This week the DUP published a twelve-point plan to ‘get NI moving’. It was an upbeat document, focussing on the NHS, the economy, education, protecting the vulnerable, the environment, reducing crime, even protecting animals got a mention; in many respects they’ve come a long way from ‘Ulster Says No’. There was no mention of Brexit, the border or the usual ‘threat to the Union’ line (that one is normally saved for the week before polling day). There was no mention of RHI either. Funny that. No, wait, the other one; not funny.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased to see bread and butter issues being given air time in a NI election, but I’m not sure we’re ready to suddenly ‘get moving’ again. If you’ve been caught with your fingers in the till, you don’t get to be in charge of petty cash the next day. Picking up where we left off isn’t an option; I think there are a few foundational aspects needed. Here’s eight off the top of my head:
- Let’s agree elected public representatives have to govern honestly. They can’t be feathering their own nests, they can’t be making a packet out of a government scheme. Let’s own up to it and apologise. Maybe then we really could move on. When nobody wants to be accountable, it can’t be surprising things get stuck.
- Let’s make the Assembly work. No set of arrangements will ever give us good government if the people elected to them are always trying to use them for their own ends. If a review and systemic changes are needed, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in an attitudinal change. People who don’t really believe in an institution’s worth will always find ways to undermine it.
- Let’s agree to govern for all of the people. When you’re elected in a democracy, you’re meant to govern as best you can for everyone, not just the people who voted for you, not even just for the people who voted. Let’s share our resources, not share out our resources; there has to be an end to ‘our bit’ and ‘them uns bit.’
- Let’s get serious about environmental policy; radical decisions are needed. The present isn’t our only concern, we need to be thinking more about the future as to avoid handing over problems we have known about for at least two generations to our children to solve. Let’s spend money and make serious changes because the stability of our planet is the only show in town right now. We can talk about the border all we want, but as the tides keep rising, the border around Carlingford and Foyle will redraw itself.
- Let’s find ways to talk to each other nicely. Yeah, I know that sounds lame, but public discourse has become the new battlefield; we used to use guns and Semtex, now we use words. Not only is this slowing our healing and recovery process, it’s poisoning our civic relationships and making difficult the job of governing effectively. Let’s bring an end to cheap shots, inaccurately declaring what the other stands for and ‘jokes’ in bad taste (no more loaves on head, no more curried yoghurts). Could we find a little bit of generosity in how we talk to each other?
- Let’s dial down the flags. I know people love a good flag, it’s not really for me, but if it’s your thing, work away. But it’s also 2019, the world is a smaller place than it used to be, we have connections all over the world, and anyway, we’re so much more than political symbols and emblems, could we try to focus a little more on what unites us?
- Let’s change the negative effects of the media. How about politicians start refusing to go on those talk shows where they’re asked loaded questions and heated debate is inevitable? You know those interviewers that interrupt every third word? Let’s ignore them. Like Zammo said, ‘Just say no’. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have debate or disagreement, but could we do so in calmer, more reasonable ways? Let’s go for light, rather than heat. Rather than going for the win every time, let’s share perspectives and try to earn from each other.
- Let’s find ways to celebrate together -great idea, DUP- but could we also remember together? Instead of having ‘our commemoration’ and ‘their commemoration’ could we find ways to remember the past collectively, focussing not just on what happened, but on our commitment to peace, to each other and to future generations, making sure the atrocities that happened here never happen again?
This has been a bit of a ‘back of the envelope’ job; I’m sure there are things I’ve missed and I’m open to suggestions. So are political parties. Manifestos are created around the issues people most want to hear about; the more we talk about what we want, the more we shape what parties are prepared to offer.