Having lost their only MP over the Tory link-up, it seems increasingly likely that the UUP will now also lose their best hope for a gain in the Westminster election – South Antrim.
The constituency is the only one for which UCUNF has not selected a candidate. The UUP suggested Adrian Watson, who was apparently judged unsuitable (by the Tory half of the partnership) because of his ‘christian’ (sic) bigotry against gays. The Tories suggested Margaret McVeigh who was deemed unsuitable by the UUP because … well …, who the hell is she?
Then the Tories – in the person of their shadow home secretary, no less – upset the applecart by seeming to favour allowing B&B owners (like Mr Watson) to discriminate against gays – the thought crime which had cost Mr Watson his candidacy.
But by then there was no way back for Watson, because he had blasted the whole UCUNF project as being “a dictatorship” – and said that he was "totally against" it. So there is no way he will ever be a UCUNF candidate.
But will he stand as an independent, like Sylvia Hermon in North Down? According to Watson, 90% of his local UUP association backed him as a candidate, and he has not ruled out running as an independent candidate.
If he runs as an independent then the UCUNF must stand too, because Cameron has pledged to stand in all 18 constituencies, and between them they will split the UUP-Tory vote, probably letting the awful William McCrea retain the seat for the DUP.
All in all, it could represent yet another nail in the coffin for UCUNF – and it is all their own doing. It is a consequence of not having genuine Cameronesque ‘modern conservatives’. They simply do not exist in sufficient numbers in Northern Ireland – the 17 confirmed UCUNF selections demonstrate this – and so UCUNF was faced with either selecting the same old UUP faces (as they did in several places) or going for complete unknowns, presumably in the hope that they will grow into their roles. But the best way to grow into a political role is in a lower-level political role – via council politics, or the Assembly. Simply skipping the awkward phase and standing in Westminster elections is ‘instant gratification’ politics. If there are no ‘modern conservatives’ at council level, and none in the Assembly, then it seems a little presumptuous to think that they can be conjured out of thin air for Westminster.
Unionists are like Watson, whether the Tories like it or not. They are not modern, they are not liberal, they are not metropolitan, they are not even particularly clever. They are a defensive socially conservative tribe, increasingly worried about their future (and with good reason). The Tories should have known that, and heading into a pact with them they should have been aware that they would end up with troglodytes like Watson. Rejecting him without having any good alternative just shows how threadbare their whole Northern Irish excursion is.
Watson is not simply fading away, he is fighting back, and the more he does so, the more damage he will do to UCUNF. Even if he chooses not to stand he will have damaged whoever finally get the UCUNF ticket – perhaps costing him or her the seat. This blog hopes that Watson will stand as an independent, because the one thing you can never have too many of, is competing unionist parties and candidates. With luck South Antrim’s unionists will divide themselves between the DUP, UCUNF, TUV and Watson – and all of them will spend the next month tearing strips off each other.
Let the fun begin!