I've always been loathe to assign lazy designations to people's political ideologies. Whilst you can with some effort, define what left wing, right wing, libertarian, communism, socialism etc all amount to, it's actually very hard to transpose those definitions on to individuals and even harder to do it enmasse. We all have so many varied opinions that we rarely fit into those neat little boxes. However, it's not unreasonable to use such broad strokes when breaking down the political make up of a nation (what other way could you do it?) and when you apply it, it's fair to say that most countries have a political division along left wing/right wing lines.
In Northern Ireland, we're no exception. The trouble is, we also throw ourselves into a national identity division, too. So much so, that it almost overrides everything else. Is there anyone who would dispute that, with obvious exceptions, the political make up in Northern Ireland is that Unionist parties are mostly right wing and Nationalist parties are mostly left wing? I'm not trying to describe the SDLP or Sinn Fein as left wing but merely pointing out that they're definitely more left than right and the reverse applies with the DUP and UUP.
So here's the problem: who do left wing unionists vote for and who do right wing nationalists vote for? OK, it's not a new problem but it's one I feel that the DUP & UUP, in particular, haven't really spent enough time thinking about. Both of those parties need to recognise that despite their best efforts, they're not going to eradicate the left wing in Northern Ireland. That means that the large block of left wing voters will need someone to vote for. Right now, the best options (in terms of winning seats) happen to be two Nationalist parties.
What the DUP & the UUP should want to see is the emergence of a left wing party that is either pro union, pro status quo or, at the very least, completely uninterested in campaigning on the issue either way. The DUP made the mistake recently of thinking that Alliance were the enemy. Why? Alliance are never, ever going to be calling for a border poll. They're never going to push a UI agenda. If Alliance replaced both the UUP & the SDLP, the constitutional question would be dead and buried and Sinn Fein would be marginalised - democratically.
Now, I want to be clear that I'm not holding up Alliance as a left wing party - they're really, really not - but I'm trying to demonstrate the point that the two big unionist parties are missing the point: if they want to secure the union once and for all, they need a left wing opposition to their right wing politics that isn't Nationalist. It doesn't need to be unionist (in fact, it won't work if it is) but it does need to be big enough and serious enough to take away those SF & SDLP voters who vote for those parties in spite of the nationalist ideology and not because of it.
This is one of those rare instances where the same logic can't be reversed and applied to the other side. Sinn Fein's goal of a united Ireland will not be realised by having a right wing opposition that doesn't place identity politics first, because the status quo is no good to them.
If you're a DUP or UUP voter, you should ask yourself who you would rather have sat on the other side of the house. If I was in their shoes, I'd want a strong left wing party that, frankly, doesn't obsess with trying to change Northern Ireland's constitutional position. I'm not suggesting that the DUP go out and fund a left wing party to try and usurp the Nationalist parties (though all donations are gratefully considered) but their strategists should see any rise in non nationalist parties as a good thing, rather than try and destroy them.