It has been said that when Prime Minister Theresa May called for an election on 8 June she did so as a Conservative but not as a unionist. The argument goes that the snap poll will be a boon to nationalists, exasperating tensions in Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively, possibly leading to louder demands for polls on Irish unity and Scottish independence.
The Scottish National Party will make their case should they gain seats or nudge past 50% of the vote. Here, Sinn Féin will welcome the opportunity to potentially overtake the DUP for the first time, having come with 1,200 vote of doing so at last month’s Assembly election.
At first glance this election is fraught with risks for unionist, but it also has potential for gains.
Let’s look closer look at the situations in Scotland and Northern Ireland
In Scotland we see a country that is wary of a second independence vote and where the Scottish Conservatives have been making considerable inroads.
The party went from 14 seats in the Scottish Parliament in 2012 to 31 in 2016, whilst the Liberal Democrats also gained constituency seats in Fife and Edinburgh.
A general election may well give these parties an opportunity to build on these successes.
This is coupled with the reality that the SNP will be hard pressed to do better than they did in the 2015 last general election in 2015. Back then they won 56 out of 59 seats, with 49.97% of the vote. To claim a mandate for a second independence referendum they would likely need to either equal or improve upon that result.
They will undoubtedly target Orkney and Shetland, the one remaining Liberal Democrat seat in Scotland, and hope to unseat the sole Conservative MP in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. However, in 2017 it’s hard to see them gaining seats they failed to win in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile they will have a fight on their hands to defend numerous seats including Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh West, Fife North East and East Dunbartonshire.
So, it’s clear that this will be a difficult election for the SNP. Whilst the election campaign will be bitterly fought and may in many respects feel like a referendum of sorts, it looks likely to result in gains for unionist parties.
Should this happen, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would find it much more difficult to continue arguing for a second independence referendum. Indeed, Theresa May would appear vindicated in having refused one earlier this year.
In Northern Ireland, the situation is also more complicated than it first appears. With nationalist parties having done well in March it seems unlikely that the disparity in turnout between unionist and nationalist areas will be repeated this time.
The DUP look safe in most of their constituencies with the notable exceptions of Belfast North and Belfast East. A unionist pact would be expected to cover these seats, and possibly also South Antrim where the DUP have no obvious candidate to take on incumbent UUP MP Danny Kinahan.
The real battlegrounds would be Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast – seats currently held by the UUP and SDLP respectively. Higher unionist turnout and an election pact in these constituencies could see unionism keep the former and gain the latter, giving unionists 12 seats out of 18 for the first time since 2001.
Such an outcome would certainly strengthen the hand of unionists at Westminster. Could this even change the dynamic of the ongoing talks at Stormont castle?
In terms of vote share, nothing would stop Sinn Féin’s momentum more effectively than an election to a parliament in which they don’t sit. The SDLP can at least point to their performance in the House of Commons. It’s hard to see how Sinn Fein can argue that taking those voices away will make Northern Ireland’s voice heard. A dip in their vote-share now would also encourage unionists.
Ultimately then, it appears that this election could be a real opportunity for unionists across Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The result could see nationalism weakened and the union safeguarded in a way that seemed unlikely just a weeks ago.
Of course a lot could still happen in the coming weeks and the results are by no means certain, but could Theresa May end up being the Prime Minister who saved the Union?