David Blackburn

The death knell for Unionism in Ulster?

The death knell for Unionism in Ulster?
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Last Thursday was a dreadful night for the Unionists in Ulster. Six months of unionist divisions, dissent and defections culminated in a near decimation of the Unionist vote. There was an 8.7 percent against the DUP, whose self-induced crisis was embodied by Peter Robinson’s humiliating defeat. The Ulster Unionists have been eradicated. Slyvia Hermon was one of many to resist Sir Reg Empey’s pact with the Tories and overall there was a 2.7 percent swing against the party. Infighting will prevail. The anti-Conservative Michael McGimpsey is apparently in the mix to succeed Empey.

Blame must be apportioned to the Conservatives’ efforts to create a non-sectarian centre-right alliance in Ulster. Secular politics is admirable; but, as I argued here and here, Tory interference was diluting the Unionist vote, which is not uniformly conservative. And so it happened. For the first time ever, Sinn Fein polled the most votes and the SDLP beat the Ulster Unionists.

However, any claim that this electioneering compromised the peace process is absurd. The Conservative and Unionist Party is honour bound to preserve the Union - though it must reconsider strategy. Equally, the SDLP has long taken the Labour whip and that has not diminished progress at Stormont. Even Martin McGuiness conceded (in an interview with the New Statesman) that he foresees no problem in working with a Tory government. Owen Paterson’s electoral politics were self-defeating, but that is no impediment to his competence to discharge his ministerial duties.