David Trimble expounds at length on what has probably been the main theme of the last years of his leadership of the UUP, that the primary driver in the destruction of the ‘moderate middleground’ was the British and Irish government’s failure to force the Republican movement to decommission.He expounds further:
That conveyed to nationalist voters the message that republicans would be more effective in extracting concessions from the British; so most nationalists voted Sinn Fein. In the circumstances, the Social Democratic and Labour Party did very well to win three seats and its leader, Mark Durkan, had a personal triumph in his near-6,000 majority.
Unionist voters got the same message and voted for the DUP, which they saw as being the party more likely to refuse to do a deal with Sinn Fein. This is ironic. In fact, the DUP had been about to do a rather poor deal with Sinn Fein last December and, if republicans had agreed to the Government’s suggestion that photographs be taken of the weapons to be taken out of commission, the DUP would have found it impossible to avoid going through with what it had negotiated.
At the last minute, Ian Paisley saw the danger and went around talking loudly about the need for republicans to wear sackcloth and ashes. Most voters remembered the loud talk; few had read the small print of the concessions that were being offered to republicans. In any event, enough swung to the DUP to allow it, under first-past-the-post voting, to reduce my party to one seat. In the local government elections on the same day under a proportional voting system, our losses were more modest.