Why ‘ashtray’? Because this Assembly election is about as useful to the Northern Ireland people as an ashtray on a motorbike! It will not solve the Protocol impasse, or restore the devolved institutions, or even protect the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement.
Even if the DUP manages to overturn Sinn Fein’s two-seat majority and emerge as the Assembly’s largest party, that’s no guarantee the DUP will trigger the election of Speaker or nominate a First Minister.
If both the Westminster establishment and the Brussels bureaucrats genuinely want to see fully functioning devolved government restored, then they must make up their minds which is the more important - saving the Protocol or saving the peace process? They can have one or other, but not both.
Put bluntly, for devolution to return to Stormont, the Protocol must go. It can either be done with a ‘cut the head off the snake’ approach and drastic measures to axe the Protocol within the next several weeks.
Or, Westminster and Brussels can agree a series of measures - namely the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach - which over the next several months effectively castrate the Protocol politically reducing its influence to a meaningless piece of paper.
But what if either strategy does not placate the DUP and Stormont faces the same political oblivion it did in 1972 - being permanently mothballed?
Unionism needs to have a Plan B up its sleeve for either Direct Rule or Joint Authority.
It cannot afford to adopt a 1974 approach when after the collapse of the Sunningdale Executive, Unionism relied on the force of numbers at the ballot box. Electorally, Unionism is now a minority ideology in Northern Ireland.
Likewise, it cannot equally afford to rely on the Ulster Says No street campaign it adopted in 1985 in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. While loyalists tramped the streets of Ulster, the Dublin administration continued to enjoy its first real say in the running of Northern Ireland since partition via the Belfast Maryfield Secretariat.
Unionism will have to think ahead and box clever politically. If Stormont collapses permanently, Direct Rule from Westminster is the obvious solution.
But rather than the Northern Ireland Office be staffed by MPs from the current ruling Conservative administration, Unionists must campaign for the next Secretary of State and the team of ministers to come from Northern Ireland’s MPs - a situation which will pile pressure on Sinn Fein to take its Commons seats and abandon abstentionism if they want an NIO ministerial post.
What would be so wrong with Unionist and nationalist Westminster MPs from the Province running the NIO? This is akin to the integrationist policy pushed by the Ulster Unionists in the 1980s under the guidance of former leader James Molyneaux and former South Down MP Enoch Powell.
Unionism may be publicly ducking any debate on Irish Unity, but it must have a debate that if this election sinks Stormont like the iceberg sunk the Titanic, there is the very real possibility Unionism may have to swallow the bitter medicine of Joint Authority and Dublin having an even bigger say in the running of Northern Ireland than was ever envisaged under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement with the cross-border bodies.
In such a scenario with Stormont dead and buried, Joint Authority will be dressed up in fancy political rhetoric to hide its real purpose. Unionism must learn from its mistake of 1985.
The best way for Unionism to combat Dublin influence is for all the Unionist and Loyalist parties and groups to establish a Unionist Embassy in Leinster House, the heart of the Republic’s administration, to demand a say in the running of the 26 Southern counties.
If Dublin gets a say in Northern Ireland, Unionism returns the serve politically by exercising a say in the running of the Republic. If that becomes the outcome of Joint Authority, nationalists will drop the concept like a hot potato.
However, Protocol or no Protocol, Stormont or no Stormont, one scenario must be avoided by Unionism; that the Loyalist hardmen waiting in the wings do not say to the political parties - you had your turn through the ballot box at getting rid of the Protocol, now it is our turn through our methods.
In this respect, Unionism must not forget what happened in 1974. With the power-sharing Sunningdale Executive collapsing, Unionism had no workable alternative to replace it. Dublin put forward proposals at that time which were effectively Joint Authority by another name.
The consequence - the UVF exploded no warning bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, killing around 30 people and injuring hundreds more. Dublin immediately withdrew its proposals.
Unionism needs to acknowledge that a new generation of Loyalist is emerging for whom the successful ‘Chuckle Brothers’ power-sharing routine of the late Rev Ian Paisley and late Martin McGuinness are merely dates in history books.
Let’s be brutally honest - what is really at stake in this election is not merely the future of Stormont, the Protocol or even power-sharing; it is the very survival of democracy itself.
We can never forget the 3,000 plus who died in the Troubles; we must never insult the memory of those who brought us the peace process. Wise heads must ensure violence never returns as a consequence.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.