Uno Duce, Una Voce-NI21 and the Basil Show

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When I attended the NI21 launch on that hot night in June 2013, I was impressed with the calibre of the people in the room and the buzz of the MAC. For a moment I thought, jeepers I could be witnessing the birth of a new political force here. The only thing I thought that could possibly go wrong for the party would be is if it became the Basil McCrea show and he dominated every aspect of the party’s actions. Now, in an explosive way we have actually gained some insight into the party’s internal operations due to NI21 member, Shane O’Hanlons departure from the party.

In his blog he speaks about his time on the executive of the South Belfast NI21 branch(a constituency where you would think they had a good chance in) saying

A month or so back the South Belfast chair reached out to me and asked if I could attend a meeting which I did. There were few attendees and he asked was I interested in helping on the South Belfast executive, be that helping with canvassing or maybe a little input into strategy, who knows but I was very willing to get involved and wanted to assist them where I could. I attended two meetings as part of this before the meeting with the Chairperson on the 6th of March 2014. The meetings were in disarray and I had concerns that we had no candidates and no real strategy from the leadership. This was to be answered at the meeting with the Chairperson.

But, for O’Hanlon the straw that broke the camels back came at a meeting with NI21 Chair, Tina McKenzie

I am not someone who will just run with the “party line” when instructed to do so if it goes against my conscience. The meeting opened with introductions; a set of people passionate about the party, perhaps more so than me and a Chairperson who seemed professional and very competent. We addressed a few concerns and being the new person there I was invited to speak on one or two issues. I described my issues with confidence in the party firstly around their stance on social media; it seems to be their main political platform and was invited to present how I would do it up in Stormont. I was very happy to do so and appreciated my opinion would be valued. However she did follow up by stating that they had a team paid to do this and they may not accept my position. Just a note on that, I have been using social media since its onset. I keep up to speed on it, use a number of platforms and technologies and am always trying to keep on top of its best usage and its trends. Perhaps arrogantly, I consider myself to have quite a lot of expertise, perhaps wrongly.

 

As the meeting progressed there was a sense according to O’Hanlon that Basil was the main driver of policy saying;

The final nail in my “political coffin” were the last few statements that were made. I have tweeted about these today but I will restate them here. Basil makes the policy and we should not disagree with it. I personally don’t want to be part of a body were I have no say in policy, especially when they have already release a stance I wholeheartedly disagree with. Secondly the chair stated that this is Basil’s career. Reaffirming my thought that Basil probably comes first and the membership second. A damning statement in my opinion if any for a political party to make. Perhaps I misinterpreted these statements but I can only give opinion on what I saw and heard. Its up to the voters to make their own decision on all of this. At the end of the meeting I spoke to the chair that I was done.

Speaking to me earlier, O’Hanlon told me that his experience with NI21 has hurt his view of politics/political parties generally and that he feels that under Basil’s leadership the slowness in annoucing candidates making the party’s prospects of electoral success ‘slim’ in the upcoming electons.

There you have it, none of this is really surprising but we know relatively little about the party’s internal workings. But, it does appear from O’Hanlon that Basil is really following the ‘Uno Duce, Una Voce (One leader, one voice) style in his running of the party.

I have approached NI21 for a comment on this and they are still yet to get back to me.

 

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  • Gopher

    The broad appeal I see for NI21 is positioning itself where a rational constitutional party would, heavy on devolution almost like dare I say it a home rule party and heavy on opposition and parliamentary reform, kinda like a land or emancipation party of the 19th century giving it a kinda of radical edge. More importantly in the twenty first century it appears socially liberal and temporal rather than something for socially conservative middle class superstious grown men or pubescent Che worshipping sixty year olds who have effectively ran their race who condemn us to live in a recurring Portrait of Dorian Gray seventies dream over and over again.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “Nonsense. Northern Ireland is an entity with one sectarian/nationalistic/tribal ideology which has two strands. Orange unionism and nationalistic republicanism are two sides of the same sectarian coin.”

    @Bitter,

    A nation or ethnic group is traditionally defined by historians as a group of people that share three things in common: a past, a language, and a religion. Language and religion certainly objectively divide unionists and nationalists. With language it is a bit more difficult…possibly it is the group memory of a common language in the past that set them apart from the British (Irish) and a desire to recover it that constitutes the third leg. What is interesting are the republicans who deny both the existence of ethnic groups and that the language they group up speaking is their mother tongue.

    Now it is quite possible that the inhabitants of the Six Counties could see the common past of The Troubles as being something that unites them and that as both the UK and Ireland become more secular, religion will also cease to be a thing of importance. But because of the GFA that is likely to happen only within a united Ireland in the distant future when Northerners develop a distinct sub-identity. When republicans from the North find they are treated no differently than former unionists by their southern cousins this may finally come about.

    And I write this not as someone who has a good deal of respect for the competing tribal ideologies–Alliance is the party I have the most respect for–but as an objective observer. NI is a classic case study of ethnic conflict for political scientists who specialize in the subject like Arend Lijphart and Donald Horowitz.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    “A nation or ethnic group is traditionally defined by historians as a group of people that share three things in common: a past, a language, and a religion.” (tmitch57)

    The past: While it is certainly true that older generations of Catholics had a different historical experience living in NI than their Protestant counterparts NI has moved on and people from Catholic backgrounds are no longer treated as second class citizens. The experience of the past for anyone under the age of 35, whether they are from east Belfast or west Belfast isn’t going to differ in any meaningful way to differentiate two ethnic groups. As you acknowledge in your post, the troubles is the immediate past shared for the people in NI. In general though I would question historical experience as a way of differentiating ethnic groups. I’m sure working class English people have a very different experience of the past to the English upper classes and aristocracy. Are they different ethnic groups?

    Language: the overwhelming majority of people in the 6 counties, and in fact on the island as a whole, speak English as their first language. Most people speak English as their only language. It is untrue that language divides the population of the 6 counties into 2 ethnic groups.

    Religion: As you point out, in an increasingly secular world, religion plays less and less a role in the lives of people, not just in NI, but on the island as a whole. I would guess that most people who call themselves ‘protestant’ or ‘catholic’ haven’t been to church except for weddings and funeral etc since they were children. I know there are genuinely devout people out there but there are also many atheists, agnostics etc. (As a side observation I’ve noticed that genuinely religious protestants tend to call themselves ‘Christians’ rather than ‘protestants’. People that call themselves protestant tend to be loyalists) But in general if religion is one of the factors that marks out ethnic groups are atheists who grew up with catholic parents a separate ethnicity from the rest of their family?

    It is not religion, the past or language that divides this country. What divides us is a sectarian mythology/ideology which exaggerates increasingly irrelevant differences. The daily lives of the vast majority of DUP and Sinn Fein voters will be pretty much identical. And i would bet that the biggest differences are due to economic circumstances rather than what tribe they are from. Other than the political theatre and the traditional summer madness the daily lives of the vast majority of people here is exactly the same as it is in the rest of the UK and in ROI and most western democracies.

    While obviously there are historical reasons for the existence of the sectarian ideology/mythology NI, ROI, the UK and the world in general have all changed so that the ethnic/sectarian description of the population of NI is no longer accurate. It is the sectarian mythology which perpetuates alot of the problems in NI rather than the any objective conditions such as systemic discrimination or ethnic differences.

  • Charles_Gould

    For all my criticism of NI21, I wish them well and have no axe to grind.

  • Devil Eire

    For all my criticism of NI21, I wish them well and have no axe to grind.

    I’m sure they will be relieved. To whoever is training their entry for the next Loebner Prize competition, you might want to dial down the Pollyanna a smidge.

  • PaddyReilly

    NI isn’t divided into two (or three) ethnicities

    I differ without deigning to beg. If NI’s Unionist population were to vote for the Conservative Party (It did until comparatively recently) and its Nationalist population to vote for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (as it already does for the All Ireland Sinn Féin) could one then say that Fianna Fáil voters in Kerry and Conservative voters in Kent were suffering from ‘tribalism’?

    No, the insulting tribalism moniker is inappropriate outside of Africa, and stems from some forlorn idea that the population is going to change its spots to suit some imaginary line unjustly drawn without appropriate consultation on the face of Ireland. Surely you realise by now that that isn’t going to happen?

    Never mind, hang on the next election and see what happens. Basil will get the 30-40% of the UUP vote that is attributed to him, and limp home to Stormont with the help of some Nationalist voters’ last preference, but the moment the Nationalist camp find it has enough votes to elect an SDLP man it will put him in the place where burnt toast goes. That’s all, as far as I can see.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “No, the insulting tribalism moniker is inappropriate outside of Africa,”

    @Paddy,

    So if tribalism is such an insulting term, why is it appropriate for Africa?

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    ” I’m sure working class English people have a very different experience of the past to the English upper classes and aristocracy. Are they different ethnic groups?”

    @Bitter,

    Much of the constructed past that is involved in creating a nation revolves around war with other nations. For British the common experience was participation in the two world wars. Republicans like to stress how stupid and senseless these wars were, while, of course glorifying their own wars such as 1798, 1916, 1919-21, 1922-23 and The Troubles.

    “Language: the overwhelming majority of people in the 6 counties, and in fact on the island as a whole, speak English as their first language. Most people speak English as their only language. It is untrue that language divides the population of the 6 counties into 2 ethnic groups.”

    In this case it may be language policy more than actual language that separates the groups. Ask unionists about funding Irish and what do you get? Most see it as a waste of money. Many republicans will contend that it is their native tongue (while explaining how they need funding so that they can be taught it). Constitutional nationalists will generally support funding for Irish, but will often be less committed to learning it personally.

    “Religion: As you point out, in an increasingly secular world, religion plays less and less a role in the lives of people, not just in NI, but on the island as a whole. I would guess that most people who call themselves ‘protestant’ or ‘catholic’ haven’t been to church except for weddings and funeral etc since they were children.”

    Only since the mid-1990s has religious observance in the Republic fallen to levels comparable to elsewhere in the rest of Western Europe. In NI they are falling, but slower than elsewhere in Western Europe and probably about comparable to the U.S. Two of the five main parties have a major religious component to their electorates: the SDLP and the DUP. As a result public policies on individual social issues such as abortion, homosexual rights, etc. tend to be much more comparable to those in the U.S. or to those still lingering in the Republic than to those in Great Britain and Western Europe.

  • PaddyReilly

    So if tribalism is such an insulting term, why is it appropriate for Africa?

    From what I know of (sub-Saharan) Africans, I would say that they all are members of an ethnicity which is smaller than or different to their nationality, which they call tribe, tribo or tribu, and are generally happy to be identified with, sometimes going as far as having tribal marks scarified on their face.

    I can see no reason why Irishmen in Munster, Leinster and Connacht can vote for Sinn Féin as part of their political choice, while those in, say, County Tyrone, are thereby guilty of some African aberration.

    The difference between ethnicities in NI is more comparable to the Indian system of caste, with the two sides living in the same towns but performing different tasks, with Catholics more likely to run pubs and betting shops, and Protestants aiming for the professions of policeman and jailer.

    Politically, NI is most comparable to Belgium, with two parallel political spectrums operating in the same entity.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    tmitch

    I can’t argue with anything in your last post. I am just sceptical that any of this proves that there really are two ethnic groups rather than two nationalistic ideologies. All the way through your post you refer only to ‘Republicans’, ‘Nationalists’ and ‘Unionists’. These designate political ideologies, political beliefs. They don’t designate ethnic groups anymore than ‘Socialist’, ‘neo-liberal’ or ‘fascist’ do.

    Obviously Irish nationalists, as you say, “will generally support funding for Irish” and obviously many tribal unionist will not. But all this shows is that the political ideology “Irish Nationalism” values expressions of, and the development of, Irish culture and national identity while “Unionism” is hostile, or at least ambivalent, to this. It doesn’t prove anything at all about objective ethnic differences.

    The idea that NI is divided into two tribes/ethnic groups and that “them’uns” are different from “us’uns” is false. We all live in an international culture. Our daily lives are the same no matter what tribe the sectarian myth says you are from. What is true is that some people are brain washed from a very young age into believing that the constitutional question defines them and their culture. It is these beliefs which maintain the Northern Ireland problem long after the genuine objective conditions for conflict are resolved i.e. civil rights.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    “the insulting tribalism moniker”

    Apologies if you are insulted by the term ‘tribalism’. I don’t use it as an insult. I use it as an alternative term for ‘nationalism’. In the NI context ‘nationalism’ is taken to mean ‘Irish nationalism’ but I would use it to mean any kind of nationalism including orange/loyalist forms of unionism which I would argue are kinds so British nationalism or Ulster(-Scotts?) nationalism.

  • PaddyReilly

    The two nations theory, at least as a way of doing politics, is bought into by 91% of the electorate and rejected by 9%. As such, it is the functional truth of politics in Northern Ireland. There is no way the 9% can get the 91% to do their will, so effectively they merely constitute a third nation.

    Objectively, of course, there is no significant difference between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, and the moment the imaginary line called the border is removed the political apartheid will start to disappear. But those who imagine they can reprogram the population for the convenience of an imaginary line are deluding themselves.

  • Charles_Gould

    The working class have issues in common. Time to unite.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “I can’t argue with anything in your last post. I am just sceptical that any of this proves that there really are two ethnic groups rather than two nationalistic ideologies.”

    @Bitter,

    The nationalistic ideologies, as you term them, are all based on objective facts that people consider to be important. And republicanism and constitutional nationalism are two separate ideologies but both consider themselves to belong to the same ethnic group or nation. Unionists consist of people whose ancestors immigrated to Ulster from Great Britain starting in the early 17th century. There are not large numbers of native Irish who became unionists because they preferred British rule to Irish rule, as happened in other colonial situations. Although some native Irish did marry into unionism and vice-versa. Religion is simply a convenient marker for ethnicity as it is in the Balkans, rather than a real cause of conflict.

    Socialists, anarchists, and Bolsheviks in the early twentieth century all proclaimed national divisions to be irrelevant. They predicted that the working class would not fight for the ruling class in an imperial war. They were wrong. Identities are important to people and those based on language, religion, and a common past are the most important.

    At key periods in history a nation can recast its history for political reasons, but this is only if the recasting is seen to be meaningful and authentic to those involved. Because of the executions that followed the failure of the 1916 Easter Rising and the 1918 draft of Irish for the British war effort, Irish fought a successful guerrilla insurgency in 1919-21 and then wrote the tens of thousands of those who fought for the British in WWI out of their history. They are now in the process of writing them back in.

    It is possible that following the creation of a united Ireland a similar rewriting of history could occur in which the loyalist and republican terrorists become the common villains and the ordinary civilian victims become the heroes in a rewriting of history designed to assimilate the unionist population into Ireland.

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “From what I know of (sub-Saharan) Africans, I would say that they all are members of an ethnicity which is smaller than or different to their nationality, which they call tribe, tribo or tribu, and are generally happy to be identified with, sometimes going as far as having tribal marks scarified on their face.

    I can see no reason why Irishmen in Munster, Leinster and Connacht can vote for Sinn Féin as part of their political choice, while those in, say, County Tyrone, are thereby guilty of some African aberration.”

    @Paddy,

    So are the Russians in Crimea or in the eastern Ukraine who want to associate themselves with Russia rather than Ukraine also guilty of some “African aberration?” The difference between Africa and the Middle East on one hand and Europe on the other is that colonial boundaries were imposed upon the native inhabitants from outside in the former whereas in Europe they were created by the natives themselves.

    In Ulster the border was created by a demographic ethnic division that was the result of both an imperial colonization scheme–the Ulster plantation–and a natural migration of lowland Scots across the Irish Sea into Co. Down and Co. Antrim. The Irish Sea at its narrowest point where the crossings originally occurred is probably narrower than the Amazon River at its mouth.

  • BifterGreenthumb

    “The two nations theory, at least as a way of doing politics, is bought into by 91% of the electorate and rejected by 9%. As such, it is the functional truth of politics in Northern Ireland. There is no way the 9% can get the 91% to do their will, so effectively they merely constitute a third nation.” (Paddy Reilly)

    I agree that a large chunk of the population buy into the “two nations theory” and that it is therefore “the functional truth of politics in Northern Ireland”. But to say that those that reject nationalistic politics constitute a 3rd nation is to assume the truth of nationalism and then explain all non-nationalistic politics as forms of nationalism. So Liberalism and Socialism become ideological expressions of new nations. That’s obviously not the case. Liberalism, Socialism etc are internationalist ideologies. The alliance and green parties do not represent a 3rd nation. They represent a rejection of the two nations theory.

    As tmitch has pointed out there are historical reasons for the existence of the two nation theory but the current versions of the nationalistic ideologies distorts history to support their own nationalistic present claims.

    Tmitch wrote: “Unionists consist of people whose ancestors immigrated to Ulster from Great Britain starting in the early 17th century. There are not large numbers of native Irish who became unionists because they preferred British rule to Irish rule, as happened in other colonial situations.”

    But this idea, that people who were descended from planters, those who are (according to the two nationalisms) ‘ethnically’ Ulster-Scots/Scots-Irish/Irish protestant, are ‘naturally’ Unionist ignores the fact that many Protestants, of various denominations, were republicans, United Irish Men etc. Just because some of your ancestors came from Britain doesn’t mean that you will think that Ireland or Northern Ireland is better off in the UK.

    Ideologies change in response to changing conditions to deal with new problems.

    Modern Unionism arose as the dominant ideology of Irish protestants as a paranoid reaction to the idea of home rule. Protestants feared they would be a persecuted religious minority in a catholic dominated Ireland (“home rule is Rome rule”). The provisional republican movement piggy backed on the civil rights movement. The fact that people from catholic backgrounds were treated like second class citizens in the northern state meant that nationalistic republicans could argue that civil rights were impossible in a unionist dominated Stormont or under British direct rule. But the conditions under which modern unionism and republicanism formed are no longer present. The problems that they were solutions to no longer exist. To think that people from protestant backgrounds would be a persecuted minority in a united Ireland is laughable. People from catholic backgrounds are no longer second class citizens in NI/UK. This has rendered both unionism and republicanism into nothing more that tribal designations.

    Unionism and republicanism no longer accurately describe the situation in NI, UK or ROI and so they cannot offer solutions to current problems and so have become problems in themselves. New ideas are need to overcome the sectarianism that both nationalistic republicanism and orange unionism propagate and thrive on. The emergence of non-nationalistic political ideas (‘letsgetalongism’) are attempts at solutions to the problem of the unionist/nationalist sectarian consensus and to just say that we can’t change peoples minds and are stuck with the two nations theory is to give in to easily. NI21 represent unionism’s attempt to move beyond sectarian politics. what we need is a republican version and eventually we’ll be able to leave tribalism behind.