If truth be told, at this point in time, I would happily pay off all existing MLAs (£50k each, OK £100k and not a penny more, off you go!) and be quite satisfied with 108 new Assembly members drawn purely randomly from the population at large for a fixed term of five years. Terms and conditions: no elections, no electioneering, no expenses just £40k a year and the thanks of a grateful public. If attendance and performance deemed reasonable an OBE, otherwise zilch; if any conduct negligent or illegal then sanctions applied ranging from sacking to imprisonment. I have every confidence that, whatever the section 75 composition of the 108, we would end up with better institutions with better decisions taken for the greater good, with minority rights better protected.
It seems to me that we currently have “Jenga Politics”. OK I admit “Jenga Politics” is often set to one side as “Pass the Buck” takes over and the Benny Hill music stopped intermittently. Recently we even had “Jenga Politics” and “Pass the Buck” played simultaneously. Or was it “Pin the tail on the donkey?” And of course nobody carries the can and everybody collects their money as they pass GO!
For those unfamiliar with the game of Jenga, 54 rectangular blocks are arranged to make a tower comprising 18 levels of 3 blocks each, with each level at a right angle to the level below. As the game progresses each person removes a block and places it on top of the tower. Eventually when a brick is removed, the tower becomes unstable and falls over and you start again. Sound familiar?
Any ancient Egyptian could tell you that to build a structure of any stature you need to begin with a wide base and build narrower as you build upwards, hence the pyramids. Future tower builders right up to and including the present day rely upon firm foundations thus allowing the multiple loads to be dispersed into the earth below. Get the foundations wrong and you get the Tower of Pisa. If you’re lucky.
The institutions on the Hill have neither a wide support base nor any firm foundations; quite simply they were prefabricated. The slightest tremor and the structures wobble. The institutions have neither shared objectives nor a lowest common denominator; quite simply because there is no trust. Trust is the mortar that binds the fundamental building blocks of democracy together; and without trust these sit uneasily and unjointed, susceptible to both political storms and day by day attrition. The institutions have neither effective or impartial arbiters nor standing orders and conventions that are observed; quite simply the very mechanisms put in place to ensure democracy, effective power-sharing and cross community safeguards are abused on a regular basis. Assembly decisions can be vetoed by one side, individual ministerial accountability can be completely disregarded without sanction, and conflicts of interest are neither declared nor admitted.
And that’s why I would happily pay off all existing MLAs and be satisfied with 108 new Assembly members drawn purely randomly from the population at large for a fixed term of five years.
But it needn’t be this way. As a family we’ve always thought that the aim of Jenga was to be the last player to remove a block without the tower tumbling. However this year one of the family, at home for Christmas, introduced a new viewpoint saying that the aim was to build a tower as high as possible. A slightly different concept of the game. In the absence of any rules, long since lost, we turned for advice to the Internet and the official Jenga site which states “The loser is the person who made the tower fall.”
A simple game of Jenga had suddenly became more nuanced: define winning, define losing, one loser, multiple losers, multiple winners, building or gaming, teamwork or personal interest etc?
In sum it all depends on how you play the game.
New Year’s resolutions all round please.