In Friday’s newsletter, Claire Bailey questioned the permanence of our current system of government, saying, “The five-party executive model was not conducive to informed decision-making. Each party’s competing priorities mean that crisis management is beyond its capabilities. “Unfortunately, her first paragraph in the rest of her article failed to bring it to its logical conclusion. But it is a start.
This came not long after an article by Sam McBride in the same newspaper quoting a letter from Naomi Long to her party members as saying, “Let’s be clear: the only way to overcome the leadership mistakes we are in The last few days have seen the executive branch with the termination of the mandatory coalition and the abolition of government structures that have held Northern Ireland back for far too long. “
While it is undoubtedly easy to attribute the words of both leaders to frustration at the end of a few frustrating weeks, could Allianz and the Greens actually take on a leadership that will ultimately act as a catalyst for radical reform of Stormont?
Needless to say, the shortcomings of St. Andrews. Suffice it to say, the effect was to drill both the UUP and SDLP underwater.
Of either, the SDLP has shown greater resilience than expected, while the Alliance, under Long’s leadership, is currently enjoying an unprecedented wave of popular support. But can they build on that substantially while the St. Andrews electorate is captivated?
That would require people from both churches to vote for them without the other guaranteeing it. That has inevitably led us to various breakdowns in 2020 and surely we need to get a real chance now
The last election to the rally – at a time of extreme polarization regarding RHI, Brexit and ILA – broke down 28% DUP, 28% SF, 13% UUP, 12% SDLP, 9% Alliance and 10% others. This was a very high turnout of 65%.
In last year’s council elections, Alliance increased its vote by 87% when the turnout dropped to 53%, but also at a time when St. Andrews was off-topic. In the 2019 general election, Allianz hit a record 17% voter turnout of up to 62%, while the SDLP fell to 15% (despite not having three seats).
This suggests that if the effect of that voting is positive, people will vote imaginatively. That just can’t happen under St. Andrews. It wasn’t intended either. But Bailie and Long are right. The disjointed performance over something as fundamental as public health clearly shows that the mandatory coalition is not working.
Weighted volunteering could lead to more thoughtful engagement. Not complete agreement on all questions. No coalition ever delivers that. But an environment in which one party’s poor performance could lose its place at the table would certainly serve to contain excesses and smooth the boundaries of dogmatism of all parties. This is how good coalitions work around the world.
So why not here?
Some of our high profile journalists have recently highlighted a few possible objections. On the Red Lines podcast, Suzanne Breen said that if a voluntary facility were put in place, Sinn Fein could be permanently expelled, which would make many nationalists feel like they are in danger of going back to pre-1972.
As Ben Lowry tweeted about the McBride article, “This way of Allianz thinking is a real challenge for unionists. Traditionally, trade unionists have been the most skeptical of the mandatory coalition, but there is now an Alliance-center-nationalist majority that may well be greater in the future. “
Suzanne paints an impossible scenario, while Ben reveals a worrying level of paranoia by suggesting that “Center” is inherently anti-union.
The reality is that none of the labels have an overall majority. Nationalism because it doesn’t even come close to the numbers, and union movement because it is currently not resonating with sufficiently younger voters in heavily union-friendly areas.
You could win it back with the right approach, but even if they do, they will NEVER have the numbers that allow unionism to rule on its own. In addition, no one remotely believes that a system will be agreed that allows this possibility.
So if these are the main objections to a voluntary coalition, and they can so easily be ruled out, isn’t it at least worth serious consideration? To be honest, this is unlikely to happen in the medium term, as the current setup suits the two big parties despite all the mistakes.
But it would be interesting to see what would happen if Long, Eastwood, Aitken and Bailie worked together for reform. They should. You have nothing to lose.
Also, as an appropriate reform, the two main parties could not definitively liberate and encourage the troubled young elements of their membership so that they can all effectively contribute to a new system.
They exist and must be promoted without being oppressed by an earlier generation and an outdated system.
Ian Clarke spent 36 years in newspaper sales and marketing in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland – including Belfast Telegraph, Wolverhampton Express & Star, Northern Echo and The Herald (Glasgow), after graduating from QUB with a degree in Political Science. Glentoran Pendant.