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DUP must wake up the sleeping voters if it wants to save the Union

By Malachi O'Doherty

There are four indictments against the DUP as led by Arlene Foster. These have not cost her actual votes but they have fired up others, who might have stayed at home on polling day, to rally against her.

The indictments are: incompetence in government, as illustrated by the RHI scheme; Religious Conservatism, as illustrated by the opposition to same-sex marriage - and the willingness to use the Petition of Concern device to block it; contempt for nationalist culture as illustrated by the sneering at the Irish language, and Brexit.

The party can now restore its fortunes in one of two ways.

It can emphasise its identification with a Protestant community and, particularly, the evangelical conservative wing of it, in the hope that sleeping voters will come out in future to save it, the way sleeping nationalists woke up when they heard Arlene's strident voice.

The problem with that strategy is that it has already failed. You can't shout and blether about Gerry Adams and the Irish language without waking up nationalists as well.

A Unionism which pegs itself to evangelical conservative morality can hold its own, but it cannot survive the demographic shifts and it cannot grow.

Ireland is secularising, and political parties have to move with that.

The record of the DUP includes appointing a Culture Minister who did not believe in evolution, an Environment Minister who did not believe in man-made climate change, and an Education Minister who rejects all modern research on the damage done by academic selection at age 11.

This is like howling at the modern world.

And such a party deserves to be whacked hard by the electorate.

It never needed to be so wilfully contemptuous of science, but seemed committed to impressing rednecks and putting a literal reading of the Bible over the evidence of the latest research.

Determined to declare itself British, it made itself a laughing stock in the British media.

The great precedent of this retrenchment in Irish politics is De Valera, who thought he had only to look into his own heart to see what was good for Ireland until Ireland was saved from his cold hand clutch in the 1950s by leaders who wanted to open up to the world.

So, the DUP can cling to evangelical conservatism and contempt for science and go down, or it can try something different.

The first question to ask is: what do you lose if you lose the rural Bible huggers? They are not going to turn to Sinn Fein. Some of them will go to the TUV. Most of them, if it appals them that the party leaders risk sounding intelligent, will either stay with the party or stop voting.

The party has to find space to expand into, and that means converting nationalists to the Union and waking up the sleeping voters.

It can make the case that the integrity of the United Kingdom is about more than Orangeism, the Bible, the Monarch and the Flag. It has to make the union sound like a good idea to people other than doddery chauvinists.

The DUP could take a chance that most of those sleeping voters would rally to a great sectarian ding dong, if they were sold the message that the Union is in danger.

But here's the rub. The Union actually is in danger. The DUP helped put it in danger by promoting Brexit, something that most people here don't want.

It's too late to reverse that mistake, but a DUP leader who looked ready to fight Theresa May for the best deal, rather than waiting in the wings to hold her handbag, whatever she comes up with, might - just might - inspire a new following.

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