Unionists will be dismayed if a policy adjustment is made by Belfast City Council tonight on the flying of the Union Flag over its main municipal buildings.
But the political voting arithmetic is such within the council chamber that change looks inevitable.
The Alliance Party, which holds the balance of power between unionist and SDLP/Sinn Fein blocs, indicates that its councillors will back a move to have the flag flown only on 17 designated days of the year and, regrettably, this will probably be the outcome of a divisive final vote.
It is a set-back that the capital city of a major UK region is being targeted with the removal of the nation emblem from civic buildings, but for republicans and nationalists this is all part of their ‘Brits Outs’ agenda which makes the alignment of Alliance with this narrow mindset all the more disappointing.
Alliance’s claim to uphold the democratic right of the majority of Northern Ireland people to uphold their Britishness, and emblems that manifest this, will be strongly challenged if its councillors oppose retention of the status quo of flying the national flag 365 days of the year. Indeed, this may turn out to be a toxic issue for Alliance in future elections in unionist areas.
All 21 unionist councillors (DUP, UUP, PUP) are united on a 365-day policy, but they should look closely at a bizarre situation where an overwhelmingly unionist part of east Belfast is locked into Castlereagh Borough Council.
The maze of streets off the Castlereagh, Cregagh, Knockbreda and Upper Newtownards roads are traditionally part of Belfast and, were they to be encompassed in city council boundaries, instead of in leafy Castlereagh, the Union Flag vote tonight would not be taking place.