Northern Ireland's historic Euro election

Women at the count Image copyright PA
Image caption Out for the count. Northern Ireland used a different voting system from the rest of the UK

Given the arguments over the Brexit backstop revolve around treating Northern Ireland in exactly the same way as the rest of the UK, it's worth pointing out that we just elected our three MEPs using a completely different system from England, Scotland and Wales.

Voters in Great Britain marked their chosen party with an X, whilst in Northern Ireland you indicated your preferences with a "1, 2, 3" - and so on.

Single Transferable Voting takes longer to count than the party system, but means voters get multiple opportunities to influence an election - and no politician can fairly accuse another of "splitting the vote".

The STV system, coupled with Northern Ireland's tradition of not counting votes on a Sunday, meant the count in Magherafelt got underway long after most of the political battles in Great Britain had already been decided.

Endless counts

Traditionally, we journalists moan about bringing up the rear, having to sit through endless counts, whilst our counterparts "across the water" are already moving on to the next story.

But there were no complaints from the press pack this year. Chief Electoral Officer Virginia McVea set a keen pace and the results, when they emerged, could not have been more dramatic.

Back in 1979, the old EEC calculated that, given its population, Northern Ireland was entitled to just two seats in the European Parliament. But EEC chiefs worried unionists might take both seats, leaving Irish nationalists unrepresented, so they allocated a third.

Forty years on, as the batches of ballot papers stacked up on Alliance leader Naomi Long's shelves inside the count centre, it soon became clear that the era of two unionist MEPs is over.

The 57% vote for remain candidates almost replicated Northern Ireland's 56% vote to stay in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The DUP's Diane Dodds will now be joined not by an Ulster Unionist, but by Mrs Long and Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson.

Traditional divide

The traditional unionist/nationalist divide in Northern Ireland politics still exists. However, it has been overlaid by the more recent division between Leave and Remain.

What will be the impact of having two remainers representing Northern Ireland?

That will depend on how long the new MEPs hold their seats and what transpires over the next few months in London and Brussels.

The election of two politicians determined to use their speaking time in Brussels and Strasbourg to back the backstop could provide a counter to the message the DUP conveys at Westminster.

Perhaps their narrative will pave the way towards a rethink, either via another referendum or a fresh election.

Alternatively, the Alliance breakthrough could be completely overshadowed by the triumph of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party.

Electoral threat

Theresa May's successor may, understandably, put far more weight on the electoral threat posed by Mr Farage, or the views of the DUP given its kingmaker role at Westminster.

Under this scenario, Naomi Long might have to content herself with complaining about a UK government hurtling towards a no-deal Brexit she has no power to stop.

If this has been Northern Ireland's last European election it has certainly been historic, not just in returning two remainers, but also in electing three female MEPs.

If it isn't the last one, maybe Great Britain could consider adopting Northern Ireland's STV voting system. Let's call it - for the sake of a better label - "regulatory alignment".