Long-term cost of DUP/UUP pact is worrying
I doubt anyone will be surprised I disagree with the DUP/UUP pact for the Westminster elections. What surprises me, however, is its incoherence.
It includes Newry and Armagh, where the Sinn Fein vote alone is significantly greater than the combined DUP/UUP vote. But it does not include Upper Bann, where the UUP is hoping to unseat the DUP MP. And it doesn't include Mid-Ulster, which did have a DUP/UUP pact in the by-election of 2013.
So, on May 7, in Armagh, DUP voters will be asked to vote for a UUP candidate; in Portadown UUP voters will be asked to vote out a DUP MP; and in Cookstown UUP and DUP voters, who two years ago were asked to support a unity candidate, will be asked to vote against one another.
For the UUP, in particular, this incoherence is especially damaging. If the differences between the DUP and UUP are so minimal as to allow an electoral pact in two of the four Belfast constituencies and in two large rural constituencies in which the UUP is traditionally strong, why should voters back the UUP candidate seeking to unseat the DUP in Upper Bann?
I fully understand the short-term electoral attractions for the UUP: Tom Elliott has a chance of winning in Fermanagh and South Tyrone; Danny Kennedy will receive a large boost to his personal vote in Newry and Armagh.
But what of the costs? Unionism traditionally has poured it intellectual and political energy into the short term; rarely into the long term. But it is the long-term costs of the pact that profoundly worry me.
It should be the aim of pro-Union politics to normalise how we do politics in Northern Ireland. This requires a diversity of parties, offering regional platforms on the Left/Right spectrum. There are some signs that something like this could potentially evolve from the current parties - Sinn Fein on the hard Left, the SDLP as social democrats, Alliance as liberals, UUP as moderate centre-Right, DUP as Right-of-centre.
The pact undermines this, replacing diversity with a monochrome Sinn Fein v unionists race. This is neither in the interests of Northern Ireland nor a pro-Union future.
John McCallister is Independent Unionist MLA for South Down