As the DUP licks its wounds after Peter Robinson’s defeat in East Belfast, and the UUP ponders its future, both parties should make one question central to their post-election soul searching. What exactly is the purpose of unionist politics?
I suppose I’m asking whether Northern Irish unionism, in any of it current guises, actually has a long-term strategy or if it exists only to perpetuate itself. Do purportedly unionist political parties in Ulster really have the best interests of the United Kingdom at heart?
They frequently claim to be defenders of the Union, but the stark truth is, since the Belfast Agreement delegated any change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status to periodic border referenda, parties defined solely by ’unionism’ serve only to highlight differences between the province and the rest of the UK.
There is a strong argument that they could best defend the Union by disbanding and persuading members to align with the main British parties, either officially, or at first, unofficially.Unionist politicians, I argue, spend so much time 'defending' the Union that they rather forget to participate in or strengthen it.
In The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde wrote, “each man kills the thing he loves”, and if unionism continues to think of itself as a monolithic block, capable only of resisting nationalism, it will progressively destroy the essence of its political connection to Great Britain.
Northern Ireland is part of the UK and will remain so until a majority of people here decide otherwise. That principle in enshrined in international law. Yet our politics are still based squarely around Irish nationalism’s premise that the British link is impermanent, rather than unionism’s contention that it will endure.
Unionist politicians have for far too long fixated on nationalist aspirations, to the detriment of strengthening a political relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom which is already in place. They are like a nursery school class full of unruly toddlers who scream and scream for playtime but are too preoccupied with their tantrum to notice that it has arrived.I have restored the extracts which were rather extensively subbed in the finished piece.