The UUP and its Tory friends are trying to spin Jim Nicholson's 17.1% score in the European election as a vindication of their non-merger.
They are wrong. Nicholson's score was abysmal, and they know it.
The big story of this election, overshadowing everything else, was the collapse of the DUP vote – from 31.9% to 18.2% – but despite such a wealth of unionist disillusionment and potential new voters the UUP managed to add just 0.5% to their score! Dodds managed to alienate 87,415 voters, but Nicholson attracted none of them – in fact his vote declined by 8,271 (only the lower turnout saved him from a reduced percentage too).
Nicholson's boast was that the UUP-Tory non-merger would attract new voters – in other words, in addition to the core UUP and Tory vote there should have been additional votes. But while the number of Tory voters in Northern Ireland is hard to pin down (sometimes they stand, sometimes they don't, sometimes partially), there must be a Tory electorate of at least 0.5% (their score in the 2007 Assembly election, where they stood in only 9 constituencies). So Nicholson's vote looks suspiciously like the UUP vote plus the Tory vote, plus … well, nothing.
Faced with the open goal that the DUP melt-down represented, the UUP failed to score. They did not recover the voters that had defected from the UUP to the DUP in the past decade, they did not benefit from Dodds appalling campaign, they did not present the voters with a new or attractive alternative, and they did not benefit from any Cameron bounce. They stagnated.
UCUNF has clearly failed to make any impact on its first big test. Other tests will come, including a Westminster election within a year, and Assembly and District Council elections in 2011, but on the evidence of the European election UCUNF remains simply the UUP in different clothes.