Mike Nesbitt is right. Unionists and Nationalists must vote right down the card to get meaningful change.

Ah, Monday. With only two and a half weeks until polling day we are going to moving into that critical time period when the actual public start waking up to the various electoral campaigns (it’s been a long lonely path for us political geeks up to now).

I do take instruction from David on the Opposition’s need to focus on poor government, but the news that the UUP leader will transfer to the SDLP is already getting cut through on the doors. And the DUP is salivating, knowing how it will appeal to their more extreme base.

Colum Eastwood did not follow him word for word on the Sunday Politics, but his advice in general terms was to vote right down the card (which includes choosing Unionists). Good advice for anyone who wants to influence the makeup of ‘the other side’.

Read in a certain way, ‘plumping’ is a form of passively (aggressively) accepting the verdict of the other community on whom you must deal with when in government. Voting down the card keeps your vote alive and provides influence in close races outside your community.

In this race at least it doesn’t suit the incumbents. In Michelle O’Neill’s Mid Ulster, SF must squeeze community loyalty (and the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone) as tight as possible to get their three retiring MLAs over the line.

So I have a number of questions worth pondering (particularly if you’re unionist, but I think it applies both ways). What, if any, advantage accrues to unionism in general if their voters plump for unionist candidates only?

Since the post-St Andrews Agreement amendments mean unionism’s overall strength is far less important than the strength of the single largest party, what real advantage accrues to parties other than the largest single unionist party in such a one way and unconditional compact?

In fact, if unionist voters go right down the card they can have influence in the power battle on the other side without compromising their own top choices (thus improving the chances of avoiding yet another fruitless mandate).

How else other than taking an activist (if still marginal) interest in the affairs of nationalism do you propose going about getting a partner you can actually work with?

On the nationalist side, as Eastwood pointed out yesterday he has SF activists troll him on Twitter saying he is wrong to seek to co-operate with Unionists, but under current constitutional arrangements, SF no less than the DUP, the UUP or the SDLP are compelled to work together.

SF’s opposition to the DUP is belied by their own record, as laid out by none other than their own president Gerry Adams in his speech to the party’s Cuige Uladh (which is as near as the party can bring itself to incorporate NI internally).

Nesbitt has only said out loud what needs to be said if power-sharing at Stormont is ever to be a meaningful affair. Being the first Unionist leader to say what should not (to paraphrase Ian Paisley Junior) need to be explained, may hurt him more than it should.

As one (nationalist) Facebook friend said this morning:

People are voting for a government, and that means partnership, so it makes sense to vote first for your favoured party, then for your favoured partner in government. Voting down sectarian lines is simply that.

Unionists and nationalists have been gifted a system of PR which allows them useful influence in each other’s backyards. They should use it judiciously so as not to harm their own self-interests. But as we’ve seen in Australia the use of lower preferences can be a powerful tool.

Nesbitt and Eastwood do not need a joint platform. That’s just a weird fantasy of the NI media, which does not exists anywhere else in the western world, with PR or no PR. But they do have a potent weapon, which they hold in common with all other opposition parties.

They should jointly (and separately) authorise the legitimate use of full card preferences against two government parties which seem determined to keep walking a path to endless and endlessly barren perdition. And then quickly get back to RHI (and the causes of RHI).

 

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