Unionist inaction, not Alliance Party charisma, is the real threat

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long at the polling station on Thursday
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long at the polling station on Thursday
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After 25 years’ service in local government I feel reasonably well-placed to know who the workers are and who the coasters are amongst our public representatives.

It was disappointing both to see hard-working councillors losing their seats and more than a few coasters inexplicably topping the poll in the recent council elections.

These outcomes in many cases neither reflected a reward for competency nor punishment for failure.

So, what led to this undeniable surge for Alliance? Some cite new young voters coming on the register. Surely there would not have been enough of them to produce the surge, even if every single one voted Alliance.

The real reason for the surge was the fact some unionist voters decided for various reasons to lend their vote to Alliance, perhaps as a protest. Many describe these as soft unionists. I don’t accept that term. In my world a unionist is a unionist. I don’t believe there should be any degree or ranking of support for the union.

So, what has this democratic protest achieved? Unionism is on notice that the third seat in the EU election could fall into the hands of a nationalist party or indeed the Alliance Party, whose leader proudly declares her party is neither unionist nor nationalist. That should leave any unionist asking what way Alliance would swing in a border poll? I wonder how their leader would cast her vote? Will a border in the Irish Sea cause her one sleepless night? Can unionists afford to play footsie with those who are openly agnostic on the future of the union?

Will unionists have contributed to a surge that could take the third seat in the EU Parliament away from a unionist party and help bring about a border poll? We will know the answer next week when the results are in.

If unionism loses the seat expect the campaign for a border poll to intensify.

The dreaded backstop deal will be promoted as what the people of Northern Ireland support. What a poor hand this will leave those of us facing down these political pressures, designed to destroy the union.

The poll on Thursday was not an occasion for anyone who truly cares about the union to lend a vote to those who are openly agnostic or indeed antagonistic to the future of the union.

If unionists have not been moved to get out and vote on Thursday, or to vote 1, 2, 3 down the ballot paper for unionist candidates, then a border poll may not be far away. Do we really want or need that? A unionist surge will dampen the enthusiasm for such a poll.

It will not be the charisma of Mr Eastwood or Mrs Long that will capture the third seat from unionism.

It will be the inaction, or indeed even the actions, of those who would claim to support the union that will facilitate it.

Alan Chambers, MLA for North Down (UUP)