What is a mandate worth?

I have blogged on O’Conall St this morning about the value of a vote in Northern Ireland.

The number of seats each party has around the Executive table reflects their mandate. It’s a simple contract. The more of us that vote for a given party, the more seats it will have in the Assembly and the more places around the decision making table. The same applies to the distribution of more committee chair and vice chairs.

It’s what make our system different. In fact you could argue that it makes our system much more democratic then a traditional winner takes all model.

You would think then that when an extra seat gets added to the executive because of the devolution of policing a justice, then the same rules would apply. That the seat would be held by the party which has a mandate to it?

Well no.

Under the D’Hondt system the SDLP would be entitled to the 11th seat around the executive table. This is because in an eleven department executive its current vote entitles them to two seats.

Yet SF and the DUP are proposing to ‘award’ the seat to the Alliance Party.

This will mean that an Alliance vote will become more valuable then an SDLP one. This may happen in majority rule systems. But here the system has been designed to respect and reward mandates, not to ignore and undermine them.

Sinn Fein rightly hooked on to the importance of mandate during the peace process. They asked the people to give them a strong mandate and they got one. But now in government they seem unable to defend the SDLP’s mandate and by implication the central promise at the heart of the power-sharing system – that mandates will be respected and power will be distributed accordingly.