With the Democratic Unionist Party gnashing its teeth and pointing fingers of blame at Sinn Féin, it seems unlikely that the regional power-sharing executive at Stormont will be brought back into existence any time soon. By all accounts Arlene Foster and her colleagues were expecting a return to the cross-community administration of old, a DUP laager, sacrificing a few baubles and trinkets along the way to keep the troublesome nationalist natives pacified. That Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others may have been pursuing radically different plans for the future composition and role of the peace-brokered executive and assembly does not seem to have occurred to the DUP backwoodsmen, many of whom are now staking their electoral futures on a cynical strategy of blame-gaming. A strategy designed to lay the fault for the failed talks at the door of SF, and Gerry Adams in particular, while whipping up fears among pro-union voters in relation to Irish nationalism gaining true equality of representation in the British-administered north-east.
Indeed, there is a distinct of whiff of a pan-unionist axis in the air, one that will undoubtedly lead Arlene Foster to renew her pledge to stir up ethno-sectarian animosity and resentment if a second round of voting becomes inevitable. Commentator Alex Kane writing in the unionist-leaning News Letter, notes this:
…there are elements within the various unionist parties – collectively spooked by losing their overall majority on March 2 – who want to revisit the idea of pacts and collective whipping.
The DUP is strong enough to give the UUP (and it is with them that a deal would be most effective) a leg-up in some constituencies; and will do so if the outcome pushes unionism into an overall majority in the Assembly. At the same time they could agree to prioritise socio/economic policies that matter to the PUP. There’s probably nothing they could offer Jim Allister (and anyway, the TUV is clearly a one-man band and no threat to the DUP); while Ukip and the local Conservatives, with less than 1% between them, won’t need to be included in any deal.
I have enormous reservations about unionist unity, mostly because it tends to display the most negative aspects of unionism. And I also think it puts off a significant section of the pro-Union constituency. Nevertheless, it now looks as though the unity project will soon be in full swing.
As the northern nationalist community begins to achieve a rough parity in numbers with its regional peers, something predicted since the early 2000s, a decision by unionists to “gerrymander” any future election through voting pacts will likely antagonise its members. And be in no doubt, Sinn Féin will present a pan-union axis to the world as a mechanism for unionists to “disenfranchise” nationalists. It will be characterised as a pro-union attempt to suppress a demographic and electoral shift which threatens the self-styled “Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist” hegemony in the Six Counties. While the parties of the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists would be the major beneficiaries of an agreement in the short-term, in the longer term they would be driving yet another stake through the failing heart of Britain’s parasitic colony on this island nation.