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A smaller ‘centrist’ unionism… October 9, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Newton Emerson had some excellent points in a recent column about the UUP. Indeed I can’t help but have a suspicion that he is on much more comfortable ground than his usual outings when writing about same. Because there’s a fluency there and a lack of the sometimes clumsy formulations he uses in relation to writings on – say – Brexit, or the Irish government or such like. Whatever the reasons for that who could disagree with his analysis?

He argues that the UUP under Robin Swann, who has just resigned, pulled back sharply from some degree of liberalisation and cross-community engagement under Mike Nesbitt. Now, I’m an oldish cynic and it strikes me that the Nesbitt days were never quite as cordial as he paints them, but in fairness Swann appears to have doubled down on strategy that saw the UUP functioning almost like a shadow of the DUP.

Under Swann, the UUP has tried not to be outflanked by the DUP on any of these issues, and has been more hardline than the DUP on an Irish language Act, seen as blocking Stormont’s return. The result has been described as “DUP-lite” and the effect has been to let the larger party claim it speaks for the entire unionist community.

And the political effects of that:

That claim is now taken as read, with significant consequences. Last month, DUP chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson was widely cited by UK press and politicians when he said “there isn’t a single unionist elected representative who supports the backstop”.
Independent unionist MP Sylvia Hermon, a strong backstop advocate, was forgotten, while soft-Brexiteers and Remainers inside the UUP have been silenced.
Allowing the DUP to speak for every unionist has allowed it to advance a concept of “parallel consent”, where separate nationalist and unionist permission is required and only the DUP can grant it on unionism’s behalf.

Right up to the point that this last week or two the DUP continues to argue that it and it alone is the representative of not just unionism, but Northern Ireland. And this has fed directly into the absurdity that is the Johnson plan.

That the UUP’s own position assisted this is one of those small ironies, but an irony with dismal consequences. Not least with Brexit. Because the UUP played both sides of the Brexit issue, taking increasingly more hardline positions subsequent to the referendum. Small wonder Alliance was able to pass them out, as it were by appealing to a ‘centrist’ anti-Brexit constituency.

Emerson thinks that the UUP in more liberal hands might offer an alternative to the DUP for unionism. In a way I agree with him. Alliance is not precisely unionist, and there is a cohort in unionism that dislikes the DUP for one reason and another. The problem being that that cohort is spread amongst different strands – those who are more liberally inclined, some who are anything but and so on. And there’s another question, unarticulated in his article – what of those who once voted UUP but went across the DUP? Is it possible for a refashioned UUP to attract them back? Difficult to see how.

Comments»

1. JEMMUHOPE - October 9, 2019

“Alliance is not precisely unionist” huh!!…. That’s precisely what it is ..unionist with a small u.

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Daniel Rayner O'Connor - October 9, 2019

Yes that describes Alliance; on balance, it prefers the union. Where it differs from the big-Us is that for them, the Union is a sacred trust over and above any democratic mandate. (The name ‘Democratic Unionist Party’ is a contradiction in terms). this is because the Union copper-fastened and tends to maintain Protestant ascendancy. Today the big-U Unionist Parties are betting the farm on the Brit Brecchshiteers, hoping that an hard Brecchshit will pave the way for a collapse of the ’98 agreement as a start to a process that will lead back to ’68 or as near to it as possible.

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WorldbyStorm - October 9, 2019

I see where you’re coming from JEMMUHOPE, and I’m more than happy to use DRO’C’s description which is pretty good, on balance it prefers the union, but unlike overtly unionist parties it contains those who certainly don’t seem to be unionist in the sense I understand the term. It is impossible to think of a member of the UUP or DUP (or a loyalist party) let alone an MLA might as Anna Lo did argue for a united Ireland (or allowing their party to be described as Other rather than unionist or nationalist in the Assembly). Granted she might be an outlier, in fact I’m sure she is, but… the territory they’re on is interesting territory in that it encompasses a wide range of views under their umbrella.

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EWI - October 9, 2019

over and above any democratic mandate. (The name ‘Democratic Unionist Party’ is a contradiction in terms).

It seems to me that the democratic bit was intended to stake out ‘Ulster’ as being majority British.

Latterly of course, it’s become ‘no true Ulsterman…’ in that the DUP now argue that (again) some voters are more equal in say than others. Witness the appearance in recent times of the false argument that unionism has a veto over everything, regardless of overall demographic share.

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2. roastedsnow1 - October 10, 2019

It is true that one might anticipate room for a Liberal Unionist vehicle in the North. However the unionist demography is dwindling and elections will dictate a lot of Unionist political activity. The life span of NI21 was short lived. The upcoming GE will see Unionism run single candidates in some constituencies just to keep the Shinner out. I’m intrigued whether the DUP will run in F and ST it being Foster’s native county this time if they perceive they have hegemony in the unionist family or the UUP in N and S Belfast. It is defence of the Union, for a myriad of reasons, which overwhelmingly motivates unionist voters. Right now with a declining voter base and the possibility of the north being separated from the rest of the UK through Brexit unionism will come together. The UUP cannot be reformed in these times. They performed abysmally in the Euros. The best Unionism can do is form a broad church single Unionist Party, the DUP dropping its bible belt veneer to accommodate. Also worth noting that with the peace process rolling out over the last two decades a substantial number of young protestant voters are also attracted to Alliance and the Greens. Unionism is in crisis in the North, it might not appear so, but it is. And Brexit has helped augment that crisis.

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