It is clear – and to some extent understandable – that the Ulster Unionists are close to completing the transition to the “right” (i.e. more extreme) of the DUP. From trying to block the Education Bill in the Assembly, trying to stop the “Maze Shrine”, and trying to stop DUP health policy on the back of the care homes debacle (all of which may or may not be legitimate policies in themselves), the Ulster Unionists are undeniably harder line and, in practice, “anti-Agreement”.
This is understandable partly because it is what the DUP did to them, and partly because the geography for their remaining vote. Drawn from predominantly rural, border areas where Protestants are a minority, if Ulster Unionists listen to their own voters and potential voters that will inevitably shift them to take a harder line.
All of this leaves, however, the obvious question of the Leadership. Mike Nesbitt has become a joke, weaving about in the wind, refusing to let anyone else have any spotlight at all, and becoming rabidly sectarian – all without improving the party’s fortunes at all. Yet anyone else within the party who may take over is either a past Leader, too new to the game, or too unwilling.
That leaves it to someone outside the Ulster Unionists to be the new Leader. Someone charismatic; someone with a political brain; someone with experience of high office; someone who opposes the DUP on education, the Maze and health at every turn; someone with razor-like analytic skills. Someone like Jim Allister…