Artificial Mechanisms Killing Assembly

Belfast Telegraph London Editor, Brian Walker outlines benefits of non-mandatory coalition, and list system for electing Assembly.

  • Davros

    Since when did an “Ulster Fry” have scrambled eggs ?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    By ‘non-mandatory’, you mean ‘voluntary’ coalition… kinda like what most normal governments have. Like the Dail. Basic stuff that works.

    What we have in NI is so complicated, that it makes trigonometry look simple. And for what, exactly? ‘Cos it clearly hasn’t worked.

  • aquifer

    Political parties would be a great idea.

  • willowfield

    What was wrong with the Sunningdale coalition system? What were the mechanics of it?

  • Keith M

    Gonzo : “By ‘non-mandatory’, you mean ‘voluntary’ coalition… kinda like what most normal governments have. Like the Dail. Basic stuff that works.”

    No not at all. In the Dail and almost every country that has a coalition government, parties come together based on common purpose and implement an agrement programme based on shared vision. They only require 50%+1 of the MPs and minority groups do not have to be part of the coalition.

    What is being suggested here is another form of consociational government. For examples of this you need to go to places like Belgium and Switzerland, which are effectivly federal states with a level of power at local government never seen in these islands. This leaves little power in the hands of the federal government. This might well be worth trying in N.I.

    I am against consociational arrangements as they tend to play into the hands of the extremes in the different communities and the corresponding decrease in support for the more acquiescent parties (as already demonstrated in NI in the collapse of the SDLP and UUP).

    Power sharing can and should be achieved without designation by parties willing to come together to work for the common good. Imagine a party in N.I. succeeding by actually saying that it was willing to put its sectional interest behind and give prominence to a common platform with a party from the other side. Imagine…”it’s easy if you try”.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Keith

    Walker said:

    I sense that the wrangling over the Assembly is isolating the political leaders from the uncomprehending voters more and more.

    This is partly the fault of a system that no normal person can fathom. As a substitute for the normal rhythm of the party battle and the alternation of power after elections, an artificial mechanism had to be installed to give the Assembly life. The danger is it will kill it off instead.

    The founders of our system would have been far better advised to go for a voluntary coalition formed by 70% of those present and voting, elected under a party list system to enforce greater discipline upon members.

    I admit that doesn’t sound any sexier than what we’ve got; but at least it would have been less congested with rules to fall over or exploit. With the Assembly, I fear that over-complexity has become the enemy of democracy and the friend of obstruction. Truth and reconciliation are just as intractable, as an Agreed Ireland forum proved to me last Sunday.

    * * *

    I don’t see any signs of consociationalism in there, or am I missing something? I think he’s talking about a good old-fashioned coalition government. The 70% ratification would ensure it had de facto cross-community support and legitimacy.

    Surely…

  • peteb

    Keith

    Your examples of consociational models hardly supports your assertaion that “they tend to play into the hands of the extremes”… Belgium, Switzerland?

    What’s missing is an acknowledgement that the increased polarisation here was not a direct result of the consociational model, but a deliberate party-political tactic by those extremes. Feeding off each other and aided and abetted by many in the media.

  • Keith M

    Belfast Gonzo : By introducing a 70% threshold the outcome is going to have to be consociational because it would HAVE to parties from both communities. This is a very blunt instrument, and while it would thankfully do away with designation I could not see it working in the long term. In theory the UUP, SDLP and SF could have formed such a coalition in 1998, but how long before it collapsed because of UUP defections, and without doubt the UUP vote would have collapsed even quicker than it has.

    In theory today the DUP, UUP and the SDLP could form such a coalition, but how long could the SDLP survive? In the end the extremes end up winning in any such arrangement as they can take a more sectional interest and form a very effective opposition when difficult choices need to be made.

    peteb; maybe I didn’t explain clearly enough. Belgium and Switzerland only work because the federal government is basically a rubber stamp which has little role bar defence and foreign policy. Even that can be undermined (as was Belgium’s in the build up to the liberation of Iraq). All the major decisions are made at local government level. Even this has not stopped the increase in support for some ultra-nationalist groups like the Vlaams Blok in Belgium.

    If the assembly cannot be resored then an option of more power to a smaller number of local authorities and direct rule on contenious issues like security might well be the way to go.

  • peteb

    Keith

    “increase in support for ultra-nationalist groups” can be evidenced across the EU – it has little to do with whichever governmental model is in place.

  • Keith M

    peteb : “increase in support for ultra-nationalist groups” can be evidenced across the EU – it has little to do with whichever governmental model is in place.”.

    Of course, but what I’m saying is that even consociational arrangements which are supposed to cater for the needs of minorities aren’t immune to this.

  • peteb

    No, Keith, you went much further than that –

    “I am against consociational arrangements as they tend to play into the hands of the extremes in the different communities”.

  • willowfield

    What was wrong with the Sunningdale coalition system? What were the mechanics of it?

  • Keith M

    peteb; Two different issues here. One is the pan-European growth of nationalist groups irrespective of the form of government. This is probably a reaction to the declining role of the nation state and in some cases driven by racism often resulting from poor immigation policies (ie Netherlands & France).

    Quite separate from that is the built-in problem with consociation arrangements where the electors tend to graviate towards parties that look after their section interest rather than working for a common national good. You can see this in the recent poll in N.I. People trust the UUP and the SDLP more on issues of doing what’s best for everyone, but they vote for the parties that will fight hardest for their own sectional interests.

  • Davros

    14

  • peteb

    Keith

    You have one example of a consociational model, the one we have, which you are repeatedly using as ‘evidence’ of this supposed “built-in problem”.

    It seems clear that you are opposed to the consociational model, and that’s fine, but you continually attempt to make a link between that model and the increased polarisation, ignoring the point that I have repeatedly made regarding the deliberate adoption of the party-political tactic, by both extremes here, to encourage increased polarisation. That tactic was present before the consociational model and it would have been present if a different governmental system had been in place – with the same result.

    It’s the parties involved, not the model, that’s the problem.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Keith

    I don’t want to seem cheeky, but I think you misunderstand what consociational democracy is. On the other hand, I may be misinterpreting your argument.

    Have a look at page 462 of this: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/content/BPL_Images/Journal_Samples/NANA1354-5078~8~4~61%5C061.pdf

    You could not, for example, have parallel consent, cross-community votes in a non-mandatory coalition. Yet minority veto is a condition for a consociational democracy, according to the guy who came up with the idea.

    You seem to be conflating consociationalism and voluntary coalition. They are exclusive ideas, although, as I already mentioned, a coalition would be de facto cross-community at a 70 percent threshold.

    But that doesn’t mean it fulfills the conditions required to be described as ‘consociational’.

    I never studied political theory, so I’m willing to take one on the chin here if I’m barking up the wrong tree, BTW!

    [/removes anorak]

  • Keith M

    Belfast Gonzo; I quote “A consociational democracy often elects a “grand coalition” government which incorporates the main segments of the society and maintains rules or conventions of proportional representation and of proportional employment in the public sector. In certain matters it guarantees community autonomy and constitutional vetoes for minorities.”

    It is this veto that defines the nature of consociational arragement. Going back to your first post, a voluntary coalition is a COMPLETELY different thing as parties come together based on common interest NOT on representing different groups.

    By having a 70% threshold you MUST have have a consociational arrangement as both Unionists and Nationalists gather more than 30% of the votes and seats.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Keith

    Explain to me how the minority veto would work in Walker’s proposal, if 70 percent formed a government.

    Why would you even need one?

    There must be other political nerds out there who can help…

  • willowfield

    31% could veto. 31% is a minority.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    That’s called a weighted majority, BTW.

    Anyway, how could the 30 percent realistically wield a veto? If the government were formed from, as Walker states, “70% of those present and voting”, you’re rarely, if ever, going to get 31 percent opposed to anything the government proposes. Only if MLAs in an Executive party defied the whip, which is possible, but unlikely.

    Anyway, I give up. This is getting too circular. I emailed Mr Walker, so maybe he’ll get back to us with his views.

  • willowfield

    31% could veto the formation of a government.

  • Keith M

    I can’t understand how people are missing the point here. By introducing a 70% threshold you HAVE to have parties from both communities in government as neither unionists or their own or nationalists/republicans on their own could get to 70% (even with APNI and the other non-aligned groups). It has nothing to do with the 31% willowfield mentions.

    You are right that this is qualified majority but that is not mutually exclusive with a consociational arrangement indeed in N.I. they two would be the same (unless the QM was something like 60%, a figure that Unionists + others might be able to get to).

    I would be interested in how Walker would set up a list system. By one national list (thereby elimany concept of local representation) or by constituency (which would make very little differencve to those elected). I work the numbers when I have a chance to see how these might change the make-up of the current assembly.

  • willowfield

    Of course 70% would require both nationalists and unionists, Keith, I’m not disputing that. In fact, I’d support it. I asked about Sunningdale because I believe it worked on a weighted majority.

    But Gonzo asked how a minority veto would work under that system and I explained that 31% – which is a minority – could veto the formation of a government.

  • Keith M

    OK willowfield I get your point now. I’m not sure Sunindale was specific on mechanisms of how the NI assembly would work. As I recall it went into much greater deatil on the cross border elements, which of course was the main reason it failed.

  • willowfield

    But power-sharing was a fundamental element. I assume it was on a weighted majority basis.