Monday, 17 May 2010

Unionist Unity - Keep Calm and Carry On

So far the debate about Unionist Unity has been more media based than anywhere else with some contribution by the blogosphere. However, aspects of it are rather tiresome.

First, most of the contributions to the debate have been from those who are opposed explicitly or implicitly to the concept skewing the discourse, whether it be well-known sceptic Owen Polley or the UUP leader (pro tem) Sir Reg Empey with a notable exception of Burke's corner. A consistent theme of critics has been painting Unionist unity as some sort of ethnic circling of wagons, preordaining the outcome before even a single meeting has been held to discuss the idea nor a single piece of paper written. Some of it is also based on an analysis of the DUP that owes more to 1990 than 2010.

The fact that the analysis and predictions of a number of them have been shown to be fundamentally flawed do not seem to act as a barrier to their words being treated with sage reverence, but it was forever thus.

Second, some of the commentary has also engaged in fantasy politics such as the recent News Letter article on an Alternative Voting system being a life-line for the Ulster Unionists - if the Ulster Unionists should take one lesson from this election it is not to fall for simplistic visions of a restoration of its political fortunes. Meanwhile others have decided the debate is almost over when it has barely begun.

Electorally, Unionist Unity is not an electoral imperative. On the basis of the result, it is perfectly possible for the DUP to maintain largest party status and the UUP to maintain its present size with the possibility of a couple of more seats (I use possibility because as a former member, and now electoral competitor, the UUP's ability to make basic electoral mistakes to their own cost has never ceased to amaze).

Many would see this as a disadvantage, without the electoral imperative then it won't happen. I think it is better as it prevents a shotgun marriage hammered out in a rush and not enabling a meeting of minds of leaders, representatives and members. An alliance borne out of nothing deeper than number crunching would be difficult to sustain for any length of time. This present scenario allows for a more considered process that whether it delivered unity or not could offers the potential for sensible co-operation, improve relationships and possibly even the standard of discourse in Unionism.

No comments: