Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Basil McCrea: we are increasingly looking at a policing response that does more than just contain the situation

Thu 17 January 2013, 9:03pm

Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea was interviewed on his local community radio station Lisburn’s 98FM today. Presenters of the weekly On The Record politics show – David McCann and Kerri Dunn – quizzed the whip-less politician about his previous statements on flag, the state of his party and his political future.

Lisburn's 98 Community Radio StationYou can listen to the entire 23 minute interview – with permission from the station.

[David] One of the things that has come out of the flags dispute is the unionist forum. There seems to be this drive between Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt to get a coherent unionist response to the flags situation. Do you think that the unionist forum is part of that process of sleep walking into unionist unity?

[Basil] I think it just sends out difficult and perhaps contradictory messages. What is the forum going to do that working on the ground wouldn’t have done. These problems that have arisen have not arisen over the last six to eight weeks. They’ve been happening over many years of disengagement.

I don’t think any form of short term fix is going to solve the problems. I’m not against engaging with people from all walks of life to find out how you might deal with their concerns. But grandstanding in a big forum – I’m not sure that that will produce any results. Now I’m prepared to give it a bit of time to see maybe it will come up with something. But in the past these things have been more of a figleaf than actually a solution.

[Kerri] So what is your solution? What would you suggest?

[Basil] There’s an old adage that “I wouldn’t have started from here in the first place”. The damage is now very, very considerable. The impact on our businesses, the impact on tourism, the impact on confidence, the impact on community relations – all extremely negative.

So you turn round and say how are you going to resolve the matter. You first of all have to get people off the streets. And then you have to go through a long process of telling people the truth. You do have to explain to people that compromise is necessary. It is not a dirty word. It is the way you go forward in any democracy, trying to work out what is the best for the most people. And we have to be honest with the people and say that sometimes this involves making decisions that not everybody agrees with.

If you wanted to go back and ask me, ok your premise was how do you get people off the streets? I do have to say that we’re getting to the stage now that a significant number of the population are getting fed up – absolutely fed up with not being able to go through on their way to work, or pick up children form childcare. I do think we are increasingly looking at a policing response that does more than just contain the situation but that actually resolves the situation.

[Kerri] You think that the police should do something more now? They should be moving the people off the streets?

[Basil] I think there is an issue where the right to peaceful protest does not extent to intimidation. Certainly doesn’t allow you to stand outside individual people’s homes or offices for long periods of time [Ed – unless you’re in Parliament Square in from of the Houses of Parliament, home to the Commons Speaker and his family!] I think it’s important that the roads are kept open. I’m prepared to take guidance from the police commanders and I have spoken to them about look we need a bit more time, we’re working on these issues, I understand the sensitivities. But I also have to say to the police that the vast majority of people are saying enough is enough, we need to keep our roads open, we have rights as well, that there must be a way of encouraging peaceful protest that does not drag our country through the gutter.

Earlier in the interview he avoided criticising his party leader but did explain why he supported John McCallister’s critique of “sleepwalking into unionist unity”.

[David] Do you think that under the leadership of Mike Nesbitt, do you think that the party in the way its going at the moment will ever find its way again?

[Basil] Well that’s actually a question that you have to put to Mike Nesbitt rather than to me!

[David] You are an MLA. You are a senior member of the party. From the sense that you have?

[Basil] Well I’m not overly happy with the direction that the party is going in. I support my colleague John McCallister when he says that they’re sleepwalking into unionist unity. I do think that there’s not sufficiently blue water between ourselves and our other electoral opponents. And if there’s no clear blue water then it’s very hard to go out and say to the public what you stand for. Leadership is all about saying this is what we stand for; this is why you should vote for me; this is why you should follow me. And I do think that task remains to be done. It is not being done adequately at the moment and if we do not deal with it then we’ll suffer more losses at the elections.

The rounds of joint statements, joint meetings, joint photocalls – people are quite right to ask what is the difference between yourselves [UUP] and the DUP. There is an old adage if you’ll forgive me: “if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. That’s where we’re heading. It is not good for unionism. It is not good for Northern Ireland, and I personally if I had wanted to join the DUP would have joined the DUP.

It was a cautious interview in which the Lagan Valley MLA avoided declaring any longing to leave the party which he joined at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. More generally he pointed to a need for political realignment.

[Basil] I do sense that there is some pressure for realignment coming up. That clearly many people feel – whatever the intentions of the current political parties or politicians – they are not adequately representing their views or in the appropriate manner. There is definitely a tension out there to do that …

[Kerri] Are you talking about a realignment within unionism? Or a realignment of political parties in Northern Ireland?

[Basil] I think it might be wider than that. I think there is a very serious challenge to our community about where do you want to go? Do you want to build a future or do you feel more secure going over the same old battleground that you’ve done for the last 400 years? I say to people: I cannot change the past; the only thing I that can do is influence the future. I believe in providing people of the future [I] need to provide a vehicle, a communications channel, a way of doing that to put my view forward to the population, but ultimately the electorate and the electorate alone will decide what is the right way forward and who speaks for them.

[Kerri] So when you say another vehicle are you possibly thinking of a new party?

[Basil] I just think that no political party appears to be able to convince the electorate en mass that they have the way forward. All of the political parties I see seem to have people of every particular view in them. So within for example the DUP, you will have people that will considered to be moderate and more progressive, you will also have people who are more tradition, you’ll have people that will be on the right, people that will be on the left. All of this is really confusing for the electorate. The electorate does not know what they’re voting for. They think they are voting for something, and then something else comes up. And that is a form of disillusionment and that is what destroys confidence and trust in politics and I think that the political system needs to change to give people a clear understanding of what they’re voting for and why. And having done that the electorate rules, democracy rules.

Basil’s disciplinary hearing has been rescheduled for next Friday. In the interview he said that the best outcome would be “if people come forward and say that Basil McCrea has acted in the best interests of the party and within party policy”. Previously in the interview, Basil was upbeat – I might suggest, overly confident – about his support in the local party.

[Basil] … I’d say it was about 80 20 in favour of my position from the local UUP … there are obviously people that have been quite vocal and have gone into the papers saying they’re not happy. Those people are entitled to their opinion, but I think they are in the minority. Most of the people – whenever I explain the difficulties that are facing us – come back and say that is a sensible, reasonable and appropriate response.

Quizzed on whether he wants to remain in the UUP Basil answered that “as long as the party remains welded to the values of that are put forward of a shared future in the Belfast Agreement, then that’s where I will be”.

[Kerri] If the decision next week isn’t what you want and you’re no longer a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, will you go independent? Or will go to a different party?

[Basil] I’m not entertaining the issue that my view will not prevail, at this stage. But I did say to you that it is for the Ulster Unionist Party to make their decision and then I will make mine.

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Comments (74)

  1. Bangordub (profile) says:

    Now this is interesting. Unionist leadership

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  2. megatron (profile) says:

    if there was a united ireland i would hope to have the same attitude towards compromise with unionists as Basil now has towards nationalists

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  3. Ruarai (profile) says:

    Basil strikes me as the definition of a real moderate.

    His temperament is measured, his outlook is sensible but he won’t suffer fools and yahoos; he knows a bully when he sees one and won’t resort to accommodation as a lesser evil than confrontation.

    Bullies and bigots should be confronted not “listened to”…

    This is quite distinct from the faux-moderate who is simply a “split the difference” stands for little beyond posing as a Moderate wherever a spotlight can be found.

    I don’t know much about Basil beyond the contrast he seems to strike between the bottom-feeders that typically dominate debates. Hopefully sufficient others will be willing to work with this guy so that more like him can actually lead rather than clogging up positions of leadership they’re ill-equipped for.

    Whether or not Basil can bring the same skill to building a team around him that he brings to speaking with a level-headed, sensible and forward-looking perspective could be significant for the future of politics.

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  4. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Basil talking sense, yet again.

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  5. Ulick (profile) says:

    Reading that, Basil would probably be more at home in the SDLP. Any vote he takes with him would probably be enough for a Stoop quota in Lagan Valley.

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  6. ConsUnionist (profile) says:

    Yet again Basil shows real leadership while others dither and play the sectarian card. Really does show why the UUP are in the state they are in, they picked Tom Elliott with his ‘vision’ to lead them instead of Basil.

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  7. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    ConsUnionist, agreed.

    As I have said before, I can’t believe how bad Mike Nesbitt has turned out to be. Here was a clear chance to make a clear break with the DUP – and he did not take it, preferring to listen to the extremists in his own party who will flip to the DUP in due course anyway. Nesbitt’s idea of endorsing the unionist forum and along with it endorsing Peter Robinson as the authentic voice of unionism has accelerated the UUP’s decline.

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  8. ConsUnionist (profile) says:

    Couldn’t agree more! The UUP have had 2 chances to save themselves but on both occasions have voted for extinction.
    Had they elected McCallister and made bold leap into opposition they could have made themselves relevant again.
    Always thought Nesbitt would be a disaster, the man has the personality of a plank of wood.

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  9. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    I am not convinced that leaping into opposition would have had any negligible effect. On the other hand, people are crying out for a leader who says it loud and clear – stop the protests and stop the arguing over nothing. The UUP could have been in there providing that leadership.

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  10. Sp12 (profile) says:

    Go talk to the women of the Creggan and the Bogside in the Pink Ladies breast cancer group and ask them what they think of ‘our wee Basil’. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that Nesbitt’s actions towards Basil were all part of some ingenious SF plot to keep the battle lines drawn.
    Unionism swallows up and shits out it’s best chance at attracting support from ‘the other side’ once again.

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  11. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Interesting that there a few more voices here and there, in the media asking the question ‘ Basil is a new party the way forward’??

    Is there a slight momentum building toward this? Let’s hope so, a liberal union party!

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  12. Framer (profile) says:

    Does he want mass arrests of peaceful protesters, internment or the army brought back on the streets (not that it did much more than let rioters riot, over the decades with the odd plastic bullet)?
    If he carries on in this way much longer David Ford will arrest him for undemocratic, human rights abuse.
    It’s Maggie Thatcher and the miners’ strike all over again. I recall it lasted a year.
    Is he Alliance, DUP, Tory or actually non-political/NIO?

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  13. Sp12 (profile) says:

    “Is he Alliance, DUP, Tory or actually non-political/NIO?”

    As someone from the C/N/R community Basil strikes me as a Unionist, unique among his colleagues and the wiser ‘unionist’ family who mostly strike me as Protestant Ulster Nationalists.
    Hopefully, he doesn’t catch on ;)

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  14. Sp12 (profile) says:

    *wider not wiser
    definitely not wiser ;)

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  15. Gopher (profile) says:

    He is not a Protestant Ulster Nationalist that is the main thing, I like that term it fits better than unionist as describing the nature of the beast.

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  16. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    “I do think we are increasingly looking at a policing response that does more than just contain the situation but that actually resolves the situation.”

    Wrong, Basil.

    That would, after all, be an operational matter…

    As Framer asks above

    Does he want mass arrests of peaceful protesters, internment or the army brought back on the streets (not that it did much more than let rioters riot, over the decades with the odd plastic bullet)?

    Some may do…

    But, actually, it requires a political response.

    And, probably, the slaying of some sacred cows. On both sides.

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  17. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Fair play to BMcC, but he isn’t going to launch another Bull Moose Party. If you want to start a successful new party, you need to catch the public imagination

    A revived UPNI is a guaranteed loser.

    Whether or not BMcC decides to leave politics, you can put money on some of his UUP colleagues joining the DUP before the next election. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that a couple of boys are already practising their parachute landing technique.

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  18. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    IMO Basil is a unionist in the Faulkner/O’Neill mould – not hiding his unionism or Britishness, but recognizing that the country’s position is most secure when it is as inclusive as possible.

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  19. socaire (profile) says:

    ‘……………. the country’s position’??????

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  20. People are fed up, and there is no question that Basil speaks for a significant constituency within Unionism that places the rule of law above all other considerations. And another that is terrified of the economy going belly up.

    As for peaceful protests, these illegal roadblocks are only permitted because of the implicit threat of violence if they are removed. If there was no prospect of violence, then they would have been removed weeks ago. Nolan admitted as much when arguing in favour of the failed Baggot stance when he interviewed me today. Police have to be ‘sophisticated’, he argued, given the likely consequences of removal. These roadblocks are not only illegal but wilfully intimidatory – simple as.

    As I also said to Nolan, the prospect of this being permitted to continue into the marching season is genuinely frightening. Baggot is in danger of forfeiting any moral authority the police have to enforce Parades Commission decisions – a process that began when a blind eye was turned to flouting of PC decisions in North Belfast on Black Saturday.

    This must stop. Now.

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  21. Sammy Bannister (profile) says:

    Six question marks socaire, can you elaborate?

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  22. socaire (profile) says:

    Looking forward to the next elections when the groundswell of the ‘loyalist’ opinion will sweep all in front of them. Sock it to them, Jamie

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  23. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    Comrade Stalin
    Basil may well be an advocate of Captain O Neill, Chi Chi and Faulkner, who Paisley hated. But he’s also in the mould of Bob McCartney. And would Trevor Ringland be far off his stance?
    We’re in NI Tory territory here, and that doesn’t go down well with the religiously bound lumpenproletariat in this part of the UK.
    He’s in favour of abortion and gay marriage which rules him out of a socially backward party like Alliance MLA’s Cochrane and Lyttle.
    Gap in the market?

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  24. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Hilarious to see Nationalists telling Unionists who they should/shouldn’t be voting to lead their community.

    The same people led by a man who protected someone he believed to be an incestuous paedophile from the law and another who has the blood of numerous catholic children on his hands:

    http://youtu.be/PFOVqHxUOhs

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  25. Sp12 (profile) says:

    “Hilarious to see Nationalists telling Unionists who they should/shouldn’t be voting to lead their community.”

    Not at all, I think you should stick with Jamie and the rest of the biggest mob show in the country crowd from last night, he’s your only man to start taking ‘votes from the SDLP and SF’.

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  26. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Give me someone with honesty and the courage to say what they think over another zombie from the Sinn Fein hive any day of the week.

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  27. changeisneeded (profile) black spot says:

    Wow. Honesty from Unionism. Now I could definatly see positive things happen if this guy had the reigns of the now divided unionist camp.Good man Basil. Honesty is the way ahead.

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  28. Sp12 (profile) says:

    “Give me someone with honesty and the courage ”

    You mean couwage Jamie?

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  29. cathulet1 (profile) says:

    Basil should have a chat with Pat, that’s if it’s allowed by the SDLP big wigs?

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  30. aquifer (profile) says:

    Nesbitt and Robinson chose to ignore that Orange Unionism is a logical impossibility in a democratic environment. A cause that has ceased recruiting will decline and die off, so tying political interests to a declining sectarian bloc is electoral suicide, and may end this state sooner not later, even if the next election brings an expanded DUP or red white and blue bunting down every street.

    Basil is interesting, a liberal and creative capitalist, with an edge to cut out diseased political tissue.

    But there is every chance that the Orange have his local association all tied up as well.

    If he wants the DETINI job he may have to join Alliance.

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  31. Progressive Unionist (profile) says:

    Basil spoke well and with integrity. The UUP would be nuts to lose him, but that looks like the way things might be going.

    If Nesbitt wants to merge with the DUP he should just come out and say so. He’s looking like Robinson’s puppet in front of the cameras, while behind the cameras Robinson is busy shafting him with the Cobain defection and more to follow…

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  32. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    BlueJazz,

    You sound like you’re drunk or something.

    But he’s also in the mould of Bob McCartney. And would Trevor Ringland be far off his stance?

    Basil is pro-Agreement (and reasserted this in the above interview), as is Trevor Ringland who is another good guy. How can you put either of them in the same box as Robert McCartney who these days is associated with the TUV ?

    We’re in NI Tory territory here, and that doesn’t go down well with the religiously bound lumpenproletariat in this part of the UK.

    There’s a crucial difference – the NI Tories lose elections, Basil wins them.

    He’s in favour of abortion and gay marriage which rules him out of a socially backward party like Alliance MLA’s Cochrane and Lyttle.

    This is just another reason why Basil’s contribution is so important.

    Ulster Press Centre :

    Give me someone with honesty and the courage to say what they think over another zombie from the Sinn Fein hive any day of the week.

    Jamie is a person with a conviction for possession of an offensive weapon and a chap who the the Royal British Legion consider so toxic that they threatened to walk away from a Remembrance commemoration if the council allowed his little band to attend.

    Unionists do not, as a rule, endorse people as unvarnished as Jamie at the ballot box. Jamie will lose hard if he stands for election. I hope he goes ahead and does it. I want to watch him on the election podium losing his deposit, along with Willie Frazer.

    Progressive Unionist :

    I don’t think Nesbitt wants to merge with the DUP, but I think he’s unaware that Robinson is actively pursuing this in practice if not in fact. Nesbitt seems to trust Robinson and through the unionist forum has handed over the keys to him, endorsing Robinson as the authoritative leadership voice of unionism. Nesbitt’s lack of political nous is clear to see, and the mistake the UUP did in not electing Basil to lead the party is also clear.

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  33. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Comrade Stalin:
    Unionists do not, as a rule, endorse people as unvarnished as Jamie at the ballot box. Jamie will lose hard if he stands for election. I hope he goes ahead and does it. I want to watch him on the election podium losing his deposit, along with Willie Frazer.

    That was before we realised electing pompous fools detached from the working class was a complete waste of time. Unionists now know the DUP and UUP do not have the balls to stand up to Sinn Fein terrorism and fascism in Northern Ireland – we won’t be making that same mistake again.

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  34. changeisneeded (profile) black spot says:

    Ulster Press Centre, any news from Cavan this morning, I hear they have snow?

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  35. Tochais Síoraí (profile) says:

    Not only in the South of the province, but in the West (Basil’s home county) too. Maybe the Ulster Press Centre can keep us up to date on the situation in these places?

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  36. Red Lion (profile) says:

    the time is completely right for a new liberal and reasoned voice for the union, one that is outward looking.

    There are many people on the ground disposed to voting for such a voice and/or party. Put Basil and John McC in a debate alongside Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds and a significant chunk of the electorate will be in agreement with the former. NI needs this dormant dimension to be represented more than ever.

    Such a movement would attract both left-leaners and right leaners to fall in behind it. I think Basil would have the ability to accomodate such a spectrum, really, it would be a centre centre party. BRing it on!!

    PS If Alliance could only bring itself to say that it feels NI is better off in the union and it hopes to shape a more liberal non-tribal union, it would at the very least double its vote overnight, probably more, and East Belfast would be safe for them.

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  37. USA (profile) says:

    I met Basil in Milwaukee Wisconsin 2 summers ago. I found his political observatoins to be considered, measured and appropriate. His stance regarding flying the British flag on designated days follows in this vein. I also found him on a personal level to be a pretty sound well grounded guy.

    IMHO He is without doubt the type of unionist who could definately get the unicorns to vote for him. He would at the very least get a lot of transfers.

    Had Nesbitt followed Basil’s lead the UUP could have put clear blue water between themselves and the DUP on the flags issue. Had Nesbitt clearly distanced his party from the anti-alliance postcard mailings, then within Unionism, the UUP could have picked up the business vote, the moderate vote, the anti-rioting vote, the anti-drug dealing criminality vote. Instead Nesbitt tied the UUP to the protesters, the DUP and the violence. Very stupid move and a lost opportunity.

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  38. GoldenFleece (profile) says:

    Red Lion, that just sounds like an unionist Alliance party to me. Might as well just vote alliance.

    Unionism doesn’t need another big tent party full of lefters and righters.

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  39. carl marks (profile) says:

    Pete Baker /Framer
    I will be most interested if you take the same attitude on the 12th of July regarding the resident groups at Ardoyne and St Pats if they peacefully block the road.
    No that’s wrong I won’t be interested I will be staggered

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  40. IJP (profile) says:

    Red Lion

    Wish I was given a pound for every time I’ve written this… when I was the Alliance Party’s European Election candidate I said, and I quote (from several occasions):

    “The Alliance Party supports power-sharing devolution within the United Kingdom with formal cross-border cooperation. We were the first party to support this and have seen no reason to change our view.”

    That could hardly be more specific – and no one in the party (including those who, at heart, would prefer Irish unity) had any issue with it.

    So I’m sorry, I just don’t buy there are 50,000 people out there just waiting for Alliance to declare itself “better off in the Union” before transferring their vote from that lovely moderate Michael Copeland and his ilk!

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  41. Bangordub (profile) says:

    USA,
    You have hit the core point there.
    What was Nesbitt thinking issuing joint leaflets with the DUP and then trotting behind him to this Forum thing?
    Is there anyone in the UUP who can see this? Everyone else can.

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  42. Red Lion (profile) says:

    IJP – There are plenty in Alliance who do not accept that Alliance are pro-union. Comrade Stalin on here, I believe, is of the opinion that Alliance should not become a union party of the soft variety(ie they are not one presently), and wonders out loud what direction Alliance should go on this issue. Niomi Long and David Ford have made very neutral statements on the union. You seem pro-union. But there are too many mixed messages from Alliance on this and noone knows what the position is.

    If the quote you refer to is genuinely the Alliance position then they need to do a much much better job of communicating that to the electorate.

    You can repeat that quote all you want, but you don’t have to search too hard to find opposite quotes from Alliance people

    One never actually hears Alliance say they are pro-union(because they avoid this issue probably as they don’t want to spark internal soul-searching) If they did, and did so in moderate, non-tribal, pluralist terms, a much greater chunk of the union vote is there for the taking-especially in East Belfast. And such a stance can be done in such a way as to encourage those unicorns.

    Things have changed with the flag protest, or have a much greater potential to change – ie people want to leave the UUP/DUP behind, esp in East Bel – Alliance should make it easier for them. The reason a lot of union people don’t switch is because as stated they are unclear.

    And when I say make it easier I mean support the union in explicit terms, but your own reformed soft terms. Not Long’s mixed messages through the media.

    Golden Fleece,as you can see from my answer to IJP its my view that the Alliance party are not a liberal union party, as they fail to champion a liberal reformed pluralist moderate union. Left and Right politics will always take second place in NI until we have stability on the union.

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  43. Progressive Unionist (profile) says:

    RL – If Basil does get forced out of the UUP on Friday, perhaps his new party (and I agree it would be a big rallying point for a broad spectrum of opinion in moderate unionism!) could have a shared-future transfer pact with Alliance. (and hopefully even a 3-way pact with the SDLP in time?)

    That way the Alliance and the new Shared Future Unionism party could maximise their voting appeal, bringing in all the soft unionists who won’t vote Alliance for the reasons you mention (including lots of non-voters) and we could work together to create a very strong middle-ground bloc in the Assembly that could force SF and DUP to tackle the shared future agenda.

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  44. NOT NOW JOHN (profile) says:

    “the time is completely right for a new liberal and reasoned voice for the union, one that is outward looking.”

    I agree completely. However any new party must be clearly and unequivocally pro-union rather than unionist and identifiably so. It is becoming clear that there is now a growing conflict between unionism and the securing of the union – the instability caused by the so called loyalist protesters against the UK policy on the flag, the anti-agreement stance of many associated with the protests, the opposition of many to a policy of shared space and neutrality/equality together with the eagerness of the DUP/UUP to be seen to be pandering to those who hold such positions, is a threat to the future of the union. Any new pro-union party must therefore be able to challenge unionism head on rather than being held hostage to calls for unionist unity. It must make clear that the way to securing the union in the long term is through the further dismantling of the remnants of the old orange state and ascendancy unionism and promoting a new confidence among those who support the union rather than the chip on the shoulder, siege mentality and rush to be offended-ness of old unionism.

    It must set out a vision for Northern Ireland within the union which is not related to flag flying, orange marching, unionist unity or opposition to Sinn Fein in government. It must embrace and lead change. It must promote a new Northern Ireland and the values of diversity, equality, inclusiveness and tolerance. It must be reformist, outward looking and future focussed. It must be pro-enterprise, education and innovation. It must be committed to reform of the institutions to deliver more efficient public administration and more effective devolved government through the establishment of an official opposition. It must support law and order, human rights and closer links within the Union, within the Island of Ireland and within the European Union. Most of all it must be liberal and clearly identifiably Irish. Not Irish in a political sense but in a geographical one.

    It must also be able to gain the respect of those who are Scottish and Pro-Union, those who are Welsh and Pro-union and those who are English and Pro-Union rather than being viewed as some kind of Ulster Nationalistic embarrassment by the outside world. It must promote both the values and the advantages of the Union with Great Britain while at the same time valuing our Irish-ness and our differences. It must be seen as part of the solution by those in Dublin and London rather than part of the problem. It must be Irish, Liberal and Pro-Union.

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  45. USA (profile) says:

    Red Lion,
    IJP is essentially saying the Alliance supports the current constitutional arrangements as outlined in the GFA. Nothing too difficult there.

    Not now John,
    I certainly agree with your vision for unionism and this is the opportunity the UUP lost not once but twice when they selected Tom Elliott and Mike Nesbitt instead of Basil McCrea or John mcAllister. Trevor Ringland is of the same liberal unionist mould but I’m not sure if he is still participating in the political arena, and may be better suited to a behind the scenes position.
    The easiest route for Basil may be the Alliance party, but the best case scenario for the whole society may be for him and the few liberal unionists left to somehow gain control of the UUP. Starting a new party will be difficult as Alliance are already in the center ground with resources and party activists.

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  46. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Progressive Unionist

    RL – If Basil does get forced out of the UUP on Friday, perhaps his new party (and I agree it would be a big rallying point for a broad spectrum of opinion in moderate unionism!) could have a shared-future transfer pact with Alliance. (and hopefully even a 3-way pact with the SDLP in time?)

    What kind of Unionist (no matter how small ‘u’) would transfer votes to a party which calls for protestant children to be arrested for playing a musical instrument, then calls for the release from jail of a self-confessed sectarian terrorist, followed up by supporting the brainwashing of young catholic children into the glorification of religiously-motivated terrorism by naming a kiddies playpark after a serial killer???

    SDLP are not moderate – and in the past six months they’ve moved so far to the right that even some Shinners are looking less extremist than some Stoops.

    Wise up.

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  47. changeisneeded (profile) black spot says:

    UPC, exaggeration much?
    Wise up yourself !

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  48. Framer (profile) says:

    It was actually always the case that the SDLP was more hard nationalist than Sinn Fein, who were often Hibernian or deluded Republican, laced with a little of Joe Devlin’s working class support.
    The SDLP was dead set against violence which made that hardness difficult to perceive, yet through symbiosis took – as they had to – political advantage from the IRA campaign.

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  49. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Progressive Unionist – agree completely.

    Ulster P.C – I think that in time, when the rest of NI society sees a large section of pro-union people as liberal and moderate, this in turn will have a moderating effect within nationalism, making working with, for example sdlp, much easier in a climate of compromise. Every action causes a reaction.

    Not Now John – agree completely brilliant analysis and i hope it comes true.

    USA – does it make them pro-union though?? A lot of Alliance people give seemingly contradictory and confused messages on their constitutional position, and the electorate don’t know. If Alliance clarified in reformed pro-union terms, an increased vote is there for the taking.

    I hope Basil and John McCallister read these posts!!

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  50. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    UPC:

    That was before we realised electing pompous fools detached from the working class was a complete waste of time. Unionists now know the DUP and UUP do not have the balls to stand up to Sinn Fein terrorism and fascism in Northern Ireland –

    Unionist voters have more or less continuously endorsed power sharing since 1998, most recently in 2011. The idea that they are unhappy about the DUP stance with respect to Sinn Féin doesn’t stand up.

    we won’t be making that same mistake again.

    Who is “we”, what election results are “we” expecting and how much money will they bet that the results work out as you are predicting ?

    Red Lion :

    I don’t understand how any party can simply double its vote overnight by coming out to say it is pro-union.

    But aside from that, Alliance would be selling its soul if it did this. The problems in this country are clearly not going to be solved – as we have seen within recent weeks – by people voting for parties on the basis of their constitutional stance. We’ve all been doing that since 1921 and it doesn’t work.

    Basil’s recent comments have been compelling to me not because he is a unionist but because he is sticking his head above water and talking common sense. If he somehow had an epiphany and became a nationalist overnight my opinion of him would not change.

    Think about what you are suggesting here. You are essentially suggesting that no matter how agreeable, constructive, and hard working a party is, it doesn’t deserve to win elections unless it announces a constitutional position. Isn’t that completely backwards ?

    PU –

    It is highly unlikely that Basil is going to be forced out of the party. The UUP disciplinary committee consists of pro-Agreement Trimble allies of old (including Trimble’s own wife), and UUP party stalwarts who among other things were pro-Sunningdale back in the day. If I did not know better I would say that the disciplinary committee was completely rigged in Basil’s favour.

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  51. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    I suspect “UPC” is another sockpuppet for the banned Slugger commenter previously known as “Limerick” etc. The tired out, bilious, bitter, boring old arguments stand out a mile off.

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  52. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Comrade Stalin,
    “I don’t understand how any party can simply double its vote overnight by coming out to say it is pro-union. ”

    I believe very significant numbers would switch from old style unionism as currently on offer aka DUP/UUP to a new fresh moderate non-tribal party if that alternate pro-union choice was actually made to them. Key point as made by NNJ above – a big difference between ‘unionist’ and ‘pro-union’. Doesn’t matter if its alliance clarifying they are pro-union, Basil becoming leader of UUP and taking it in a liberal direction, or a new liberal union party, this section of society is there, and it is currently largely unrepresented, with loads of votes waiting.

    “But aside from that, Alliance would be selling its soul if it did this. The problems in this country are clearly not going to be solved – as we have seen within recent weeks – by people voting for parties on the basis of their constitutional stance. We’ve all been doing that since 1921 and it doesn’t work”

    Alliance wouldn’t be seeling it soul, it started life as a liberal pro-union party didn’t it? A lot of people always understood Alliance as a soft union party. I believe the problems in this country can only be solved when there is constitutional stability – everything else flows from this. People need certainty, and i believe a liberal reformed union provides the foundation for a shared future, for developing the economy and for better public services.

    “Basil’s recent comments have been compelling to me not because he is a unionist but because he is sticking his head above water and talking common sense. If he somehow had an epiphany and became a nationalist overnight my opinion of him would not change. ”

    Basil is a pro-union man, talking sense. This is the way forward. I believe a very significant proportion of the population are in step with him, if only his pro-union voice had a bigger platform.

    “Think about what you are suggesting here. You are essentially suggesting that no matter how agreeable, constructive, and hard working a party is, it doesn’t deserve to win elections unless it announces a constitutional position. Isn’t that completely backwards”

    No, its completely realistic. All countries and their political make-up do not float in space, they need to be attached to their constitutional context. To pretend otherwise is to opt out of the real world. Whatever your views are on bread and butter issues it needs to be anchored to a view on a country’s constitution.

    I think your answer is very interesting given IJP seemingly believing Alliance are a pro-union party, whereas you think that if Alliance ‘where to become’ a pro-union partyy it would be selling its soul. Its quite a contradiction and it doesn’t inspire confidence, and one suspects unsustainable.Its these confusions and contradictions and mixed messages that make it harder for Alliance to have credibility.

    That said, unless a pro-union liberal voice organises, i’ll be voting alliance at the next election in east belfast as i hope reelection of alliance will wake unionism up that it has to move away from the extremes, and from being so thick.

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  53. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    changeisneeded
    UPC, exaggeration much? Wise up yourself !

    Please point out anything in my post which is incorrect.

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  54. Framer (profile) says:

    “That said, unless a pro-union liberal voice organises, i’ll be voting alliance at the next election in east belfast”. (Red Lion)
    That decision of yours is exactly why Alliance has realised it was able to move into a non pro-union position and not suffer.
    It continues, regardless, to get Protestant votes as they bleed away from unionist parties yet avoids alienating Catholic support.
    Alliance knows it gets a very small proportion of that community’s vote but recognises that is the way it has to be, as, in increasingly mono-ethnic areas, they switch to Sinn Fein or SDLP.

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  55. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Framer, its a tactical vote, really – a protest against the ineptitude of unionism. And hopefully alliance keep the seat, which is the best chance of making DUP/UUP realise that they cant keep playing a sectarian card and keep not having a strategic vision for the union.

    A vote for the current DUP/UUP set up is a vote for allowing unionism to continue down its idiotic path, destroying the union.

    A protest vote, for Alliance, is the best chance of making unionism think again.

    That is, of course, unless liberal unionism gets organised.

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  56. USA (profile) says:

    Red Lion,
    I agree with much of what you say regarding a need for a Liberal Unionist Voice – a little “LUV” if you will :-) However I do not feel Alliance should take a position on the constitutional question. The GFA “parked” the issue and it will not change until a majority say otherwise. When a referendum is called Alliance voters can vote their concience.

    I would also not underestimate the size of the catholic Alliance vote in unionist areas throughout north Down. I would say they contribute significant numbers to the Alliance tally. I suspect you would also see Alliance benefit from catholic tactical voting from areas such as the Short Strand in East Belfast, or Portaferry in Strangford. It is to the credit of Alliance that it can bring people together under one non-sectarian banner.

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  57. carl marks (profile) says:

    Comrade Stalin (profile)
    19 January 2013 at 4:53 pm

    I suspect “UPC” is another sockpuppet for the banned Slugger commenter previously known as “Limerick” etc. The tired out, bilious, bitter, boring old arguments stand out a mile off.

    Indeed he does seem familiar, can’t help suspecting that this gent/lady in another incarnation got a black card a short while ago.

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  58. Red Lion (profile) says:

    IJP

    Its been stated on another thread that the last 2 Alliance general secretaries, Stephen Douglas and Gerry Lynch were publicly in favour of a UI

    How does this square with your seeming assertion/quote that Alliance are pro-union??

    Again, more confusion and mixed messages.

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  59. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    IJP (stop me if I’m wrong Ian) did not quite say Alliance were pro-union. He said that Alliance policy is to support powersharing within the UK. I would add to that that Alliance does not campaign on the constitutional position and in the event of a referendum it would not formally campaign in favour of a particular referendum outcome.

    I know the two guys you mention quite well and I can fairly safely speculate that if you were to ask, neither Gerry nor Stephen would propose that Alliance’s approach to the constitutional issue should be changed.

    The point that I have been trying to make is that the opinion of any party on the constitutional issue just doesn’t matter. You can safely vote for Alliance and then later on safely vote for whatever you want on referendum day. For the party’s concept to work it has to be able to accomodate nationalists, unionists and those who are neither. That concept will break down completely if it decides to pick a side for a short-term electoral advantage.

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  60. Red Lion (profile) says:

    well, its something i disagree with , for i believe that NI’s long term stability and prosperity is better in the union, and pluralist identity is best accommodated in the union also.

    Not the DUP/UUP version of the union, more a Basil McCrea liberal union.

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  61. DC (profile) says:

    No one believes Alliance anymore.

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  62. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Comrade Stalin,

    Might I ask, when did this change in Alliance’s constitutional position come about, when was it debated and agreed?

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  63. Progressive Unionist (profile) says:

    CS – hope you’re right that Basil will be let remain in the party this Friday, but I’m still very worried about it. I’m sure he’ll make a great case particularly when he says that previous UUP policy post-1998 was to support designated days, rather than flag flying 365…

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  64. IJP (profile) says:

    Comrade, Red Lion

    There’s a flawed logic there. If NI is better off within a pluralist UK, why is NI itself not pluralist?

    Plainly, whether of not NI is pluralist has nothing to do with its constitutional position.

    The point is, all those arguing for a pluralist (ergo prosperous) NI need to stick together (let’s call them
    “Progressives”). After all, any long-term constitutional desires for this place can only be met once its security and economic situation are stabilised.

    Those breaking away from that Progressive group because of a selfish constitutional position, at a time the constitutional position is not seriously at issue, are merely revealing that they’re not really all that “Progressive” to start with.

    There is, for the record, no point whatsoever in Basil McCrea remaining in the UUP. It is a hard-line, backward-looking party which is about to fall apart.

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  65. Red Lion (profile) says:

    IJP

    NI is pluralist, it has 2 main traditions, possibly 3 with the seeming rise of a ‘third tribe’, and it has experienced increased immigration. Such diversity has the potential to sit very easily within a diverse UK.

    I agree all progressives need to stick together and this conversation is merely pulling at the finer points, but thats a good thing. Progressives have to pull together to challenge, facedown and defeat the polarised world that DUP(and UUP) and SF are happy to sit in.

    I see a completely reformed and diverse liberal union as completely progresseive and the best tool to moderate as many people in NI as possible, and to do it non-tribally.A union completely beyond the realms of comprehension of DUP/UUP.

    I agree completely about the UUP. However, if Basil had become leader there might have been scope to get rid of the dead wood to the DUP, and bring some in the party round to his liberal way of thinking, and encourage others to join such a movement.But this is now very unlikely and probably the least desirable.

    But I think its fair to deduce from the above (i think, im still a little unclear tbh) that Alliance don’t have a pro-union policy. Do you think it would be helpful for Alliance to more clearly state their postion/non-position to the electorate??It seems Alliance are happy to wear soft union clothes at times, is this dishonest?

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  66. DC (profile) says:

    Not dishonest just ‘agnostic’, it could be viewed as agnostic on its liberalism too and much else, just like IJP is now agnostic about his conservatism also :)

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  67. otto (profile) says:

    “The point that I have been trying to make is that the opinion of any party on the constitutional issue just doesn’t matter. You can safely vote for Alliance and then later on safely vote for whatever you want on referendum day. For the party’s concept to work it has to be able to accomodate nationalists, unionists and those who are neither. That concept will break down completely if it decides to pick a side for a short-term electoral advantage.”

    Perfect Comrade, except that unless Alliance comes up with some better system than the balance of designations for deciding when a referendum takes place nationalists need to pick a nationalist designated party to get a referendum in the first place. .

    “Those breaking away from that Progressive group because of a selfish constitutional position, at a time the constitutional position is not seriously at issue, are merely revealing that they’re not really all that “Progressive” to start with.”

    Well said Ian.

    “It seems Alliance are happy to wear soft union clothes at times, is this dishonest?”

    Can you (or anyone?) please cite examples of Alliance doing any such thing? I can’t think of any (apart from the 2001 designation decision but I’m sure you’re not that cheap). How about just three so we can establish the pattern?

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  68. mjh (profile) says:

    Otto says;
    “unless Alliance comes up with some better system than the balance of designations for deciding when a referendum takes place nationalists need to pick a nationalist designated party to get a referendum in the first place. ”

    How about at each European Election there is a seperate question along the lines of “Would you like a referendum on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland to be held within the next two years?”

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  69. GEF (profile) says:

    “There is, for the record, no point whatsoever in Basil McCrea remaining in the UUP. It is a hard-line, backward-looking party which is about to fall apart.”

    Could be that McCrea & McAllister have not been given their marching orders because Nesbitt is concerned they may start another political party, much to the delight of SF & SDLP.

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  70. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Otto,

    In relation to your 3rd paragraph, as i already stated, wanting to have a reformed liberal union as i do, is progressive. This doesn’t show ‘i’m not all that progressive to begin with’. I feel represented by the Basil McCrea viewpoint – is this not progressive?

    Your last para, I was thinking particularly of East Belfast. Niomi Long, has in my view used language at times which appears pro-union, or at least playing to a pro-union gallery. She was on BBC News 24 during the protests saying something along the lines of ‘we’ve come through years of republican violence (these protests) won’t stop us’. I’ve noticed this a few times in my local area from her, but the language is altered if its a different audience, she is then more at pains to point out an ‘agnostic’ viewpoint.

    Thing is, i’m fine for her to do it if it helps her win East Belfast next time out as i don’t want to be represented by DUP/UUP brand, and if she hoodwinks the electorate into believing she is more pro-union than what she actually is then so be it.But overall, the point of this conversation though, is that i am trying to establish what Alliance policy is.I find Alliance behind the door in spelling this out, and mixed messages come out, and equally i find the chameleon view as not conducive to stability or certainty.

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  71. otto (profile) says:

    “In relation to your 3rd paragraph, as i already stated, wanting to have a reformed liberal union as i do, is progressive. This doesn’t show ‘i’m not all that progressive to begin with’. I feel represented by the Basil McCrea viewpoint – is this not progressive?”

    I suppose it depends on the degree to which you’re prepared to compromise people’s happiness and well being in order to protect the union.

    Basil attended Sinn Fein’s Uniting Ireland event to put the case for the union. I think he deserves support for doing so and that he would have done so as much to listen as to talk. I’m sure his defence of the union was needed to give the discussions on unity traction and he was supporting reasoned dialogue by attending. I think Basil’s intellectually inquisitive and open minded and I’m sure that while he may be genuinely convinced that the balance of argument currently favours the union he’s not one of these idolators who treat the union as holy writ.

    Which leads me to your point about mixed messages. I agree. You’ll get different messages from different Alliance members and sometimes Alliance people who come from a unionist background will sound like unionists. Are they being sneaky? It’s a party that includes people from all parts of our society and its members have different backgrounds and perspectives. They aren’t united by a constitutional preference so why would the party have a consistent party position? They’re united by their hope that we can go forward as a united and reconciled community. It’s a matter of priority.

    Are they deceiving you or are you just making a false association between cultural cues common to unionists and unionism itself? Is it their job to disabuse you of your own unfounded assumptions? When Naomi Long talks about members of her family who have military service is she pretending to be a dependable unionist or is she just a typical East Belfast working class, grammar schooled prod with her own mind and an opinion? I really hope people aren’t “hoodwinked” by Naomi – I hope they just connect with her and appreciate where she’s coming from. That connection’s more important to trust than declarations of undying fealty to the flag and the crown.

    If people need one of those dependable no-surrender pinstriped snake-oil salesmen there are plenty to choose from in East Belfast – DUP*, UUP, TUV, PUP** for a start. I don’t remember Naomi saying “vote for me – I’m a unionist too”!

    *Not counting Sammy Douglas. He seems cool.
    **Never really know who these guys are since Dawn left

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  72. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks, otto. The “pinstriped salesmen” to whom you refer should be pensioned off at the next election. Every one of them has been revealed by the #flegs business to be no more useful than a tailor’s dummy.

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  73. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Otto, I agree and can relate to virtually all you said in your last post, except that I’m not prepared to dogmatically compromise peoples happiness to have a union-this is not what a liberal union is about. My point is that a completely altered union i believe can be the vehicle for ensuring the happiness of the greatest number in NI. And this is a concept of a union virtually unrecognisable from that defined and abused by DUP/UUP. A union which is not about undying fealty to the crown and flag(at no point have i ever used such dogmatic terms of reference). That is how the DUP/UUP might define it, but not how a liberal pluralist non-tribal union would work, probably an near alien concept in NI politics.

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  74. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Red Lion,

    Might I ask, when did this change in Alliance’s constitutional position come about, when was it debated and agreed?

    Alliance was pro-union when I joined in 1994 or so (I must go for a rummage in the archives to see if I can find the old policy handbook from back then) but it has changed since then to take a neutral stance. The policy in question was away at the back of the handbook and I don’t think I even checked it before I joined.

    I could not tell you when that change took place. There’s been a lot of upheaval since then – the Agreement, the parameters around constitutional change, the party’s need to reinvent itself after facing a near-total electoral wipeout in 2003.

    Otto:

    Perfect Comrade, except that unless Alliance comes up with some better system than the balance of designations for deciding when a referendum takes place nationalists need to pick a nationalist designated party to get a referendum in the first place. .

    None of the parties AFAIK have a specific policy on the referendum. Legally, there is nothing that says there has to be a referendum based on whatever results the parties get. People assume that’s the way it will work, but there is nothing official to confirm that.

    I was thinking it might be best just to have a referendum now to get the thing out of the way, and then based on the outcome of the referendum plus future changes in the electoral and census situation you can make decisions to run further referenda from there.

    Your point does raise a related issue, which is that of designations in the assembly. I’d not be above seeing Alliance strategically designate as nationalist or unionist in order to obtain political leverage – of course the party would have to campaign on that basis. The party could hypothetically make itself quite powerful if it chose a strategic designation, and the added bonus of making a mockery of the system would highlight the need for its reform.

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