One of my faults ( please consult the present Mrs Collins for a more comprehensive list) is a dislike of rules. I put it down to my years in boarding school, where the day was hedged by regulations that scratched and irritated – polish your shoes, no talking in study hall, no reading novels, no reading newspapers, no comics, no listening to radio, no playing handball in the verandah area, no smuggling cans of baked beans into the refectory to supplement the vile diet ... When I followed the rules, it was never because I thought them a good idea, more because I was fearful of being caught and half-killed. Rules make sense, of course, but they should under normal circumstances be explained carefully and thoughtfully to those asked to follow them.
The same goes for advice. There are those who give advice which sounds suspiciously like a command, and then attempt to soften the impact by saying something like "But in the end of course the decision is yours". Damn right it’s yours, and if the advice had been offered in a more tentative ‘Would it be worth thinking about it like this?’ way, you might have been open to listening. (When I say ‘you’ I mean, naturally, ‘me’.)
So when I hear political parties scorn the influence of independent MLAs or TDs or MPs, I wonder what price is paid for party rules and how are they enforced. Are representatives told “This is the party line, follow it or we'll nail your bits to the barn wall”? Or is there open, non-fearful debate, a decision made that everyone is comfortable buying into, even when s/he doesn't fully agree with it? And - important, this one - which approach results in the more effective political fighting force?
Don’t look at me – I’m not a politician. Try someone in the UUP or Sinn Féin or the DUP or the SDLP.