I made my call in the various constituencies known in my previous post just as polls closed. I made it with no expectation of being proved right!
There are a few things which I am fairly certain will soon become apparent, however.
Firstly, the Northern Ireland electorate is innately conservative, in almost every sense. Even though I expect the “Big Two” will have made losses and some minor parties the odd breakthrough, dramatic change of the type we saw in Scotland five years ago is not on the cards. The truth is that, for all our complaining, actually a lot of people in Northern Ireland are quite comfortably off and in no hurry to try any sort of revolution which may make this cease to be the case.
Secondly, young people are nothing like as turned off politics as is assumed, but they are somewhat wary of party politics. They prefer issues – hence the perception in some quarters that this election has been more about policy than before.
Thirdly, this election has not been about policy. At all. Emotion, identity and personalities are what elections are about these days. Everywhere.
Fourthly, the voluntary sector is becoming a hindrance to good politics. Its demands are too specific to particular groups, and thus in fact enhance the very “silo mentality” which stops good strategic government happening in Northern Ireland.
Fifthly, the quality of media broadcasting in Northern Ireland is extraordinarily high, but the same cannot be said of analysis. Too often this consists of random commentary (often itself from a silo) rather than informed analysis from people who know how elections are actually carried out. We are also about, yet again, to see how confused the media get by the electoral system.
Sixthly, hard-line Unionists and Leftists are just ridiculously divided, fighting over small proportions of votes in small areas of constituencies which even collectively would not see them elected. They need to learn the value of compromise. But they won’t.
Seventhly, local Conservatives and Labour representatives will get a handful of votes and no seats, despite in the former case having run an excellent campaign on the doors and in the latter case having raised media profile significantly. They will continue to blame their HQs for the lack of support rather than recognise that the Northern Ireland electorate simply has no interest in their offering (because Northern Ireland is not the English Midlands).
Eighthly, Northern Ireland politics remains primarily divided along sectarian lines for the simple reason that the electorate is divided along sectarian lines. Those successful under this system have no interest in changing it, either socially or politically.
Finally, incumbents have a ludicrous advantage in Northern Ireland to the extent that it is a serious threat to proper representative democracy. They continue to have staff readily available during election campaigns having already built up an electoral profile with hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money. Challengers – who have to raise their profile voluntarily at great risk while working full time at something else – thus have a grossly unfair mountain to climb just to get to the starting line.
There are some serious challenges here to the quality of our democracy which are about to be clearly demonstrated. But change, sadly, will remain slow while the vested interests in the status quo are not taken on properly.