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?