It is a fairly obvious point. Ask any two Ulster Unionists what the difference is between them and the DUP, and you will get two different answers; neither of which matters because, by the time “Unity” (or “agreed”) candidates have been agreed everywhere by 2015, the two parties will effectively have merged.
The Ulster Unionists’ argument seems to be, essentially, that they have moved to the right of the DUP; that essentially the DUP has “given” too much. There are two obvious problems with that – firstly, no one believes it; secondly, it is ludicrous. The fact that Jim Allister and Willie Frazer are to the right of the DUP should tell you that it’s not a very sensible place to be.
However, the Ulster Unionists cannot mean it anyway. As they hurtle towards “agreed” candidates in all of Belfast, the West and the Border, the simple fact is the parties will have ceased competing with each other by 2015. If they are not competing with each other, the assumption has to be that any differences between them are irrelevant.
Basil McCrea no doubt thinks this is his chance, but he is catastrophically mistaken there. He himself could only muster 30% of the UUP vote, and would get less than that in the DUP obviously. Therefore the “Basil” candidate in any constituency would be slaughtered by any “agreed Unionist” candidate (as Basil himself always has been – I know what that feels like myself!), not least because they would be seen as some sort of nutty dissidents. If he really wants a Shared Future, he should be delivering “Progressive unity” or “agreed Progressive” candidates with the Alliance Party at first-past-the-post elections; which again raises the same point as above concerning what (and how relevant) the real differences between the groupings are.
With Sinn Fein likely to withdraw from South Belfast again, and SDLP voters likely to endorse any Sinn Fein (or even Alliance) candidate against any “agreed Unionist”, 2015 may well be the “Year of the Three Tribes”, as Unionist, Republican and Progressive groupings come together. Time will tell.