If Sir Reg Empey wins a Westminster seat then the Ulster Unionists’ Assembly group will require new leadership. If he fails to take South Antrim, then he is unlikely to retain the party leader’s post.
Both Basil McCrea and David McNarry have already begun to jostle for position in anticipation of the post-election shake-up, according to Kane. McCrea’s ’big idea’ is to withdraw the UUP from the Northern Ireland Executive and form an unofficial opposition.
Superficially, the notion has its attractions, but the permutations have not been properly evaluated, and there is a lot of work to be done before such a measure becomes a realistic possibility.
McNarry has spent the past few months fulminating about ’unionist unity’. Kane quotes a recent article in which the Strangford MLA wrote, “all unionists should coalesce around shared values, a shared identity and a shared political programme”.
Writing in these terms, McNarry performs a useful service, because he illustrates the philosophical bankruptcy which lies behind the mantra ’unionist unity’. He believes that unionists should not only subscribe to a set of political beliefs, but that they must conform to a particular identity as well. Given his past utterances, it is not difficult to imagine the type of identity to which McNarry refers. It is Orange and it is Protestant.
This reading of unionism is indistinguishable from nationalism. It abandons everything that it good, honourable and rational about pro-Union politics and it leads to a grotty deal with the DUP.
If the UUP ends up with David McNarry as leader it will herald the death of civic unionism in that party. It will also signal the death of the only type of unionism worth the name in Northern Ireland - unionism that is focussed on allegiance to the modern United Kingdom and its institutions. The best way to avoid that fate is a strong performance for the Conservatives and Unionists.