Owen takes the pessimistic view and in the short-term, in the context of the next Assembly Election, I'm sure he is correct. However, despite the cock-ups and acts of deliberate sabotage, the Conservative-UUP project succeeded in pushing occasionally forward a tantalising vision of what kind of politics could evolve in an ideal scenario. I've said before that "Unionist Unity", which the UUP and DUP seem to be inexorably heading for, need not be the death-knell for such a vision; indeed, it could actually have the unintended (by the UUPers who are pushing for pacts with the DUP anyway) consequence of providing a hefty momentum to those wishing to promote the kind of non-communal politics offered in the rest of the UK. The next few months will prove whether there are enough prepared to put in the work and take the risk when the opportunity arises, but I'm convinced that opportunity will be there.
Lee's is more of a resigned, rather than outright pessimistic, opinion- "identity" politics is here to stay for the foreseeable future but as the shift moves inevitably onto policy decisions which need to be made at Stormont there will be slight movement across the sectarian boundaries: eg some Catholic middle-class preferring the DUP/UUP's views to those of the SDLP/SF on grammar schools. The problem with the present situation is that, to a large extent, there is very little difference between the policies which all voters demand and those which are given by all their respective parties: woe betide the Shinner or Duper that decides to push too strongly the topic of women's reproductive rights for example. Theoretically the DUP and the UUP are right-wing, conservative parties but they run a mile from translating that stance into what should be their economic policy. A voter who wishes to vote solely on economic issues is faced with 3 parties (DUP, UUP and the SDLP) who offer very similar leftish, vaguely Keynesian solutions to our financial crisis and a party (Sinn Fein) whose policies in this area make even Hugo Chavez's attempts to demolish Venezuela's economy seem rational and sane.
Choice does exist on policy, but effectively only in the cultural/communal area and whilst that remains the case, politics here isn't going to move anytime soon out of the bunkers.
Finally, you should all roll back the doom and gloom and take in this piece from Dilettante:
Do we Unionists take too defensive a stance, constantly sitting back, waiting and worrying about the next nationalist onslaught?
Is ours too much of a reactive political philosophy?
Unionism must first shake off the pessimism that presently appears to dominate it. With that done, it must prepare to go on the offensive again. To stop apologising for itself. To stop accepting every nationalist triumph as a new status quo. To fight like an ideology that believes in itself. Fingers crossed, we could all be "neo-unionists" yet.Amen to that!