“Northern Ireland might be becoming more socially liberal, but…”

The Watchman is an occasional contributor to Slugger. Today he picks up on the notion that one potential candidate for South Antrim, Adrian Watson, has been excluded because of a hypothetical answer he gave regarding a (hypothetical) gay couple requesting a booking in his wife’s bed and breakfast business… An attitude which he seems to have moderated somewhat in recent times… By The Watchman

I can’t compete with Turgon’s historical analogies. So here I will simply predict that the horribly-named UCUNF selection process could well come seriously unstuck on the streets of Antrim and Newtownabbey.

South Antrim should be Number 2 on the UCUNF winnable list. In 2005 David Burnside did very well to keep the DUP majority down to 3’500 odd votes. The DUP is known to be nervous about South Antrim, given a strong TUV vote. One would have expected there to be a UCUNF candidate in place with just 6 weeks to go. But South Antrim remains without a candidate. Why?

The cumbersome UCUNF selection process always looked likely to cause problems. Under it, a name from each party was supposed to go before a joint committee of the 2 parties. The local UUP Association nominated Antrim Mayor Adrian Watson in November. I am not aware of any person nominated by the Tories. Certainly no one has been named publicly.

Watson’s grave sin has been to dissent from what the politically correct brigade (which includes Cameron) believe about gay rights. Many Christians feel that they are living in an increasingly intolerant age and that they face institutional harassment for living out Christian values in the public space.

The spotlight on Watson also says something significant about the intolerance of the self-appointed “gay rights movement” and its unwillingness to accept public expression of conscientiously held Christian beliefs. But that is for another day.

If Watson, the nominated candidate of the local Association, is blackballed as a result of pressure from London then that could cause all sorts of problems for the UUP at the worst possible time. The DUP is already poised to use any such blackballing (a) as an example of their rivals taking their instructions from London and (b) as discriminating against someone for their Christian beliefs. Both would be toxic for the UUP in an already difficult election.

South Antrim, and much of Northern Ireland, ain’t Notting Hill, despite what many people think. Yes, Northern Ireland might be becoming more socially liberal, but that rate of change seems to be happening at differing speeds across the divide. Certainly, what obsesses the Cameroons of Notting Hill is not what obsesses the unionists of South Antrim, and definitely not in the crucial swing group of “soft” DUP voters. Willie McCrea would be quite happy to run as the “traditional moral values candidate”.

I wonder if members of the UUP in South Antrim really expected that one day a Tory leader in London might be able to override who they might select as their Parliamentary candidate? (Would Jim Molyneaux have been selected there in 1970 if he had needed Ted Heath’s endorsement?) Election campaigns still depend on volunteers, especially in marginal seats. Would anyone be prepared to canvass for a candidate imposed over their heads?

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