So where does this all leave Unionism? Well, plainly not everyone is in the same place Gregory Campbell was last night. The brutal truth of all of this is that the DUP did not want to leave office over this, or almost anything else.
In the blame game it is always unionism’s fault, so staying in situ was always Peter Robinson’s plan of action.
Then along came Mike Nesbitt, who, no doubt having seen the term “Head of IRA Intelligence” in CS Geddes’ first report (possibly switching on the “Bobby Storey” light bulb), and decided (opportunistically, but effectively) to “form an Opposition and offer people an alternative”.
Interestingly on Nolan last night Gregory Campbell who was fairly composed throughout was tested on the Storey moment and was at pains to say that Storey’s arrest was the trigger for their failed attempt to exclude Sinn Fein.
In truth though Nesbitt had beaten them to the draw on that one. Storey’s alleged presence in a private investigation into Jock Davison would never have sat well for unionists with Sinn Fein’s ongoing membership of the Policing Board.
At that point a clear ‘we’re staying in’ or ‘we’re staying out’ would at least have given the party a consistent position. The in/out fudge was anything but clear and perhaps made going back in the only thing he could reasonably do.
So Nesbitt has scrummed a clear advantage out of this. Moreover time is now on his side rather than Robinson’s. He’s well clear of what is now a rather damaged ship, and he does not need to be in any hurry to prematurely sink it.
When I laid out a rough verbal of this reasoning on this morning’s #SluggerReport (below) someone asked if I really thought that Nesbitt what a strategically smart enough? My response: no one has to be very smart in this game, you just have to be less stupid than everyone else.
It’s a critical point in fact.
There are no strategic geniuses in Stormont. Everyone left on board the ship has a problem to a greater or lesser degree. Nesbitt has grabbed the first big oppositional seat in Stormont and that grants him some power to criticise.
If he is, as one viewer this suggested, “making the whole thing up as he goes along”, he’s hardly alone in that. Everyone else is doing that too, it’s just he has a far better story than they do now.
He should probably mine that ruthlessly, but not greedily.
When the next election comes round if he can stay broadly in the middle, he’ll shift some constituencies up from a single quota to a few halfs, and then possibly draw in enough transfers from the TUV, PUP and UKIP to get second MLAs across the line.
The critical thing is to remember to keep his narrative broad. He will have continue to presume no change within nationalism which means that he needs to prepare his troops for dealing with a post IRA run SF, and (possibly) as a dFM.
Clarity will be the thing. Making Northern Ireland work is the higher prize for a unionist leader and that means delivering the effective end of state indulgence in paramilitarism right across the board.
No one else is going to make that easy for him. “Battle a day” has been tested to destruction. Time to test the waters and allow some new narratives to emerge?