How democratic is the DUP?

The Democratic Unionist Party, more commonly known as the DUP, signed a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Conservatives on the 26 June this year. This agreement sets out the circumstances in which the DUP will support the Conservatives in votes in Parliament, and in return for their support the DUP has received £1 billion.

We’ve heard a lot in the media about the DUP’s social policies, their history and their politics. What has not been as thoroughly discussed are their policies towards democracy, which this blog sets out to analyse.

Where the DUP stands on democratic reform

Party donations

The DUP is broadly committed to donor transparency. In their 2017 Westminster Manifesto the party pledged they would “respond positively to any proposals to increase transparency”. In their Northern Ireland Plan (2015), which set out the DUP’s intentions in the event of a coalition government, as well as their 2015 Westminster Manifesto, they proposed banning all donations from outside of the UK to create “a level playing field”.

However, context is key here. Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, Northern Ireland’s political parties have a clause that means they are on a separate register, and are exempt from controls on accepting and reporting donations to prevent persecution for those donating to parties.

The DUP used this loophole to accept the largest political donation in Northern Ireland’s history of £425,000 from the Constitutional Research Council to fund their Brexit campaign. The donation was used to buy a £250,000 spread in the Metro - despite the Metro not being available in Northern Ireland. This raised questions about the source of the donation, which Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP suggested the DUP “couldn’t remember”.

Lobbying transparency

DUP MPs have supported broad transparency measures, with MPs from the party having signed Early Day Motions promoting increased transparency. For example, the Trade in Services Agreement and Parliamentary Scrutiny motion last year was supported by Jim Shannon MP, and this suggested all trade deals should not be negotiated without their terms being open to view by UK citizens. The motion also suggested that the government should publish the full terms of the treaty before Parliament voted to ratify it. More recently, Jim Shannon reaffirmed his commitment to trade deal transparency by signing an Early Day Motion on the 4th July 2017 around Parliamentary Scrutiny of Trade deals.

Devolution

The DUP are in favour of devolving more power to Northern Ireland. In their 2017 manifesto, they called for “restoring devolution now” to allow for greater power over health care, schooling and social issues. This has been reflected in their confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives, with specified funding for education, broadband, health, and mental health provisions for Northern Ireland.

Although their 2017 manifesto pledged to strengthen all of the nations within the Union, the DUP has voted against further devolved powers to Scotland and in some cases Wales. For example, Nigel Dodds, the Parliamentary leader of the DUP, voted against a range of devolved powers in the Scotland Bill 2015, which included proposals to give Scotland taxation powers and a clause  that would have prevented Westminster from legislating over issues relating to Scotland.

Constitutional and electoral reform

The DUP has a track record of voting against lowering the voting age to 16, against the Alternative Vote and Proportional Representation voting systems, and against reforming the House of Lords.