A guest slot by Lucian on the Northern Ireland dimension – the re-emergence of the UUP

A guest slot by Lucian on the Northern Ireland dimension – the re-emergence of the UUP

BBC News Northern Ireland summary

Now the focus is on next year’s Assembly elections

There is little doubt that the UUP will regard the general election as a success. They had no seats, they now have two. Fermanagh and South Tyrone was won by Tom Elliott after a deal was struck with the DUP and other unionist parties. South Antrim was taken from the DUP’s William McCrea by Danny Kinahan.

So the party has removed the horror of not having anyone on the green benches, a year after making a small step forward in the council elections.

Attention now turns to next year’s Assembly elections. The UUP has 13 seats to the 38 held by the DUP. The UUP will want more, a lot more. They will be emboldened by the breakthrough in South Antrim and will probably be aiming to at least get back up to the 18 seats won in 2007. The DUP will be raising the spectre of a Sinn Fein First Minister to try and entrench their position as the dominant

There is no love lost between the DUP and the UUP. While it is the dream of some to unite Unionism, it seems unlikely at present given the public spat between David Simpson and Mike Nesbitt following the hard-fought campaign in Upper Bann. David Simpson has accused UUP supporters of ‘totally unacceptable’ behaviour, while Nesbitt has queried the validity of an opinion poll which suggested that voting for Jo-Anne Dobson of the UUP risked letting Sinn Fein take the seat.

Despite the party having a spring in its step, it is highly unlikely that the UUP can make huge ground on the DUP in a year. The DUP has most of the well-known politicians, the media profile and incumbency factors in their favour. The UUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone has to find a new MLA to replace Tom Elliott in the shoo-in spot before even remotely tilting at a second. It is hard to see whether having a local MP will mean more than having well-known MLA candidates when the Assembly election comes around. The decision is an important one for the local Unionist Association to take amidst the celebration.

Assuming they remain the second Unionist party, after the election, they will have a big decision to make as to whether it takes its executive seat(s). There is no official opposition in Stormont. That’s obviously a weird situation. It’s also one that I suggest should change.

Mike Nesbitt has said before that it is a step to normalising politics in Northern Ireland. It would be a brave step to pull out of the executive, but it could be a huge step forward for the UUP in the long term. Formal Opposition offers voters an alternative. Nesbitt has stopped the rot. Can Opposition be a way to regain primacy in the province?

Lucian is a long standing contributor to PB discussions

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