Author Archives: Stephen Glenn

Alliance success: shooting for the stars

Shoot for stars, for if you fail you will land in the clouds, we are told. Well over the last 2 days of watching the count in Northern Ireland I’m not quite sure whether it is Cloud 9 or some new star that the Alliance Party has found themselves on.

Going into this election, our Northern Irish sister party, the Alliance Party were in a familiar position for them the 5th largest party in the Assembly,  although only just behind the Ulster Unionists and SDLP. However, there was ambition, there was vision and there was determination to do better.

Each of the 18 seats in Northern Ireland selects 5 MLAs by STV. In the past Alliance has entered two candidates in each of their target seats as much as a means of vote management rather than, with the exception of East Belfast and the hope in North Down, to return 2 MLAs. As the first preference votes started to come in Friday afternoon, those of us making our own spreadsheets starting to see something, and we kept checking and double checking as the counts progressed that we weren’t just wearing rose tinted glasses.

You see Alliance were running 24 candidates, meaning they were running two candidates in only 6 seats. East Belfast, South Belfast, North Down, Lagan Valley, East Antrim and Strangford. All of these are in the Belfast commuter belt and have returned Alliance MLAs on a consistent basis. However, this time things were looking different and good. In the first three their two candidates combined for the most first preference votes of any party, they were second in Lagan Valley and East Antrim and even Strangford a close third with 23.1%.

In all six as well the vote management, who to vote 1 in which ward, had both candidates placed well to survive long into the transfer process. Indeed, the first declaration of all was in Strangford where Kelly Armstrong was returned on First Preferences and gave Alliance an early lead on the seat counter at the bottom of the screen.

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Analysis of Northern Ireland Election results #AE17

So all the votes have been counted, the transfers shuffled and now we have up to three weeks of negotiations to see if the Northern Ireland Assembly can come together in some shape. But what was the story of the count yesterday in Northern Ireland’s second election in 10 months?

This election saw a reduction of seats in Stormont from 108 to 90, or each seat returning just 5 MLAs. The turnout was up 10% on last May at 64.8% so every party was able to claim that more people voted for them but it was how that extra 10% of voters turned out that is the real story.

The two big gainers in the vote share were Sinn Féin up 3.9% and only 1200 votes behind the DUP in the popular vote and Alliance who were up 2.1%. The SDLP and UUP had negligible shifts in vote share -0.1% and +0.3% respectively, and the DUP dropped 1.1%. But this election became a story of transfers. From the moment that the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he would give his second preference to the SDLP things were shaping up.

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Memories of Tam Dalyell 1932-2017

At the 2005 General Election the people of West Lothian entered a new era. For the first time in 43 years there were facing the fact that for the first time in 43 years none of them would be represented by Tam Dalyell.

At that election I was selected to stand in the parts of his former West Lothian constituency that lay to the north, including his ancestral home the House of the Binns. When he first posed the West Lothian question, as it became known, about the role of MPs of devolved parts of the UK, I don’t think he thought he’d still be waiting for the definitive answer 40 years later when he died.

He dedicated his autobiography “The Importance of Being Awkward”  to

the men and women of West Lothian – Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal, Communist – who, whatever their political opinions, were kind to me in all sorts of ways over 43 years as their representative in the House of Commons.

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An overview of the Northern Ireland elections

It was mid Saturday afternoon before the identity of the 108 MLAs who will take their seats in the Northern Irish Assembly were known. This is because the 6 members returned for each of the 18 constituencies were elected by STV (Single Transferable Vote) counted by hand not expensive machinery as some warned us about 5 years ago. However, some of the tales of this year’s election were already known before the end.

Firstly all 5 of the parties who made up the Executive at the start of the previous Assembly saw a drop in their first preference vote share. A drop of 2.9% for Sinn Féin, 2.2% for the SDLP, 0.8% for the DUP and 0.7% each for Alliance and UUP (who walked into opposition during the last mandate).

West Belfast caused excitement on both their first and final stage. On first preferences it was not Sinn Féin who topped the poll and took the first seat but Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA). At the other end outgoing MLA Alex Atwood almost became the victim of a first unionist win since 2003 trailing the DUP’s Frank McCoubrey before the final redistribution pulled him 89 votes ahead.

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Opinion: Northern Ireland and marriage equality

On Friday the people of Ireland voted on marriage equality in their referendum. The results on Saturday showed that 1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl making the result 62.1% to 37.9% in favour. Only one of the 43 constituencies, Roscommon – South Leitrim, voted no but only by a margin of 1,029 votes and barely nibbled into the overall trend of the votes that were being announced. The other forty-two constituencies had all by either a small (only 33 votes in Donegal South West) to a large (27,959 in Dublin South) margin voted yes. Overall 1,201,607 people voted Yes/Tá to 734,300 voting No/Níl 62.1% to 37.9%.

But the other question is where does that leave Northern Ireland, which is now the largest region of the British Isles that does not have equal marriage in any shape or form allowing people of the same-sex to marry?

Firstly if we look at the Northern Ireland Act 1998 it recognises that the people of Northern Ireland can identify as British or Irish or both. This is key now to moving forward. Then from the same piece of legislation we also note that:

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Opinion: What’s that you say, Mr Robinson?

Peter robinson by alan in belfastThis weekend,  Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson addressed his party conference for the last time before the General Election and launched his ire at losing his seat in Westminster last time out. Talking of the DUP candidate’s chances for East Belfast next May he said:

There may be other unionists in the field, but they will only serve to divide the pro-union opposition to the flag-lowering, parade-stopping, gay marriage-supporting, pro water-charging, holier-than-thou Alliance Party.

It’s an interesting choice of words, which drew applause from his audience but needs a serious look at the implications of what they mean, for our sister party in Northern Ireland.

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Opinion: Concern over Northern Ireland Equal Marriage Petition of Concern

There is a mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is designed to protect minority interests. It is called a petition of concern. Any 30 MLAs can call for one on any issue up for debate.

What it means that instead of simple majority the motion for debate requires 60% of the chamber and 40% of both the Unionist and Nationalist designations.

You may ask why I have highlighted this at the top of this post. The answer is to do with a debate before the Assembly on Monday 1 October, a debate on Equal Marriage, a motion largely similar to our …

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Opinion: Persuading Northern Ireland to say Yes to Fairer Votes

Some of you may have wondered where the prolific blogging from me has gone. However, in the words of Mark Twain, “The reports of my (blogging) death have been greatly exaggerated.”

I’ve had an awful lot to say these last few months but I’ve  been saying it to a diverse political and non-political audience,  all to get as many of them as possible to say the same thing at the ballot boxes on 5th May. That one word is sometimes thought to be alien to many in Northern Ireland and that word is “Yes!”

Yes, that’s …

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Opinion: The day the Northern Irish came to Scottish Conference

For many years now I have attended Scottish Liberal Democrat conference as a Northern Irish person. I’m not alone as there are many familiar accents scattered across the Scottish parties of other Northern Irish born members.

However, last weekend was the first time I attended as a Northern Irish local party member, but again I was not alone. I’d travelled over with the local party chair Michael Carchrie Campbell and one of our youth members Stephen McFarland had travelled down with the rest of the Aberdeen University crew.

It was a good conference for us all to get to, even though Michael …

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Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism #7: The Megrahi Documents

The Megrahi case has ripped apart the peace of the Scottish Parliamentary recess, with even some former Lib Dem leaders taking a differing view to our leader in Holyrood. Today the UK Government and Scottish Parliament have released papers relating to the discussions that have gone one over the last two years. It ranges from correspondence between Westminster and Holyrood, to memos of meetings with Libyan officials, to the compassionate release request listing medical conditions.

These start chronologically with the first letter from then-Lord Chnacellor Lord (Charles) Falconer to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond outlining the Memorandum of Understanding that Westminster had set up with Libya regarding a number of judicial issues. The Memorandum was drawn up to look at increasing bilateral co-operation covering, amongst other things, commercial and criminal issues. The legal issues were not exclusively about Mr Al Megrahi, but looking at the bigger picture of co-operation between the two nations at large. However, Lord Falconer did say that nothing could be ruled in or out, but that co-operation and consultation between Westminster and Holyrood would be carried forward.

However, it the path of the UK’s justice secretary Jack Straw’s correspondence that sheds a lot of light on the situation, especially considering the Labour response in Holyrood.

Posted in Europe / International, Op-eds and Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , and | 4 Comments

Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism #5

My first sighting of Jim Devine – the latest Labour MP to be deselected by the party in the wake of the expenses scandal – was on the eve of poll for the 2001 General Election, shortly after I came across to Scotland to live.

As the agent he was standing alongside Robin Cook waving from an open top bus as they drove through Stoneyburn on a tour of the constituency; we were eating dinner. Victors in cup finals don’t do open bus tours until after the silverware is in their clutches – but such was the certainty …

Posted in Op-eds and Scotland | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism #2

This is the second in a regular, and now named, series of articles by Scottish-based bloggers giving their thoughts about developments in Scottish politics.

On Friday evening I’d just completed a long week at the office in one sense wishing I was in Harrogate with my fellow Lib Dems – but at the same time too exhausted for a full weekend of Conference, having squeezed one full extra day into the week that would go without payment as a result of a freeze on overtime. But as I walked to the bus through Edinburgh Park I saw that lights were …

Posted in Conference, Op-eds and Scotland | Tagged , , , and | 8 Comments

Recent Comments

  • Andy Chandler
    @Adam Ah, that's my bad on that. I misread it. Apologise about that. Part blame dyslexic tendencies (always came out as that despite three attempts to get it p...
  • David Symonds
    I find the adversarial politics in Britain to be highly depressing and corrosive. They are enforced and reinforced by the rotted First Past the Post voting syst...
  • Martin Gray
    @Alex Macfie..Whatever the reason, this individual felt the need to assassinate a democratically elected head of government. As Mary has pointed out - those t...
  • Adam
    @ Andy Not "invented" but "inverted"!
  • tom arms
    @ Ian Sanderson: Normally I would agree with your assessment, but in the case of Robert Fico, in the first elections after 1991 he was elected to parliament as ...