Mike Nesbitt ... damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t
If the UUP disciplinary committee members felt they would bind the wounds of the party with a “split the difference” finding, they were mistaken.
Basil McCrea made it clear before the disciplinary hearing that he believed he was the one defending the integrity and policy of his party. In articles for the Belfast Telegraph he said he stood on the principles of the Belfast Agreement, which had inspired him to join the party.
He argued for clear blue water between his party and the DUP, and he brought three binders of documents to the tribunal to establish that his stand was in line with policy.
This is someone who believes he is right and he will take heart from the fact that the committee did not find against him any central policy issue.
Instead, it told him he should have kept quiet, but that is unlikely to silence him. The betting is that he will appeal, and it may all end up in court.
The party’s three Belfast councillors also set out their stall before the hearing.
Mr McCrea’s suspension from membership was the least they could accept, and they threatened to resign if the verdict was less severe.
Now that their bluff has been called, they must choose between party loyalty and resentment of Mr McCrea’s criticisms.
Everything points to more turmoil and defections. UUP boss Mike Nesbitt will need all his skills to limit the damage.
He knows that if he moves closer to the DUP, for instance by agreeing a joint candidate in the Mid Ulster by-election, Mr McCrea will not remain silent.
He also knows that if he fails to make an example of Mr McCrea, he could lose the councillors.