Henry Hill: If the DUP suffer an electoral collapse, it could bring Stormont grinding to a halt – again

2 Sep

What happens if the DUP collapse?

It’s just one poll – and there are plenty of unionists who’d insist on a health warning being attached to anything from LucidTalk – but the implications of the latest voting intention poll published by the Belfast Telegraph really are extraordinary.

It finds the Democratic Unionists down on just 13 per cent. In that scenario they have fallen behind both the more liberal Ulster Unionists, up to 16 per cent, but also the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice, up on 14. Meanwhile Sinn Fein remains on 25 per cent, with the more moderate SDLP on 13.

Whilst this would still see the three unionist parties poll more collectively than the two nationalist ones, it would leave Sinn Fein the largest party in Stormont by some margin. It would also put Michelle O’Neill in the First Minister’s office, thanks to rules changes (intended to help the two then-dominant parties) that make it the largest party, not the largest designation bloc, that determines the role.

Of course, in practice the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are co-equal roles. But given the fraught state of unionism over the Protocol, the symbolism may still prove too much – and the TUV’s Jim Allister will take lumps out of any unionist party that joins the Executive as the ‘junior partner’. But as Sinn Fein previously demonstrated when they walked out at collapsed Stormont, if both sides aren’t prepared to share power then the whole system grinds to a halt.

That isn’t inevitable. The situation has proven extremely volatile over the past few years and could change again. But with the next Northern Irish election scheduled for next year, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson does not have long to turn things around. If he can’t, Brandon Lewis might find himself having to do what his predecessors have always shied from doing, and introducing direct rule.

SNP’s nuclear hypocrisy

Today’s papers report on some of the options the Government is considering for relocating the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal in the event that Scotland becomes independent and insists on shuttering the current submarine base at Faslane.

Getting nuclear weapons out of Scotland is a long-standing SNP policy, even if some more sensible commentators suggest there could be good value in renting it back to the continuity-UK.

According to a report by the Royal United Services institute, there are three options: relocate the Trident fleet to a new base in the ‘rUK’; house the fleet with an allied power overseas; or negotiate the retention of the Faslane and Coulport bases as part of any independence settlement.

The first would take time, not to mention costing billions, to build a suitable new submarine base, probably in Wales. It is thus disfavoured by the Treasury in favour of option two, which has scant capital investment requirements. However it’s difficult to imagine a government selling the country on storing our nukes in an American port, especially now the need for more strategic autonomy from Washington has been so cruelly exposed by the debacle in Afghanistan.

Which leaves option three. According to the FT, one insider dubbed the proposal a “nuclear Gibraltar”, although a closer match might be the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus. But given the extremely close proximity of the two Scottish bases to the rest of the UK metropole, there doesn’t seem any pressing need to go down the Overseas Territory route when they could function perfectly well as simple exclaves.

The most galling part, however, is that the SNP currently intends an independent Scotland to join NATO, a nuclear alliance – part of its bid to cast the new state as a responsible member of the international community. But as Kenny Farquharson put it, that means their anti-nuclear policy really just amounts to demanding a change of address for Trident, and then trying to benefit from NATO without contributing to it.