Evolution, as secondary school students will tell you, is a process without purpose or design. A chance difference may give the possessor of a particular trait an advantage over those that do not possess that trait and so the genetic successors of the possessor of the trait develop an advantage for survival.
In politics, the British Conservative Party is the possessor par excellence of the traits needed for survival.
Never a Conservative voter, I have always admired the Conservative Party’s willingness to allow for the possibility of random changes that give it an advantage. In a tradition that dates back to the times of Sir Robert Peel in the 1840s, it has been happy to be shaped by circumstances, to accept a path of pragmatic chance rather than dogmatic manifestos.
There have been many changes of direction in one hundred and eighty years, the party regarding itself more about spirit and mood and ethos than about ideology. (In an historical perspective, the years of Margaret Thatcher will be seen as a departure from the course of accepting opportunities that arose and adapting to circumstances that prevailed).
Boris Johnson is a fine exemplar of the opportunism that has allowed his party to endure. In 2019, he became leader of a party of 150,000 mostly elderly members. He defeated a Labour Party that had half a million members, many young and many dogmatic. The Labour Party had not learned that chance circumstances and traits that gave you an advantage were more important than programmatic politics.
And so the DUP faces election results that are the culmination of an evolutionary process that is irreversible.
Northern Ireland has a Catholic majority, the rise of the Nationalist vote has been inexorable, Sinn Fein now possesses chance traits that give it an advantage. Ever the populist party, it will exploit those traits.
The problem with the DUP is that it will not accept evolutionary principles. Just as the religious fundamentalism of its former First Minister means that he believes the world was created in six days, so the DUP is wedded to a political fundamentalism which prevents it from taking opportunities that arise.
An evolutionary unionism would recognize the traits that are giving its opponents an advantage and would seek to identify what traits it might exploits for itself. It could have accepted the Brexit result in Northern Ireland and talked about a new cross-community unionism where identity and traditions were preserved through exploitation of the economic opportunities that arose. It could have pointed to the complete lack of enthusiasm in the Republic for the economic burden that Northern Ireland constitutes. It could have learned lessons from the Conservative Party.
Instead, its present prospect is a gradual drift towards extinction.