FST’s ‘shotgun marriage’ may not cut it for Unionist electorate…

Last week Ben Lowry was asking whether those behind the Unionist unity campaign had taken account of its natural response: nationalist unity? The publication of the High Court’s judgement against Fermanagh District Council won’t help the unity candidate down there.

Toals already have the incumbent Michelle Gildernew fractionally ahead of the council’s former CEO Rodney Connor, even though, theoretically, the numbers should add up to slight unionist majority.

As I argued back in January, some of form of unionist unity is politically desirable. But it is the slight air of desperation around this cobbled together pact that defines it as a weak move. Those last words from A Long Peace?, again:

In future struggles, unionists need to be both right and attractive. For that, a firmer, bolder, more far-sighted unionism will be needed.

What’s fascinating about this poll is the range of possible outcomes. And in particular, just how close both leaders of the main unionist parties are to falling off a cliff. If Reg Empey fails to win the South Antrim seat, where else can he go but out (and into the Lords)? Peter Robinson’s own ambitions in East Belfast are set no higher than survival.

The unity candidate was his ‘big idea’ too. If they fail to take FST the DUP will struggle to make any accusation of tardiness against the UUs stick. More fundamentally, this was a defensive move to conjure up a win from nowhere for the lead party and shore up their weakened position.

That piece from January:

…the lesson of Irisgate is that when faced with a strongly consolidated nationalist bloc under the direction of a single opposition party – that is, Sinn Féin – they must look for ways to consolidate themselves.

That cannot happen under the chained-up oligarchy of the DUP, nor through the open hippy commune of the Trimble era. But it can happen under strong leadership that enjoys a open and widely distributed power and democratic power base.

In other words, Northern Irish political parties need to become more like parties elsewhere: larger coalitions that accurately reflect the interests of the people who vote for them.

That can’t happen through a shot gun marriage…


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