No room for two Unionist parties?

Irish Daily Star political columnist and Unionist revisionist Dr JOHN COULTER maintains that whoever wins the UUP leadership battle on Friday evening, he must lead the party in the direction of a formal merger with the DUP.

By John Coulter

By the end of this week, there’ll be a new Ulster Unionist leader and his first task should be to lay the groundwork for a formal merger with the DUP. The hard reality which the unionist family must face is that when the Paisleyites pull off a deal with Sinn Fein – or even if Direct Rule is made more accountable – there is only room on the unionist spectrum for one political party.

Ulster Unionism must swallow the bitter medicine that the 100-year party is over. It must fully merge or melt totally. If the DUP succeeds in implementing what is effectively Trimbleite policy by restoring a legislative Stormont Parliament, the UUP will be politically exterminated in the subsequent Assembly elections to ratify the deal.

Whilst formal merger is the only solution, what Friday night will decide is the kind of party which will unite with the post Paisley camp. Unfortunately, the Doc (Ian Senior) does not figure in this arrangement as he will probably always insist on the party being called the Democratic Unionists rather than simply The Unionist Party.

Some senior UUP sources have suggested it will be a decade before the party is a significant electoral force again. By that time, hopefully, Ulster Unionism will be part of a structurally united family.

With the future direction for survival of the UUP decided, what remains to sort out on Friday is which of the three MLAs will lead the party up the aisle to marry the DUP bride – or should that be husband now that Ulster Unionism is the ‘weaker sex’ politically?

The clear favourite this morning is Reg Empey of East Belfast. He will establish the party as a centre Right movement with a more youthful team. Basically, this is being interpreted that anyone over the age of 50 (with the exception of Reg himself, of course) hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of being selected for the next Assembly election.

The term ‘this morning’ should be used sparingly. After all, in the UUP Westminster nomination battle for Lagan Valley, Trimble’s wife Daphne was streets ahead of the then unknown businessman Basil McCrea at this point. By the end of the week, Basil had trounced his leader’s missus by a margin of two to one.

The liberal unionist standardbearer is seen as Alan McFarland of North Down. He is viewed as the darling of middle class unionism’s traditional Fur Coat Brigade. There are real fears he will turn the party into a wine-and-cheese version of Alliance.

Merger is still on the lips of the FCB, but with Alliance – not the Paisleyites. The FCB would see itself as championing the cause of persuading the middle class pro-union community of getting off its ass and coming out to vote.

This leaves the UUP’s Hard Right. It’s looking to David McNarry of Strangford. Whilst he’s a former Trimble adviser, his supporters would like to see the UUP becoming more like the tough, no-nonsense Vanguard movement which existed in the early Seventies.

Technically, Empey should clean up at least 60 per cent of the 700 delegates expected to vote. However, many grassroots UUC members are of the opinion the final result could be decided by who gives the best speech on the night.

First published in the Irish Star, yesterday morning.

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