Towards Unionist Consensus

Nigel Dodds has claimed that the DUP’s plans to change the voting system at Stormont are not a response to the TUV and Jim Allister’s European election result. Unsurprisingly Jim Allister seems to think otherwise. The New Force’s position on changing the the current system is possibly a little less clear but in Empey’s “A vision for the future” and other recent articles he also seems to be supporting a change to the current system.

To be fair no unionist probably really wanted the current system of government and having seen it in (in)action few nationalists probably regard it as perfect either. To briefly leave aside intra unionist squabbling; whether it was necessary after the Belfast Agreement, acceptable after St Andrew’s or still unacceptable the point is that all three unionist parties now want significant change to the system at Stormont and a consensus within unionism seems to be forming around the idea of voluntary coalition with weighted majority voting and 60-65% being seen as a potentially acceptable safeguard.
A further area of consensus (though even more fractious) seems to be over the devolution of policing and justice. The TUV is consistently opposed to it, the UUP now seem opposed to it for the foreseeable future and although the DUP are allegedly in favour of it they have skilfully created so many obstacles to its devolution that the practical reality may well be different.

Clearly there are still a very large number of issues for the assorted parties to fight over and there is the simple fact that they are all chasing essentially the same pool of voters. There are many ways to analyse how we have got to the current position. UUP supporters can argue that the UUP and Trimble were very clever by bringing republicans into the tent which has now trapped them and that the rolling back process would have been performed by them. The DUP can argue that they have comprehensively out manoeuvred SF within the executive, rolled back the inappropriate compromises of Trimble and are now in a position to move on to further improve the St Andrew’s Agreement. The TUV can maintain that but for them P&J would have already been devolved, that in reality we still need to completely change the mechanism of government here and that that is impossible without completely abolishing the current system.

All the above positions have at least some validity and which narrative one accepts and which proposals from each party one regards as both realistic and acceptable largely dictates the party one supports.

In the coming months the battles will no doubt rage as we move towards the Westminster elections and the differences between the parties will be emphasised: that is entirely reasonable. However, before that battle fully begins it is worth thinking about the fact that all unionism seems to be coming towards a relatively agreed position on the direction if not the method of travel in the medium term. It is unreasonable to expect a truly united position this side of the Westminster election (or possibly even prior to the next assembly election) but it might be reasonable to accept that we all have similar aims in mind. Maybe now there is a window for Peter Robinson’s Unionist Academy.