I have written here many times about my belief in the need for a realignment of politics in Northern Ireland. At times I consider hesitating from writing about it too much lest I begin to sound like a broken record, however when you consider something to be an absolute necessity then you have a duty, if only to yourself, to be a tad repetitive. But whatever it is that I have said about the importance of this great realignment of our political scene, I do not consider the announcement that David McNarry has joined the United Kingdom Independence Party to represent a great leap forward.
As someone who has always believed that the involvement of more UK-wide and all-Ireland parties in Northern Ireland would help to break us away from the powerless navel-gazing six county entities that presently pollute our political space, the most I can say about the Strangford MLA's decision is that it represents an extremely minuscule crawl away from how we do things at present. Realignment on the right is certainly as important to the future of NI politics as realignment on the left is so the Strangford MLA throwing his lot in with one of the 'London parties' should make more things a little bit more interesting, particularly if UKIP's current polling figures - most put them neck-and-neck with the Lib Dems right now - translate into Westminster seats after the next general election.
The presence of UKIP in the Assembly might also trigger some local debate about the European Union and the future of it. I am of course vociferously, although not uncritically, pro-European and pro-federalist, however the level and quality of debate in Northern Ireland ranks from (at worst) non-existent to (at best) some ill-informed pub blathering about bendy bananas. Perhaps having Farage's party around might force the hand of Northern Ireland's pro-Europeans to finally make a stand in defence of the Union. Whether we have the people capable of doing so is another matter altogether.
Beyond this I can think of little else that UKIP will offer. With regard to Mr McNarry personally, I can think of absolutely nothing that he will offer. For a man that has been contesting elections here since the early 1970s it is fascinating that despite four decades of active involvement his career seems to be nothing if unremarkable. I could well be wrong but has David McNarry ever said anything of interest? I checked through books, read his Wikipedia entry and performed numerous Google searches to see if I could come across even one single thing that made him stand out from the crowd, but there was nowt. With his business background and his former senior ranking in the UYUC, the UUP and the Orange Order, he is the quintessential middle-class conservative unionist nonentity.
The major problem for Nigel Farage and his party is that this dreary 64 year old is now the public face of UKIP in Northern Ireland and their lone wolf up at Stormont. With their only other elected representative in the province being a no-mark councillor by the name of Henry Reilly (a man who earlier this month referred to Sinn Fein members on Newry and Mourne Council as "republican scum"), the future does not look particularly bright for the organisation here. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if at the next Assembly election we saw McNarry lose his seat to either the DUP or his old colleagues in the UUP. The inevitable result of such a scenario would be Mr McNarry disappearing into retirement and his party drifting off into obscurity.
The main problem with the United Kingdom Independence Party and their Northern Ireland project is that, at heart, it offers very little in the way of change. Yes, they may preach about how they are a 'national' political party but they remain a minor group and one that for now at least does not have a single bum on the green seats of the House of Commons. Their current MLA and any future MLAs that are elected will register as 'unionist' under the hideous designation system in our Assembly. They are a new unionist party. In that sense, they are not the sort of new that we need. They will not change political discourse in Northern Ireland. They will not help to eradicate the green/orange division here that has kept local politics stale for so long. Old wine in new bottles may be attractive to some but I doubt it will have any long-term mass appeal. The prospects for UKIP here don't seem to be all that good. Let us hope that it stays that way.