Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Unity on Orange terms is the last thing unionism needs

I contributed a column to Friday's Irish News, anticipating fresh calls from Orange platforms for 'unionist unity'.  I didn't watch the television highlights of demonstrations last night, and the Belfast Telegraph doesn't have much about Orange speeches in its Twelfth coverage, so the prediction remains to be tested.

The Irish News operates a subscription service and it is a facsimile of the daily newspaper which lies behind the paywall, rather than a genuine online version, but this (slightly edited) extract provides a summary

[T]he enduring ability of the Orange Order to undermine unionism, whenever it attempts to be constructive or threatens to box clever, (shouldn't be underestimated).  
The organisation, which is now considered a stalwart of the Union, took a while to be convinced of its merits.  During the first part of the nineteenth century senior Orangemen were zealous advocates of restored Dublin rule.  The Act of Union, they feared, would result in a modern form of citizenship, eventually delivering Catholics an entitlement to vote. 
They were right of course.  But the Order and its allies successfully worked for three decades to delay a measure aimed at quickly reconciling Irish Catholics to their place within the United Kingdom. 
Orangemen helped to sustain a nationalist conceit, which persists to this day, that unionism is nothing more than a response to, and a denial of, Ireland’s legitimate national aspirations.  
In those early years, Liberals and Peelite Conservatives in Ulster , driven by a positive allegiance to the British state, championed the Union for its ability to deliver Catholic emancipation, a Catholic university and the Reform Act.  Orange voices opposed all those things.  
Members of the Order were therefore among the most vocal campaigners against the development of a tolerant, modern British state, whose merits they now purport to cherish.  And the truth is that its interventions are just as unhelpful today to moderate unionists, who hope to appeal beyond the confines of the Ulster Protestant community. 
The Orange Order in South Belfast, for example, recently intervened in the general election campaign, calling for the withdrawal of an articulate young UCUNF candidate, Paula Bradshaw, in favour of the DUP’s rather less dynamic Jimmy Spratt.  
And Orange Grand Master, Robert Saulters, has repeatedly attempted to play midwife to a united unionist bloc.  He either doesn‘t accept, or doesn‘t care, that any party formed along those lines would have even less chance of attracting liberal or Catholic pro-Union voters, were it brought into existence with Orange help.
Neither is it an accident that the foremost proponents of ’unity’ within the Ulster Unionist party are Orangemen.  The most hard-headed fanatic, David McNarry, is unabashed about his belief that unionism is strengthened, rather than limited, when it aligns around a single identity.  
But there are also signs of exasperation at the Order’s political interference.  Tom Elliott, favourite to become UUP leader and a senior Orangeman himself, has urged the organisation to stay out of politics.  No ’unity’ sceptic, Elliott’s heckles were raised nevertheless by Saulters’ repeated interventions. 
The Orange Order frequently alleges that it is demonised and, to a degree, it has a point.  It is not the ogre of popular myth.  As a fraternal organisation it can play a constructive role and it forms an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of communities.  
It should not, however, have an active role in unionist politics.  Unionist politicians should ignore its demands for a united party and instead concentrate on building a secular and inclusive case for Northern Ireland’s continued participation in the United Kingdom.      

15 comments:

Andrew said...

'The Orange Order...As a fraternal organisation it can play a constructive role and it forms an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of communities. It should not, however, have an active role in unionist politics.  Unionist politicians should ignore its demands for a united party and instead concentrate on building a secular and inclusive case for Northern Ireland’s continued participation in the United Kingdom. '

I have a rather critical view of the Orange Order's involvement in politics. Like many other unionists they have been opportunistic, inconsistent and shallow, so my criticisms should not be seen as a defence of the Orange on this issue.

Politics should not be defined as political parties duking it out for power, it should have a much more expansive meaning. Your appeal to secularism and 'inclusivism' are not a given, they come from somewhere. They can be argued for in the context of a political philosophy but I think it is also true to say they rise, or move, from individuals of whom a political philosophy cannot be separated from their views of religion, culture, knowledge, reality. To argue that the Orange Order has a place in religion and culture but not in politics seems to me to be an elementary blunder. As long as they have religious and cultural influence there will be political consequences.

I would be interested in reading your 'secular and inclusive case'. I read that last sentence and I wondered just what you meant by the United Kingdom, is it something different from it's Christian heritage and constitution, cultural traditions, history and so on? If it is why would I want to be part of this United Kingdom?

Lee said...

Who says the unity will be on Orange terms?

Dilettante said...

Because it's the Orangists arguing for unity. 'Secular' or 'Liberal' unionists are content with or even outright believe in a plurality of political positions within unionism. And if those calling for unity want unity on liberal terms, all they need to do is dissolve their ethno-unionist movements and vote for liberals. 'Unity' seems to mean 'Let's all join the DUP!'. Not attractive.

I can't see how supposed unity advocates see a pan-unionist party broadening support for the union. Unionism needs to reach out to more people, and I'm sure that most unity advocates would agree that on the 'voting for the union' front, the Orange Order are pretty much in the bag already. By allowing senior Orangemen to be seen to be having a leading role in unionism, unity advocates shed the very moderates whose votes we need to be garnering. Political Orangism deals unionism electoral damage. Put bluntly, the Orange Order are not the way - they are in the way.

Andrew - "I read that last sentence and I wondered just what you meant by the United Kingdom, is it something different from it's Christian heritage and constitution, cultural traditions, history and so on? If it is why would I want to be part of this United Kingdom?"

The answer, as ever, is 'yes and no'. All of those things you list have in some way shaped the modern British state, of course. But they do not define it nor is it the sum of those constituent parts alone. The United Kingdom *is* a culturally christian, polyglot state with ancient traditions, but it is equally a modern, secular and cosmopolitan democracy. They aren't mutually exclusive. Britain is informed by its past, but not defined by it.

And as for unionists being "opportunistic, inconsistent and shallow" - I'm pretty sure there are those on the other side of the trenches who fit that description. An otherwise thoughtful post was marred by that bit of partisan indulgence, I think.

Lee said...

Dil

"'Secular' or 'Liberal' unionists are content with or even outright believe in a plurality of political positions within unionism."

A quick comparison of the DUP and UUP positions show little difference so the plurality is more imagined than real.

Also unity of the big two does not end plurality. The PUP, Tories and TUV will still exist plus the chunk of Unionists who vote alliance.

Also a broad plurality can be contained within one party. The Republicans and Democrats spring to mind.

I've described this school of thought among liberal/secularists as dead headed. They condemn it on spec or because of the who rather than engaging with the idea to see what is or isn't possible.

If there is a decent debate and formal proposals come forward that are unacceptable then that is fair enough but that has not been the attitude. Refuse to participate and condemn from the outset seems more like opting for self-fulfilling prophecy.

"if those calling for unity want unity on liberal terms, all they need to do is dissolve their ethno-unionist movements and vote for liberals."

A circular argument that could be easily returned - if liberals are so confident of their electoral appeal and they seem convinced of the uselessness of the UUP as a vehicle why don;t they go off and found a party - oddly they never do instead clinging on in the UUP. Unity would be under agreed terms not one side's.

"'Unity' seems to mean 'Let's all join the DUP!'. Not attractive"

Nope it doesn't. If unity comes about it will be under agreed terms not dictated ones. So this is self-serving myth-making meant to appeal to the anti-DUP strain in the UUP.

"I can't see how supposed unity advocates see a pan-unionist party broadening support for the union."

A lack of vision on your part, remember LBJ's comment about MLK's speech that free at last applied to him too as Southern WASP. Unity can create space rather than narrow it.

"By allowing senior Orangemen to be seen to be having a leading role in unionism, unity advocates shed the very moderates whose votes we need to be garnering."

Another myth. There is little or no evidence that the non-voters are moderates. With a major contributory factor not a lack of plurality or moderation but simply a lack of organisation.

Chekov said...

Dil -

Just to alert you to the fact that Lee has adopted, and intends to persist pushing to the death, this lie that a unity arrangement dominated by the DUP, like an ugly duckling turning into a swan, can become a happy home for all unionists. No matter that its leading advocates are the Orange Order, the DUP and David McNarry. Because the WHO isn't relevant you see. To suggest it is lacks vision. Now you and I know that's bollocks. That it makes no sense whatsoever. But he intends to keep pushing it in that horrible social sciences speak which marks his writing. It doesn't mean that it deserves to be taken seriously, it's still just bollocks.

Lee said...

Chekov

"this lie""that's bollocks."

Quality approach to debate. What's the next move declare debate closed?

What do you have to support the claim that I am lying? I am simply asking for civic, liberal, secular unionists or whatever other name they choose to engage with the idea and try and shape what unity could be.

As I said "If there is a decent debate and formal proposals come forward that are unacceptable then that is fair enough"

Where is the lie? Why is engagement in a open debate on an idea so unacceptable?

Chekov said...

And again.

Andrew said...

The answer, as ever, is 'yes and no'. All of those things you list have in some way shaped the modern British state, of course. But they do not define it nor is it the sum of those constituent parts alone. The United Kingdom *is* a culturally christian, polyglot state with ancient traditions, but it is equally a modern, secular and cosmopolitan democracy. They aren't mutually exclusive. Britain is informed by its past, but not defined by it.

I wouldn't restrict this to the 'British state'. Sure that is part of what the United Kingdom is but it is only part. What is a secular and inclusive case for unionism? As far as I can see it's only reference can be to the state and a particular view of the state at that. For instance, a country with Christianity as a narrative will, for the most part, result in Christianised law, the common law is a good example. Secularism, as applied to the State, would circumvent this narrative because as a rule law making is distinct from religion. The secular state is an adjudicator of 'self-evident' naturalised rights. If there is one thing about naturalised rights, at least in enlightenment garb, it is that history, culture, religion are inferior to the rights of the individual. The state cannot choose between Christianity and Islam, cannot choose between cultures, cannot choose between histories. It is a place without memory.

The problem with a secular and inclusive case for unionism is that it's only preference can be for the state that administers the rights of individuals well. But I'm at a loss understanding why that state must be the British state.

You can advocate this kind of arrangement if you like of course, I just don't find it compelling. One thing should be obvious, it is an entirely different 'unionism' from the kind advocated by the DUP or the Orange Order. I don't agree with either and there are other options.

Dilettante said...

Alright, let's go through this at least once. Originally quoted you, but was too long.

The argument about the similarity between the UUP and DUP rests on the fallacy that Liberal Unionists are happy with the way things are.
---
What you describe in the list of non-unified unionist voters makes this not so much pan-unionist unity as a merger of the DUP and Orange UUPers, Sounds sensible, would scarely change the status quo except for allowing a new second party of unionism to try something new.
---
Hey, I'm all up for a UUP schism if it goes down the unity route - the link up with the Conservatives was the first attempt to try something different. Badly handled, but a promising sign that liberal Unionsts are starting to think outside the OUP box. In the short term however, the UUP is a superior vehicle for new ideas simply because it is a tried and tested vehicle people take seriously. And it isn't a circular argument - I was specifically saying how to have unity on non-Orangist terms - your counter has nowt to do with that.
---
The DUP is the largest unionist party. The sections of the UUP calling for 'unity' are those very ones who are, as you pointed out above, so strikingly similar to the DUP. The idea that a merged party would NOT be DUP in form is hard to fathom.
---
Please explain how it does that.
---
Are you seriously suggesting that it is the hardline, committed members of the electorate who aren't turning out? It is generally the case that those who don't vote are those less engaged in politics - having one party only engages one section of the unionist electorate because a party cannot be all things to all men once in power (as the Liberal Democrats have learned).

Dilettante said...

Sorry Andrew, you posted while I was posting.

Yes, it IS a very different form of unionism to that proposed by the DUP and the Orangists. That is rather what people like Chekov and I have been saying all along.

The answer to your question is twofold. But first, it doesn't have to be the British state - I'm fine with it being the EU, for example. My opposition is to nationalism and states organised on that basis. But more on that later.

It's true that the state, in my view, should be one that diligently safeguards the rights and property of the individual. There are two reasons why I think that the British state can do this better than the Irish one, both of which stem from the fact that the British state is not the product of nationalist doctrine.

First, the UK *is* more liberal and more secular than the ROI. You can see evidence of this when the southern government updates (rather than abolishes) its blasphemy laws, the tough abortion limitations, etc.). This stems from the fact that the RoI is the product of nationalism and nationalism always looks backwards for its shibboleths. So the ROI political culture is more closely entwined with - and indebted to - its past than the British government is, and thus the liberal individualism that comes quite easily to Britain has to struggle against entrenched cultural collectivism and religious conservatism borrowed from Ireland's past.

This leads me on to my second reason: nationalism is an inherently collective ideology. This is another underlying reason that Britain can more easily and more comfortably function as the secular gaurantor of rights that you describe. In nationalism, the collective will of the nation is superior to the individual will. So the conservative attitude of a Catholic nation trump the right of an individual woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Beyond this, however, lies the more philosphical point. It probably won't engage many voters on the ground (high principle of this sort seldom does, voters usually being practically-minded), but it is the guiding principle for unionists like myself. It is the belief that Unionism - be it British, Euro or other - is a cosmopolitan and enlightenment ideology that seeks to overcome and ameliorate the differences between peoples. Conversely, nationalism seeks to fetishise, exacerabate, resurrect and entrench those shibboleths that make people different. Thus, in our view, unionism is a morally superior belief to nationalism. That's why we're unionists.

Lee said...

"The argument about the similarity between the UUP and DUP rests on the fallacy that Liberal Unionists are happy with the way things are."

It's the sources of their unhappiness that I wish to get to the bottom of - to see if there are means to manage them or not.

"What you describe in the list of non-unified unionist voters makes this not so much pan-unionist unity as a merger of the DUP and Orange UUPers, Sounds sensible, would scarely change the status quo except for allowing a new second party of unionism to try something new."

It would change the status quo through the likely consolidation of votes and the power that would flow from that. It also has the potential to create a stronger organisational entity - as I think I may have mentioned to you elsewhere - problems with unionist turnout are not solely an ideological/policy problem but a organisational one. More money and more people towards a common purpose can have a positive impact on the status quo.

"I was specifically saying how to have unity on non-Orangist terms"

What are Orangist terms? Are there any? I hear people advocating the principle of unity but I don't see them setting down a singular form or policies. At 12th demonstrations David McNarry made a speech on unity with terms in it that probably would be unacceptable to Nelson McCausland who backed unity too.

All that there is out there at the moment are the 4 hatfield principles which I would have thought it would be hard for a liberal to reject those on spec.

Also it is hard for someone who has called for the principle of unity to them start going ahh but not those unionists without very good reason.

A means to non-Orangist terms is to contribute and participate in the debate. I personally think debate has an intrinsic value so I try to encourage it in whatever small ways I can(unless you share Chekov's belief that is a lie and bollocks).

The liberal fears of exclusion and suspicion are reasonable ones but non-participation guarantees there fulfilment. However, don't presume that you are the only ones with fears around the process or that every voice raised for it the UUP has others jumping for joy either. I would have some doubts too.

Regrettably the debate within the UUP has been reduced to a fight of two bogeymen - pro-Unity UUpers over-emphassing the chances of a Sinn Fein FM and anti-Unity UUpers using a DUP take-over bogeyman to oppose it. Surely we can do better than that?

Lee said...

"The idea that a merged party would NOT be DUP in form is hard to fathom.
---
Please explain how it does that."

Instead of using your starting point as we have the DUP and UUP how can we get them together. You commence with a blank sheet to design a 21st century vehicle for a broad based Unionism - a new model party for Unionism.

"Are you seriously suggesting that it is the hardline, committed members of the electorate who aren't turning out? It is generally the case that those who don't vote are those less engaged in politics "

I am suggesting that the assumption that they are liberal has no basis in evidence. If a strategy to build Unionism is to be developed I'd prefer it to have such a basis.

For example the biggest drop in turnout has been in working class areas and from their voting patterns give no sense of being homes of liberalism.

Part of a unity process could be to do some decent research on the topic instead of building the future on assumptions.

May I also add (purely anecdotal) that in my discussion with liberal catholics/nationalists, they have seemed to me more understanding of the Orange connection in Unionism than liberal Unionists. Essentially don't like it but can accept why it is there because of the history of NI.

In our desire to grow Unionism beyond its traditional community we have to be careful not to assume barriers. Perhaps someone who is willing to move away from the perceived allegiances of their identity may not come with the standard preconceptions of that identity?

However, again something worthy of research.

Dilettante said...

Ok, addressing points in order to save space:
- The source of liberal unhappiness is the thought of being in the same party as illiberal politicians.
- It sounds like a non-partisan pan-unionist ‘get the vote out’ campaign coordinated amongst multiple parties could do the same organisational thing without the need for a unified party.
- What I call ‘Orangist’ terms are terms that focus on the identity-aspected sections of unionist philosophy.
- If two people (McNarry and McCausland) find their terms unacceptable, why should they unify?
- Why would I participate in the debate when I would rather there was no unity? I will happily argue against it, but I don’t want unity to happen.
- If I were designing a UK unionist party for the 21st century… I wouldn’t design a unionist party – see below.
- The strategy isn’t necessarily that non-voters are capital-L liberals – but a lot of untapped unionist support is Catholic, for example. The attitudes polls taken indicate Catholic support for the union at being between 25-30%, yet Catholic support for unionist parties remains risible. Having a single unionist party in the cultural-unionist mould isn’t going to tap their support.
- Is there evidence that a party that appealed to working-class unionists could retain support of more prosperous elements of society?
- Nationalists would have a greater understanding of ethnic and cultural nationalism – it’s close to nationalism (some might argue it IS nationalism). They however aren’t the sort of Catholics we can realistically hope to reach out to. Orange unionism might be easier to understand, from a green perspective, but it isn’t necessarily more attractive. The pro-union and potentially pro-union Catholics are the ones we should be trying to attract.
- “In our desire to grow Unionism beyond its traditional community we have to be careful not to assume barriers. Perhaps someone who is willing to move away from the perceived allegiances of their identity may not come with the standard preconceptions of that identity?” – What does this sentence mean?

I guess my fundamental point –mentioned above – is that if I were designing a modern party for Northern Ireland it wouldn’t be unionist. I’d have the three mainland parties fighting the nationalists, as in Scotland and Wales. The union is best guaranteed by being normalised. Having a united unionist party, an alliance of people from all over the political spectrum whose sole shared principle is ‘The Union’, entrenches the idea that the union is permanently contested and not normal. Fundamentally, unionism should be striving to ditch ‘unionist’ parties altogether, and bring mainland politics to the province.

Lee said...

"- The source of liberal unhappiness is the thought of being in the same party as illiberal politicians."

Is that insurmountable? Social conservatives remain within the Tories despite the shifts on gay rights. Euro-sceptics remain within it despite its europhile behaviour.

"- It sounds like a non-partisan pan-unionist ‘get the vote out’ campaign coordinated amongst multiple parties could do the same organisational thing without the need for a unified party."

More co-operation may be one of the forms greater unity takes. Hence the need to identify and assess the options and then agree a course of action.

To date such a campaign has been declined largely on the basis that pacts were declined. That co-operation on issues brings a 'taint' to 'bigger' project.

"- What I call ‘Orangist’ terms are terms that focus on the identity-aspected sections of unionist philosophy."

Nothing is written in stone on unity's terms.

"- If two people (McNarry and McCausland) find their terms unacceptable, why should they unify?"

I was trying to exemplify how the debate remains fluid and is not fixed as is presented on any terms Orangist or otherwise.

"- Why would I participate in the debate when I would rather there was no unity? I will happily argue against it, but I don’t want unity to happen."

Fine but if what comes out of it is something that is no good then it is a situation that this negativism will have contributed too.

"- The strategy isn’t necessarily that non-voters are capital-L liberals – but a lot of untapped unionist support is Catholic, for example. The attitudes polls taken indicate Catholic support for the union at being between 25-30%, yet Catholic support for unionist parties remains risible. Having a single unionist party in the cultural-unionist mould isn’t going to tap their support."

From voting decline a hell of a lot of it is Protestant too.

These same polls show that these people happily go out and vote for a nationalist party. A voter referendum intention when the practicalities of life have to be balanced with aspirations does not mean they have necessarily embraced the Union as much as you imagine.

BTW this is not a denial that Catholic Unionists exist but that I consider 1 in 4/3 in 10 an overestimation of its size certainly in the short-medium term.

It isn't written it will be in such a mould.

"- Is there evidence that a party that appealed to working-class unionists could retain support of more prosperous elements of society?"

It has certainly been managed before in NI.

"- Nationalists would have a greater understanding of ethnic and cultural nationalism – it’s close to nationalism (some might argue it IS nationalism). They however aren’t the sort of Catholics we can realistically hope to reach out to."

Sorry perhaps I didn't make myself clear - the people I had the conversations with would be willing not to vote in line with their communal identity.

What is the evidence for your assertion that these people are there and that they hold these views? We need decent research and evidence not our respective hunches, assumptions and hopes.

I'd also remind you there are growing minority ethnic communities with no allegiance that are worthy of attention too.

- “In our desire to grow Unionism beyond its traditional community we have to be careful not to assume barriers. Perhaps someone who is willing to move away from the perceived allegiances of their identity may not come with the standard preconceptions of that identity?” –

Namely don't place every nationalist preconception and belief on someone who is willing to consider breaking with it.

Lee said...

"I guess my fundamental point –mentioned above – is that if I were designing a modern party for Northern Ireland it wouldn’t be unionist. I’d have the three mainland parties fighting the nationalists, as in Scotland and Wales. The union is best guaranteed by being normalised. Having a united unionist party, an alliance of people from all over the political spectrum whose sole shared principle is ‘The Union’, entrenches the idea that the union is permanently contested and not normal. Fundamentally, unionism should be striving to ditch ‘unionist’ parties altogether, and bring mainland politics to the province."

A not unattractive idea but it has a number of difficulties.

I'd argue that NI politics is different for two reasons - the failure of the reformation and the failure of socialism. This creates a difficulty for the simple application of the GB model here. Some of the basics upon which they were built in the rest of the UK (common basis of identity and an ideological framework of political debate) are not so easily found here.

In practical terms the Lib Dems won't buy in. The Labour party is barely willing to dip a toe. The Conservatives here are a glorified dining club with nil influence at a national level. Also it is not within our power in NI to get them to act here. It simply isn't available to us in the short-medium term.

Normalisation will be achieved through the maintenance and development of devolution and this is were the work will be required to be done, by using devolution for policy innovation. The means of integration/relationship building of Unionism with the british body politic right now is not quick fix alliances or new parties but by doing interesting things that will have tory, Labour and Lib Dem coming to our door.

My estimation is what you suggest would be more achievable in 2-3 assembly terms. If it is tried before that my hunch would be it'll be a catalogue of errors a la UCUNF that does your idea more harm than good.