Ahead of schedule, it seems,  I have learned that we have a deal for Unionist Unity at last for the May elections. Apparently the official announcement is due in the morning   ( Wednesday 18th)

There are four constituencies involved. Fermanagh South Tyrone (No surprise), North Belfast (Stop the press!) Newry and Armagh and, wait for it …….East Belfast! Now that is a surprise.Comber

Possibly of more interest are the omissions. Notably South Belfast but also South Antrim and Upper Bann.

Alliance may well view the move in East Belfast as a sign of panic in DUP ranks in that parish, Id regard it as an insurance policy. There is obviously a lack of confidence within the party regarding retaining that particular seat. If I was Naomi Long, I’d be licking my lips tonight, metaphorically of course.

Fermanagh? Tightest seat in christendom as well as the dreariest steeples.

My money is on SF retaining the seat. I base that on the demographic changes (On the way in detail shortly I promise) and the effect upon the nationalist electorate of good old unionist pacts in general.

Newry and Armagh? Not a hope for a unionist candidate, an obvious carrot for the UUP.

North Belfast? Now this could be fun. SF are very, very confident of this one. Will the UUP vote transfer to the DUP en masse or, as I suspect, will the middle class unionists of Cave Hill simply not vote rather than support the odiously and obviously sectarian manipulators of the local electorate (eg:Girdwood), their DUP representatives.

My take is that is a major win for the DUP. The only possible plus for the UUP is FST if they can win it. It is worth remembering that they didn’t manage that last time around with an agreed unity candidate, let alone a single UUP person.

It is fascinating that no agreed candidate has been selected for South Belfast. Does this signify an acknowledgement that the constituency is lost to Unionism? I don’t know.

I have the feeling that this election may be the last hurrah for unionist electoral pacts. They hark back, in my mind, to the hegemony of the single candidate days of the old UUP complete with gerrymandered constituencies and limited voter registration.

No doubt there will be denials issued that the sectarian headcount ideology or philosophy is in play. Make no mistake, it very much is.

If this play of the cards doesn’t work, what next for political Unionism?