Reports of the death of the UUP may have been wildly exaggerated…

Not much has changed my view that there was little in play in this election to shift votes, bar the sub rosa appeal (conducted sufficiently far away from the media not to raise awkward questions) to the base, whilst speaking soothing words between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

There was even sight of a number (presumably a very fleeting number) of transfers from Sinn Fein directly to the DUP in West Belfast… Yet despite the widespread predictions of a meltdown in the UUP, we may still only be looking at a loss of three or four seats in an Assembly of 108 seats.

Tom Elliott would be well advised to keep his head after this and not be forced to the exit, by either his party or the media. But neither should he kid himself either that the deciding factor was not that simple and elegant fix that made community designation a party rather than more purely democratic means.

In Newry and Armagh his party’s vote went up, and it may be that John McCallister will withstand the loss of Protestant voters to Strangford, and the import of Catholic voters to South Down. But like gravity, which I’m told is one of the weakest forces in nature, the focus will inexorably shift in future elections to getting the relationship right inside Stormont Castle: ie, inside the Offices of First Minister, and Deputy First Minister.

Whilst the reports of the UUP’s death may be exaggerated, but it will continue struggle to find relevance within a set of institutions where the Castle plays the role of all powerful ‘Whitehouse’, to an emasculated ‘Capitol’ that is slipping a little too conveniently into the role of a client Assembly.

All of which may very well be good for us and for the long term stability of our quirky institutions. But it should not blind us to the fact that it is also a triumph of sorts for a tribalism, which if not of old, is certainly with us for a new era of Northern Irish politics.

Roll on 2016…

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