By Jim Gibney
It is not easy being a democrat because you have to accept the will of the people at an election even when you do not like the result.
That reality is bearing down on all shades of unionism, from those on the liberal wing to those like Jim Allister, with the UUP and the DUP squeezed in between. None of these perspectives can cope with the possibility - and that is all it is at the minute - a possibility, that Sinn Fein could emerge as the lead party in the north the other side of the next assembly election, which would mean that Martin McGuinness would be in a position to be nominated as first minister. It seems that for unionists that is a change too earth-shattering for them to contemplate - next to a united Ireland it is their worse nightmare.
Martin McGuinness as first minister would be a powerful signal - an irreversible message and momentum that unionist parties could not hold back the tide of change.
There was a time, not too long ago, when unionists used to crow about being the only upholders of democracy, a time when they pretended at playing the democratic game.
But really behind this facade they lined up the array of armed groups, the A, B, C Specials, the RUC, the British army, Ulster Resistance and when necessary loyalist paramilitaries, to threaten anyone who challenged their concept of democracy as practised in the six-county state. Today, due to the changes that have occurred as a result of the peace process, the unionist parties have been stripped of their military and paramilitary muscle. They now stand reliant on their electoral mandate to assert their rights - well, almost. It is not easy accepting that your supremacist days are over, that your self-acclaimed birthright of ‘born-to-rule’ has gone, that state power cannot be imposed or dispensed to suit your needs. And that is why,in part, the DUP has co-opted the Orange Order onto its negotiating team and is demanding, on its behalf, Orange feet on roads - Garvaghy, Ormeau and Whiterock and marching past the shops at Ardoyne.
The DUP thinks that the Orange Order provides them with lost ‘muscle’ to intimidate but all they provide is whatever votes the DUP can muster from them in return for doing their bidding. The DUP is trying to garner Orange Order votes in the hope that Jim A1lister is deprived of them.
The DUP cares little about the impact on nationalist opinion of their insistence on the Orange Order marching where it is not welcome. It knows the Order represents the worst forms of triumphalism and domination yet it courts them.
This is the latest example of the OUP putting its party before the peace and political processes. The other example of the DUP’s retreat behind the circling wagons was its recent attempt to form unionist unity with the UUP, a move sponsored by the British Conservative Party.
This dalliance is also motivated by fear - fear that Sinn Fein will emerge as the most popular party, fear that Allister could further erode the DUP’s leadership of unionism.
There has been a crisis at the centre of the unionist body-politic from the point when they set up a one-party sectarian unionist state - their failure to engage with nationalist Ireland. Although the nationalist population was initially cowed by the violence of the unionist state it was only a matter of time before it developed the capacity to exercise its own power and it did so peacefully through the Civil Rights Movement and then violently through the IRA.
Its actions constrained unionists and progressively narrowed down their options to the stage where unionists could no longer hold all power in their hands and were confronted with negotiating an equal future with nationalists and republicans.
And as we have witnessed in the last month, a long-established pattern of unionists being forced to negotiate, being pressurised to compromise.
At no time in the last 15 years have the unionist parties initiated or voluntarily agreed the future. This niggardly approach, this truculence, has to end in order to ensure an agreed future between unionists and nationalists and not one based on coercion, however democratic.