There is something about the UCUNF project that Ulster Unionists like. There appears to be a real chance that what has given the UUP a lift could translate to mainstream unionism, who will be voting in the British general election sometime before June next year.
"IT’S THE smell of power, that’s what’s doing it here.” These are the words of an anonymous young man, explaining himself and his appearance at a UUP conference.
It’s been a while since the Ulster Unionists appeared as sure-footed as this, and even longer since words like “young”, “fresh” and “energetic” were associated with them.
Regardless of what outsiders regard as the uncertain ground on which the link-up with the British Conservatives is based, key party people insist they are right.
On the basis of the mood of the conference hall, they seem to know what they’re talking about.
The heart of the UUP and its voters is Tory. Supporters like the tone of the talk about joining the mainstream of UK politics while maintaining a commitment to new-style devolution at Stormont.The old division between the party’s devolutionists and integrationists has gone. Now they are not either one or the other – they see themselves as both.
But it’s more than this which has given the old party such a palpable lift. For the first time in years, the conference hall was packed well before things got under way – and packed by people other than the aged and stereotypical blue-rinse brigade which had populated annual gatherings in previous years.
And from this side of border, something not so positive:
And what about non-sectarian unionism?
Mr Hague was applauded when he spoke of religion being irrelevant, but privately some UUP supporters openly doubt whether a Catholic candidate can take votes off the DUP in certain seats.
Whether that *fact* is true or not is beside the point; the pertinent question is whether those same UUP supporters would be prepared to wholeheartedly back such a candidate if selected to fight in those "certain seats".
Should a UUP, publicly dedicated to opening up a new era of politics here, really be concerned about what is required to woo that kind of bigotted voter across from the DUP?