The News Letter is reporting that Diane Dodds has come close to suggesting that DUP voters transfer to either the UUP or TUV just as both the other parties have done. In her first major speech since being selected she stated:
“In this European election there are two main requirements. One is to keep unionism at the top of the poll and the other is to ensure that we maximise the pro-Union vote to secure the two MEP seats.”The aim of ensuring two unionist seats should be relatively easy to achieve provided there are transfers. However her other aim of keeping unionism at the top of the poll of course translates to keeping the DUP (and Mrs. Dodds) at the top of the poll. That may well be much more difficult. Mrs. Dodds, however, seems very keen on it:
“And to those who say a Unionist candidate topping the poll is not important, I would say remember the boasting and bragging that went on about the so-called ‘greening of the West’? Imagine such a result replicated on an Ulster-wide scale. Sinn Fein would be able to strut the European stage, claiming to speak for Ulster. We must all work, regardless of party affiliation, to make sure that does not happen.”
Of course the only realistic way in which this can be guaranteed is if one of the three unionist parties contesting the election stands aside which is completely unrealistic.
Promoting the idea of keeping the DUP number one and any slippage from that being an epic disaster is of course a standard DUP shibboleth. In fairness republicans would probably crow a bit about holding the largest single vote. However, in real politics it would not be that enormous a tragedy: it would not actually be that relevant. It must be remembered that Ian Paisley was consistently the single most popular politician in the European elections even at the time when Jim Molyneauxs UUP was slowly but surely eroding his support. The European vote alone did not gain the DUP top spot, it was many years later that the DUP became the largest party, helped of course by David Trimbles careful gradual and thoughtful destruction of his own party.
It is Paisleys one time obsession with winning the most votes in Europe and his duel with John Hume over this which has helped make it a big issue for the DUP. As such the DUP have (not for the first time) created a potential stick for others to beat them with. The possibility of losing the number one slot is actually a much bigger danger in the next Stormont elections where the DUP themselves created the preconditions for a potential SF first minister by changing the rules so that the largest single party and not the largest party of the largest group nominates the First Minister.
That decision was a cynical ploy by the DUP to blackmail unionist voters into giving them the maximum number of votes and this latest poly should be seen in exactly the same light. It must be remembered that in the first Stormont elections after the Belfast Agreement the SDLP gained more votes than the UUP: yet unsurprisingly the border did not fall. In fairness the UUP still had the largest number of seats but the effect of a nationalist party having the largest single number of votes seems to have been limited.
Whilst it is a little impolite, it might also be suggested that if the DUP was really that concerned about ensuring the number one slot they might have chosen a higher profile candidate than Diane Dodds. The fact that none of these higher profile candidates would stand does somewhat call into question whether the DUP are really that obsessed with the importance of gaining most first preference votes.
Of course the reality is that Bairbre de Brún having the largest single vote would not be a huge disaster for anyone other than the DUP for whom it might be something of a problem. More of a problem for unionism would be not having two unionist MEPs: the risks of that can be minimised by the DUP explicitly calling on its supporters to transfer to either the TUV or UUP. The DUP has, however, always had some difficulties seeing any differences between the political needs of the unionist population and the needs of itself as a party.