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.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I glad you didnt go as far as saying that P&J belong to the SDLP because of this 11th seat under D’Hont as obiviously if D’hont was re-run it would be the first or at least 2nd seat taken, it is a special case this time and an exception to the rule. But yes it does warp the balance, not so much in the Alliance favour but that other alliances, DUP/SF, they have “gifted” the seat to Alliance therfore they should give up one of thier seats as the price.
    There will soon be 15 ministers, 11 of them from the big two, 12 if you take it that the P&J seat is a proxy for them, not sure what the assembly mix is but they def dont have 80% of the vote between them, I think a bit of “treaking” will be need next time round, but the biggest issue is the OFMDFM and its ability to stiffle debate in the Exectutive.

  • So what about the designation of nationalist, unionist and other, which makes other votes worth less than those of nationalists and unionists. But then again, that doesn’t hurt the SDLP so is of little interest apparently.

  • Garibaldy the designation system does not undermine mandate in anyway. If parties desinated other had a big enough mandate they would be entitiled to office also.

  • So you’re vote not counting during certain votes doesn’t make it worth less then?

    What was the civil rights movement all about?

  • Your vote even

  • The requuirement for cross community support does not undermine mandate like what is being propsed would.

  • Like I said, if unequal recognition of the rights of voters doesn’t hurt the SDLP it doesn’t matter then, eh?

    I happen to agree that if there is a system in place it should be adhered to, but I think that yours is the wrong approach to take given that by their own admission the SDLP and UUP were largely responsible for the terms of the GFA.

  • YelloSmurf

    Drumlins Rock

    I can assure you that P&J will not be run as a proxy for the big two under an Alliance minister.

    Connal, a mandate is very hard to pin down. For example, do SF have a mandate to govern based on the fact that many people DID NOT vote for them. Indeed there are those who regard SF in government as a terrible thing, should a vote for TUV be regarded as a vote AGAINST SF?

    A system of voluntary co-alition can be said, in a political system based on proportional elections, to have a mandate, if you follow a certain kind of logic. In order to control the house the government must have at least 50% of the seats and therefore at least 50% of the votes. This ensures that there is buy in from a majority of people. One could even insert a clause whereby a co-alition had to be elected by a 2/3 majority, ensuring even more buy in. The onlything it wouldn’t do is give SF an automatic place (or any other party, but they look vulnerable.) (Sorry if this looks like Shinner bashing, it isn’t, but SF have a vested interset in the current system).

    In short, when one talks about a mandate, it is important to define your terms (as my old politics teacher would have said).

  • YelloSmurf

    Conall, re:6, Bollocks.

    Of course the refusal to count UCG votes, representing around one person in every ten who voted at the last election, is undemocratic and an afront to ANY definition of a mandate. Why should only the votes of Unionists and Nationalists count, true cross community support includes the support of those in the community to do not subscribe to such labels (including those who are not originally from Ireland). Cross communitty support could be acheived by weighted majority, a way that would be more reflective of the way the electorate voted.

    Belfast City Council seem to be able to acheive cross commnity support without such measures as only counting certain votes.

  • It’s pragmatism v. what’s right. Take the P&J Minister out of sectarian bickering and there’s more chance it’ll work, but it’s procedurally the right thing to do to follow d’Hondt and put in one of the sectarian parties (by which I mean they draw their support from one side of the sectarian divide); however both SF and the unionist parties (for different reasons) will line up to score political points off an SDLP Minister and he/ she won’t be able to get anything done. I’ll tolerate Alliance self-righteousness for that reason, although I’m not sure it’s in their long-term political interest to take the job.

    The bigger picture is that there are too many government departments and too many Ministers.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I think it is a startlingly weak argument to say that “the system has been designed to respect and reward mandates, not to ignore and undermine them” when for Alliance the sectarian designation system was clearly designed to weaken the non-tribal parties.

    So in that sense, slap it up the SDLP.

  • Continental Drifter


    You didn’t seem too concerned about Alliance votes counting for *less* with regard to electing the First Minister/Deputy First Minister under the SDLP-led system of sectarian designation.

    Why the concern now?

    What goes around…

  • slug

    I am glad people picked up on Conal’s point by referring to designation.

    The designation system is highly undemocratic because it means the Alliance party’s vote counts for less.

  • Pentium


    Garibaldy the designation system does not undermine mandate in anyway. If parties desinated other had a big enough mandate they would be entitiled to office also.

    The designation system means that a vote for a unionist is worth only 80% of what a vote for a nationalist is. This was the allegedly necessary antidemocratic part of the agreement that makes our system different from the norm, i.e. consociational. Greater or lesser proportionality is simply something that varies in different systems.

    It was precisely this that scuppered the Annan Plan in Cyprus, though in that case a Greek Cypriot vote would have been worth only half of what a Turkish Cypriot vote would have been.

  • Pentium:

    The designation system means that a vote for a unionist is worth only 80% of what a vote for a nationalist is.

    That’s not the real problem with designation. The problem is that parties unwilling to designate themselves “Unionist” or “Nationalist” have NO say when it comes to a cross-community vote, i.e. under certain circumstances a vote for Alliance/Green/Monster Raving Loony Party is worth precisely nothing. This actively suppresses the development of non-sectarian politics.

  • Expenses111

    Yet another silly comment from Conall. The SDLP are not fit for Government – Margaret Ritchie has demonstrated that. She is allegedly the best but she is a messer.

  • David

    Perhaps the reason why no other country in the entire world uses the d’Hondt system for allocating seats in its executive/cabinet is not because we have discovered a really clever system that is far better than traditional majority, but because we have a really stupid and unworkable system.

    Before the GFA we had 25 years of middle-of-the-road nationalist/SDLP orthodox opinion chanting the slogans “power sharing” and “Irish dimension” without any thought being given as to how these principles could be made workable.

    In 1998 the SDLP held all the trump cards in the GFA negotiations, they had the real (as opposed to fantasy) support of the US and of the Irish government. The current arrangements are a testimony to that party’s stagnation in thought and blind adherence to its dogmas.