Latest scalps prove DUP is leading the way in unionism
It was never a question of if the DUP would claim UUP scalps ahead of its annual conference tomorrow - it was only a matter of how many.
Now we know the identity of the defectors — Belfast councillor, Graham Craig, and Limavady councillor, Aaran Callan.
Both departures are significant. One is an ambitious young politician; the other an old hand who has worked at Stormont as a special adviser (spad).
Neither are traditional DUP types — Mr Callan once supported Basil McCrea for UUP leader. Mr Craig, although a staunch Orangeman and church-goer, has a strongly unconventional, bohemian side.
He is an avid Bruce Springsteen fan, travelling to seven cities and across two continents to attend nine of the rock star’s gigs this summer alone.
The fact that both men believe they will feel at home in the DUP shows what a broad church it has become. No longer a fundamentalist sect, it is now Northern Ireland’s main unionist party — the natural party of government.
Like any swaggering, successful outfit, it is attempting to put its rivals out of business.
Mrs Foster has basically declared war on Mike Nesbitt, warning that she intends to pick off his best men and women.
The DUP portray the UUP leader as out of his depth, with no ideological overview, just flip-flopping from one position to the next.
For his part, Mr Nesbitt may think that, despite all the DUP’s bluster, it hasn’t really delivered its threat of securing mass converts from his ranks.
Aaran Callan and Graham Craig will be warmly welcomed at tomorrow’s DUP conference. But notwithstanding their obvious ability, neither are household names. Had he remained with the UUP, Mr Craig’s seat was potentially at risk in the next council election.
With his new party, he will now likely slot into the position which will be vacated by former DUP councillor, Ruth Patterson, in 2019.
The DUP would love to have secured a scalp at Stormont. So far, the UUP’s 16 MLAs have resisted DUP blandishments. If that changes, it would spell serious trouble for Mr Nesbitt.
This week’s double defection wasn’t a game-changer, but it was a sign of the times. The UUP responded robustly to Mr Callan’s departure on Wednesday. It said he “wouldn’t be missed”, and all trace of him was removed from the party’s website before the day was out.
Mr Craig was still there at the time of writing last night. This morning, it is likely we will see another terse statement. Then, he too will be gone.