Monday, 24 May 2010

'Each man kills the thing he loves'. Unionist politicians and the Union.

In today's Belfast Telegraph I ask whether unionist parties might actually hinder, rather than help, the unionist cause.

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.

2 comments:

Dilettante said...

This is the argument I advanced for O'Neill over at Unionist Lite, but better put. Integrationism was the purest unionism going.

Anonymous said...

As a Londoner I have long agreed with most statements in this article because the gap between mainstream British politics and Unionism seems unbridgeable.
I have often wondered "What exactly is the purpose of unionist politics?" and the only answer that came to mind was siege mentality "that exists only to perpetuate itself" - with no attachment to traditional British values of tolerance, human rights, civil liberties, live and let live and so on. Loyalist politics seems closer to the BNP than to Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem policies and ideals.
I particularly appreciate the suggestion that "disbanding and persuading members to align with the main British parties" is the way forward and sincerely hope it happens within a reasonable timeframe. The end of sectarianism is the only strategy that will convince voters of the validity of being part of the UK. Alliance, reportedly linked to the Lib-Dems, has made a great start, offering an alternative to East Belfast voters. More power to them that they seized the opportunity!
I fully agree that "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" - if this hasn't already happened.