Here is the KEY POINTS that I think can be picked up from this ASSEMBLY ELECTION 2017:
- TURNOUT TRIUMPH: Turnout was the highest since 1998!!! That is the year of the Good Friday agreement which was a high water mark in itself. This is good for politics and democracy as the vote has been declining to dismal levels which question legitimacy. However, could it be symptomatic of the sheer frustration with the RHI scheme and Stormont in general? Could it be better marshalling of the Sinn Fein vote in general and a realisation that perhaps this was their chance to challenge for the top or could it be cynically a headcount election where fear factor drove out both sides to outdo the other- juries out!
- UUP UPSET: The UUP strategy of Opposition and Cross Community tactical voting, bravely proclaimed by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, failed to be accepted by the voters in any meaningful way. It has led to Mike Nesbitt's resignation and the loss of seats of some effective and well known UUP stalwarts such as JoAnne Dobson, Sandra Overend and even a previous Executive Minister, Danny Kennedy. It also signals the UUP's continuing stumbling in the dark looking for a meaningful and agreed way forward for a Party that is so broad church that the roof is about to cave in. Nesbitt's strategy of Opposition was ambitious and needed. His partnership with the SDLP could have perhaps bourne a lot more success if it had been allowed to mature for a full Assembly term. Instead it was put to the test too early to bear fruit. In fact the message may have been confused and certainly the SDLP and UUP's approach seemed awkward and fractured at time with their members obviously at odds with the leadership over the cross community approach.
- SDLP SLIPPAGE: Colum Eastwood SDLP have not had a dreadful election but it hasn't been a resounding success either. They slipped 0.1% in the first preference votes and maintain 11.9% of the vote in Northern Ireland BUT this is against a story of Stormont scandal within the Executive. If any time was right to strike and grow it should have been now. The message was perhaps lost to an extent with the UUP linkage. The divisions in the party several months ago may also not have helped. What is most worrying is that the jewel in their crown - their heartland of Derry showed noticeably strong support for Sinn Fein with the most popular candidate being from Sinn Fein for the first time. This is a symbolic taking of the citadel for Sinn Fein and a real worry for the SDLP. Could Mark Durkan's SDLP seat for Westminster be threatened next? The party also lost a key figure in the form of Alex Atwood who was the party's sole representative left in West Belfast. There is still a very long way to go to slow the decline and start the growth.
- SINN FEIN SUCCESS: There is no other way to couch it. The election has been a triumph for Sinn Fein. Their vote is up 4% and has brought it within touching distance of the once seemingly impregnable DUP. Their loss of Martin McGuinness, successful strategising around RHI and adoption of a new leader Michelle O 'Neill has all went down very well with the electorate. Perhaps the disappointment of the last set of Assembly results has also led to a much more effective marshalling of their vote. Overall perhaps was the sense that with the DUP weakened by the RHI scandal this was their chance. Now the issues of the Irish Language Act and Gay marriage loom large and seem achievable due to the DUP's loss of Petition of Concern. The party is on a high but it has to successfully steer through the choppy waters of trying to form a new Executive with a DUP potential partner who is will not easily forgive or forget their previous coalition partners connivance in calling the election in the first place - The issue of Arlene at the minutes still seems unresolved (as of 4th May 2017)
- DUP DENTED There is no doubt about it, this election is one the DUP will want to forget! While their vote hasn't declined significantly their seemingly impregnable position and sense of euphoria post election 2016 has vanished. They are now only clinging on to the First Minister position by their finger nails with sinn Fein breathing down their necks with a DUP lead of only 0.3%. Their 38 seats and ability to single handedly wield the petition of concern is now gone. They have lost big party names such as Nelson McCausland and Lord Morrow. They have seen a 1.1% decline in their first preference votes and have an electorate which is now much more sceptical and undoubtedly angered at the scandal over RHI and the irresponsibility of a needless election. Arlene Foster will be under pressure with such results (as of 4th March 2017) Sinn Fein will be very reluctant to work for her having called for the election over her leadership. There was also quite an air of discontent and even in-fighting evident in the DUP with Ian Paisley's open criticism of another member David McIlveen. This is something that is not seen in the DUP and has been one of its secrets of its success. How it deals with this crisis will decide its future. The only bright spot is the less than enthusiastic UUP vote. Mike Nesbitt standing down and the surge in Sinn Fein may lead to renewed calls for more Unionist unity.
- PETITION POWER: Finally, the golden ticket of getting the magical 30 votes to trigger a PETITION OF CONCERN is now gone. The DUP had exclusive use of this without the need of any other party with their 38 MLA's. This gave them the power to block many things including Gay marriage and an Irish Language act. This power of veto has now been removed and the DUP will have to make deals to get it used. Gay marriage and a number of other bits of legislation now seem a lot more attainable.