Elliott believes that an official opposition can be delivered over a four year time scale, alongside other measures to improve governance in Northern Ireland, such as cutting the number of MLAs and Executive departments.
In the meantime the UUP proposes a change to the phasing of d’Hondt after Assembly elections. Rather than have the parties divide up ministries before discussing policy, the Ulster Unionists suggest that a programme for government be agreed, along with budget arrangements, before d’Hondt is run.
Anticipating criticism that the process will take too long, Elliott cites the speedy formation of a coalition government at Westminster, following the general election. He clearly believes that the new timetable could be instigated, without altering existing legislation.
As well as laying out the UUP’s policy innovation, this morning’s business breakfast is intended to get the party’s Assembly campaign up and running. It believes it is putting the ball firmly in the DUP and Sinn Féin’s court.
“They stand accused of running a two party carve-up rather than an all party coalition”, Elliott remarked, “if Sinn Féin / DUP want to change, if they want to put this country first, let them speak out today and back this proposal”.
And if the two larger parties won‘t play ball what are the likely consequences for the UUP?
The Ulster Unionists want to fight the election on the premise that they will enter the Executive only if it is possible to agree a programme for government. Logically, any party which does not agree to a programme would become part of the voluntary opposition.
If the UUP’s rivals insist that d’Hondt must precede any discussions about policy and finance, then the Ulster Unionists will face a familiar dilemma. Do they refuse to participate in the allocation of ministries and will they stay outside the Executive?
The UUP’s idea certainly has potential. It’s the most imaginative initiative that we’ve seen since Elliott became leader.
It will only gain legs, though, if the party is prepared to push it hard – right through to its logical conclusion. That means agreeing a programme for government up front, or walking away from the Executive.