Voting takes place today in the Assembly election.
It is an important poll. Stormont now has more control over our lives than it has ever done.
The system of devolved power sharing has legitimately come under fire for its dysfunctionality and for the meagre progress in passing laws. However, it is only fair to note that the primary responsibility for this lies in the system of government that was imposed on politicians.
Unionists were told, implicitly in the run-up to 1998 and almost explicitly in the run-up to 2006, that the failure to accept power sharing would result in something worse, such as joint authority or direct rule with a green tinge. The net result of those threats was fixed power sharing that includes Sinn Fein always at the heart of power. This is because it is the party that now has clear majority support among nationalists.
For that reason, we advise voters today to vote for unionist candidates of their choice, and to use their preferences exhaustively. Previous Assembly elections have seen numerous candidates elected by a narrow margin in late counts.
Some voters stop expressing a preference after supporting all candidates from their preferred party. When unionist voters do this, they in effect have decided that there is no difference between Alliance and the SDLP, or between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. There might be individual reasons for reaching such conclusions – stance on moral matters for example – but not using later preferences does have consequences.
There is scope for all voters to support their favoured party, if they have one, and then show support for individual candidates or parties as they see fit. This coming term includes the intriguing prospect of a formal Opposition.
Taking account of a candidate’s stance on the Union might seem old-fashioned, but it isn’t. The UK is at risk from forces including Scottish nationalism. Sinn Fein grows ever stronger, and their narrative that the IRA fought an honourable campaign against a terrorist British state is gaining ground.
In such circumstances, it is essential that unionists come to the polls in large numbers.