What exactly would a genuine Stormont reform process look like?

Been meaning to share this from Jon Tonge in the Belfast Telegraph but the combination of shortage of time during mid term break and my hurry to get my Twitter valedictory finished meant I didn’t get around to it.

Surely it is time to change the rules of the political institutions. Several parties say they are in favour. Alliance produced a treatise on reform for its election manifesto. But change never happens. As the lyrics of the UK number one single at the time of the Good Friday Agreement put it, “It’s like that, and that’s the way it is”.

Westminster either fiddles with reform or steamrollers devolution. This year’s tinkering made a petition of concern require support from two parties, rather than 30 signatures from one. That was despite any sentient human noting that no party would reach 30 seats at the election, making a petition impossible under the old rules anyway.

Now, without sounding a bit dim given there’s no democratic version of Stormont, why does any of this matter? The Northern Ireland economy is currently doing very well in the absence of those meddling politicians.

The answer isn’t just that the health system is ag titim as a cheile (literally “falling from togetherness”), because it’s doing this in spite of the fact that we have had an administration for 65% of the time since 1998.

It’s that this rigid system (where almost all shall have prizes) has been captured by the most ideological rigid parties who do now have the leeway or inclination build a suffiicient consensus in doing anything.

It hasn’t been like that the whole way. In one Liverpool survey people named the 2011-16 Robinson/McGuinness administration as the most successful. But 2016 was SF’s least successful election.

Getting on with the oul enemy in government is bad for party business. I’ve argued that any parliament should be able to air controversy and be capable of allowing people to “kick the bums out” (as they say in the US).

The question is how to change the system without endangering the safeguards and the enabling structure of the Belfast Agreement? How to kick away the ‘ugly scaffolding’ as Mark Durkan called it, to let demos breathe?

Jon has two suggestions. One, scrap the unionist and nationalist and other designations. Because he reasons:

Voters are the ones who can self-designate as unionist or nationalist — on border poll day. Until then, there is non-constitutional work for MLAs to do.

Assembly responsibilities do not include constitutional futures, protocol contents, hard borders that no one will ever build anyway, or expressions of identity such as parades and flags.

You don’t need to declare yourself a nationalist or unionist to determine whether you support a Stormont plan for increasing charges for plastic bags in shops.

The other important part of the plan is to demand that laws need a weighted majority to pass in the Assembly.

Now, I don’t know if this will work, but it would have the immediate effect of breaking the poisonous duopoly that’s been at the heart of Stormont since 2007. He also suggests having just one first minister.

I don’t know what the unintended consequences of such changes might be. It would require someone giving up leverage they’ve held on to for a long time now, but there’s surely merit in having a conversation around it?

What changes would you like to see (that are compliant with the Belfast Agreement)?

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