The Liberal commentariat has, naturally, come out against the UUP’s decision to endorse the same candidate as the DUP at the forthcoming by-election, not least given the obvious and predictable penalty of the loss of two further MLAs.
Yet the attraction of Unionist Unity is significant, particularly in border areas and west of the Bann. These are areas where Unionists are a significant but nevertheless clear minority; areas where mistrust of neighbours remains stark; areas where bitter memories land seizures, famines and murder linger. Here, Unionism means defence, even survival, and thus circling the waggons – whether or not that is wise – it is surely at least understandable.
Colin McCusker is from such an area, and is Mike Nesbitt’s closest adviser in practice. Mr Lutton was, apparently, Mr McCusker’s idea. Mr McCusker comes from the same part of Co Armagh that my grandfather came from, and in which many of my family still live. I have little doubt most would instinctively agree with him – when your group perceives itself to be under threat, staying together is a powerful instinct.
Again, what we have here essentially is a clash between the rational and the emotional. Where people are secure – socially, financially, politically even – they will go with the rational. Unionist Unity isn’t rational. But where they are not secure, where fear and mistrust predominate, then emotional urges and instincts come to the fore. I wouldn’t seek to justify this (indeed, I will explain why I think it stupid and dangerous tomorrow), but I do empathise with it.