Mike Nesbitt’s dismissal of John McCallister from the post of Deputy Leader of the Assembly Group means the end of the Ulster Unionist Party.
There are two prime reasons for this, but let us be clear first of all that any type of proper disciplinary process would have cleared Mr McCallister. I gather the real reason for disciplinary action was that his speech did not initially go through proper channels – but yet it was approved for the UUP web site! In terms of content, he talked of Unionist Unity only in the conditional, and he talked only of “reasonable observers” (quite possibly including this one!) suggesting that recent joint events looked like they were setting the scene for it. Afraid to open the message, Mr Nesbitt simply shot the messenger – without trial. The idea that Mr McCallister’s post has been “abolished” is merely designed to provide cover for that.
So, why does this particular move mean the end of the Ulster Unionist Party?
Firstly, this will be presented (and perfectly accurately) as the dismissal of the “civic unionist” wing from the Ulster Unionist Party – the very wing Mr McCallister was talking about, the one to which he belongs, and the only one not already clearly occupied by the DUP. Mr Nesbitt spent the weekend surrounded by Orangemen and playing second fiddle (almost literally) to Peter Robinson at the Covenant signing; Mr McCallister spent it defining the potential difference between the UUP and the DUP. For doing precisely what Mr Nesbitt should have been doing, Mr McCallister was fired by Mr Nesbitt…
Secondly, it is totalitarian. The UUP has tried to make a virtue of being a broad church, of not enforcing rigid discipline the way the DUP has, of (in academic terms) being more representative of Unionism’s genuine dissenting tradition. Now someone gets fired from his post for stating publicly what other people are openly saying about the party and suggesting something should be done about it. Even tactically, the UUP is no longer meaningfully to be differentiated from the DUP, other than on competence (where it clearly comes out worse).
Mr McCallister then stood down from the Health Committee – a disaster for those of us lobbying on key issues who had hugely valued his work; and an even greater disaster for those who valued the independence of the Ulster Unionist Party. Its leadership has been handed over to a Mr P Robinson. It will soon be no more.