ERS elections ballots arriving

Electoral Reform Society LogoMany of you interested in Electoral Reform in Northern Ireland may well also be members of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). They are currently having elections to their council and ballots should be arriving with members from today.

Following on from the upset that many of us felt about the result and indeed the way that the Yes! to Fairer Votes campaign was run these elections have a greater importance. The need for electoral reform hasn’t suddenly disappeared, it just may be harder to get ourselves heard. What is needed for the case of electoral reform is people who truly are committed to the cause and who have a campaigning spirit.

The first group who have taken action to campaign for that change within the ERS council is a group of names that I do find very familiar. They were hard-working middle, lower management or even just volunteers in the Yes! campaign. Some ran phone banks (and I know they ran them well), others were effective in the tasks they had, all of them struggled with the people at the top of the campaign from actually listening to the concerns of the grass-roots, and indeed those who had been employed because of their campaigning expertise to run our various regional campaigns.

Steven McIntosh has written to all Northern Irish members of the ERS to set out their agenda for change, saying We Must Do Better! He says:

“I, and a team of like-minded individuals are campaigning to rebuild and improve the [ERS], because if one thing became clear from the referendum, it was that the organisations dedicated to the cause of electoral reform were simply not capable or well prepared enough to win the campaign. This has to change to make sure that we win, and continue to promote a better democracy whenever we get the chance.

“It is a team which is determined to improve the way the Electoral Reform Society is governed and to make sure that any future campaigning becomes more effective and delivers on the values of the society.”

There are a list of campiagning goals included that the ERS which they feel needs to get moving on.

  • An elected House of Lordss
  • Votes at 16
  • Voter registration
  • Youth engagement and particiapation
  • Electoral reform at parish council and Local Authority elections (one that doesn’t apply to us here in Northern Ireland)

He then lists a number of people who I can personally vouch for as being people who did all they could in the campaign. But like myself came up against brick walls that stopped us being the effective campaigning machine that many of us wanted to be, many of us signed up to be part of, but found our hands tied (often by decisions made before we came on board). Looking down the list I see people from Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Green Party and no party whatsoever.

I learnt the importance of working with people from all these parties and others (I was Northern Ireland Organiser after all) for the common cause of electoral reform, so have no problems voting for a cross party slate of candidates, this issue is bigger than any individual party, or party leaders ego. While I’ve been disagreeing with Nigel Farage over how to deal with rioters in recent days I agree with many that he was just the person we needed to get out the message that AV wasn’t a left leaning, Guardian readers system but fair across the political spectrum, he was alas underutilized in that cause until too late in the day.

The list of people on the team is George Gabriel, John Ault, Steffan John, Claire Coatman, Arnie Craven, Steven McIntosh, Danny Zinkus Sutton, James Grindrod, Andrew May, Amy Dodd, Chris Carrigan, Benjamin Lille, Jessica Assato, Arran Cottam and Jon Walsh.

This is writen as the personal opinion of myself having worked with the vast majority of these people on the Yes! campaign. I will also give information about any other group/individual that contacts me seeking their vote for the ERS council as well, for the sake of balance and transparent democracy in these elections.

Update I understand that a second letter has been sent to Northern Ireland members and have been assured this was an administrative error.

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Is it normal to designate in one of two ways?

The other day on his blog Ian Parsley looked at what being considered “normal” is for Northern Irish politics, following on from Platform for Change’s AGM. One of his observations was:

You cannot force Northern Ireland’s voters to adopt the English party system, which is the inherent logic of what most of those advocating “normal politics” are suggesting. Identity plays a part across the board, and we should not be too surprised that it is Northern Ireland identity which determined the Northern Ireland party line-up.

Yet Ian sees no issue in forcing parties to fit into a preconceived idea of what a Northern Irish political party should be, either Green or Orange. That surely is a dichotomy. There is a problem with Northern Irish, or should we say Assembly politics. Enshrined in the Belfast Agreement is the following clause in the safeguards under Strand One of the agreement about key decision making in the Assembly:

(d) arrangements to ensure key decisions are taken on a cross-community basis;

  • (i) either parallel consent, i.e. a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting;
  • (ii) or a weighted majority (60%) of members present and voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

Problems do arise for any party that doesn’t fit into either a unionist or nationalist designation. What if a party truly upholds Article 1 (ii) of the Agreement, namely:

recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external
impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;

What if a party were to operate in, or seek to set up and contest elections in Northern Ireland holding that premise of self-determination as central to their ethos. Such a party may not need all their member to agree on the issue, may even like some of the parties in the recent referendum allow their members to campaign on whichever side of the debate they want to. Such a party, or parties, would not have a say is key decisions in the Assembly. Read the above again, only parties of unionist of nationalist designation have a say in such issues. There is no majority simple or weighted of parties that are neither.

There was great outcry a few years ago when some of the Alliance MLAs temporarily designated themselves as unionists to be able to force through some legislation. That is because parties of the third way or third space, as is the Northern Irish parlance, neither nationalist nor unionist but working for the good of the people democratically whatever they determine is their future have no say. It is enshrined in legislation that parties must be either one or the other to have a veto or majority of a say.

Let’s suppose at some point in the future a non-sectarian group of parties were to storm to an Majority of the seats in the Assembly, and one of the designations were reduced to merely 5 members. Only three of those members would have to vote against every key decision, including changing the terms of the agreement to add a third designation. A party or group of parties that stood at election as ending sectarian politics, could end up having to designate themselves along sectarian lines to be able to operate. They would have to break maybe a key election pledge in order to operate within the straight jacket of the sectarianism that is enshrined in Northern Irish politics by that point in history back in 1998.

If we are truly are looking at a shared future here in Northern Ireland is it not time to look at redressing the issue of designation. After all the SNP majority Government in Scotland doesn’t need a 40% backing of the unionist parties to make any key decision in Holyrood.

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Where next for reform

Many of you across a number of parties, or from none are probably still smarting about the result in the referendum on the Alternative Vote earlier this month. Many of you probably can’t believe some of the things that have been said from people inside the yes campaign about how it was run. If that is the case I was doing my job as Northern Ireland Organiser well, keeping you motivated, getting you to go out there and share the message positively while dealing with the issues that I saw from even before I came on board with the people that could make a change.

But many of you out there believe in electoral reform in many different areas. Here in Northern Ireland we have specific needs and concerns as we have a devloved Assembly that was set up of its time. It should not be an adminstration that is set in stone but one that should evolve over time as the situation here allows it. Just like the Belfast Agreement it is the people who will have to be telling the politicians when it is time to stop posturing and get on with making change and that is where you can come in and be a part of it.

I’m setting up this blog as a talking shop for any of you with ideas on reform to speak them outloud and let others listen. It can be about how things are done at council level, the Assembly or in Westminster or Dublin. It is about how reform can be brought about to help the people of Northern Ireland, the North, the Six Counties call it what you will, but lets not get all het up about what we call things, lets make progress instead on how we do things.

One thing I have learnt in recent months is that an awful lot of people from across the political spectrum have an idea that things need to change. The only way we can do that is talk about it with each other no matter what our political affiliation. If you agree you are welcome here and lets keep on getting reform talked about and taken seriously.

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