DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday claimed that Anna Lo’s public support for a united Ireland was “a deliberate attempt to garner votes from nationalists”.
His logic is that Alliance is concerned that its role in restricting the flying of the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall has alienated some unionists, and so the party is attempting to compensate by winning republican votes.
That might be the case. But it seems highly unlikely.
Rather, it would seem that a politician known for speaking her mind has simply answered a blunt question with a clear answer; something increasingly rare in politics if the interviewee knows that the honest answer will not be overwhelmingly popular.
The party’s reluctance to put Ms Lo forward for interviews after her comments reinforced the sense that it was uneasy at her choice of words.
It would seem that her likening of the Province to a colony was more damaging among pro-Union voters than her support for ending partition.
David Ford’s comments in today’s News Letter, made before Ms Lo’s interview, that he would vote to stay in the Union suggest that there was no grand plan behind her words.
There are those such as former Alliance deputy leader Seamus Close who believe her comments were naive, which may be true, though her candour has a refreshing quality in this bland age of political spin.
Ms Lo’s comments certainly make it more difficult for her to win over disillusioned unionist voters. Although it has recently sat on the constitutional fence, to a large extent Alliance grew out of the Ulster Unionist Party and it wins its seats in majority unionist areas.
Therefore, some of its supporters will be startled that a senior member wants to see a united Ireland. Others will be relaxed about Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.
But while Ms Lo can afford to shed votes as she is not expected to be elected, it is Alliance’s council candidates, many of whom benefit from unionist transfers, who could be most uneasy at what she has said.