Unionism’s disastrous election, losing 16 of the 18 disappearing seats, results from the character and behaviour of Arlene Foster, her Spads and her cheering MLAs.
She claims to have been the leader of unionism; having endangered it, the honourable and British response would be to consider her position.
My party, the Ulster Unionist Party, has to take a share of the blame for all this.
We left the Executive when it was clear the IRA Army Council was still prepared to sanction murder, we tried to provide opposition and an alternative vision, but our message was mixed.
We said one thing but people heard something else. We couldn’t have faced more incompetent, arrogant, scandal-prone opponents, but too many voters couldn’t get on board with us and we had an awful election.
Mike Nesbitt did the honourable thing. Whoever replaces him has a lot of people to win back.
This election has not changed everything forever. Certainly we’ll be getting same-sex marriage introduced, and the DUP should reflect that graciousness, debate and engagement might better have defended their case than unlimited uses of petitions of concern.
Constitutionally speaking, nothing has changed.
A border poll is up to the voters, not Stormont. The last survey showed support for a United Ireland at 17%. We could live if that rocketed up to 25%.
Scotland deals with worse.
But we have to honestly reflect on why the Sinn Fein vote shot up, and that comes back to the DUP. They would be lost without each other at election time.
We know we are being conned when every election the DUP demands our vote to prevent a Sinn Fein first minister.
What we don’t consider is that Sinn Fein feeds off the same DUP rhetoric. These parties need each other.
The Secretary of State should try to address this. If it takes a short period of direct rule, so be it.
He should change the appointment of first minister back to the largest community designation, not the largest party. This would mean that unionists have to come out to vote to stop a Sinn Fein first minister, but for any unionist party.
This small difference would transform things. Unionist turnout would increase. People wouldn’t feel blackmailed to vote for the DUP, which would then lower the Sinn Fein vote. This would transform elections away from a sectarian headcount to votes on what Stormont’s role is – schools, education, the economy, helping the vulnerable.
Sorting that stuff out will do a lot to maintaining the Union.
This change would send a message to the DUP and Sinn Fein that there are consequences to their actions. That and cutting off MLA salaries and allowances after a few months of direct rule. That’s collective punishment, but much less than the collective punishment doled out to voters over the last decade.
With Brexit, the Secretary of State will be under pressure to keep Northern Ireland quiet whatever the cost.
There is a chance to achieve that.
Without it, the havoc will continue, and eventually the rest of the UK will start to ask whether we are worth the trouble and £10+ billion a year.
That, and not a border poll, should concern every genuine unionist.
Carl McClean, Bangor (Ulster Unionist Councillor Ards and North Down)