Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Two months is a long time in politics and a political lifetime for DUP leader.

Peter Robinson made his contribution to Union 2021, the News Letter's series of essays, toward the end of September.  He urged unionists not to be complacent:
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."
Too often unionists are negative or defensive about Northern Ireland's status
Being 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.


Anonymous said...

Your comments do indeed raise an interesting question, will unionist parties in the end promote the demise of the union?

It has to be said that the best way to protect the union is to have the main parties of the union organised in NI. We need the Conservatives, Liberals and Labour to fully organise here and bring us normal left right politics then we will truly be part of the union.

Until then myopic, border obsessed, flag waving 'patriot' unionists will continue to demonstrate their fear of the future and inability to persuade others to fully participate in the UK.

Seymour Major said...

That change of emphasis is by Robinson is, indeed, very interesting. It dovetails with all of the other indications, going back as far as the transfer of P&J and maybe further back, that the DUP is changing.

Jeffrey Peel has recently picked up upon the more secularist rhetoric coming from Robinson and accused him of hypocrasy.

Whether you think Robinson is hypocritical or not, Politicians do change their positions and Robinson seems to be making a very good fist of it.

"We need the Conservatives, Liberals and Labour to fully organise here"

I have to question, firstly, what is the difference between the UUP and the DUP in the light of Robinson's shift towards the centre. Beyond that, he will soon be in Conservative territory.

The DUP is projecting itself as a centre right party. I have no problem with a centre-right party which is Northern Ireland centred. However, not being linked to a main party means that they are likely to continue to take a selfish populist line, rather than a more mature one which takes into consideration the political needs of the entire UK.

Sadly, the Northern Ireland electorate still has a steep learning curve when it comes to thinking about the bigger picture. That is why I am pessimistic about the prospects for the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland at the moment.