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Analysis: UUP rejectionist strategy a risky game in the run-up to election

By David Gordon

The UUP now finds itself under fire from the DUP for not backing a deal underpinning power-sharing devolution involving Sinn Fein.

The stance being taken by Ulster Unionists on today's Assembly vote is potentially very risky.

They are now being accused of siding with the “rejectionist wing” of unionism.

That would be an awkward place to be in the run-up to an election — in the narrow space to the “right” of the DUP where Jim Allister has already pitched his tent.

And critics are also seeking to drive a wedge between the UUP and their Tory Party partners, who would dearly love to see Stormont stabilised.

This is not to say that there is not an internal logic to what the Ulster Unionists are doing.

For a start, there is a natural political instinct not to make life easy for your electoral rivals.

Their position is also linked to the trauma of what has happened to the party over the last 10 years or so.

The DUP bombarded it from the sky for supporting the Belfast Agreement, then moved onto the centre ground itself with its espousal of the St Andrews Agreement.

Memories are still raw within the UUP from that bitter experience.

It also firmly believes that the DUP leadership wanted to use it as cover over the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, to keep its own hardline wing and the TUV at bay.

There is a strong level of distrust of the DUP in Ulster Unionist hearts. They did not believe a new spirit of inter-unionist co-operation and harmony would follow if it backed the Hillsborough deal.

However, internal party logic does not always mean much in the real world.

The UUP has to guard against voters concluding that it is simply sulking, or that it has performed a U-turn and become a “no” party.

Politics is not known for being fair.

Grievances about how it has been treated over the past decade may not count for much in reality. Allied to all this is the bigger question of what the UUP is going to stand for in future, not least with its main unionist rival also in the pro-power-sharing camp.

Some in the party want to head down the unionist unity route, while others believe the future lies in deepening the Tory link.

And given its regular denunciations of the “dysfunctional Executive”, will the party now consider pulling out of the Stormont administration and taking up an opposition role?

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