A book written by Martin Luther King in 1967, entitled “Where do we go from here” advocated a sense of hope in the United States campaign for human rights; you’d expect that sort of optimistic vision to emerge from an election after the people have spoken, no?

But do elections in Northern Ireland provide such clarity, or is it like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, when asked: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replied the Cat.

The polls hadn’t even closed last Thursday evening, but a well-known loyalist blogger knew exactly where we were heading.

Based on the latest confused mutterings of Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, the loyalist insisted it was “simply a matter of fact” that there will be no Executive for a long time that power sharing is finished in Northern Ireland.

Fact? Or opinion? Always in the wake of elections, fact and opinion seem to overlap, and the tsunami of spin and speculation reminds one of the Henry Kissinger line that “if you do not know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere".

So, at the risk of a Rafa Benitez rant, I’d say there are certain undisputed “facts".

Fact: At over 29 per cent of the poll, Sinn Fein gained over a quarter of a million first-preference votes to become the party with the most seats at Stormont, entitling them to nominate Michelle O’Neill as First Minister if and when the Executive gets up and running.

The symbolism of this is remarkable, in that this is the first time in the 101-year history of Northern Ireland that a Nationalist, never mind the leader of an Irish Republican party, has been in the position of taking the top office.

Fact: The popular vote of various groupings still leaves Unionists slightly ahead in the total first-preference votes, but their lead party, the DUP got just over 21 per cent.

Unionists, like everyone else, do not have an overall majority now.

Fact: There was a surge towards the middle-ground Alliance party which enabled them to more than double their number of seats.

Fact: The results mean that the trend away from the binary two-tradition society is again confirmed. We are now a society of Nationalist, Unionist and other. Indeed, “other” includes new communities who have made their homes here.

In fact, there is a fourth cohort which is hard to define but includes those not really bothered, with some thinking a “plague on all their houses”, because Fact: more than half a million people did not vote, despite pleas of persuasion that this was the most important election in a generation and that they could make a difference. Out of an electorate of 1.3 million, over 826,000 people (63 per cent) went out to vote, but 547,000 didn’t.

When it comes to interpreting these facts, that’s when the crack starts. Drilling down further into the results may help, and all of the following is based on first-preference votes.

Northern Ireland-wide, the combined votes of Nationalism totalled approximately 328,000; probably a good bit more if certain other candidates were taken into account, such as Aontu.

The total of three Unionist parties was 346, 000, and closer to over 365,000 when others such as Unionist independents are added.

The two blocs aren’t that far away from each other in relative numbers.

Alliance alone gained 116,000, along with a number of others considered to be middle ground.

This is welcomed by many; we should also say that the votes of all three blocs should be respected. Everyone’s culture and identity, and their expression of it, should be valued; elections may reveal division, but society doesn’t have to be divided. It’s only when one section or another treats its fellow citizens disrespectfully and less than equal that we have problems.

Within Nationalism, Sinn Fein strengthened its position and its 250,000 votes was remarkably well over three times the SDLP’s 78,000.

On the Unionist side, there was a greater diversity, but the Ulster Unionists’ 96,000 vote was about half the DUP’s 184,000. Indeed, add in the TUV’s 65,000 and it shows the difficulty that liberal Unionism had in winning hearts and minds.

Counter to that, it would seem that the Alliance surge benefitted from many people on either side who don’t consider the United Kingdom or United Ireland question high on their priorities.

In Fermanagh-south Tyrone, the results show much more definite lines of demarcation in party strengths. Sinn Fein is absolutely dominant, easily gaining three out of five seats with a combined total of 24,000 votes, nearly eight times the SDLP’s 3,836.

For Unionists, this was the first election in the post-Arlene Foster era. But any hopes that the Ulster Unionists could recapture the former glory of its days as the majority party in this area were dashed. Their two candidates polled 8,354 to the DUP’s 9,527.

It always appeared implausible that the UUP would gain two seats and one radio commentator suggested they’d “thrown Rosemary Barton under the bus”. It seems remarkable that Mrs. Barton didn’t see the bus coming.

Added to the DUP’s 9,000 were the TUV’s 3,000 in Fermanagh-south Tyrone, which saw their candidate increase his vote by four-fold.

Overall, in Fermanagh-south Tyrone Nationalists gained nearly 28,000 votes to Unionism’s 21,000, with the middle ground traditionally squeezed; a variety of candidates gained a total of under 5,000 and that included 2,500 for Alliance.

The idea promoted by some commentators that Unionists had won the Assembly elections doesn’t cut much ice in Fermanagh-south Tyrone or the west generally.

Overall, though, it has emboldened the leader of the DUP to refuse to go into the Executive until the Protocol is sorted. And, indeed, as I write this, I see suggestions that the British Government will make moves in this direction.

Then again, we are talking about the Boris Johnson government.

It does need sorted somehow, though, doesn’t it? It’s clearly an issue for Unionists and however much we feel its their own fault for a mishandling of Brexit, it’s now a barrier to progress.

Much of the post-election analysis is around the short-term and questions are being asked about the longer-term; if the Protocol is sorted out, will Unionism sit in an Executive with a Sinn Fein First Minister?

I read one Unionist commentator’s interpretation of the results was that “not much has changed.”

Seriously, like.

Crunch the numbers as much as you like to favour your argument, but there can be no doubting the symbolism that represents a major change in the demographic make-up of Northern Ireland.

Look at context; when Northern Ireland was set up in 1921 Ulster Unionism jettisoned Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal in order to have a Protestant majority of two-to-one over Catholics.

From 1921 to 1972, there were six Prime Ministers in the old Northern Ireland Parliament, Craig, Andrews, Brookeborough, O’Neill, Chichester-Clark and Faulkner; all of them Orangemen and all enjoyed a healthy majority in a one-party State. The second half of the century of the state’s existence has seen exponential change.

Throughout the division of conflict and the setting up of power-sharing, consider how far we’ve come, and realise that an Irish Republican holding the top job wasn’t supposed to happen and Unionists need to grasp a new reality. The Unionist hegemony is over.

Unionists are legitimately holding to their identity of being British, but need to engage in the realism of demographic change, accept the potential break up in a disunited Kingdom and that English Nationalism that is a danger to them.

Political Unionism may deny it, but people in their community are wondering about change in the Brexit era.

There is also an onus on Nationalism, too, which is legitimately engaged in conversation about a united Ireland; and they need to take account of the fears and hurt of their Unionist neighbours and more is needed than Mary Lou McDonald’s assurance that they have nothing to fear.

Everyone will put their own spin and speculation on the latest election results. Fine, but some big picture thinking is needed because the message for people like me from the pattern of elections is that, to quote Yeats, everything has changed, changed utterly.