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 right folks since the start of November I’ve been working to one goal, encouraging the people of Northern Ireland to say yes to fairer votes this May. If you thought opinion within the Liberal Democrats was hard to steer in the same direction, that is nothing compared to the complexities of politics in Northern Ireland. Here almost everything is politicized, though I have yet to find if there’s a right and wrong way to tie my shoelaces.

But in the cause of fairer votes I’ve been working with a diverse range of people from all parties and none. Here in Northern Ireland that is even more complex than what my colleagues in England, Scotland and Wales have been facing. Not one of the main three UK parties has any political representative in Northern Ireland, and many of the parties here stood on the same promise for electoral reform as the Lib Dems did. Indeed in the two elections happening here alongside the referendum there will be preferential voting for STV results.

So I’ve been travelling all over Northern Ireland, which though small is not an altogether easy task, to get the message of AV out and about. I ran a mock Alternative Vote (AV) election in the most marginal seat in the UK, with a majority of only 4 votes, in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and although the end result elected the same MP the way the people got to it proved that they had been voting tactically last May.

Recently I travelled to the small island of Rathlin, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island. The reason was that the people there had fought to secure their ballot box and we went to show them that under AV every vote counts including theirs.

I threw our banner over the once besieged walls of Londonderry/Derry proclaiming that “Norn Iron says Yes!”, and no that is not a spelling mistake but how we say it, so it is. I attended St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, as well as Football, Rugby and Gaelic matches and many, many more places spreading the message.

The fact that I’m getting people to work together here for a yes vote on May 5th is encouraging and gives me hope for the campaign across the rest of the UK.

Now if you’ll excuse me there is less than a month to go and still lots to be done.

Posted as part of  Caron Lindsay’s Elections, Referendums and Lib Dem Achievements Guest Editor day

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