Soapbox: DUP’s vulnerability re cosy relationship with Sinn Fein, will rapidly decrease

Post-election thoughts from Jamie Bryson who was campaign manager for the independent Unionist candidate in South Belfast Ruth Patterson. 

There is little doubt that this years Assembly election was a bitterly disappointing experience for Unionists seeking to challenge the dominance of the DUP.

There must be a pragmatic realisation that the DUP’s vulnerability on their flank, in terms of their cosy relationship with Sinn Fein, will rapidly decrease within the next 5-10 years.

Those within Sinn Fein with a background in the IRA will be gradually retiring. It is a much harder political argument to make to shout ‘terrorist’ at the likes of Patrice Hardy, Cat Seeley or Michelle O’Neill.

These natural changes in the make-up of Sinn Fein will remove the DUP’s ability to use the ‘vote for us to keep McGuinness out’ project fear illusion.

It is likely, however, that a moderate delivery in Government on bread and butter issues will be enough to copper-fasten the DUP’s place at the top for a number of assembly terms to come. Project fear will be replaced by moderate political pragmatism.

Unionist history, if written accurately, would not judge the DUP surrender of principled Unionism kindly, but history is written by the victors.

Therefore, as ‘opposition Unionists’, we can either continue firing at a ship that is now out of our range, or we can think more strategically and challenge the status quo by providing a new version of principled Unionism that appeals more widely to the PUL electorate.

And whether the UUP like it or not- and whether they skulk into the Executive as the play thing of the DUP or not- they are still, in reality, opposition Unionists.

There must also be a realisation by many parties and independents that social media is not, in any shape or form, reflective of the electorate or the real world.

There are two sides to this coin; firstly political success cannot be judged by social media likes or retweets- if it was the DUP and Sinn Fein would have been ripped out-  and secondly trolls that devote their lives to believing they are pulling someone down- by relentlessly laying siege- should realise they are about as effective are firing a pea shooter at a brick wall.

Principled Unionism will no longer, in itself, provide the vehicle to challenge the status quo. This election was the last chance saloon for that strategy, and we must accept- whether we like it or not- that it fell victim to the contrived project fear campaign.

Principled Unionism must become New Unionism. This means the core principles remaining the same but the message being packaged differently and providing a more forward thinking vision that takes into account the rapidly changing social and political landscape.

There is, of course, never really anything such as defeat- only lessons. The next battle already started at 10pm on Thursday the 5th May.

Opposition Unionists can ignore the lessons and wallow in the illusion that they represent defeat, or we can take them onboard, adapt and overcome.

It’s only a few short years until the council, Westminster and assembly elections start again and we can have another crack. But that fight starts now.

Finally, the one story from the election that I thought provided a remarkable lesson was the success of Eamon McCann.

I fundamentally disagree with almost all of Eamon’s politics, but to try, try and try again and finally succeed after 46 years is an astonishing example of resilience and the ability to bounce back from perceived defeat.

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  • Ciaran O’Connor

    You fail to realise that the DUP’s biggest problem is the DUP. They simply can’t help themselves from dredging the sectarian gutter whenever the whim takes them. Even basking in the light of electoral success THIS WEEK you had the bold Gregory wishing one of themmun’s dead by starvation, with no criticism from within the party. None at all.

    How is that different from pretty much every other form of Unionism we have seen in the last 100 years? Well, none at all.

  • Stephen Elliott

    Please describe your version of ‘principled unionism’ Where are the non-PUP leaders representing the Protestant working class? Are Gerry Carrolls only to be found in nationalist communities? The only time I saw a politician in the period between the last Assembly elections and today is when I sought them out.Only SDLP and SF canvassers approached me. The unionists avoid me like the plague because they don’t like and cannot handle being challenged. They have universally run away from the issues I care about and try to mould me in their likeness. I cannot be alone in knowing from experience that unionist constituents are simply the cannon fodder of the vanity political project known as the ‘peace process’. Help me out Jamie and answer the question on ‘principled unionism’

  • Jordan Q

    Why is this unrepresentative idiot given a podium for his rubbish?

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    “don’t listen to him, he’s a bollox”.
    You don’t have to agree with him.
    He has a right to form opinions and offer them for discussion.
    Just as you have the right to reply.
    That’s what discourse is.

  • Brendan Heading

    This is a very confused analysis of events. It’s not helped by the fact that Jamie hasn’t explained what it is about the DUP that he doesn’t like. I know it’s something about “principles”. Clearly the article is aimed at an audience which knows what “principled unionism” really means, which suggests that a dog whistle is being blown here. Anyway ..

    Those within Sinn Fein with a background in the IRA will be gradually retiring. It is a much harder political argument to make to shout ‘terrorist’ at the likes of Patrice Hardy, Cat Seeley or Michelle O’Neill.

    This doesn’t seem to be much of an impediment for certain people. Cat Seeley was intimidated out of the school where she worked. Patrice Hardy is the subject of an attempt at censure by other members of the council where she serves.

    Paramilitarism here, whether republican or loyalist, was always a symptom, not a cause. The underlying problem is divided communities led by figures constantly looking for ways to maintain those divisions and keep them apart. Accusing someone of being an IRA supporter might have made for easy sloganeering, but it certainly isn’t a prerequisite.

    It is worth highlighting that Unionism had more or less seven decades to build powersharing with constitutional nationalists (and latterly, Alliance). Had they wished to do so, they could have worked with these non-unionist politicians to isolate the IRA. They chose not to do so.

    There must be a pragmatic realisation that the DUP’s vulnerability on their flank, in terms of their cosy relationship with Sinn Fein, will rapidly decrease within the next 5-10 years.

    But the result of the election just past shows that the DUP had no vulnerability on their flank. They’ve been able to squash issues concerning the sharing of power with SF deftly before they became real problems. Jim Allister, UKIP and others presented a clear alternative to end powersharing with SF. Unionist voters chose not to avail of it.

    The inescapable conclusion is that most unionist voters accept powersharing with SF, and this argument is, effectively, closed.

    Unionist history, if written accurately, would not judge the DUP surrender of principled Unionism kindly, but history is written by the victors.

    Of course an “accurately” written factual history would have no concept of “kindness”, so that makes no sense at all.

    Assessing whether or not the DUP’s decisions were the correct path or not requires a proper understanding of what the alternatives are. Some people think that being “principled” overrides everything else. “principle” is what resulted in the imposition of the Anglo Irish Agreement, a wakeup call for the current generation of unionist leaders who began to realise that refusing to engage would weaken their position, not strengthen it. How would the history books look if the DUP had stuck to principles, eschewed power sharing, and stood back helpless as the British government reactivated that Agreement ?

    And whether the UUP like it or not- and whether they skulk into the Executive as the play thing of the DUP or not- they are still, in reality, opposition Unionists..

    It depends what you mean by “opposition unionists”. I struggle to understand what exactly it is about the DUP that the UUP oppose. They obviously are not details which are especially important, as they entered into a pact with the DUP in 2015, which I believe Jamie is on record as supporting.

    And why did Jamie and apparently everyone else support the pact ? Because when push comes to shove this brand of politics is about maximising the vote of “us” to keep “them” out; not some sort of debate about whose principles are the most intact.

    Finally, the one story from the election that I thought provided a remarkable lesson was the success of Eamon McCann.

    Be careful about drawing lessons from someone who, at the time when this article was written, was yet to even sign the member’s register at the Assembly.

    There are only a few things that will happen to McCann and those like him.

    1. They will stick to their principles and accomplish nothing. This may not necessarily make them unelectable.
    2. They will make pragmatic choices, build alliegiences, including allegiences with those they don’t like, and accomplish things for their voters. In doing so they’ll face accusations of selling out, which will in turn lead to splits in their movement.

    That should sound pretty familiar.

  • Brendan Heading

    Where are the non-PUP leaders representing the Protestant working class?

    Up at Stormont, leading the government.

  • Neil

    This means the core principles remaining the same but the message being packaged differently and providing a more forward thinking vision that takes into account the rapidly changing social and political landscape.

    Yeah it’s like a whole new world out there, the landscape has changed and changed utterly. Oh wait a minute, that’s just nonsense isn’t it, everything’s more or less exactly as it was before the election, practically nothing has changed whatsoever. Lots of words, nothing much to say.

    There is, of course, never really anything such as defeat

    Yeah, well you would say that wouldn’t you?

  • Msiegnaro

    I have no idea what Bryson’s brand of “Principled Unionism” is. The Is a man who attacks the Orange institution, DUP, UUP and the police service. He was the face of the flag protest but ended up being a figure of ridicule.

    Jamie, can I ask what do you stand for and what have you achieved?

  • Teddybear

    I’m no fan of Mr Brysons activities in the past but if this article is anything to go on, it shows he is thinking about the current and future times of unionism and I sense he is in a start of a journey. The article was intelligent and well written and to the point. Let’s not demonise the young man and let’s engage with him. We have all things to learn from one another. He shows an potential and ability to change and adapt This is to be welcomed

  • chrisjones2

    The DUP vulnerability is an Aunt Sally. It was absolutely clear that they had a relationship – the issue that voters had already concluded was that , in that relationship, they could trust the DUP not to be rolled over

  • Croiteir

    That is not their problem, it is nationalism’s problem. They should be all over that like a rash. They should he housetraining the DUP. Immediately stop the political process. Tell the DUP that they will not talk to a political party that fails to condemn the statement. Then leave the problem there. By not doing that they send out the signal that it is, if not acceptable, then tolerable. That supine appeasement must stop. Ask Arlene directly what does she intend to do about it.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “Will remove the DUP’s ability to use the vote for us to keep McGuinness out – project fear illusion” Disagree with this statement from Jamie. Now that this Ace Card has worked so handsomely and trumped every other Unionist Opposition against the DUP out there, it shall continuely be played at all future elections, and as we know the current unionists who come out to vote shall follow it ! The only strategy that can be adopted by people like Jamie is to try and get that other 50% of unionist electorate (not voting) to come out and vote for them at the polling boths. This just might get them that other card to get two pair to beat that Ace Card in the Poker Game ?

  • submariner

    Could you elaborate on what exactly the term Principaled Unionism means

  • chrisjones2

    The thing the DUP might most usefully do to damage the Republican Project is to clasp SF to their bosom, look at the Republican electorate and smile broadly.

    For the average IRA supporter that would be like finding their mother in bed with Uncle Sean and a chihuahua

  • Jollyraj

    No doubt you’d still have professional posters on here putting it about that ‘Uncle Sean’, having been cleared by a hastily convened kangaroo court, was merely a victim of entrapment, and the chihuahua was an MI5 undercover agent.

  • Redstar

    SF challenging the DUP on anything? Don’t make he laugh.

    SF are now the epitome of career politicos. They have virtually no distinguishable differences in day to day policies with their DUP senior partners- certainly if they do they keep them very quiet.

    And they wonder why many many of us in Republican areas didn’t vote for them!!!!!

  • aquifer

    It means staunch and unyielding, giving nothing to themmuns. Undermines the glorious union of British citizens treated equally, and maintains support for armed insurrection, but the DUP built their own ourselves alone in Ulster empire on it. Jim Allister reprises it nicely.

  • npbinni

    ‘Unionist history, if written accurately, would not judge the DUP surrender of principled Unionism kindly, but history is written by the victors.’

    A rather silly statement. What ‘surrender’ is Bryson talking about? Surely it was the DUP that salvaged Unionism from the disastrous Trimble-lead Ulster Unionist debacle of the late 90’s!

    Northern Ireland has had a long stream of colorful independent unionist characters and one-man bands, and Bryson has every right to express his opinions, but very recently a pretty large majority of the unionist electorate clearly declared its confidence in the DUP to represent it. People just need to suck it up.

  • Skibo

    DUP may have more to lose with the older voters annoyed at the close links with SF. It is the likes of Gregory and his outbursts that keeps those voters on line. Who will fill his boots now that he has left Stormont?

  • Sarah

    Can’t be doing with the ‘principled Unionism’ business, but his first five paragraphs are dead on. As are the bits about social media and McCann.

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