When you mention reducing the number of MLAs, Stormont parties reach for their calculators. In principle all the main parties favour reducing the size of government, some more than others, but there are practical concerns.
"Will I lose my job?" is the obvious one and there are worries about the overall balance of power.
The broad picture is that the hold of the two bigger parties would increase but the smaller ones still stay on the Executive – if present voting trends continue.
Six MLAs are currently elected for each of our 18 Westminster constituencies, giving a total of 108.
We asked LucidTalk, our polling partners, to do a projection of the likely affects of cutting MLA numbers to 90 (five per constituency) and then to 72, (four per constituency).
The projections are based on election results since 2007 and polling since 2010.
Looking at the 90-member model, the findings suggest the UUP would be the heaviest loser, falling from 16 seats to 9.
Sinn Féin would lose three seats, the DUP and SDLP would each lose four and the Alliance would remain unchanged with eight seats.
The TUV would still hold its single seat while the Green Party, UKIP and David McClarty, the independent, could win two seats between them.
The DUP would keep the trophy position of First Minister.
All the current parties would retain seats in the Executive if the present 10 ministries were retained, but Alliance would be the first to drop out if the total fell to eight.
Eight ministries is the point at which Sinn Féin would also draw equal with DUP with each party gaining three ministerial portfolios.
The UUP is such a heavy loser because it is often hanging on for the last seat.
On the other hand Alliance wins most of its seats, which are concentrated in the doughnut of con-stituencies around Belfast, fairly comfortably.
The once mighty UUP could fare even worse.
If the downward trend of its vote accelerates, or if Alliance continues to rise at its expense, it could lose the single seat which keeps it ahead of Alliance in a reduced Assembly.
That single seat would knock it off the Executive, just as the loss of David McClarty reduced it from two ministries to one. Mike Nesbitt, the party leader, needs to guard against defections and to try to woo back Mr McClarty to ensure he holds his own if seats are cut.
Any potential loss of Basil McCrea (left), the high polling Lagan Valley MLA coveted by the Tories, would, for instance, be a disastrous blow in a seat where the UUP has hopes of a second MLA.
Reducing the number of MLAs to 72 doesn't change the calculation much.
The main difference is that Alliance would lose its ministry if the Executive was reduced to eight and the UUP would hang on.
The same health warnings apply even more strongly.
Fluctuations in voting patterns, defections or the emergence of new candidates from parties like UKIP or the Tories could upset the calculations, probably impacting heavily on the UUP.
November 15, 2012
This article appeared in the November 12, 2012 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.
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