Peter Robinson, July 2009:
When I first became the leader of the DUP, I stated that one of my objectives would be to increase the confidence and understanding of the Unionist people concerning their history and heritage. My plans for the development of a Unionist Academy are at an advanced stage and will be made public soon.
That pledge followed on from this promise made in June 2008:
Party leader Peter Robinson yesterday revealed plans for a Unionist Academy, which will promote the unionist culture and the advantages of the Union; encourage unionist learning in the community and provide a forum for unionist strategising and policy-making and a British Cultural and Equality Unit to provide legal advice to the public on fighting the removal of British emblems from Northern Ireland society.
The twin-pronged initiative will be officially unveiled in September.
He explained that the Academy will be a think-tank – as opposed to a bricks and mortar establishment.
Two years on, September 2011, we still await the official unveiling of that think-tank….
Following the SNP’s victory in May’s Scottish elections, a group of Scottish Unionists set up “Stronger Union”- “a think-tank highlighting the benefits and making the positive case for a New United Kingdom, a partnership of equals.” They haven’t responded to several emails asking for further details about their plans. From the scant information available, the “think tank” seem to believe that the Union consists merely of England and Scotland and to date their efforts to preserve the UK appear to consist of the posting of various articles from The Scotsman to their Facebook page.
I have a suspicion that the typical Sluggerite would look upon the whole concept of Think Tanks with a weary “oh here we go again, yet another talking-shop full of self-important busy bodies that nobody listens to” cynicism but with the correct focus and a narrow enough set of objectives they can be an effective research and advocacy tool as the examples of Compass on the Left and the Adam Smith Institute on the free-market Right have proven.
Does Unionism require such a tool at the present juncture in our nation’s history?
There are (at the very minimum) two inconvenient facts which should be giving even the most complacent pause for thought:
1.At the last Assembly Election in N.Ireland, close to 560,000 of the potential electorate did not vote; the gap between the total unionist (excluding Alliance) and nationalist vote was approximately 35,000. If the pro-Union parties were to poll less than Sinn Fein and the SDLP at the next election that wouldn’t, of course, herald the hoisting of the Irish tricolour over Stormont the very next day but it would in all likelihood create a strong all-Ireland momentum and momentum (or the perception of momentum) is all important in modern politics.
2.The Union, as the word implies, is not a one-way street. In the British context it means a Union of four constituent parts, one of those parts leaves then we no longer have a Union. If the latest opinion polls are to be believed, then not only are the SNP now Scotland’s governing party but also their ultimate target of separating from the rest of the UK is shared by a majority of their country’s electorate.
Not to mention the other tensions present within the Union such as the West Lothian Question, the devolved tuition fees scandal, the Barnett Formula etc, etc and etc. The Unionist Establishment’s response to all this has been a mixture of complacent apathy (in N.Ireland) and rank incompetence (in Scotland and in the rest of the UK).
We (the believers in the Union) need to be doing some mighty serious thinking and coming up with some mighty good solutions for these questions pretty soonish. Us *little people* can try with our blogs (including the newly resurrected Open Unionism;))Facebook and Twitter and to an extent all three help facilitate debate amongst the politerati… but in reality, they have had little to no effect on the real world out there.
We really do need the pro-Union Establishment, on both sides of the Irish Sea, to be shaking itself out of its present state of complacent incompetence and employing its political and economic resources to starting something more concrete and powerful to facilitate the fightback.
Time to start the thinking?