Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Three-man band's tune may sound too much like Alliance

David McClarty
David McClarty

For Basil McCrea and John McCallister, resigning from the UUP in protest at the drift to unionist unity was the easy part.

Like a disgruntled wage slave who tells the boss to "stuff your job" they need to make new friends to survive.

David McClarty, the former UUP MLA from East Londonderry, will almost inevitably join them, and there may be others.

With those three members they can start to draw down funds from the Assembly. Any party of more than two members gets an allowance of £52,686.85 and other payment, such as whip's allowances, would bring that up to £80,674.85 for a three-man band of MLAs. That comes on top of Members' allowances and would be enough to run an officer.

The problems are political. If the UUP has difficulty differentiating itself from the DUP, the new party has potentially the same problem in differentiating itself from Alliance.

"Why aren't you in Alliance?" was a question Mr McCrea was asked in radio phone-ins. He ruled it out, saying that he wanted to provide an opposition. Yet the opposition role is being fulfilled fairly well by Jim Allister of the TUV; the new party will have to work hard to better him. However, it will gain more speaking rights than him because of its size.

Mr McCrea has an idea of a "coalition for a shared future" in which he could work with non-sectarian parties like Alliance and even the Tories. They would also support each other with transfers at elections.

That could work, but it has the same potential problems as unionist unity, plus an extra one. The parties involved have distinct policies. Stressing differences with Alliance will make it harder to co-operate.

In Assembly elections the DUP and UUP will be out to destroy it and it will need help.

Mr McCallister's South Down seat was won by a hair's breadth and will be difficult to hold without the UUP machine behind him. Will enough members leave his old party to give him an organisation, or will Alliance weigh in?

A moderate unionist party, the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, was founded by former Stormont Prime Minister Brian Faulkner in 1974. Its last councillor joined Alliance in 1981.

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