How an Assembly without absolute “unionist and “nationalist” vetoes could transform the scene

I’m coming back to the discussion following on from Pete’s post and Mark Durkan’s idea of scrapping the unionist, nationalist other designations because I have something new to offer, even after 100 and more comments. Here’s a link to “The Trouble with Northern Ireland” a devastating critique of the political system by the political scientists Robin Wilson and Rick Wilford. They explain exactly how a new system without designations would work while still guaranteeing cross community support.

A new threshold of 65% of Assembly votes would be required to form an Executive and pass laws. The threshold compels each side to win at least some support on the other side. That’s the key point of this “integrative” model, the need to reach out across the divide to get things done.

If 65% was unattainable, the threshold would drop to 50% to form a “minimum winning coalition.” If any party walked out, the remaining parties would stay in office for the rest of the four year term. With a new Bill of Rights guaranteeing “fair treatment “ under the European Convention on Human Rights, a court would immediately rule ultra vires (beyond the competence of the Assembly) any law which did not have cross community support.

A new Assembly would acquire more powers to bind it together and divert attention from the past, including P&J and some tax varying powers.

A new electoral system such as the alternative vote AV plus, would force parties to win support from the other side, in order to reach a required 50% of the vote.

The paper written in 2006 (before the St Andrew’s Agreement became operative) argues that the system was fatally flawed from the start. It was bound to entrench sectarian division. The aim of forming a grand coalition was too ambitious, because of too many mutually cancelling vetoes.

Wilson and Wilford want to see dynamic developments in both the British and Irish strands, a federal UK and a confederal Ireland. Main funding would still come from London but the Assembly would be able to develop any all Ireland policy with the agreement of the Dublin Parliament.

This critique is no sneak scheme for excluding one party or another. But it was written from the viewpoint that ‘If you reward divisions and divisiveness … you increase and eventually heighten divisions and divisiveness” That message is for all parties.

I recommend a thorough read with the thought in mind that mechanisms are at least as important as motives. Mechanisms offer a forward path. Motives by definition precede mechanisms in time and hark back to the past. Any contributors still left standing please note.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London