I watched a short film report on BBC NI News the other evening, which began with the leader of Unionism standing outside Stormont complaining about a “betrayal” by the Westminster Conservative Prime Minister.

Then the cameras went out on to the streets to gauge opinion; one man complained that the IRA had been given “everything". Another said his (Unionist) community had been “sold out, sold down the river".

Par for the course you may think.

Except the piece was a look back at a report in 1972 when Edward Heath’s Government closed Stormont.

If a similar report was run today, 50 years later, one difference ironically would be that in 2022 it was Unionists themselves who collapsed Stormont, but apart from that you could well get similar views being expressed, no?

Listening to the fractious discourse that passes for political debate today, it’s almost as if nothing has moved on.

There are times when those of us who feel that despite everything, society has changed considerably for the better, wonder if we’re kidding ourselves.

When the divisive heat is turned up the way it has been recently I’m reminded of the phrase once used by the author, Jennifer Johnston, about the way positivity can be knocked: “a sort of bleeding away of energy.”

It's so debilitating that in the middle of a cost of living crisis, and all the other problems we face, there is a fixation with the Protocol.

Yet it’s very doubtful if most of us wake up in the morning fretting about the Protocol and getting anxious and fearful about the dire warnings of a destruction of a whole identity.

Are things as bad as they seem? Or is the narrative being played out in the media over-hyping things into a crisis?

There is no doubt that the Protocol is causing concern within the Unionist community and needs to be addressed, but in the context of an Assembly election campaign, it would seem ostensibly that the Protocol is the only show in town and accordingly tensions are being raised. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, the focus is very much on Unionism and the direction it is heading in. And the question is, who speaks for that community?

Within a matter of months, we’ve somehow seen a surge of anger in media coverage which has put the right-wing of Unionism in control of the agenda.

How did the loyalist Jamie Bryson emerge as such an influential figure, alongside the TUV’s Jim Allister and former Labour MP, Kate Hoey?

A genuine question for Stephen Nolan; does his show take the temperature of society here, or does it raise the temperature?

He’s in denial about the unease building up from many of us about the imbalance on his programme in platforming a particular viewpoint; indeed about the way his show has become such a bearpit of division that more and more reasonable people feel very uncomfortable with it.

It is important to remember where this section of Unionism is coming from.

For them, the Protocol is more of a constitutional issue than an economic one, but this is also an opportunity for this rump to row back on progress and revisit their opposition to the Good Friday Agreement.

Allister’s position is to exclude Sinn Fein from Government no matter what the election result. Always was.

This wing of Unionism never showed any enthusiasm for the respectful relationship that was being built with the south, or indeed a shared society of equality which they see as 'themuns' getting everything and us giving everything.

Such is their hankering for a past in which everything was on Unionist terms, it’s a wonder somebody hasn’t coined the phrase “make Ulster great again".

In the febrile atmosphere that has built up, we’re told that southern politicians are interlopers not welcome here and that it’s right that the temperature and anger is raised. What right do they have to say who is welcome in Northern Ireland and who isn’t?

Against this background, sinister elements felt emboldened last Friday to hold a driver at gunpoint and take a hoax bomb to disrupt a peace and reconciliation event in Belfast being addressed by Simon Coveney.

And journalists are being briefed that loyalist paramilitaries are threatening to escalate attacks, even bring their violence to Dublin.

And woe betide anyone who tries to counter this rush to the bottom. Express any opposition to the nature of the campaign and you’re likely to be denigrated.

For his courage in trying to take the heat out of things by withdrawing from the Protocol protests, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie was accused of being “lily livered” and the leader of “rollover Unionism". Fair play to him, at a time when the DUP continues to associate itself with the toxicity of hardliners.

It remains to be seen where the DUP will be after the election, but their flirtation with loyalism is not a good look.

Of course, like many of us, Beattie isn’t denying the rights of those who wish to protest peacefully to do so; unlike his opponents who would deny him the right to hold a responsible position and attack him for some perceived “slur” on them.

Commentator Tim McKane is accused of trying to delegitimise Unionist/loyalist voices, and there is always the disingenuous claim that there is a campaign to ban, censor or silence the Bryson/Allister rump.

No, what people want is a more balanced approach.

Politicians such as Matthew O’Toole and Naomi Long have been rightly coming forward to highlight that the Protocol protests appear to get undue coverage on the BBC. (A reminder that we’re in the Protocol mess because of a Brexit that Northern Ireland voted against, and the mess made by a British Government in withdrawal negotiations.)

It is legitimate to ask where Unionism is heading in all this.

As I’ve said, there are undoubtedly concerns about the Protocol within Unionism which need to be addressed, but in the build-up to an election when we’ve already seen posters burned and the window of a politician smashed, it’s right to ask where all the anti-Protocol angry rhetoric is heading.

Has Unionism really regressed so much that the Bryson/Allister/Hoey rump dictates the agenda?

What about all the other voices in the Unionist or wider Protestant community, or indeed wider society at large who want to make progress to a more progressive, shared society which addresses the everyday issues which affect our lives.

Those voices are not being heard enough, possibly because they feel fearful or intimidated of raising their head above the parapet. The old saying is “whatever you say, say nothing".

But this isn’t 1972, and we need to push back against those who want to bring Northern Ireland back to those times.

Remember where they lead us.