Alex, Jeffrey and Arlene too

This blog first appeared as a column in The Andersonstown News

When I close my eyes and murmur “Alex Salmond!”, a figure lumbers into my mind’s eye. It’s an overweight, bloody-but-unbowed figure, topped by a balding head and eyes that look as though they’ve been to hell and back. When I  lower my eyelids and whisper “Jeffrey Donaldson!” I get a very different picture. This one is of a small but perfectly formed figure. It’s trim, smiling, has neatly-combed hair and Christian eyes that gaze gently from behind Christian glasses

As you’ll know if you haven’t spent the last couple of years chained to a radiator in a cellar in Ballymena,  Alex Salmond was charged with 14 cases of sexual and indecent assault. He was acquitted of all charges and received £500,000 compensation.  He has in the past few days formed a new party, Alba, to contest the Scottish general election in May of this year. He claims his party is not intending to damage Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, but to gain “a super majority” for Scottish independence. He wishes the SNP well and claims Alba will win seats where the SNP would not have. Many people, certainly in Sturgeon’s party, think this is Grade A garbage, and that Salmond is on a revenge mission against the party he once led. To say he has fallen out with his former protégée Nicola Sturgeon would be like saying Cain had a strained relationship with Abel.

Jeffrey Donaldson, in contrast, remains a faithful member of the DUP. He was once a faithful member in the Ulster Unionist Party, but that was yesterday, now yesterday’s gone. His leader in the DUP is Arlene Foster, who quit the UUP about the same time as Jeffrey and, like him, joined the DUP. As far as we know, Jeffrey is in total agreement with his party leader, except perhaps in the area of lapel decoration: Jeffrey favours the Christian symbol of a fish, while his leader prefers a large Crown brooch on her bosom.

Are Jeffrey and Arlene enjoying the fruits of their political labour in recent years? After all, it was the DUP who campaigned for Brexit, it was the DUP who held Theresa May (remember her?) to account, and it was the DUP who helped Boris Johnson smash a path for the UK to escape from its EU prison.

But things have been going downhill a bit recently. The Protocol, effectively putting a border in the Irish Sea between Britain and the North-east of Ireland, has irked Arlene considerably. Little did she think when she stood on that Stormont balcony with Johnson, when she heard his honeyed words that he wouldn’t dream of putting a border in the Irish Sea – how could she have foreseen that the state of which she is First Minister would be so brazenly betrayed? Her predecessor, Peter Robinson, is of a similar mind: “There are forces using the exigencies of Brexit to advance a programme of constitutional change through stealth and propaganda…Take care”.

There are rumblings in the DUP that Arlene has allowed Boris Johnson to totally outfox her. There might even be those in the DUP who do not believe Arlene is up to the job of leading the DUP. For all we know, Jeffrey  may be having a dream every night in which  he seizes from Arlene  the wheel of HMS Precious Union and prevents the ship  being steered onto the rocks.

Oddly, when I think of Arlene,  it’s alongside an image of Alex Salmond. And when I think of Jeffrey, it’s alongside an image of Nicola Sturgeon. The first two a pair of  political rough-and-tumblers, the other two neat and quiet and ruthless.

Who knows? This could be a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. All I can offer to Arlene is a heartfelt “Take care.”

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