“The Unionist Garden Centre has become the Zen Garden Centre…”

“That fear mongering hasn’t exactly stopped, but the fear has…” Great piece from Newton Emerson on Hearts and Minds last night regarding the weird paradox of how the unionist population almost seem to be enjoying the perplexity of the Unionist leadership… Something perhaps for the new Ulster Unionist leader to take on board…

Emerson argues that the union never was under a credible threat, but that winding people up about was good for the voting tally… Harsh, given that during the troubles fear in both populations was being driven not only by their own leaders, but the actions of organisations on ‘the other side’…

As the Ulster Unionist hands the leadership to the safe pair of hands of Fermanagh’s Tom Elliot, his immediate challenge in the east of Northern Ireland will be on one hand to stem the leaching of voters away to their erstwhile rivals and incumbents, the DUP… But also to stem the disenchantment amongst many liberal unionists with the pessimism of Unionism past, and stop what could be a significant movement away to the Alliance party.

And that’s not a question of some manufactured talking point. Just look at Anna Lo’s performance in South Belfast last time out:

DUP 23.7%UUP 17.3%Alliance 15.0%Other 3.0%SDLP 41.0%

That’s up from 7.2% in the 2005 Westminsters, and trending upwards by 2% from 2007. Now those proportions may be skewed somewhat by the fact Sinn Fein did not stand. But the UUP have been trending downwards in almost every Assembly election since they began.

Alliance are becoming more competitive in more constituencies than at almost any time since they began (the new MP for East Belfast has barely been seen at Westminster, but rarely leaves her continuous campaign trail in the constituency ahead of next year’s Assembly’s). Adds: See iluvni’s stats below

Yet so far it is not the nationalist parties they are taking voters from, but Unionists. And specifically the UUP.

Knowing him fairly well, I would suggest that Trevor Ringland’s threat to walk from the party if Tom Elliot does not turn it round and steer it into a more progressive direction was niether lightly arrived at, nor devoid of political realism.

Interesting times ahead…

  • slug

    Fiar point.

    I don’t quite get why he should care whether Down wins against Cork?

    In soccer if you were a Coleraine supporter you would never be expected to say that you prefer Ballymena to win against Portadown just because Ballymena is nearer.

  • slug

    Progressive Unioist

    I don’t think Turgon, who is actually a member of the TUV, not of the UUP, is likely to be receptive to these sorts of points.

    But I think you are right to say that the issues Ringland raises are valid ones. And that Ringland is principled and decent.

    That said, I would argue that he should not have done what he did on Nolan. And nor should Ken Maginnis (who was appalling) have said what he did either.

    Anyhow, I believe that the issue is one that is fair – we do have to move on and I believe that society in general is. Tom’s remarks resonated very negatively with me. I hope that he will take steps to show that he is bettter than those remarks suggest. I hope he and Ringland will work it out.

  • slug

    PU –

    “Because 12 years after the Agreement we have a society more divided than ever, and neither Unionist party seems interested in doing anything about it?”

    Fair point.

  • Peter Brown


    Thank you for giving me the facts that I already knew and was citing to prove that you are talking nonsense – thank you Turgon for pointing out that the previous Alliance candidate was also the best in a generation and the current MP. I hope to use your naval battle analogies that was the Rodney coup de gras in finishing off the Bismarck that is PU’s theory which was crippled by the Swordfish of the drop in the UUP vote (if you are going to steal my Pale analogy I wil retaliate in kind with naval battles).

    PU – is Ringland the new Donaldson?

  • Paul


    It’s a case of trying to bolt the stable-door. The establishment cabal that supported Elliott’s leadership campaign included those who had no scruples whatsoever about working behind the back of Empey in order to destroy the UCUNF project.

    So, it’s a bit late now for Elliott to start threatening disclipining party members for expressing their opinion when the culture of whispers to the press and back-stabbing to get your own way has been engrained into the party’s psyche.

  • Alias

    While I agree that the two contributions directly above are ‘tripe’ and ‘horse manure’ respectively, why is that spam cluttering up Outsider’s accurate observation? * quizzical look*

  • Cynic

    Puppet threats to cut own strings.

    Meanwhile this just seems so appropriate

  • Greenflag

    While I agree that the above contribution is not just tripe and horse manure but very stale tripe and horse manure why does Alias pose as an Outsider ? Can he not stand on his own merits ?

  • Comrade Stalin


    It’s your blog, but a politician who spends all of his/her time in Westminster rather than doing constituency workis likely to lose. I think elections here are increasingly won or lost on such work.

    And your UUP source who accused Naomi of “campaigning” is showing a rather cynical disposition. It makes it sound as if Naomi is going around the constituency doing nothing other than leaflet drops and doorstepping. If she’s doing that she’ll lose the next election, but I rather suspect when they say “campaigning” they are probably referring to constituency work, and on that subject I refer the gentleman to my previous answer 🙂

  • Progressive Unionist

    Peter – Alliance have a substantial vote in 7 constituencies, not just 2. And that’s only going to increase with Tom’s 1950s-style anti-GAA Fermanagh-based version of the UUP. And given a choice between Tom’s divisive and exclusive idea of unionism, and Alliance’s commitment to a shared future, I know which I prefer.

    Turgon – what matters is winning elections. Naomi won. No previous Alliance candidate in generations had ever won a seat before. Alliance are much stronger in 2010 than 2005 for the obvious reason – Reg’s stumbling leadership style which moved the party to the right (and now Tom’s leading it way out of sight to the right…)

    The GAA issue isn’t “a little issue” – its a fundamental matter of demonstrating respect for the 40% of our fellow countrymen of the nationalist tradition. Now’s not the time for “humility” – it’s heartening to see unionists committed to a shared future speak out against Elliott’s sectarian stance and if Elliott doesn’t shift position that will only increase in the future.

    Peter – as for battle analogies, the DUP are like a large, well-equippded army, with all the heavy artillery (big guns like Arlene, Nigel, Gregory, Sammy etc etc) whereas the UUP are more like a small, lightly armed force now with no big guns whatsoever after they forced Sylvia out. Yet you want to move this lightly-armed force to the right, to fight the big guns of the DUP in a pitched, open battle on the ‘traditionalist’ home ground of the DUP – a battle that will have a very predictable result.

    The unionist voters deserve a choice between exclusive, sectarian ‘traditional’ unionism, and inclusive anti-sectarian progressive unionism. If the UUP want to go back to the 1950s they will deny voters that choice, and get themselves slaughtered by the DUP in the process.

  • Peter Brown

    “Alliance have a substantial vote in 7 constituencies” depends on your definition of substantial I suppose – let’s look at them one by one….

    Westminster 2010 total 42762 (6.3%) up 14471 and 2.3% on 2005

    East Belfast 12839 / 37.2 % up 26.1% with the DUP down 19.6% the UUP down 9.7% and the PUP not running. If disillusioned DUP and PUP voters had thought as much of Trevor Ringland as you do the UUP should have walked it – instead UUP voters thought Naomi was preferable to him.Maybe if Empey hadn’t moved to S Antrim things would have been different? But it was votes borrowed from the DUP and PUP that elected Naomi and should have elected a UUP MP. Will civic unionism a la Basil appeal to those former DUP and PUP supporters? I think not!

    South Belfast – 5114 15% up 7.8% – not easy to tell where Anna Lo’s votes come from but it is easy to tell that even if the UUP were to get all of them they would just about overhaul the DUP and still be a long way behind the SDLP. It needs unionist unity to win this seat back

    North Belfast – 1809 4.9% up 3.5% – easy to tell what happened here – new candidate whose is a well known face in the area, DUP vote down UUP vote steady so no UUP to Alliance transfer here either. If UUP wiped out Alliance it would just about overhaul the SDLP and still be a long way behind SF & DUP

    East Antrim 3377 11.1% down 3.6% – presumably Alliance suffered through the loss of Sean Neeson – UUP wipes put Alliance its still 3400 behind the DUP

    You shold note that in these 4 constituencies in and in one case neighbouring Belfast we have now accounted for more than half the Alliance votes, 1/3 of which were cast in East Belfast alone…

    South Antrim – 2607 7.7% down 0.6% – the cause celebre of the futility of courting mythical garden centre unionists at the expense of the UUP’s core support. Party leader is parachuted in and still can;t persuade the Alliance types to vote for him to oust McCrea (William not Basil) and signs his own political death warrant as a result – with total Alliance support they would have won but not if the TUV votes go back to the DUP

    Lagan Valley 4174 11.4% up 0.5% but if they all voted UUP Jeffrey’s majority (excluding the TUV as well) would still be 6312

    East Londonderry 1922 5.5% up 3.1% – another example of the Alliance actually eating into the UUP vote with a new candidate apparently taking votes from the UUP (another new candidate who was the epitome of civic unionism) and even SDP – if the UUP wiped out the Alliance vote they go second and leave Gregory with a majority of nearly 4000

    Strangford 2822 8.7% up 0.3% – if Mike Nesbitt can’t hurt them how can anyone else? UUP + Al;liance = DUP 3000 majority

    Upper Bann 1231 3% up 0.8% – UUP + Alliance = DUP 2000 majority, again even Flash Harry is not civic enough

    North Down 1876 5.6% down 2% UUP + Alliance = not even half the sitting MP’s total

    Everywhere else the Alliance got less than 600 votes – so wiping the Alliance Party out completely would bring the UUP East Belfast and South Antrim – 2 seats which is a far cry from the 10 it had before it lurched towards the centre. is that the height of your ambitions? TUV + Rodney Connor + Lady Hermon is double the Alliance vote and is largely made up of the former Ulster Unionists who have also boosted the DUP vote by 60000 votes since 1997 (that 1 1/2 times the total Alliance vote by the way)

    If you prefer what the Alliance has to offer over the UUP then have the courage of your convictions and go to where you really belong leaving the UUP to do what it used to do so well – representing middle ground unionism. It did this successfully for decades before the Party forgot where the middle ground was and abandoned it to the DUP without them even having to fire a shot!

    If as you say what matters is winning elections then the UUP cannot afford to move further away from its core support and lose another 150,000 votes to try to wipe up the 40,000 currently held by Alliance – that just doesn’t make sense! The UUP has not denied voters choice – it has limited that choice by apparently having some sort of schizophrenia about whether it has ambitions to once again be the top force in unionism by winning back lost support from the DUP or whether it wants to become a slightly more orange rather than yellow version of the Alliance Party, in which case it will continue to haemorrhage support as the Alliance Party appears to be more capabale of holding its ground than the UUP has been over the last 12 years…

  • Peter Brown

    They do vote Cynic – for the DUP or where did there increases come from? I know because when I was in the UUP I met them on the doorsteps, in shopping centres, at church, in schools and they left becuase they were lied to not because we didn’t go to GAA games…time to increase your reality medication again!

  • Progressive Unionist,
    You are the one who called Naomi Long Alliance’s strongest candidate in a generation. She is the same rather irritating individual who stood in 2005. The differences were: the main one; a wish from the electorate to bash Robinson and to a lesser extent Long’s constituency work. Either way Ringland was demolished. Get it into your head: you may think Ringland is great; the voters of East Belfast preferred Long (or Robinson).

    As to the GAA being a fundamental issue: that demonstrates your own foolishness. Long has not trumpeted her attending GAA matches: she has done bread and butter politics. People on the doorsteps in East Belfast or the rest of the Pale do not obsess about the GAA: the economy, health and education are rather more important.

    Very few nationalists are going to be swayed by whether Elliott attends a GAA match: the fact that he would be taking tickets which real fans would want could even do him more damage than good. Incidentally why does Ringland have access to tickets: what magic right does he have to them?

    As another aside I know plenty of Catholics who have never attended a GAA match and have no interest in so doing: obsession with sport is not a prerequisite of Catholicism.. You may think that Catholics are all going to be uniformly impressed by Elliott attending GAA matches. Unfortunately for your world view Catholics like Protestants are a heterogeneous bunch. I know that does not fit your narrative but that is the way it is.

    A few unionists beyond the Pale might be interested in Tom attending GAA matches but not in the way you hope: You know the sort of people who take exception to Dungiven’s GAA club being named after a murderer who eventually decided to starve himself to death.

    In answer to both Peter Brown and myself you have produced no evidence: merely assertions some of which have been shown to be nonsense such as your attempt to suggest that Long was somehow a new exciting concept in East Belfast in 2010.

    Trevor Ringland may have something to offer the UUP. However, if he does he needs to learn to be part of a team and not a prima donna: he is just not important or successful enough for that.

    If you want to go and join Alliance because you are so offended by Tom Elliott go ahead. Just remember a couple of things: Tom was elected: you are not (neither am I). Also Tom Elliott was willing to put himself at considerable personal risk to help protect life and property in Northern Ireland. That is something that Trevor Ringland cannot claim and I suspect you cannot either (nor can I).

  • Mick


    I beat you to it with my gentlemanly retraction. My sources were not UUP.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I have nothing negative to say about Trevor Ringland, I think he is genuinely turned off by the UUP’s plan to regress to the leadership of a modern incarnation of Lord Brookeborough. I’m sure he genuinely believes in trying to create new, cross-community, non-tribal politics. Unfortunately, the party he’s a member of does not, and I’m not convinced that it wants to change.

    I suspect the reason why he is being highlighted here is because he is a kind of barometer for the moderate, anti-tribal minority faction within the UUP.

    Also, I think it’s silly to talk about whether or not people attend matches because they don’t like the sport. Saying “I’m not a big sports man so I don’t go to matches” is completely different from saying “I won’t attend a GAA match because it represents something inimical to my culture”, which is what people like Tom Elliott and Ken Maginness are saying and I’d be suspicious of the motivations of anyone attempting to conflate the two. It’s a very positive thing that Trevor Ringland understands that.

  • Comrade Stalin

    To be fair to Sinn Féin Sinn Féin have always had a great track record of getting people to vote

    Yeah, like in Dublin SW in 2007.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It might be a fair enough position but UUP types, here on Slugger and elsewhere, have always tried to make political capital out of the tightly-controlled party structures in the DUP.

    That said, asserting control over the party line is one way to get things done.

  • To translate Comrade Stalin’s remarks into normal speak: CS anyhow thinks that Ringland might jump ship to Alliance. That might be no bad thing: having been shown to be a looser and prima donna within the UUP he might do Alliance some harm as well as remove a somewhat pathetic, self important and undisciplined member from the UUP. Overall a win win for unionism and Alliance would be happy in the short term anyhow.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “Those whom the Gods destroy…they first make mad”
    H W Longfellow.

    ….the plan seems to be coming together nicely.

  • Granni Trixie

    The rhetoric of Ringland’s election made over inflated claims when he had no record of work on the ground.

    Ungraciously picking on ‘his’ new leader on Nolan the day after a decisive victory, is evidence that he has not learnt anything about how to exert influence within.

    I think he should bow out of politics, its clearly not his thing.

  • Progressive Unionist

    If you prefer what the Alliance has to offer over the UUP then have the courage of your convictions and go to where you really belong

    I’m a Unionist and proud of my Britishness and I have always supported the UUP.

    The fact that you think a non-unionist party is “where I really belong” speaks volumes for the bankruptcy of your version of ‘traditionalist’ 1950s unionism – many of us want to broaden the appeal of Unionism, others – anti-Agreement types like you – want to narrow it to the point where it’s headed for defeat in a consent referendum.

    You talk of your “unionist middle-ground” – but you are turning your back on the only middle ground that should matter to anyone in Northern Ireland, the middle ground between the whole of the people of Northern Ireland, which is both pro-Union and progressive and which unionists need to embrace and work to build support in.

    Unionists need a genuine choice between positive, pluralist, progressive unionism (as pioneered by the pro-Agreement UUP post-98) and regressive sectarian exclusive unionism (as exemplified by anti-Agreement types).

    We can both quote statistics to the end of times – but only true statistics will come next May after the Assembly elections, let’s see who is right then, shall we?

  • Alias

    “Those whom the Gods destroy…they first make mad”

    The anti-rational part of Zen is about right but not much else of the neurotic angst of the progressive vs. traditional farce compares, with Basil McCrea making a poor buddha even if he gained 200 extra kilos.

    At any rate, the pseudo right to self-determination in NI belongs to the Northern Irish nation, so the two existing nations in that region will need to be deconstructed and reconstructed as the missing nation as part of the normalisation process so that is why folks are being “made mad.” It is only when there is one nation, not two, can the dysfunctional dynamic of two nations competing with each other for control of one state be resolved.

    The proper order is for the nation to exist before the state and for that nation to then make a claim to self-determination. Things happened aresways in NI, when the state came into being before the nation. The long-term solution is therefore to reverse engineer the missing nation.

  • Peter Brown


    We were both wrong – by writing for 5 paragraphs yet not answering any of the points put to you or dealing with any of the detailed rebuttal of your previous lies and only answering the easy questions you wish you had been asked whilst ignoring the difficult questions which were actually put to you you belong in Sinn Fein and I would also diagnose a terminal case of SDLP Hume speak.

    You are the exception that proves the rule – the only surviving unicorn! You describe my political ideas, which you describe traditionalist as if that is an insult and which I describe as middle ground unionism, as bankrupt. That is why it is the UUP which is almost bankrupt, because it has turned its back on its core support. Count the votes and the elected representatives and then check your sums.

    I joined the UUP in 1996 when it was the largest party with 270,000 votes 9 (soon to be 10) MPs & nearly 200 councillors because its politics and policies were closest to my own – right in the centre of unionsim, which placed me just to the right of centre in the UUP.

    My position has not changed – I am still a middle of the road unionist whilst the UUP has moved towards what you claim to be the only middle ground the matters – the El Dorado of “the middle ground between the whole of the people of Northern Ireland, which is both pro-Union and progressive and which unionists need to embrace and work to build support in”. (Hume c 1994)

    Unfortunately the UUP has discovered that like El Dorado that middle ground is a myth in that to the extent that it exists at all it is occupied by the Alliance Party which appears to be able to hold it against the small arms fire of the UUP armed only with water pistols and custard pies. Even if the UUP takes that ground as I have set out above in enough detail not to necessitate repeating it here for you to ignore the facts again the UUP at most takes 2 Westminster seats and 40,000 votes leaving a net loss of 8 MPs, 50 + Councillors and 50,000 votes – 1/4 of its support.

    That is political bankruptcy – the only results as you have stated that matter are election results and the UUP slide is the result of the succesive emperors listening to those who want the party to wear the invisible clothes of civic unionism making the party a laughing stock among its previously loyal supporters. Chase the mythical middle ground if you wish, search every garden centre and you’ll not find it. Meanwhile the DUP will continue to erode the other wing of the Party’s support until there is nothing left…

    We are not both quoting statistics – you quote no facts to support your case – but to misquote you if election results are the only results that matter if I had to pick betwen post Agreement UUP since 1998 and anti Agreement types like me (I can almost see the condescension dripping from that sneer) I know which I’d pick.

    Results speak for themselves! The DUP’s home ground of traditional unionism was once where the UUP stood and it abandoned that ground willingly and meekly without a fight in 1998 and the years following and shown no desire to date to reclaim it. Many of the DUP’s current big guns were left behind by the UUP in that full scale voluntary retreat (Arlene Jeffrey etc). Instead of trying to take that ground back, the only way that it can reclaim its place as the largest Party, you want it to dig in and take on Alliance in a fight to the death for 3rd or 4th place – that’s the sort of blue sky thinking that has got the UUP into the mess that it is currently in!