The fines are a case in point. It has been reported that fines up to £20,000 may be imposed on MLAs who vote against the party whip. Various Duppies have protested that fines are a well-established part of their party’s disciplinary system. This is true – one often hears of DUP representatives having to fork up fifty or a hundred quid for missing a meeting without a good excuse. But, even bearing in mind the generous salary package for a Stormont MLA, twenty grand seems a bit steep.
Then there are the pre-signed resignation letters. This is the silver bullet – any MLA who seriously incurs Big Ian’s displeasure can simply be divested of their Assembly seat. Apparently the tactic has been used on at least two previous occasions, and at least in part explains the DUP’s impressive disciplinary record. I have a sneaking feeling this scheme may have been borrowed from Ross Perot – in his book Better Than Sex, the late Hunter Thompson relates how in the 1992 presidential election he wanted to be a Perot delegate to the Electoral College, though he didn’t plan on voting for Perot. The little weasel sent HST an undated resignation letter to sign before he could be considered as a delegate.
The background to this is the emergence of candidates trying to challenge the DUP from the right, analogous to the dissident republican challenge to Grizzly. Bob “Cream Bun” McCartney is the leading light here, although his habit of losing friends and alienating people tends to militate against a united slate. Nonetheless, challenges to the DUP there will undoubtedly be.
I suppose the DUP could be considered a victim of its own success. During the late 90s the party’s electoral gains came at the expense of the flotsam and jetsam of independents and micro-parties abounding in unionism at the time, the wreck of the McCartneyite Hesperus. Then a few years back it cleaned up as the Donaldsonite wing of the OUP defected wholesale. This, as it happens, has simply relocated the OUP’s internal contradictions into the DUP. And now the other wing of the influx is turning around to bite Ian’s bum. Who says there’s no such thing as poetic justice?