The louder the DUP squawk about ‘unionist unity’ the more likely it is that it is just a ploy. If the DUP were genuine about setting up some sort of ‘arrangement’ with the UUP then they would be doing it assiduously behind closed doors. Instead they are releasing a stream of press releases, speeches and web pages to try to show that they and only they are serious about the project.
But megaphone courtships rarely work. When the blushing damsel repeatedly says that her heart belongs to another it seems pointless for her would-be suitor to shout even louder about how much he wants her.
Why then does a party like the DUP – often credited with political skills beyond those of other parties – continue to shout their words of endearment from the rooftops? Louder and louder, more and more frequent – it is starting to look like stalking.
Could the reason be that the DUP does not actually want unionist unity?
Could it be that the DUP is merely making so much noise about ‘unionist unity’ because it wants the idea to stick in the voters’ minds that they, and only they, were serious about it? If unionist unity actually happened, then the DUP would have to step back from some constituencies in order to give their rivals, the UUP, a good chance at winning them. And why would they want to do that? The UUP is on the ropes – it is clearly the junior unionist party, and has lost voters and members to the DUP over the past few years. The UUP has only one MP – who is likely to stand for re-election as an independent! So why would the DUP want to throw the UUP a life-line at this point? Would it not be better to engineer things so that the UUP are entirely wiped out, becoming only a minor local party? If the UUP succeed in getting several seats at Westminster it is not impossible that they would be part of the next British government, giving them access to power, influence and publicity far greater than that of the DUP. What political party would voluntarily hand their main rivals that kind of success?
But if the DUP shout about ‘unionist unity’ and it doesn’t actually happen, then the DUP can claim that it was all the UUP’s fault. If, as a side-benefit of a lack of ‘unionist unity’ the UUP come out of the Westminster election with no MPs, then the DUP will regain dominance of the unionist family. The DUP, rather than the UUP, may find themselves as king-makers in Westminster.
The ‘loss’ to unionism of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast would be unfortunate (for unionists), but then again neither seat is currently in unionist hands – and if the UUP are comprehensively demolished, then the DUP would assume the unchallenged role of ‘unionist champion’ in Westminster and would have an even greater advantage at the next Westminster election. The UUP would, at that point, be an irrelevant small party with only a minor role in a devolved administration.
The DUP must be praying that the UUP/UCUNF stick to their pledge to stand in all 18 constituencies. Probably the last thing that they want is for the UUP to actually fall for their advances and make a pact with them. Such a pact would give the UUP votes, seats and an electoral future. A ruthless party like the DUP should rather just kill them now, while they’re down.