Catching up with Stephen Stewart (18 year old independent) #ae11 #bele11

Stephen Stewart, 18 year old East Belfast independent standing in front of Parliament BuildingsEighteen year old Stephen Stewart is squeezing in running as an independent candidate for East Belfast in the Assembly elections alongside his A-levels.

He’s partially inspired by Martin McAuley who stood as an independent in North Belfast’s Westminster election last year and is having a crack at the Assembly this year.

The whole point of me doing this is to complete the Good Friday Agreement and elect the first person from the ‘ceasefire generation’.

It’s thirteen years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and this seems like an appropriate evening to post this week’s interview with Stephen. I asked him the obvious question of why on earth someone at school was getting involved in politics instead of revising.

I’m standing for two reasons. Firstly to get my name out into the political arena for a future career, but it’s also because I want to get more of the first time voters from the voting age bracket from 18 to 24 involved in politics because at the minute they have the lowest voting count rate.

Are many of Stephen’s peers politically interested?

Quite a good bit of them are politically interested but they just don’t have the political affiliation yet which obviously I don’t as I standing as an independent. It’s the best way to go when you’re such a young age: to try to find your feet and where you stand in the political spectrum.

Having started from nothing, found people to sign his nomination forms and waved goodbye to his £150 deposit (he’d need roughly a seventh of the East Belfast vote to get it back), what does an 18 year old candidate do next in his campaign?

My campaign’s really been focussed online. It’s a cheap budget way, particularly when you’re an independent and you don’t have the political machine behind you that give you all the fancy lamppost posters. It’s kicking off online and the support’s increasing as the days go on. The twitter account [@stewart4East] we have is becoming rapidly popular with all the reporters.

Alongside interacting with potential voters on Twitter, Stephen’s running Facebook ads targeted at Belfast users and taking advantage of features that will focus them in on friends of people who already ‘Like’ his campaign.

Will novelty be enough with Stephen only one of seventeen Assembly candidates in East Belfast?

I’m trying to get my unique selling point across that I’m standing for the young voters.

It’s hard at 18 to claim to have a lot of life experience., But after 13 or 14 years in education, what kind of education policies does Stephen have?

On education, that’s one of my strong points as at the end of the day I believe that everyone should be successful to equal opportunities whilst they’re in school no matter if that’s a secondary or a grammar. I believe if you’re in a school that doesn’t provide the best opportunities possible, the school should be given extra funding to provide those to make sure you get the best out of your time at school but to make sure you’re starting to mould yourself for your future life.

His specific ideas included:

With regards to the primary transfer test, I do believe that what Caitríona Ruane brought in was quite a silly way of doing it because at the end of the day they are kids that are only 11 years old have and have to sit more than one exam which can decide what they’re going to be in a future life and it’s not good for them. But I think personally I’d prefer to go back to the old system of the 11 plus

When it comes to secondary school I believe that we should have not just the core subjects but we should have all the other subjects such as drama and so people can have a vast array of subjects to choose from.

At tertiary level – which I’m going to go to soon – I don’t support the £9000 fee increase because students who have been to university and have a university degree would end up paying more tax. I believe that we shouldn’t be paying that much in fees because we’ll be paying more tax back than those without university degrees.

Stephen would support keeping them at current levels rather than complete elimination due to the economic situation.

His short online manifesto outlines his approach to the areas mentioned below amongst others:

  • “provide opportunities for local businesses to expand into [the green energy] sector”
  • “would see charities and voluntary groups being heavily involved in society, tackling social problems head on”
  • would increase spending on the NHS on a yearly basis”
  • asserts the right of “every soldier who puts their life on the line on active duty” to have a homecoming parade
  • wishes to see a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights
  • recognises that “the demand for public transport in Northern Ireland will be increasing significantly in the coming years” and proposes that preparations are made now to expand routes and build new train tracks as well as cutting prices.

Just in case my prediction is wrong and Stephen is elected in May, I asked what aspects of East Belfast would he want to stand up for or lobby to change?

I’m arguing that we should keep the [Comber] Greenway the way it is. We can’t see that turned into a transportation system. We need our green areas for tranquillity. I also support Belmont Park at the minute – some of their land has been sold to Strathearn [school] and we need to keep these areas of green and make sure they always get priority over developments.

On his Facebook site, Stephen comes out against Alternative Vote saying “AV is complicated and expensive requiring councils to dump our traditional ballot boxes in favour of costly electronic voting machines”. Isn’t that claim nonsense, given that he is standing in an election that will be voted and counted using STV – not dissimilar to AV with multiple winners – that will have manual counting and no need for electronic voting machines?

If [AV] goes for Westminster elections, it’s going to get to the stage where we do need electronic machines as it’s feasibly impossible … With Westminster you don’t want to have such a long period of time to find out who the representatives are. You just want to know there and then. So that’s why they’ve come up with the need for electronic systems.

Finally how would he convince people to vote for him on 5 May?

I believe they should vote for me because I don’t have a party machine behind me … I’m there for the people and if any issues come to me I will ensure they are dealt with correctly and not just pushed to the side as some politicians would do in East Belfast.

He’s been enjoying the low-key campaign so far. When I spoke to him at the start of his school Easter holidays, leaflets were being printed and he was looking forward to doing door to door with a team of supporters.

At time of posting, 129 people like his Facebook campaign page, 63 follow him on Twitter and 41 people have watched his Party Election Broadcast on Youtube. His online campaign may have quite a distance to go …

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  • Hope he looses his deposit. I’d love to see a real non-sectarian young candidate come through, but this lads obviously just a young Unionist looking for something to beef up his CV.

    With his support for the 11plus, I guess his privileged background sheltered him from the tears some mothers shed when worrying about their children passing the 11 plus.

    No educational system should put so much pressure on children at such a young age. This man has nothing to offer for the young and old, I sincerely doubt he’s slugged away on a Tesco shelf like so many people his age to pay his deposit either.

  • separatesix

    Surely everyone is a little partisan Daniel, after all not everyone wants to be an insular little-irelander. I feel sorry for the smaller parties the media dosen’t give them enough exposure, they won’t even give Dawn Purvis a party election broadcast.

  • separatesix

    He should have filmed at the bog meadows to be a bit different than the other parties.

  • I am surprised that Mr Stewart was not questioned about the high profile signature on his nomination papers, Felicity Huston the Appointments Commissioner. Mr Stewart drew attention to Sluggers interest in this on his Facebook page. He was quite pleased about the publicity so he would not have objected to a question about it.
    Importantly we should note that signing a nomination paper is NOT an indication of support for the policy of the individual. Ms Huston is merely the mother of Mr Stewarts campaign manager. [Mod – portion of comment removed due to age of campaign manager]
    Much as I admire Dawn Purvis, clearly she is wrong ……Mr Stewart is living proof that there ARE educational opportunities available to young boys in East Belfast.

  • A bit harsh Daniel.

    1. I didn’t see an opinion here being expressed on the constitutional issue but anyway…. being a “young Unionist” doesn’t necessarily prevent him from also being a “real non-sectarian” candidate.

    2. Supporting the 11 plus (or even passing the damned thing) doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an uncaring brute.

    3. Other aspects of his manifesto (eg support for a N.Ireland Bill of Rights) seem to throw him out of that narrow communal box you’ve obviously already condemned him to residing in.

    4. I’ve no idea if he comes from a “privileged” background or not but even if he does, that shouldn’t remove his democratic right to put himself up for election… or do you think there should be a checklist where a certain amount of “right-on, working-class” credentials need to be ticked off before one is allowed on the ballot paper?

    The main criticism I’d make of his campaign is the over-emphasis on his age. You shouldn’t be asking for votes, simply because you’re the youngest candidate on the paper.
    Ask for votes because your policies are worth voting for.

  • separatesix

    It’s refreshing to have independant candidates and Polish people standing in the election although it’s negative they’re taking sides with the SDLP. Good luck to Stephen!

  • Actually the “Catching Up with……” series produced by AlaninBelfast has featured candidates such as Brian Ervine who might otherwise be marginalised. And I recall an interview with Dawn Purvis….possibly not in this series.
    There is a BNP candidate in East Belfast and I am looking forward to there (hopefully) being an interview.

  • “Taking sides with the SDLP”?
    Curious way to look at it. I thought that magdalena Wolskas decision to stand showed a commitment to integrating. Likewise Hannah Su (Alliance Party) in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
    (I know the latter may have been born here or here from an early age. Its an amazingly hopeful sign for us all)

  • separatesix

    A Polish man joined the DUP and was villified by the polish welfare association, surely voting Alliance would be the best way of integrating, though It’s their right to choose whichever party.

  • separatesix

    The Polish Welfare officers was concerned everyone would think all the Polish in NI were DUP supporters or I would also argue if they voted for a nationalist party they would be seen as potential prod-bashers.

  • separatesix

    I meant were concerned!

  • So far this year, there have been “Catching up with” posts featuring Dawn Purvis, Brian Ervine (PUP), John McCusker (Eirigi), Paddy Meehan (Socialist Party), Stephen Stewart and you’ll find posts appearing with Workers Party, Green Party and IRSP over the next week or so. There are too many parties to cover them all … so I’ve approached the folk who interested me the most! A few others have ignored the request for an interview, and one I need to get back to.

  • seperatesix – do try to keep on topic.

  • pippakin

    In my experience most students who pass the eleven plus are in favour of it until the years teach them better. If Mr Stewart passed his then that would explain his support for it.

    I don’t care which side of the divide young people come from its where they are going that matters. Mr Stewart is young and learning, but its encouraging for the future that already he is an independent. So not quite the little unionist just not yet a nationalist.

  • AlaninBelfast,
    Do the BNP fit the category of folk who interested you?
    Or have they ignored your request?

  • tinman

    I’m standing for two reasons. Firstly to get my name out into the political arena for a future career…

    Ah, the honesty (and naivete) of the young! Next election he will say: I’m standing because I am passionate about defending the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society…

    As a resident of East Belfast I’m afraid this particular candidate will not be getting my vote, as I disagree with almost everything he says. Nevertheless I wish him well. The more candidates from outside our political establishment the better.

  • Pippakin,
    Stephen Stewart attends Campbell College.
    A student at Campbell College is unlikely to feel underpriveleged if they fail the 11 plus. Its an “independent” fee paying school (fees over £2,000 per annum).
    “Alumni” include
    Derek Bell of the Chieftains
    Mike Gibson, the former rugby player
    The fella out of Snow Patrol
    Alan McFarlane MLA North Down.
    “Lord” Paul Bew from Dept of Politics at QUB
    Rev John Morrow
    Felicity Huston, Appointments Commissioner.

    and if you live in Norn Iron until a few years ago you could see Mike Nesbitt (ex Campbell College) present the news on UTV and then switch over to watch Noel Humphreys (ex Campbell College) do the same on BBCNI.
    Since Mr Nesbitt left UTV you can tune in to see Mark Mallet (ex Campbell College) do much the same.

  • Alias

    What is the point of electing a teenager to public office? So that he can make stupid decisions at your expense?

    Before the public lost what little collective sense it had and duly allowed politics to become a career for underachievers, politicians would have been expected to come from the great and the good of society. The point of that condition was to ensure that only the wisest among them were chosen to make the decisions that effected all of them. Now, it seems, the public elect any old (or young) fool but still seem surprised when their society looks like any old fool is running it.

    Try electing highly capable people – with a proven track record of success – if you want to live in a society run by winners and not losers…

  • pippakin


    Thanks for that. I didn’t pay much attention to his education because I never have or will to anyone else’s. But, in my experience the greater the privilege the less need to worry about the eleven plus. At eighteen everyone is the product of their upbringing. It takes a little/lot longer for us to fully develop our own ideas.

    I say good luck to the lad and will wait to see what develops. The most off putting thing about him is his career choice. It reminds me of William Hague.. My own opinion is that no one should be allowed to become a politician until they have held and been successful in a real job.

  • yvonne mckimm

    For the record – I know Stephen Stewart and can confirm that:

    1. He doesn’t come from a privileged background as suggested above

    2. He did have to, and is still currently “slugging” away on a supermarket shelf to pay for his election expenses himself.

    Just thought that may clear up a few concerns from a certain ‘DanielGillen’.

  • Alias

    “My own opinion is that no one should be allowed to become a politician until they have held and been successful in a real job.”

    It’s awfully elitest, of course, but that’s reality for you. Would you elect an 18-year-old or a 60-year-old unemployed butcher’s apprentice or a grubby local estate agent to the role of CEO at Tesco if you were a shareholder? Nope, because you’d rightfully expect to see your investment fall in value if you did something that stupid. Perhaps it’s the case that voters don’t see that they have a financial interest in voting.

  • In sofar as we are “allowed” to vote at 18, there can surely be no bar on an 18 year old standing for election. Like Pippakin I say Good luck to them that are so doing……with the proviso that it is not a schoolboy/girl lark to impress their friends in the Sixth Form or their mates on social networking sites. Plainly Mr Stewart HAS a platform.
    But the £150 deposit seems a good investment to have a laugh. Just get thirty mates to throw in a fiver each and youre a candidate for Assembly Election.
    There needs to be a balance struck between encouraging minority parties and discouraging the system falling into (further) disrepute.
    Of course a deposit of say £1,000 would be realistic but would get howls of discontent from minority parties. So lower the threshold for losing the deposit.
    A deposit of £150 is a Spoofers Charter. And being a Spoofer myself, with little better to do I am tempted to have a go at the Assembly in 2015.

  • pippakin


    Agreed it should be at least £500 to stand for election. The current amount is no deterrent to silly children or even sillier adults.

  • There’s no deposit required to get your name on the council ballot papers … which means in theory a bunch of sill people could target a single area and as long as they could find enough folk to nominate, they could see just how long a ballot paper was possible!

    A question: is experience actually necessary? Surely an Assembly with 108 (or even 80) MLAs relies on the combined experiences of those elected – using different skills and backgrounds to complement each other. So youth (in sensible proportions) should be no barrier to participation?

  • Why not a quota system. People could designate themselves Under 30, Under 40, Under 50 etc and a quota reserved for each decade. This means that as we get older and there are more elderly, we get more influence.
    And we get to make young people pay for much better nursing homes.
    Actually “is experience really necessary?” is not really the question at all. Its whether or not the Electorate vote for an 18 year old. I suspect its the “party label” that counts more than a birth certificate.
    A young candidate not too far from me has canvassed all of the local pubs. He has been courting that vote for years. And probably has it locked down. How that vote transfers will be interesting.

  • pippakin

    Alan in Belfast

    I think experience is very important. Potential representatives of the people should know the problems and fears the people have.

    Its really important, too often a TD or MP pontificates on the unemployed when he/she has no idea of what being unemployed is like, let them spend six months worrying about where the next mortgage payment is coming from or what they must go without to buy the kids shoes! and yes that is a problem some people face, even today, and on both sides of the border.

  • Stroke City Emboli

    You seem to think Stephen Stewart is privileged because some fees are paid to his school. From what I know his Da is a taxi driver in Dundonald. Doesn’t sound like too much of a silver-spoon candidate after all. Don’t knock folk for investing some dosh in their kids’ schooling.

    I see fitzjameshorse1745 thinks the low £150 deposit might tempt him to stand in 2015. Hopefully at that time he will reveal who he is rather than making all these negative comments from his attic under a pseudonym.

  • Kadfoomsa

    Great respect for anyone who stands, a 1000 more times sensible that this blogging nonsense on a day aff!

  • yvonne mckimm

    all i can say to all comments is………..What a brave young man………..

  • changeisneeded

    While it is good to see someone young standing for election, he is obviously from a privildged/unionist background. Its sad to see he brings up the armed forces line. Brainwashed much….
    For his parents to be able to afford 2k a year to send him to campbell makes him different to the majority of other 18 year olds.
    As Samual Beckett once said of Campbell College “the cream of Ulster, rich and thick”

  • I would suggest that anyone who sends a child to a fee paying school might well be a person who believes in privelege.
    I would suggest that anyone at a fee paying school is in a priveleged position.
    I would suggest that Dawn Purvis MLA for East Belfast has produced a very meaningful report on educationally disadvantaged young men among the Protestant community in East Belfast. Mr Stewart does not appear to be one.
    I would suggest that its something of an irony that the most priveleged fee paying school in Norn Iron is in….East Belfast.

    The rather obvious suggestion is to open up Campbell College to even more folks like Mr Stewart (taxi drivers son from Dundonald)….., and Sydenham, Knock, Dee Street, Sydenham, Bloomfield, Gilnahirk.
    They have extremely spacious grounds and a few pre-fab, portakabins could be used to house the influx of new students.
    Who could possibly object?
    As to “my” using a pseudonym!!!!!. …Stroke City Emboli? I have actually changed my name by deed poll. And it will appear on the East Belfast and Victoria DEA ballot paper as such.
    I will put you down as a “dont know”.

  • The armed forces line from a Campbell College student is entirely in line with the militarism of the College. I think they still have a very large “Cadet” Force which is I understand compulsory after age 15.
    Indeed every school in Norn Iron from Bushmills to Crossmaglen should have the same opportunity. What a much better place it would be if 15 year olds were taught that kinda thing.

    All of us are for extending privelege not restricting it.

  • As Samual Beckett once said of Campbell College “the cream of Ulster, rich and thick”

    I’m sure Samuel would have appreciated the irony of you, in particular, attempting to employ that quotation as an insult.

  • William Markfelt

    A couple of points

    1. A ‘little” life experience is presented as a negative. It would appear there is greater respect for those with more life experience to fiddle their expenses and screw the voters, always figuratively and in some cases literally, as some sort of aphrodisiac of power.

    2. Boring middle-aged blokes in boring suits talking bollocks on UTV and the BBC is generally time to make a cup of tea on the basis that we’ve heard it all before and it’s boring, while this young man is clearly embracing new media that the old farts haven’t cottoned onto yet. I wonder what his ‘environmental footprint’ is by comparison to the main parties whose posters are a pox on the landscape?

    3. Support for the 11+ is bad? Well, obviously its abolition was such a success that it wasn’t supplanted by the tears of mothers fretting over its ridiculous replacement(s). So it all rather looks like a Ruane groupie chastising an educational traditionalist (described as a ‘young Unionist’).

    He won’t be elected, but good luck to the young fella, as long as he remembers not to become so wrapped up in politics to the excluson of all other hobbies that he becomes as boring as the older political class. As usual, I’m staying in bed until the charade is over, followed by a Lennon-esque bed in until the old media election posters are all removed (circa January 2013).

  • ayeYerMa

    DanielGillen, indeed is indeed being very harsh and unpragmatic (perhaps a disingenuous Republican?). Most of us are sectarian – we can’t do anything about it. There isn’t really such a thing as a “non-sectarian individual”. There is, however, a big difference in having political parties that define themselves in sectarian terms (and hence all members being from the same sectarian background), and having political parties with no such sectarian stance (and hence allow members from all sectarian backrounds).

    Regarding Stephen Stewart’s “would increase spending on the NHS on a yearly basis”, that is quite laughable. Sounds like a typical socialist policy of “want everything but don’t want to pay for it, and then take out a big loan to bankrupt the country”.

  • separatesix

    I don’t care whether Stephen is too inexperienced or too privileged, he seems a lot more articulate than a lot of the assembly members at Stormont plus his views are an awful lot more representative of East Belfast than minority fringe candidates like Ann Cooper and Niall O’ Donnghaile.

  • Alias

    “He won’t be elected, but good luck to the young fella, as long as he remembers not to become so wrapped up in politics to the excluson of all other hobbies that he becomes as boring as the older political class. As usual, I’m staying in bed until the charade is over, followed by a Lennon-esque bed in until the old media election posters are all removed (circa January 2013).”

    Entertaining paragragh. I started to sound like my parents around his age too, and it’s embarrassing looking back.

    He’s obviously a bright and ambitious chap, so he’ll prove himself in some field. And when he does, then the public should consider him for public office. My point was that the public are acting counterproductive to their common by failing to demand that only those with a proven record of success or outstanding promotion of the public interest should be considered for public office. If they elect the mediocre to run their state(let), then they shouldn’t expect anything better than a mediocre state. The point is to always expect better…

  • Balor-Vy-Ysbaddaden

    God loves a tryer.The norths answer to dylan haskins.It’s great too see so many of our youth with more than a passing interest in politics.Only a foolish dog,would bark at a flying bird.Imagine peter robinson and gerry adams gettin pushed up to the assembly in wheelchairs in about 5 years time.Big ian behind them.Our martin mcguinness might even end up as the free state minister of agriculture.

    Personally,considering how bad the last generation of politicans screwed up.I think all young people should stand for at least 1//2 elections in their lifetime.The old divides are gone.Onwards for the youth.If he stood in my constituency i’d give him a vote.Just for having an independent brain.