Friday, 18 July 2008

Change the record on 'unionist unity'

On Slugger O’Toole Fair Deal picked up on calls from Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Drew Nelson, for unionist unity which were issued from a platform in Belfast on the 12th July. Infusing his piece on Nelson’s remarks with customary DUP revisionism FD implies that there are now few differences between the unionist parties and the difficulties which many unionists have identifying with the DUP’s form of unionism are simply a manifestation of UUP frustration at being outflanked by the Paisleyite party.

This attitude is familiar to those who have watched with a sense of inevitability the DUP leopard change its spots, as it simultaneously protested that no such transformation was possible. It sees all the hypocrisy and machinations of that party as representing ‘clever politics’, it doesn’t understand why all the party’s broken promises and about faces cannot simply be forgotten about and a line drawn under all its past activities, now that it commands the greater proportion of unionist votes. If the sane and secular wing of unionism were ever tempted to submit to this type of thinking, lunatic outbursts such as that produced by Iris Robinson yesterday, should offer wiser counsel.

Leaving aside Fair Deal’s analysis, which despite the plaudits it often receives (and in common with DUP unionism in general) bristles with cynicism masquerading as pragmatism, wallows in parochialism and lacks anything approaching an unambiguous commitment to the United Kingdom as a constitutional arrangement with intrinsic value; it is worth turning briefly to the comments made by Mr Nelson himself.

“Everyone in the unionist family is committed to maintaining the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – and the advantages which that Union clearly brings.”

Very blatantly everyone who is truly a unionist is committed to maintaining the Union and its advantages. However when Nelson speaks about the ‘unionist family’ it seems likely that he refers, not simply to those who adhere to a strong political belief in the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but also those who apply the label ‘unionist’ to themselves simply because of the community or culture which they perceive themselves to belong to. Certainly when Nelson refers to the ‘unionist family’ we must assume that he encompasses within this group, all those who belong to purportedly unionist parties, including those in the DUP.

As this blog has maintained ad nauseum, the prevailing attitude in that party has consistently shown that its commitment to the Union with Britain is of secondary importance when set against their perception that they represent a culture of Ulster Protestantism. The evidence has been adequately adduced. The party's reluctance to play a full part in the politics of the United Kingdom, but rather its readiness to exploit any influence they might exact in national politics to win concessions at the parish pump, a tendency to refer to direct rule ministers as ‘squatters’ or even ‘the Brits’, blaming the Westminster government rather than republican terrorists for Northern Ireland’s stunted economy after 30 years of violence, their founder and leader for most of their history spoke with commendation of the possibility of a federal Ireland under Dublin’s sovereignty for goodness sake!

Unionism is not a monolith, and that is particularly the case when the term is used carelessly, to denote all those belonging to a perceived tradition or community. Maintaining a pro-Union majority is important, but equally important is allowing that pro-Union majority to exercise its mandate across a wide range of issues, by giving it the freedom of choice to express the character of its politics. Whilst all political parties encompass a diversity of opinion, to expect those with a genuine commitment to a multi-national, liberal, secular Union, with the rights and freedoms which that entails, to coalesce with those whose unionism is simply short-hand for a crude form of Ulster nationalism, or those whose understanding of the role of government is that it should directly apply the content of the bible, is nonsensical.


Bob Wilson said...

Good article.

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