Let’s All Vote

Peter Robinson and his party hope that soon, Stormont will take control of corporation tax… that very same institution that he recently declared as “Not fit for purpose”

Join the club, there are a lot of us who feel the same…we’re waiting on a back order of membership cards, you see, the anti-Stormont membership packs are being handled by the DVLA in Swansea…

Gregory Campbell said words to the effect of “we can call an election, but it will be exactly the same Assembly afterwards, people will vote the same” and unfortunately this is all too true. The issue in Northern Ireland that isn’t necessarily shared in many other places, is entrenchment within a cause. Yes, people in England vote Labour because their dad voted Labour, and their dad voted Labour and so on and so on…but this is not the same. If the Labour leader decided one day to take a massive dump in parliament square whilst wearing a Saddam Hussein costume and shouting “VIVÉ LE FRANCE!!” those labour voters would switch, no questions asked. Not so in Northern Ireland.

Sure, the switch from DUP to UUP or Sinn Fein to SDLP is not so great a jump as to question ones identity, but that is not necessarily the solution we require.

To listen to the Stephen Nolan show, or any other political sounding board for the masses, is to hear disappointment, disenfranchisement, hatred even. I believe that now more than ever, the despondency shown by a parties electorate to that party, is at critical mass. Unfortunately there is nowhere they will jump to (not nowhere they CAN jump to…very distinct difference here)

I feel that the time is ripe for an election, but not just any old election. A big one. THE big one. My thoughts are two-fold.

1: Mandatory voting.

The disillusionment with the assembly needs to either be rectified or justified, like a married couple who have done nothing but fight for 20 years “WE JUST CAN’T GO ON LIKE THIS”…”it isn’t good for either of us”…”We’ve just grown apart”…and other such clichés. In 2011, 54.5% of eligible voters had their say. in 2007, 62.3%… in 2003, 63%…in 1998, 69.8%. Voter apathy is turning our province into a barely-mandated farce.

Take Jim Wells, the health minister who is suggesting Minimum-Unit pricing for alcohol, deciding whether or not the Dalriada unit closes or not, maintains the ban on gay blood donations, will refuse to consider any progression or reform of abortion laws..a minister is in charge of a great many important issues in our society, was elected with a vote of 6543(on the 5th count…just 5200 people had him as 1st preference). He represents “South Down”, and in the last election, the turnout was 58.1%. He legislates on our health service…based on 7% of an area voting for him; or to play with figures again for a moment, 93% of his own area didn’t vote for him, yet he holds one of the most vital departments in our society. And he was the 3rd highest polling candidate (after Margaret Ritchie & Caitriona Ruane). Laverys Bar has more of a mandate to govern…and a lot higher approval rating.

Hardly a firm mandate. Although when the DUP protect their ministers from trouble like a baby Panda, I suppose that mandate is extended somewhat…perhaps the DUP should run on a “Protect the endangered MLA’s” mandate..

So I believe that for 1 election and 1 election alone, voting should be made mandatory. As in:

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France(Senate), Gabon, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey & Uruguay.

I know there are those who are against voting for religious grounds, well thats fine…go and spoil your ballot. Just get involved. Give whoever is making the decisions a mandate to make the decisions.

I believe that this is a solution to a number of problems, including which parties are represented. NI21 was a failed experiment (unless their AGM this coming weekend has a surprise or 2 planned), one which could put off new parties from standing in the future, but I believe a One Big Election concept would encourage all those who are of a political persuasion to band together and represent.

2: Ballot Measures, or Ballot Propositions.

Nearly everyone has heard something to the effect of “Vote yes on proposition 265”. This is a mechanism representative of direct democracy. I propose that we have a mass-proposition in this One Big Election of mine. Every issue that is proving to be divisive…everyone can have their say on it. Not only would we then have a much stronger mandate for those in office, but they would also have a much stronger mandate on the issues that matter. Vote DUP because you are pro-union and they best represent your views on that issue? That’s grand. But if a ballot proposition on Gay Marriage or Abortion or Sunday Trading laws were to show a huge majority of public support in opposition to the party policy, then they would simply have to represent that in the assembly. Perhaps even a much greater breakdown could help steer Northern Irish party policy for years to come…if figures were to be released showing that, for example,

41% of people voted for the DUP

73% of those who voted for the DUP are in support of gay marriage

26% of those who voted for the DUP are in opposition to abortion

85% of those who voted for the DUP are in support of Sunday Trading Reform

Well then the DUP know who they have to please if they want to keep their majority. The same as true for any other party. It can be a very active way for the people of Northern Ireland to help shape their future, if we are all honest, the current system is doing nothing but keeping the shape of the present, if not preserving the shape of the past.

Every controversial public issue could be up for debate. I had discussed this with someone recently who is despondent with the same issues as I am, and we had played around with the idea of trying to start some sort of alternative election movement, where in an off-election year, everybody in Northern Ireland could have their say on these issues, of course it wouldn’t be binding, but it would be a flavour of the feeling of the people…a potential for a real mandate.

Take for example:

Easter Licensing, Abortion, Sunday Trading, Fracking, Wind Farms, Welfare Reform, A&E Openings, Paid Prescriptions, Flags & Symbols, Parading, Urban Regeneration, Priorities of the PSNI…and anything else I’ve failed to remember. If we were to have sufficient lead in time, the respective groups involved in these topics could really make their case and let the people decide for themselves. Its one thing having Bernie Smyth shouting her case on Great Victoria Street, and she is who shouts loudest…but does that mean she should get her way? If a majority of the electorate voted to make abortion legal, in line with the UK, then she can stand and rant away, but the decision will have been made for her.

Also, take the sensitive issues of parading…if we had firm figures on those in each street or postcode, of those who are for or against parading…this would make the position of the parades commission almost cast iron. “Permission for this parade is denied because 73% of the people who live on the route have indicated that they wish no parade to pass their house” or “the parade can go ahead but must avoid BT88 8AA as the residents here have unanimously declared they wish for no parades to pass their residence.” Who can argue with that? The PUL community have argued that “protesters are bused in to oppose parades” well, let the residents themselves speak at a ballot box.

I see no reason why the political parties would not get behind this idea, save for one… The idea of failure. The prospect of having their policies which they hold so dear, to be shown to be in complete contrast to the will of the electorate. Sure, everybody thinks that the more people who get involved, the better it is for the political process…but when the people who get involved speak loudly against the status quo, perhaps those currently in positions of power may find themselves in shakey ground.

On the other hand, perhaps this idea is dead in the water as the DUP would only put a petition of concern against it…

Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.