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NI21 squabble shows party's lack of maturity

By Liam Clarke

NI21 was a party that promised a way out of the political squabbling and point-scoring of the past. Now on the eve of its first election, and a fortnight before its first birthday, it is locked in an old-style political civil war.

On the surface the fight is over whether the party members will continue to designate as unionist at Stormont.

But the issue did not have to be addressed in the mouth of an election, without internal agreement. The reason for bringing it to a head was that leader Basil McCrea and European candidate Tina McKenzie detected a demand for it from voters.

Ms McKenzie was convinced many Catholics who wanted to remain in the UK could not identify with the term "unionist".

She may have a point – but a more mature party would not have tried to change something like this so close to an election. The move will not have time to filter through to voters and the danger is that members, who joined a unionist party, will divide on the issue.

It needed management, consultation, membership buy-in and probably confirmation at a conference held months before any election.

These are naive mistakes which could have been avoided – and they could prove fatal.

That problem of party management may go deeper than designation. You get the feeling that NI21 has been flying by the seat of its pants.

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