As unionism and loyalism unites like never before in opposition to the Betrayal Act, which seeks to impose an economic United Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party are engaging in a scorched earth policy.
The UUP previously sought to form a de-facto pact with the nationalist SDLP in the form of the humiliating ‘Vote Mike, Get Colum’ strategy. This ultimately led to Mike Nesbitt’s resignation as UUP leader.
In Steve Aiken’s first week as UUP leader in waiting he decided to announce that the party would run in all 18 constituencies across Northern Ireland, which included North Belfast. This announcement was met with fury across grassroots unionism/loyalism. My understanding is this was little more than a tactical announcement to try and force the DUP’s hand in negotiations around pacts with the UUP.
I am unsure of the wisdom of this tactical move, however in any event the UUP swiftly changed course and were praised by all of unionism for doing so.
Then in his first hours as official leader, Steve Aiken announces that Mike Nesbitt- who recently was literally the only unionist to support the campaign for those born in NI to be Irish by default- will be engaging with the Irish republic to promote the union. That is worrying in of itself.
Next came the announcement that the UUP would run in South Belfast. This is the constituency where Claire Hanna is running as a joint SF/SDLP republican candidate desperate to unseat the incumbent unionist MP, Emma Little-Pengelly.
It seems the UUP have adopted a scorched earth policy. My understanding is that the UUP had asked for the DUP to step aside in Upper Bann or North Down in return for them standing aside in South Belfast. This indicates that South Belfast was little more than a bargaining tool for the UUP’s negotiations with the DUP.
Rightly or wrongly the DUP refused to agree to stand aside, and as such the UUP declared their candidate for South Belfast. This is a farcical situation; the UUP know they cannot win, and they were more than willing to stand aside in South Belfast had they achieved their objectives in their negotiations with the DUP.
If South Belfast was dangled as carrot to the DUP, it is now being used as a stick. The UUP, for whatever reason, are deploying the submarine strategy; sinking unionism by stealth. That has understandably left the grassroots unionist/loyalist community furious.
Emma Little-Pengelly issued a statement today (Sunday) calling for angry unionists to remain calm despite the UUP’s decision. She was instantly criticised, for reasons known only unto himself, by republican agitator Chris Donnelly, a failed Sinn Fein election candidate.
It was absolutely right for the incumbent MP to urge unionists to remain calm, as she will be well aware of the incandescent fury across the unionist/loyalist community. In this context urging people to remain stoic was the responsible thing to do. Had she said nothing then the same republican agitators would have accused her of fueling the flames of fury by her silence.
However, the anger across the unionist/loyalist community is not going to subside. There is a very real chance, based upon the potential numbers, predicated upon the expected unionist surge, that the UUP could ultimately torpedo the chance to defeat the joint SF/SDLP republican candidate. That would be unforgivable, especially in the prevailing circumstances whereby the UUP’s stance is little more than a petty vanity campaign designed to punish the DUP.
If we even move beyond potential numbers, the UUP’s decision also has the potential to stall a growing unionist momentum. The shared goal of defeating the joint SF/SDLP republican candidate was a core motivating factor in uniting unionism across South Belfast and it was hoped that all shades of unionism would stand shoulder to shoulder, especially given the involvement of the Shankill bomber and other IRA terrorists in the joint SF/SDLP movement. The UUP are impeding this stance by acting as fifth columnists in the eyes of many.
There are good decent people in the UUP, none more so than the man many hoped would have led the party, Doug Beattie. I understand that for such persons playing second fiddle to the DUP is a bitter pill to swallow. I also understand that unionist cooperation can not be about unionist domination by the DUP.
Those are all conversations that need to be had across the unionist family in order to ensure that we maximise unionism’s electoral potential. But we must deal with the here and now; the Betrayal Act, designed to subsume NI into an economic United Ireland, is the greatest threat to our British birthright since the Home Rule bill.
We must all put aside differences, egos, agendas and pride and stand together to resist the EU/Irish Government land grab, enabled by the Betrayal Act.
Every unionist is therefore left with a simple question to act as our barometer when deciding our individual and collective actions; is it for the betterment of the union?
We come to the logical conclusion of that question in the current circumstances by asking ourselves three questions;
(1) Is electing a unionist MP in South Belfast to resist the Betrayal Act for the betterment of the union?
(2) Is Emma-Little-Pengelly the only unionist with a realistic chance of winning South Belfast?
(3) Is the UUP standing at best damaging the chances of winning the seat, and at worst handing it to a joint SF/SDLP republican candidate?
I think the answers to the aforementioned questions are relatively straightforward. In such circumstances I hope that genuine and committed unionists within the UUP pull back from this and rally in behind Emma-Little-Pengelly.
If the UUP want to make a point and slam the DUP for a perceived lack of unionist cooperation, then issue a statement setting out the facts of those negotiators and let the unionist community scrutinise the various positions. I fail to see how running a candidate designed to harm the DUP, and therefore unionism in south Belfast, is going to enhance the point the UUP want to make.
Let us all, as unionists and loyalists, stand united. The UUP need to be on the side of unionism, not acting as enablers for a joint SF/SDLP republican movement. If the UUP stand united that South Belfast will not only be the DUP’s victory, but unionism’s, loyalism’s and every person’s that played a role regardless of how big or small.
“You can accomplish much if you don’t care who gets the credit”