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Unionism, but what union? April 13, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Speaking of the riots, Pat Leahy had a fairly insightful point to make on the IT podcast about the current unrest in Northern Ireland… he said:

The protocol and its operation… is a festering sore for many unionists and loyalists, not just because of its practical effects which have been mitigated by the unilateral extension of the grace period but rather because of what it says about the North’s relationship with the rest of the UK and what it says about the willingness of the British government to accept barriers to trade between the North and the rest of the UK for a price for getting the Brexit that they wanted. My view has always been that the real fear in unionism is not so much perfidy by Dublin or expansionist ambitions by the Republic, living with that in the unionist mindset is part of being a unionist on the island of Ireland, the real fear in Unionism and Loyalism and perhaps we’re seeing some reaction to this deep seated fear, the real fear is betrayal by London. And I think at the heart of some of the Loyalist reaction in recent weeks has been a perception that this has happened with regard to the Protocol. There’s not an awful lot that the government in Dublin can do.

Granted he went on to say that the calls for a unity referendum, ‘though perfectly legitimate of themselves don’t take place in a vacuum’ and all that contributes to instability – but he was clear that the fear is one with regard to London’s actions. I think that’s actually quite perceptive.

Oddly that dovetails in a way with the following, reported in the Guardian, a report on the union by former high level civil servants.

The pandemic has seeded the idea of a prime minister “who speaks for England alone” as relations between the four nations of the UK deteriorate amid “deep-rooted complacency”, a senior former civil servant has warned.

There is widespread ignorance towards the union, meaning ministers can be kept in the dark about major reforms with little consideration for the four nations, Philip Rycroft, the permanent secretary to the Brexit department until 2019, says in a report.

His damning conclusion says the 300-year-old union is in deep peril and even major political ructions such as the close-run 2014 Scottish referendum and the following year’s SNP landslide prompted little soul-searching in Westminster.

The following is most interesting:

Rycroft’s co-author, Prof Michael Kenny, said it was political decision-making, not devolution itself, that caused widening divisions. “It was dismantled by political decisions primarily made by No 10.”

Rycroft said Johnson had a “muscular brand of unionism” that asserted the value of the union rather than demonstrating it, appearing reluctant to share platforms with first ministers.

This seems to me to be a form of unionism espoused by the British government that is almost entirely cosmetic, pitched rhetorically as unionist but in essence something that is remarkably English focused.

What routes are possible forward is difficult to ascertain, at least reading what is said next:

Kenny said the approach was “fundamentally unstrategic” and said trying to stem the tide of nationalism in the devolved territories by incrementally devolving new powers was “no longer sustainable”. He said the “serious risk” to the union required a fundamental overhaul of approach.

But the UK government response proves the broad point perfectly:

A UK government spokesperson said: “The United Kingdom is the most successful political and economic union the world has ever seen … Strengthening the United Kingdom is at the heart of everything we do and we are working alongside the devolved administrations to establish new ways of regular, meaningful and effective cooperation so that we continue to deliver for people right across the United Kingdom.”


1. CL - April 13, 2021

” What we understand as ‘Ulster’ unionism has its roots in the original Home Rule Crisis of 1886: and for the last 135 years unionism has lived in constant fear of two things: betrayal and the loss of its British identity…..
Regrettably it was that original fear of betrayal and loss of identity which pushed unionism into ‘what we have we hold’ insularity between 1921 and 1972…..
So, what’s the difference between that lengthy back catalogue of what unionism usually describes as ‘betrayal’ and the NI Protocol? Aren’t the complaints just the same sort of thing unionists have said about almost every twist and turn in the political process since March 1972?…
No. This time it’s different…
a very specific, very obvious constitutional demarcation line now exists between NI and GB ”


WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2021

Just reading Kane’s column, and he’s someone I’d have a lot of time for, isn’t it clear how the Lundy trope has been amazingly destructive in unionism. It’s not that other ideologies and national identities don’t have similar figures, Benedict Arnold I guess might function a little like that in relation to the US, but the mythic component of it, the manner in which it is deployed, has short circuited routes away from worst possible options time and again. Of course it’s not the only factor, but there’s a weird power to Lundy to the extent that even today in 2021 Kane uses the term in his column.


yourcousin - April 13, 2021

Lundy, and a Benedict Arnold being invoked in the same manner are actually different in the sense that Benedict Arnold was actually betraying the American Revolution while Lundy continued on for England later in his career. IE whatever his reasoning for abandoning Derry it he stayed loyal to England.

I feel that makes an even more illustrative point about unionist intransigence, it’s incredibly brittle, which has not aged well.

Liked by 1 person

2. Phil - April 13, 2021

Johnson is an extraordinarily (and alarmingly) destructive politician. I wonder if it’s related to his cynicism and lack of idea(l)s – if you don’t care about anything, smashing something up is always going to be one way to make things happen and pass the time.

Liked by 1 person

banjoagbeanjoe - April 13, 2021

“smashing something up is always going to be one way to make things happen and pass the time.”

Yep. He’d fit in well with those ‘rioters’ in various parts of the north last week.


WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2021

There’s something to that banjoagbeanjoe!


3. roddy - April 13, 2021

A new low in political terminology with the arrival of “the 4 nations of the UK “


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