It really has been quite a week for the Assembly. It looked very much like all change but no change as the results came out from the Assembly elections. However, in the fall out, something important is happening. The smaller Unionist and Nationalist parties - the SDLP and UUP have not been content to nurse their post election wounds and just 'accept' the scraps from the table that the two larger parties are prepared to offer them.
- Secondly, it is a risk to give up Executive seats - especially as smaller parties. There may be accusations of them being irrelevant. However, supporters argue that the irrelevance is being in the Executive with the two big parties - who carve up power. It is almost impossible to form an effective identity as a party when you are in the Executive with the rest. For the UUP and SDLP the gloves can now come off and they can freely criticise the Executive and its decisions
- It has the potential to work. Every country with any meaningful democracy needs an opposition. Perhaps it is a sign of much needed political maturity.
- There are many unanswered questions. For example should there be a shadow team of Opposition MLA's as in other oppositions?
- There are difficulties too. The SDLP and the UUP may of course agree on many issues. However, they fundamentally disagree on some issues too and this could be divisive as an opposition. They would not agree for example on parades and flags or even Irish language. Social issues like the abortion debate could also be divisive. Even on Europe, while both have been pro EU in the debate, the UUP is undoubtedly much more split on the issue