Malachi is right to suggest that the Ulster Unionists have missed a golden opportunity to create a civic unionism with some Catholic support. In Sylvia Hermon, they threw away the chance they had of a winning candidate without a sectarian bone in her body. The single relevant asset the tiny group of NI Conservatives possessed was the offer of Catholic candidates and they threw that away too. Now theyre trying to outflank the DUP on the right alongside Jim Allister. Where is civic unionism to be found in that manoeuvre? Does it replace the earlier illusion that unionist and nationalist voters alike would come running at the prospect of a link-up with Cameron? Their whole position is hopelessly confused and a gift to a DUP plagued with unaccustomed semi-public doubt. Its not that Catholic voters would come flocking to the UUs at the first sighting of a Catholic candidate. Its simply that a party comprised of Protestants cant pose as non-sectarian without any Catholics in it. True enough, the SDLP are little better. But at least they dont quietly put Protestants off; just that they fail to attract more than a handful. From the evidence of the roller coaster ride that has been Stormont politics these past few months, the whole idea of civic politics is some way off. Itll be enough in the meantime just to keep the show on the road, starting with next weeks crucial vote on the devolution of Justice.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London