SO, in the wake of the election to Stormont, where are we now?

Before we get all excited with talk of a united Ireland and what it might mean for Scotland and the potential end of the UK and all that, maybe this is a good moment just to look at what actually happened in the election in Northern Ireland last week.

There is no question that Sinn Fein had a very good election. There is also no question that the prospect of Michelle O’Neill becoming First Minister is hugely symbolic.

But it should be noted that Sinn Fein won the same number of seats as in 2017. And while the DUP received a bloody nose, in the end it lost just three seats. Clearly Northern Irish politics remains divided between two political blocs still coloured orange and green.

Unionists may be feeling a little fragile, however. Northern Ireland is clearly no longer a hegemony. But the real loser on the Unionist side may have been the UUP, whose leader Doug Beattie had to rely on transfer votes to be elected. Beattie has been trying to steer the party towards a more liberal definition of unionism. Always a high-risk strategy for what is a conservative constituency.

The failures of the UUP and the moderate nationalist SDLP in this election is a reflection that soft unionism or soft nationalism may not be in favour right now (and haven’t been for a long time). But it also speaks to the fact that both are also under pressure from the new middle ground in Northern Irish politics, as represented by the Alliance party, led by the impressive Naomi Long.

There is a constituency in Northern Ireland who have had enough of the flag-waving. They want their politicians to focus on bread-and-butter issues. In voting terms, it remains a minority. But that minority is growing.

As it stands, the DUP’s refusal to sit at Stormont until their issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved means it is in the driving seat at the moment, whatever Sinn Fein might desire.

But it is a risky strategy. It is reliant on the UK government managing to find a way to deal with the Protocol issue. The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is talking tough. But there’s been a lot of tough talk and little action on this subject.

There is even talk of pushback against Truss’s plans within the Cabinet, which leaves the DUP relying on Boris Johnson once more. The man who stood up at a DUP conference and told them there wouldn’t be a border in the Irish Sea. (The border is technically in the North Channel, but let’s not split hairs.)

Where does that leave Northern Ireland? It leaves a business community in the province calling for the formation of an executive for the good of the economy, possibly vainly. It leaves voters grumbling about the DUP refusing to sit at Stormont but still taking their wages. It leaves a country that is changing but maybe not enough when it comes to the ballot box.

If the DUP refuses to return to Stormont and nothing changes on the Protocol we might be testing that last suggestion with another election in six months.