Many within the DUP have begun plan B, following the Unionist tanking at the 2017 Assembly Election.
All members of society, from all political persuasions, should discourage this – we, the electorate, deserve better.
The purpose of opposition, insofar as it exists in an infantile form within Northern Irish politics, is there to oppose. So says Winston Churchill. Churchill was on to something. Dissent, leads to growth, the critical friend should be cherished on par, or above, the sycophantic fanatic.
The UUP have experienced an identity crisis (again), but why? Is the party at a weak point? 2017 saw the UUP lose 6 seats, but notionally, according to Nicholas Whyte, if 2016 were run with the new 5 seat constituencies, they would have 5 less to begin with. My own calculations off 2016 results showed a return of 12 UUP seats, so is it a huge loss? In comparison to the DUP’s, who lost 5 more than their notional seats 2016 on 2017, again, according to Whyte. So a notional loss for DUP of 5 seats v a UUP loss of 1….. not disastrous.
It must also be remembered that the vote came out.
The UUP had it’s highest ever voting figure since the Assembly actually sat:
- 2007 – 103,145
- 2011 – 87,531
- 2016 – 87,302
- 2017 – 103,314
Yes, voting turnout was up, but the UUP increased its vote in real terms by 18%, whereas the DUP increased by just 11%. (Compared to nationalist vote increases in real terms of 34% for Sinn Féin, and 15% for the SDLP).
Further comparison to the other minor Unionist parties, TUV (14% drop), PUP (6% increase), UKIP (85% drop), and NI Conservatives (6% drop), shows that once again, in real voting terms, the UUP are the most “on the up” Unionist party.
The issue, ultimately, will likely come down to idealism. Northern Ireland needs variety of voice, with the discourse that was led by the DUP in the 2017 Assembly Election (and indeed the 2016 Assembly Election which, too, lingers in recent memory) was incendiary, disrespectful, and, as it turns out this year, counterproductive to Unionism.
If Unionism in Northern Ireland is to shelter under one party/group umbrella, it will undoubtedly lead to yet more animosity, more negativity, more insulting, sweeping statements, and the usual acts found to come from the DUP, as the largest party of Unionism. Nationalists should equally appreciate diversity of voice among the Unionist designation, it’s what drives progress. If a party have no fear of being overtaken, they have no fear. And given the statements from many DUP elected representatives, that those who didn’t transfer to other unionists were essentially treasonous, Unionist Unity would result in a freezing of progress within Unionism.
The UUP has one serious issue to address, however, what exactly does it stand for… Is it, as some suggest, just the DUP’s shadow, too stubborn to relent? Or is it, as it has appeared to some in recent times, a slightly more centrist/liberal party?
When you measure members against each other, Andy Allen v Harold McKee, Doug Beattie v Tom Elliott – it’s quite the contrast. Andy Allen was the first member of the UUP to vote in favour of equal marriage… Harold McKee is, in my opinion, to the FAR right of most DUP members when it comes to so-called conservative Christian values. That is surely too broad a church to handle.
Many watchers, myself included, had, in the past, questioned the reason for the UUP – but in the last couple of years, under Mike Nesbitt, that purpose became clearer. Newer generation elected representatives like the aforementioned Andy Allen and Doug Beattie, Steve Aiken and John Stewart – only the absence of strong female candidates could be remarked upon.
They are indeed at another one of Northern Ireland’s crossroads, with Mike Nesbitt stepping down as leader, whoever picks up the reins needs to pay close attention to reality, and less to rhetoric.
Maybe Unionist Unity isn’t the answer, but the issue has merit of sorts.
Maybe we don’t need a combination, but a recalibration. Members of the UUP who are unhappy with the more-centrist stance, with equality and respect of all communities in this place, could leave (as they have done, sporadically, over the last number of years, including Arlene Foster herself), and join the DUP (or the TUV if they’re so inclined). Would the party be weaker for their absence? Numerically, sure, but principally? One could not be in any doubt that the electorate has rewarded the UUP for the recent position – as indicated by the 18% increase in votes – but if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.
The next leader of the UUP must follow Nesbitt’s bold stance, adopt a shit or get off the pot attitude on those divisive issues that cause mini-schisms every time they arise.
And as for that Unionist Unity – one simple question should put that to bed:
– Are the parties going to completely amalgamate into one party? If not, if it’s to be a “grouping” or an “umbrella-common-whip” – well what’s the difference between that and the already-existing community designation, on such issues as require cross-community support.
There is none.
Arlene Foster wasn’t pleading , “my dearest wish is for pro-union parties to come together,” in 2016 when she won 38 seats.
Arlene Foster wasn’t pleading for Unionist Unity when she get stuck in to Mike Nesbitt and the UUP during the election campaign.
Arlene Foster is now pleading for Unionist Unity because she sees the writing on the wall, she’s perhaps slowly being taken over by concern for the position she has dug her own party into. Worries which she couldn’t see before because of her love glasses.