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.

  • borderline

    “..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 with 60-65% being seen as a potentially acceptable safeguard.”

    We’ll remember this principled argument when we’re drawing up the United Ireland Constitution.

  • David Cather

    Nobody within Unionism wanted Mandatory Coalition and nobody within Nationalism can now, seriously, argue that it works…it’s time to change it.

  • borderline

    Doesn’t work?

    By my calculations there are a few hundred men walking about the North who would be pushing up daisies in it’s absence.

    Of course we don’t know exactly who they are.

    And neither do they.

    If they did, I’m sure we’d hear from them and their families in an extremely loud manner that what we have now is bloody working.

  • David Cather

    Borderline we’re not talking about a decision between peace and a return to conflict. We’re talking about differing methods of administrating the peace-time governance of the country. In respect to bread-and-butter decision making the current system is failing, decisions aren’t being taken and stalemate is the order of the day. The 11+ debacle is as good an example as any.

    If mandatory coalition was a necessary step, then it has served its purpose now.

  • Turgon

    borderline,
    You believe in a united Ireland, at least judging by comment 1. As such you do not believe that this agreement should remain exactly as it is for the rest of time: You want to change it.

    That is fine there is nothing to be remotely ashamed of in any of the above. It is entirely your right to argue for that.

    However, many (probably the vast majority) of unionists want the agreement changed. That is also our right and since you agree with the possibility of remaking the agreement further towards your liking you cannot deprive unionists of the right to try to remake the agreement to make it more to their liking.

    If reshaping the agreement to get rid of mandatory coalition would cause violence as you seem to fear, from whom would this violence come? Not from the dissident republicans as they are already committed to violence. Surely then it could only come from the mainstream republican movement. If that is the case then we are being conned that the IRA ceasefire is permanent and we are being blackmailed.

    I am not in any way accusing you of any blackmail etc. but I am pointing out that if one accepts the possibility of changing the agreement to make it more pleasing to nationalists then one must also accept the possibility of making it more pleasing to unionists. Clearly the converse also operates.

  • borderline

    Yep, Turgon, I accept the right of Unionists to try and change the Agreement. No ifs, buts or maybes.

    I see a problem with your distinct division between dissident and mainstream “republicans”. Unfortunately the latter are turning into the former in small, but dangerous numbers.

    I expect them to become more violent, and if so, I expect Unionist violence. That’s what happens here.

    But as for blackmail, don’t forget that your beloved Northern Ireland was founded on it.

  • Turgon

    borderline,
    I would not argue with much of that. I am afraid I have always feared a return to violence. I do believe it is inevitable. I fear the only way unionists could placate a certain section of republicans would be to all die or leave. It may take a while for violence to return but I am sure it will happen. This is in many ways an ethnic conflict (without the ethnic differences which is often the case with so called ethnic conflicts). It is inherently insoluble.

    And yes although I might quibble a bit I can see exactly what you mean about NI being founded on blackmail. Unionists can produce various justifications and nuances but to a nationalist all of them would ring utterly hollow.

  • Comrade Stalin

    However, many (probably the vast majority) of unionists want the agreement changed.

    that’s a hell of a claim based on the mandate that the DUP received following the StAA.

  • borderline

    Aah now Turgon, don’t feel too bad about it. Most politics is blackmail.

    For example in the South FF’s NAMA bill is not acceptable to their coalition partners, the nice cuddly Greens, unless there are serious amendments. If it is not amended, they will bring down the Government, force an election, and FF TDs will lose their seats.

    Political horse-trading to some, blackmail to others.

    Unionists acted in their own practical self-interest when they demanded and won six counties.
    It’s lasted a lot longer than most people thought it would at the time.

    And there’s life left in it yet, I venture.

  • aquifer

    Big majority rule?

    But seriously.

    Because Orange Unionists screwed up the old Stormont nationalists sued for and got guaranteed inclusion in government. SF in particular will not drop it willingly.

    There is an argument that the cross community component of government could be set quite low, say 25% of the representatives on either side of the big divide, because a failure of that 25% to pursue their community’s interests would doubtless result in them being obliterated at the next election, removing them from government. i.e. The system would be self-correcting.

    This system could cut both ways of course, and should. 25% of Unionists should be allowed to serve in a government with enough nationalists and others to make up an overall majority.

    If this would never really be acceptable to Unionists (or enforceable by the security forces) then Nationalists may be right to stick with guaranteed inclusion for SF. The SDLP (and Alliance) tend to lose in this though, as moderacy is no longer a passport for inclusion in government.

    Would the SDLP insist that Unionists go into government with SF without their SDLP chaperone?

    Maybe they should.