Northern Ireland Election 2016

Northern Ireland Assembly election: Why was campaign branded dull?

Man yawning Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Was this election campaign duller than usual?

Let's be charitable. Let's just say it was not the most exciting election campaign in history.

If the battle for Northern Ireland Assembly votes failed to light up the sky, it was not for the want of trying by the parties.

There was also no shortage of media coverage.

So, is there any significance to be drawn from an election campaign that is being branded dull by some observers?

It may not be entirely unconnected with the particular form of government and politics we have in Northern Ireland.

'Traditional divide'

Most elections around the world have the same central storyline.

It is "Vote for change" versus "Stick with what you know".

The opposition party or parties have the message: "Vote those buffoons out so we can fix the mess they've made."

On the other side, the governing party or parties seek re-election saying: "Don't let those buffoons in to ruin all our good work. Trust us to finish the job."

That is not what Northern Ireland Assembly elections are about.

Image copyright Various

The major parties have all been governing together and most, if not all, are heading back into power again in coalition.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to draw clear distinctions at election time between rival policy records and platforms in these circumstances.

On top of this is the fact that Northern Ireland politics still runs along the traditional divide.

Unionist and nationalist parties vie for votes first and foremost on the basis that they will stand up for their respective communities. Vote for "Us Uns" to keep "Them Uns" in check.

There is also not much of a floating vote between unionism and nationalism.

To be blunt, it is in the interests of the parties to keep as many nationalists or unionists in their particular tents as possible.

This all tends to help keep policies on the generalised and less controversial side - especially given Stormont's limited powers.

No really tough choices. No-one asked to choose between tax increases or public spending cuts.

We support motherhood, apple pie and investment in front-line services.

Scottish political commentator Alex Massie recently suggested somewhat provocatively that the Scottish National Party (SNP) "don't need a manifesto" to win elections - it is all about standing up for Scotland.

Writing in the Spectator, Massie added: "An SNP election leaflet, delivered to thousands of households, asks 'Who benefits most from our policies?' before giving the implausible-but-reassuring answer 'We all do'."

Is there a parallel in Northern Ireland?

And, if so, what are the chances of an exciting election campaign next time around?

More on this story