In my contribution to Union 2021, I advocated unionism which plugs into the UK mainstream, and addresses economic issues as a matter of urgency, because it can make Northern Ireland more successful and secure wider acceptance of our place in the United Kingdom. Lee at Ultonia, in a constructive blogpost, accuses me of economic determinism, which I don’t think is quite fair.
I prioritise economics in the article because economics will frame the fiercest debates in the UK over the next ten years and reshaping Northern Ireland‘s economy is the immediate task for local politicians within that context. If unionism is to move beyond its constitutional preoccupation, to offer 'unionism plus', then economics has got to be the place to start. I certainly don’t believe that growing the private sector is a panacea for all our difficulties. I don't believe it will make separatism disappear.
Nor should a new emphasis in unionist politics be viewed as some type of ’triangulation’ exercise (to use the hideous jargon of party tactics). An unreformed unionism attempting to lure centre ground voters by turning its attention away from a hardcore of supporters which it takes for granted.
The goals of normalising politics, participating nationally and appealing across community boundaries, are worth pursuing in and of themselves.
The dogmas of nationalism will not dissolve because unionism starts emphasising its compatibility with a range of identities and cultures. However, fewer of the twenty odd per cent of Catholics who are sympathetic to the Union might be inclined to vote along communal lines. In the event of a border referendum, it’s difficult to envisage how unionism’s cause would be damaged by paying less attention to identity issues and more to the economy.
That’s why Christopher Montgomery’s analysis in the News Letter puzzled me. Nationalists are not unionists, nor or they more unionist than they used to be, he argued.
And? I’m not sure that anyone had ever suggested either of the theses which he is so keen to rebut.
Regardless of how nationalism chooses to present itself:
Unionists' best response is to continue to build a plural and positive case for Union. And to make Northern Ireland a successful and indispensable region of the United Kingdom.