The past week or so has also conveyed another impression: namely, that unionism is still not very good at making a case and advancing a cause. So, instead of an attack dog leaflet against Alliance (which would, in any case, have made it very difficult for them to change their minds), why didn’t the DUP try a more subtle approach?
Yes, by all means distribute a leaflet, but use it as a vehicle for a series of questions, responses and suggestions.
- Do you know why we believe the Union Flag should fly 365 days at the City Hall?
- Do you know why we think Sinn Fein wants to remove the flag entirely?
- Do you think that such a move would actually aid the creation of a genuinely ‘shared space’?
- Do you know that the political make-up of the council leaves the balance-of-power with Alliance?
- We understand that Alliance has had a consistent policy of flying the flag on designated days and we respect their right to promote that policy. But since we believe that Sinn Fein and the SDLP are acting for purely personal political motives rather than in the pursuit of improving relationships we are asking the Alliance Party to support our position and retain the status quo.
- In return for their support we will agree to convene an all-party committee of the Council parties to see if we can reach an agreement on flying the flag that would be acceptable to all of us.
- If you support this approach then we would be pleased if you would approach Alliance Party officials and public representatives and make your views known to them.
There you are, a reasoned, considered and non-inflammatory approach: an approach that would have allowed Alliance to exercise a balance-of-power role that could have been easily explained and justified. And it would also have allowed the DUP to continue with the sort of language and strategy set out in Robinson’s speech.
There is a tendency, of course, for unionism to still prefer the kneejerk and megaphone to the calculated response and thought-through strategy. Pitching Alliance as the bad guy in all of this was never going to be a winner, particularly since it is unionism’s electoral underperformance which has put Alliance in the balance-of-power position. So instead of blaming Alliance – unionists should have been asking themselves why their vote has collapsed. Actually, instead of 30,000 leaflets putting the boot into Alliance the leaflets could have been used to ask unionists why they weren’t voting in the same numbers as they used to for the DUP, UUP and PUP?
As for the UUP!!! When Tom Elliott was pushed aside it was because he was considered inarticulate, uninspiring, devoid of vision, unappealing to pluralist/moderates and pushing the party too close to the DUP. Each and every one of those criticisms now applies to Nesbitt. If there is now any particular, discernible difference between the UUP and DUP (apart from their electoral performances) then maybe someone could point to it. Indeed, there have been so many joint statements, meetings, letters, leaflets and initiatives that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the UUP is a wholly owned subsidiary of the DUP.