As the UUP vote has fallen, the fortunes of the DUP have risen. Robinson can watch this from an Olympian height, calculating that, however it all plays out, it will be mainly to his party’s advantage.
But Robinson also will be conscious that McCallister and McCrea could appeal to a certain section of unionism that he wants to attract and to some Catholic voters who, in accordance with the recent census, see themselves as Northern Irish or – satisfied with the Belfast Agreement recognising their Irishness – are happy to hold with the union.
They could also be the subject of discussion in the corridors of the Alliance annual party conference today. A number of moderate middle-class unionists – some possible Alliance supporters – while appalled by the violence were nonetheless unsettled by the flags decision.
McCallister and McCrea now provide them with a pro-union voting alternative.
There are also many who would love to see unionist unity to confront a feared emerging Sinn Féin monolith.
But he two Macs insist that there is no threat to the union and that a one-size-fits-all unionism just won’t work.
McCallister, in his Co Down country way, brings this latest round of internal Ulster Unionist fragmentation back to Nesbitt. A party must have a set of policies, a vision, he says. It’s just basic politics: “If you don’t know what your message is, how can you sell it on the doorsteps?”
He and McCrea, with a spring pep in their step, say the new party will have plenty of vision and policies when it is formally launched, and that it will grow.
Say hello to the two Macs McCallister and McCrea
On Tuesday night the South Down Assembly member John McCallister and his Lagan Valley colleague Basil McCrea decided to start a new pro-union party.
“The two Macs” are an engaging pair: affable, laid back, confident and unconstrained by the past.
McCrea is the more ambitious and self-promoting of the two, and McCallister seems happy to let him be leader.
They say they will act as an opposition at Stormont.
Their “guiding principles” are:
a pro-union party representing all sections of the community;
a party committed to the values of the Belfast Agreement;
a party “where religious persuasion should not define political beliefs and where matters of conscience are best left to the individual”;
and, in a principle that incorporates their view of the flags issue and the leader they have abandoned, a party that “does not need to wrap itself in a flag to provide leadership to the people of Northern Ireland”.