Johnny Andrews, recently appointed as head of the UUP’s election strategy has argued that, “it is the responsibility and, indeed, raison d’etre of this party to provide a political home for all pro-union citizens of Northern Ireland. We have always been a broad church; however, we must become broader”. Specifically it needs to make itself more open to Catholics.
Both the potential advantage and the problem is demonstrated in these figures from the Life and Times Survey. Only 1 per cent of Catholics define themselves as Unionist. But a good forty per cent count themselves as neither. This attitude is reflected in the educational survey released yesterday.
Its advantage may not lie in a large numbers Catholics suddenly voting for them, so much as diffusing the distaste for sectarian politics amongst the fabled Garden Centre prods: those middle class Protestant voters, who in Mark Langhammer’s famously apt phrase left politics and went off to play golf in 1969 and didn’t come back.
If adopted as part of a wider re-make of the party’s brand, it might give them some clear differentiators against its still better organised and larger rivals in the DUP.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty