Last weekend TUV met for their seventh annual conference. Due to the growth of the party in recent times we had to bid farewell to our traditional Cookstown venue and instead meet in the Rosspark Hotel which was able to facilitate the much larger number of delegates.
There was a mood of celebration as 2014 has been TUV’s most successful to date. More people voted Traditional Unionist than ever before with the party coming within touching distance of the SDLP and UUP in the European election. Additionally, the party has broken new ground in the council poll with councillors elected for the first time in places like Belfast, Castlereagh and Comber.
One of the main themes of the conference was the failure of Stormont to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. As the growth in support for TUV shows more and more people are coming to share this analysis.
Anyone who was serious about changing the way Stormont works and giving us a system which delivers for all the people of Northern Ireland wouldn’t sustain its operation.
And thanks to the TUV conference our goal of bringing democratic devolution to Stormont has made headlines in recent days. The commentator Alex Kane – who delivered a well-received address to the conference in our guest speaker’s slot – has also challenged TUV not just to point out the flaws in the Stormont system, but to spell out what we would do differently if we were to return with a sizable Assembly team after the next election.
Permit me to do just that.
In those circumstances TUV would do what no party has ever done in the Northern Ireland Assembly - refuse seats in the Executive. We would do this because we fundamentally disagree with how it is formed.
TUV MLAs would act as an opposition outside the Executive and in so doing seek to move Northern Ireland to a democratic system of government where parties which can command the necessary majority can govern while others perform the honourable and essential role of opposition.
Some have attempted to portray the TUV position as a call for a return to majority rule. This is nonsense. In no TUV manifesto or position paper has the party ever advocated this.
TUV recognises that Northern Ireland needs a system of government which includes buy in from more than just Unionists. We don’t, however, accept that anyone has a right to be in government for ever.
No party is big enough to command a majority in Northern Ireland.
We want to see government in Northern Ireland reformed so that parties who can agree a coalition after an election and command the requisite majority – which would have to be a weighted majority to guarantee cross-community composition – form the government. The other parties, whoever they might be, form the opposition and offer an alternative government at the next election.
Such a system would recognise both the democratic essentials of the right to have an opposition and the right to vote a party out of government while at the same time protecting the rights of minorities.
Of course TUV would not partner Sinn Fein in such a government. However, if other Unionists want to do so, let them do so openly and honestly.
The present system merely allows the electorate to shuffle the cards in the Ministerial deck rather than removing parties from office.
It leads to infighting between parties which are in government which would topple any democratic administration.
It guarantees the survival of sectarianism because MLAs must designate as either Unionist or Nationalist before they take their seats and if they decline to adopt one of those labels their votes do not count when it comes to important matters.
And most importantly of all - the present system leads to disillusionment among the electorate because they are denied the ability to do anything about it as every sizable party is in government as of right for ever.
A system which places no requirement on parties to be agreed about anything before they can be in government together is a system which is doomed to fail.
There is a better way for Northern Ireland to be governed in the interests of both Unionists and Nationalists.