The recent General Election campaign and its aftermath has seen the issue of unionist unity re-emerge onto the political agenda.
There is no question that many grass-roots unionists instinctively like the sound of unionist unity. But I believe that we need to proceed with a degree of caution.
Anyone who witnessed the inappropriate behaviour of many DUP representatives at the various counts after the election will bear testimony to this. Many people outside the DUP strongly suspect that the real reason DUP politicians are now talking about unity is because they have realised that their mishandling of the St Andrews negotiation opened the door to a Sinn Fein First Minister.
I believe that it is worthwhile exploring the wider concept of unionist unity.
Are we talking about one United Unionist Party, which encompasses all existing strands and brands of unionism? How long before such a new party is wracked with internal tensions from one section which would inevitably regard it as being too liberal and another faction which regards it as being too hardline?
I have serious doubts that such a party would be able to attract and, perhaps more importantly, retain the votes of both socially conservative Protestant religious fundamentalists and the more socially liberal secular unionists
Old-style unionism, as embodied in the monolith of the old Unionist Party, which existed up until the DUP broke away in 1971, is gone forever. Unionism in the 21st Century has evolved into a much-changed animal. It may not fit neatly into one political party.
BILLY ARMSTRONG (UUP)
MLA for Mid-Ulster