by Jude Collins (judecollins.com)
Well, that was quite an evening/night, wasn’t it? Just when you thought politics in our NE nest had become dour and tedious, along comes yesterday. Where to start?
Perhaps with the term ‘sleeping giant’. Not that Sinn Fein weren’t a formidable force in our NEn before the election. Now, however, they know what they can do when its vote turns out. On Wednesday’s ‘The View’, the pundits were giving the Shinners 24 seats, with the DUP at around 30 or 31. Not for the first time in the past year, the crystal ball gazers and the polls showed how, like everyone else, they haven’t a clue what’s going to happen at an election.
This was a bad night for unionism. To have the bogeyman of Sinn Fein come within a percentage point and their seat-lead slashed from 10 to 1...Pass the smelling salts, Mother. But there’s nothing so bad there can’t be worse. It was a blitzkrieg of a night for the UUP. It lost seats and it lost its leader. To give Mike Nesbitt his due, he resigned with grace and dignity. It is a shame that his fluency wasn’t matched by his political savvy. But contrast his resignation words with the clumsy concession of Nelson McCausland. As readers of this site know, I have more than a small soft spot for Nelson, so it’s frustrating to see him look so forgettable in his final words. Wouldn’t it have been some consolation if he’d approached Nesbitt’s eloquence - or better still, the words of his namesake Horatio Nelson, who, mortally wounded by a musket-ball, murmured to Captain Tom Hardy the surprising final line “Kiss me, Hardy”. Farewell, dear Nelson, and try to think positive. Unlike Horatio, it’s unlikely anyone will attempt to pickle you in a barrel of brandy.
The DUP will be already looking for a new leader. The trick would be if they could install one, thus making a fresh Executive possible, while not looking as though Sinn Fein is calling the shots. But then again, who could lead them? Nigel Dodds? (Sir) Jeffrey Donaldson? Sammy Wilson? Nothing too promising there. In fact, the paucity of leadership material in the DUP stands in stark contrast to the infusion of fresh talent, much of it female, into the Sinn Fein ranks.
There’s a temptation to believe that things couldn’t have been much worse for the DUP, but they could. Last time out in Upper Bann, John O’Dowd almost lost his seat. This time, the determination was not to risk a repeat, which may explain the large number of first preference votes he got. Unfortunately, that left his running mate Nuala Toman short of what she needed. No wonder John O’Dowd, on a night of Sinn Fein jubilation, looked truly pissed off. But if Nuala Toman had gained that seat, and if veteran SDLP man John Dallat hadn’t come home at the last minute and snatched a final seat from Sinn Fein’s Cathal O hOisin, Sinn Fein could be on 29 seats instead of 27. But then all elections always include heart-aching might-have-beens.
The thin ice on which the DUP now stand will send a tremor through unionism generally. The bogeyman Sinn Fein is now so close, they can feel hot breath on their collar. That should inject a note of courtesy into their dealings with the republican party: you don’t emerge alive from a car crash without rethinking the steps that led you to that scary place. If you have a death-wish, of course, you won’t change a thing.