I’ve been away from a computer over the Easter break and so have rather missed the boat commenting on Gordon Brown’s extraordinary article purportedly defending the Union in the Daily Telegraph. O’Neill has provided a blow by blow account on Unionist Lite. His contention is that Brown’s Labour government dealt the gravest blows to the integrity of the Union in the first place through their devolution project and he is unsurprised to find their leader doing such a shoddy job of defending it now.
The startling thing about Brown’s article is that his entire argument explicitly focuses on England, Scotland and Wales’ place in the Union and pointedly avoids mentioning Northern Ireland. As O’Neill correctly notes, the entire basis of Brown’s multi-national, dual identity argument for the Union is rather undermined by this omission. If a strong sense of national identity does not militate against fully participating in the Union and feeling an overarching British identity, why would Northern Ireland be a special circumstance? Do some sea and a more recalcitrant nationalism to oppose negate the unionist argument?
If Brown wishes to defend the Union as a concept, he had better remember that there are four countries within that Union. He had better defend the entire Union. But I would draw another point from this article and the prevailing attitude in Britain which it belies. Ulster Unionists need to be thoroughly engaged in the UK wide debate about the Union and its shape and future. Ulster Unionists must be eloquent in their defence of the whole Union, if they have realistic hopes of unionists from Britain doing likewise. Parochialism is no longer an option and the argument for Ulster Unionism must be framed ever more firmly within a broader debate for Union.