Fractures at the edge of consensus?

Alex Kane’s piece which I mentioned below has already been suggested by one of our more sharp eyed commentators (take a bow It was Sammy McNally what done it) to be an example of the UUP moving to the right of the DUP. Alex Kane comments may or may not be part of a strategy to achieve this. However, the unionist politics of what happened last week are interesting and worth assessing.

The first issue which must be very clearly stated is that the overwhelming majority of unionists do not want to go back to violence. I only refuse to say all since I cannot know if there might be someone who dissents from that analysis. I certainly know of no one, myself very definitely included, who wants any return of violence (by all means disbelieve me if you want).

As I commented previously, however, the murders were a deeply political act and have political repercussions for both nationalism and unionism.
Unionists (like nationalists) have, I would submit gone through a series of responses to the events of last week. Initially there was a numbness and amongst many a disbelief. Even I, someone who expected this, was shocked. The shock fairly rapidly gave way to anger: anger regarding murders themselves, anger regarding the late SF response, anger regarding what many perceived (rightly or wrongly) as the stuttering nature of the initial condemnation. Much of that anger was directed at Gerry Adams.

Then came the murder of Constable Carroll. With that event there was not just shock and sadness but a genuine terror that the troubles really were back. In that terror people wanted to see some hope. The appearance of Martin McGuinness with Peter Robinson and a condemnation from McGuinness which was perceived as more fulsome than Adams’s, complete as it was with the denouncement of the dissidents as traitors settled many nerves. There then appeared a feeling that one could not criticise the events unfolding before us and could not even criticise McGuinness for the past lest somehow that lead back to violence. That desperation to cling to some proof that we were not going back to the past somehow seemed to be encapsulated in the person and words of McGuinness. Somehow if he, a man practically every unionists regards as having not merely blood on his hands but all over himself, had denounced the dissidents then maybe just maybe we were all going to be okay.

However, now as people are looking at the events from a little way off one sees the very beginnings of a fracture in the consensus, at least amongst unionists. The fact that McGuinness was involved in countless previous murders can now be said again, albeit many still desperately hope he has changed.

Also political opportunity has begun to reappear. Peter Robinson may have seemed to speak for almost all unionists only a few days ago. However, many will remember the vitriolic attacks he used to make on McGuinness and find it odd to see him standing shoulder to shoulder with McGuinness. At the beginning people may have welcomed the joint appearance. However, it might soon be seen as ill judged, maybe even hypocritical.

In all this there is an opportunity for the UUP. Reg Empey may have been slated at the time for suggesting that the recent murders should put off the devolution of policing and justice. However, it may be a legitimate point and although he received opprobrium for it initially, later it could look like a sensible and brave thing to suggest. The more brave and statesman like for its initial unpopularity. It certainly means he can more easily resist any suggestions from republicans that the outbreak of murder means that P&J should be devolved more quickly. Jim Allister has predicted that republicans will soon suggest this.

The UUP may on this issue be performing the act which I have long suggested they might namely crossing the DUP’s T to end up to the right of the DUP on this issue. At the Battle of Tsushima the Japanese turned each battleship in front of the Russians, exposing each in turn. The could have been annihilated; however, the Russian response was ineffectual, their T was crossed and their fleet was the one smashed. I just wonder if this might be happening here? Whilst that might seem impossible one must note that Reg with his admittedly slightly rocky pact with the Tories might feel that he has tied down the liberal wing of his support base and maybe now is going to go after the hard line support? As I have repeatedly pointed out the only UUP leader to gain ground against Ian Paisley was Jim Molyneaux who openly stated that he had “out righted” him. Whatever his failings Reg Empey cannot have forgotten that fact.

In addition the TUV are of course lurking to the right of the DUP. In the immediate aftermath of the murders many liberals may have suggested that the TUV are dinosaurs who are irrelevant and that these events showed how out of touch and even how dangerous they were. Jim Allister and his ban of lunatics could be safely denounced as yesterday’s men. However, liberals very often fail to understand how unionists think and many supposedly nice liberal unionists who are so liberal in front of their liberal or nationalist friends are far from liberal in private. They are also far from liberal within the privacy of the voting booth. Many unionists may have nearly panicked when violence was in danger of returning. However, when people calm many will feel that they will not be blackmailed by republicans be they dissident or otherwise and they will not run into the arms of Martin McGuinness no matter what he may seem to offer. Then some may exact a vengeance on those of their politicians whom they felt did that.

All the above may well be complete nonsense and speculation. However, the latest comments from Diane Dodds are noticeably lukewarm. The DUP have received plaudits from the government, from the media and from many throughout the world. However, they may have begun to wonder if, when the dust from terror of a return to violence settles, that they are rather uncomfortably far away from their supporters.

As I said at the end of another recent blog: “For the wheel’s still in spin. And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’.” Now I may well be talking complete nonsense: we will wait and see.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.