Northern Ireland yet again finds itself in the familiar territory of being the political laughing stock of these islands. Governed by people who could start a sectarian argument at an atheist convention, we’re just over a week from an election nobody claims to want…but everyone claims is a good thing.
Have a look at twitter or (if you’re brave) Facebook for political opinions and you’re sure to find a broad spectrum of views, some of which are actually coherent. The overriding feeling amongst the public, however, seems to be “what’s the point, we’ll only end up with those two again.”
Here’s the thing though – you’re drinking exactly the Kool Aid that they want you to drink, and you’re taking it straight. The DUP want you to believe that Sinn Fein might become the largest political party and usher in a United Ireland quicker than Stephen Nolan seizing the opportunity to argue with a politician. Sinn Fein want you to believe that they’re on the cusp of achieving this. And both sides benefit from scaremongering. Neither party is stupid – they know that as long as there’s someone on the other side hoovering up votes, there’s a narrative available to demand votes from their own community. It feels like we’re in a never ending cycle of fear of the other side.
One of the main arguments DUP have been putting forward is that a vote for any other unionist party is a vote that might allow a Sinn Fein First Minister. Leaving aside the fact that it’s incredible that one of your main selling points is a fear of ‘the other side’, does that point even matter? Of course it doesn’t. The office of First and Deputy First Minister is a joint ministerial office. The powers are the same. Had Martin McGuinness been First Minister over the past few years, the biggest difference would have been that he shook the Queen’s hand first. The point of a joint ministerial office is, you guessed it, that the powers are shared.
But does it need to be like this? Of course not. Did you know that over 580,000 people did not vote in the last Assembly election? To put it into context, that’s more than the first preference votes for DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP and SDLP. Combined. Still think your vote doesn’t matter?
Many people don’t vote because they don’t believe in any political party. But the field of candidates is incredibly wide. If you study the manifestos in detail, there’s bound to be one that stands out as broadly in line with your beliefs. You’re never going to find a candidate who believes EXACTLY as you do – but voting for someone who gets pretty close is better than deciding not to vote, and allowing someone who goes against everything you stand for being elected unopposed.
I get that there are a lot of people out there who vote DUP and Sinn Fein for legitimate, well thought-out reasons, and it might well be that their political stance aligns with yours. But if there’s one thing I wish people would digest about this election campaign, it’s this: this is NOT a border poll. The Union shouldn’t be your primary reason for voting for a political party. What about your views on health, on the economy, on the environment, or on social issues? Maybe the Union is the biggest deal for you, and that’s fine. But I guarantee that for many, it’s not.
Tribal politics is only getting us so far in this country. It’s time to be progressive. To stand up for the issues that really matter to us. To reject politics of fear, politics of scaremongering, and politics of division. We have to be better than that.
Whatever you do on 2nd March, VOTE. It’s the last chance you’ll get to have a say in the direction of this country…until Christmas time when Stormont will probably collapse and we’ll be back here once again. At least the election posters can be recycled. That should keep the Greens happy at least!