Last Christmas

This blog first appeared as a column in the Andersonstown News

It’s Christmas time, so Just supposing the leaders of political unionism were to have a Christmas dinner together, what would the seating arrangement look like?

Well, at the top you’d have First Minister Paul Giv …No, hold a minute. He may be First Minister but his boss – the DUP party leader – is knight of the realm Jeffrey Donaldson. So stand up and stand back, Givan:  that top place belongs to the man who gave you your job. We’ll sort you later. And stop smiling, would you?

So at the top of the table we have Sir Jeffrey. On his right, of course, would be Jim Allister. That does not mean Allister is Sir Jeff’s right hand man – far from it. But he certainly is to the right of Sir J politically: in fact Jim is early Ian Paisley in everything except his 50% of Paisley stature and 25% of Paisley volume.  

And to Sir J’s left? Again, easy –Doug Beattie, the leader of the UUP. Beattie has had a number of tours of Afghanistan with the British army, which probably prepared him well for picking up the leadership shambles that the UUP was. People talk about the revolving door of DUP leadership – Arlene, Edwin, Jeffrey; but since 2010 the UUP has managed to burn its way through five party leaders– Tom Elliott, Mike Nesbit, Robin Swann, Steve Aiken and now Doug Beattie. Sharp elbows have earned Doug his place on Sir J’s left.  And no, Virginia, I still haven’t worked out how the DUP can leak votes to the left and the right at the same time.

So that’s the DUP at turkey-carving top, the TUV to the right and the UUP to the left. Anyone missing from the feast? Well, the Alliance party maybe. I know we’re supposed to think of them as constitutionally virginal, but they’re really unionist-lite. Maybe give Naomi Long observer status, then: seat her on that sofa by the wall alongside Paul Givan, one a non-unionist leader (sort of) and the other a non-leader unionist (sort of). 

What would the company talk about as they chewed and quaffed? Why, Armegeddon – what else? Aka the coming May election, aka the slaughter of the innocents. The polls show Sinn Féin well ahead, with support for the DUP ebbing and flowing but always well behind the Shinners. Which is why the night air is sometimes rent as unionist leaders starting upright in a cold sweat, shrieking “For pity’s sake, no republican First Minister! Ulster has suffered enough!”

But is this nightmare something these leaders have themselves to thank for?  In the dear dead days of domination, the DUP made much of the need for the unionist vote to turn out, otherwise Martin McGuinness could become First Minister, and such a thought would be unbearable – a former IRA leader heading up government of dear tormented Ulster! Truly an appalling vista.

But maybe a festive gathering of unionist leaders would give them not just bodily sustenance through chomping on a leg or wing or Pope’s nose of turkey, all washed down by a few gulps of wine – not just bodily sustenance but also mental nourishment,  inspiration to fashion a republican-neutralising scheme.

Such as? OK, what about running  just one unionist candidate  for each Assembly seat? Pan-unionism delivered with Stalinist discipline – that’d cook Sinn Féin’s goose for them

Except wouldn’t the SDLP and Sinn Féin follow suit, thus cancelling out the unionist manoeuvre? Mmm – maybe but unlikely.  To say the SDLP dislike Sinn Féin is like saying an ant dislikes ant-eaters. The divisions and detestations run river deep and mountain high. And dissension among unionisms has similar dimensions.

There is, of course, one other pathway open to unionists. Between Christmas and Spring, Sir Jeffrey could flex his sinews and pull the plug on Stormont, thus avoiding (if only for now) an Assembly election in which they’d assuredly get their asses presented to them on a Christmas platter. No Assembly, No election,  no Fenian First Minister. QED.

Plum pudding in the sky or nutritious food for thought?  Indeed, Virginia – we’ll know soon enough.

Nollaig shona duit go leir – Happy Christmas to all.

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