly seats between them, and the capacity (directly or indirectly) to block anything with a Petition of Concern, the DUP and Sinn Féin are absolutely responsible for the gridlock and financial mismanagement which has characterised the last five years. Other parties, even taken together, lack the numbers – if the DUP and Sinn Féin decide something will happen, it will happen; if either decides it won’t, it won’t. It is for the voters to stop this being the case.

So it is not good enough simply to blame all politicians equally. Perhaps the UUP/SDLP/Alliance would do no better, but they would surely be worth a try over the DUP/SF farce. So the task, indisputably, is to move away from “as you were” as much as possible. However, realistically, there are limitations to what can be achieved, and no single party can do it alone.

There is an inevitable consequence of all this: anti-DUP/SF parties need to work together as much as possible.

A coherent (albeit, on the Unionist side, highly optimistic) objective would be to deprive either party of 30 seats, thus stopping them using the Petition of Concern. As optimistic, but there is no reason not to aim high, would be to stop a DUP/SF overall majority. Neither is a likely outcome, but even moving markedly towards that objective would create clear momentum and send a clear message – improve performance, or you won’t be so lucky next time.

This will not happen, of course, for as long as the smaller parties consider only their own, narrow, electoral interests. There is a requirement for some sort of “coalition of the willing”. Is anyone “willing” to lead it?


13 thoughts on “Parties need to deprive DUP/SF of seats

  1. “Is anyone willing to lead it [coalition of the willing]?”

    Dare I suggest Alliance? Or would that expose the civic liberals vs bridge builders factions?

    • I can see why they would find it difficult. The UUP is just coming out of a pact with the DUP, and the SDLP continues to act as SF’s junior brother. On basic issues such as teacher training it was 4:1.

      However, the question has to be what difference it really makes if Alliance wins, say, 10 seats as opposed to 8. All that effort would leave us with the same unstable status quo, an Executive dedicated to promoting segregation not integration, and the same financial chaos.

      Each of the three smaller parties needs to understand that nothing will change radically from them acting alone (another reason I think the recent UUP move was foolish).

  2. Scots Anorak says:

    I was recently reading Vernon Bogdanor, who makes the point that centrifugal forces would be less acute if the UK adopted a form of PR (which would mean increased Labour representation in the South and the English countryside, increased Conservative representation in northern cities, and increased representation for everyone except the SNP in Scotland). In the case of Northern Ireland, some sort of list system would make it easier for the Alliance and, say, the Conservatives to get elected, and would mean that votes for them west of the Bann would not be wasted. It’s ironic that a system incorporating lists (albeit in addition to single-member constituencies) was the New Labour choice for Scotland but not Northern Ireland; AMS and STV are written into the respective 1998 Acts. In the case of Scotland, I think I’m right in saying that AMS was chosen specifically to prevent any party winning a majority, thus ensuring (or so they thought at the time) Liberal involvement in any Government and preventing domination by Labour and the Central Belt.

    During NI’s previous experience of devolution, its Parliament was allowed to change from a PR system to a FPTP one. The Lord Lieutenant seriously considered refusing to sign the legislation, but backed down when the NI Government threatened to resign. The rest is history.

    BTW, how are early elections going to deal with the Budget issue? Can NI wait that long for a Budget?

    • other paul says:

      Huh? Aren’t MLAs currently elected using a form of PR?

      • Scots Anorak says:

        I think that you may have misunderstood my posting. Apologies if I failed to express myself clearly. What I was saying was that a) electoral systems can have a fundamental effect on the stability of societies and that b) a list-based system would allow more centrist or UK-based parties to be elected in NI. Yes, Northern Ireland does currently have PR, but not for Westminster, and the form of PR used is not based on party lists.

    • Chris Roche says:

      Vernon BOGDANCER? Sounds like another Wee Free to me.

    • Kevin Breslin says:

      Centrifugal forces apply in other European countries that have PR, using FPTP and majority rule will simply tribalise politics here even further into West-East splits with the less populated West in opposition.

      • Scots Anorak says:

        I don’t think anyone’s suggesting using FPTP for more NI elections, since it’s the worst possible system for somewhere like here. However, given that NI already has a different system for one kind of UK-wide election (STV instead of lists for the EU Parliament, which, since there are only three seats up for grabs, should probably not be changed), I don’t see why it couldn’t have a different system for Westminster, too, and a d’Hondt-style set-up either over the whole of NI or in two regional constituencies could allow Unionist voters to express a preference not merely on the Union but on economic policy. The danger of a list system would be that the Unionist vote in particular might fracture to the right, but that would be more of a problem in Assembly elections. The effective minimum required to get elected using d’Hondt for NI Westminster elections would likely be over 5%, and there would be a limit to the damage that one or two Loyalist extremists could do in a Parliament of 650 anyway. More likely, initially at least, would be that there would be one, possibly two, Alliance MPs.

  3. Kevin Breslin says:

    This comes down to two critical questions for parties like the SDLP, UUP, Alliance, Greens and others.

    1. How do you get Sinn Féin or DUP voters to vote for you?

    1, How do you get people who care for local democracy less than Sinn Féin or DUP voters to vote for you?

    • My suggestion for Alliance:

      1. Demonstrate knowledge of Irish nationalism in a positive and proactive way

      2. Engage in radical vs reactionary Presbyterian debate i.e. Presbyterianism from an emancipatory not dogmatic argument

      • Scots Anorak says:

        Just for devilment, here is my own (Scots) one.

        1. Accept as a basic principle that Irish-speakers should not be treated any less favourably than speakers of Scottish Gaelic. This will happen anyway for demographic and political reasons but should have happened long ago. Nationalists do not necessarily want politicians to demonstrate knowledge or understanding of Nationalism, but they do want to be free to follow an Irish ethnic tradition if they choose and for that to be acknowledged at an administrative level. Once that issue has been dealt with, they will be open to argument about other things.

        2. Stop trying to buy off Loyalists by throwing grant money at them and instead adopt the de facto Scottish policy of encouraging the marching tradition to die out, for example, by charging fairly for policing parades and stopping money earmarked for the promotion of Ulster Scots being siphoned off by Loyalist bands.

        3. Immediate merger with the Liberal-Democrats.

  4. Geoffrey McDonald says:

    Alliance were happy enough to crawl into DUP/SF’s pockets when David Ford got a job.

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