There’s a lot of back and forward within the UUP on whether they should back the DUP’s deal on devolving Policing and Justice. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and offer a few reasons why the UUP needs to suck it up and support their bitter rivals.
The UUP have got great leverage
This is still a negotiation and the UUP have a strong hand to play. The government are putting enormous pressure on all parties to deliver – the UUP can translate this into genuine leverage. What side deal could the UUP extract from the government for signing up? Could they find a big win (eg on PPWs; pensions for security force personnel; FTR?) and make it part of their election campaign?
Quid pro quo
Peter Robinson may need some cover from the UUP, but they will need some cover from him. The UUP have not been involved in negotiations to date – they must make their support conditional. The UUP can ask the DUP to sign a memorandum of understanding on P&J negotiations (ie. a simple set of written guarantees). This could be published if necessary to show the conditions under which support was given. This would remove a major obstacle for the UUP and protect their position in the longer term.
It will be more uncomfortable for the DUP to be pushed over the line
Willie McCrea and the rest of the 12 Angry Men would surely go bananas (see Willie’s contribution to the Crisis in the Executive debate last night. Strong stuff). For the DUP to go for P&J is to commit a policy u-turn.* A somersault of this kind would cause more internal turmoil and division in the DUP, which in turns leads to loss of trust among DUP support. This not only assists the UUP but it also helps the TUV eat into DUP core support.
Don’t let the DUP pass the buck
If devolution falls, and the DUP do not sign up to P&J, they can blame the Provos and the UUP for screwing it all up. That sort of rhetoric goes down well with DUP supporters. The better play for the UUP is to let P&J happen and block all the exits.
It’s more awkward for the DUP to stay the course, commit the P&J u-turn, feel the pressure of managing the misfiring Executive, managing deteriorating SF / NIO relationships, managing their internal politics (12 Angry Men – hi guys!), AND manage the numerous, er, personal matters being (or soon to be) discussed in the media.
With devolution still operating, the comparison between the UUP and DUP is stark. Without devolution, everyone looks and sounds the same. The UUP are in a much stronger position for the election with P&J (and devolution) in place than if they do t’other and opt for the ‘never, never, never, never’ routine.
The longer the DUP stay in power, the less and less they look like a party of government. The UUP should give Peter what he wants and just go for it. Wholeheartedly, go for it.
*NB. The DUP are already breaching a policy priority. Their policy priorities doc says that ‘Policing and Justice powers will only be transferred to Stormont on DUP terms, when the DUP decides, and after all our conditions have been met’. Well, no. The DUP leader says the when is now up to the UUP.