the future of unionism is bright, but there are two significant hazards on the road ahead.
The first is complacency. It derives from the belief that the constitutional question has been settled for evermore. This is claimed by some unionists but it is certainly not the view that republicans take.In Saturday's much vaunted pitch for the middle-ground, the DUP leader made a statement which sounds a lot like his own definition of complacency.
The issue of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland has been settled for as far as one can see into the future.
"That battle has been fought and won. Against that settled backdrop, let us focus on the people's real everyday agenda."Adding:
Too often unionists are negative or defensive about Northern Ireland's statusBeing pedantic, I suppose it's possible to argue that 'for evermore' is not exactly equivalent to 'as far as one can see into the future', but, at the very least, that's an enormous shift in emphasis over two short months.
For the record, I believe that the later pronouncement is more accurate. On this blog, and elsewhere, I've long developed the theme that unionism is entirely useless if unionists continue to defend the Union without properly participating in it.
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.
Unionism doesn’t need to become one party, nor does it need the UUP to repudiate British Conservatism. Instead, other Northern Irish unionists, with different political allegiances, should focus on their own links with like-minded national groups.
The alternative for unionism is to remain myopically focussed on the constitutional issue. If it does, it will always struggle to appeal beyond its base and demographics could eventually deliver a united Ireland.
If unionist parties are not careful, their very existence will contribute to the Union‘s demise.The UCUNF experiment is dead, but the point about unionist parties stands. As I argued in the Belfast Telegraph;
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.