‘Only the DUP stands in the way of a Sinn Féin First Minister’ exclaims a Democratic Unionist leaflet regarding the forthcoming Assembly election. It comes complete with a bar graph that shows a small 5 percentage margin between the two parties.
At first glance one would think that it referred to the number of seats each party holds – which of course shows a much wider gap of 10 seats. This is of course crude dog-whistle politics. And it works.
Last year’s ‘Arlene for First Minister’ campaign was simple and admittedly effective resulting in the DUP exceeding the predictions of many observers who expected to see the DUP’s 2011 return trimmed, even modestly.
The race for First Minister is more optics than substance of course given that the First Minister and deputy First Minister are equal in all but name. So why continue the pretence?
Yet again the DUP want to use the difference in the titles of the two in effect Joint First Ministers to create a sectarian race, the beating of an old political drum.
However there is no race. The DUP vote will need to collapse and then some. Its not going to happen. RHI will damage the DUP of course but no-one expects them to drop to the low 20s.
However if the titles of First Minister and deputy First Minister serve only to satisfy a sectarian craving is it now time to end the false illusions of grandeur once and for all?
All the parties bar the DUP see the two top positions as being Joint First Ministers. If there are negotiations directly after the election as expected then perhaps this is one anomaly that can be removed once and for all.
In any other role of employment it would be unacceptable to an employee to take a lesser title of position than someone else even though they were carrying out the same duties.
Now is the time to remove the second class title from Stormont’s head office. The majority of political parties already agree. It’s time to end the pretence (and the sectarian race to be First Minister).