Unionists should choose authentic mammon over bogus Utopia

This piece by Alex Kane has been awaiting posting for nearly a fortnight. But it’s interesting in light of some of the discussion that’s taken place since then. He cautions those within the DUP who may be considering an integrationist approach to think again. The choice facing unionists is not pleasant, but in essence they need to grasp an unpleasant nettle in the short term if it is to avoid being stung in the longer term.By Alex Kane:

Was anyone actually surprised by the news that the proposed take-it-or-leave-it road map has been put on hold? To be honest, the governments may as well prepare a buried treasure map and stick a big X in the middle of the paper. The sight of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, yo-ho-hoing, earrings dangling and cutlasses waving, couldn’t be much sillier than the antics we have had to endure since November 2003.

This column has argued for the past three years that Sinn Fein will not agree to a shadow Assembly and that the SDLP will never buy into a measure, however temporary, that excludes Sinn Fein. I haven’t shifted from that opinion and nor have Adams and Durkan. A take-it-or-leave-it approach by the Prime Ministers will simply result in a unionist “take it” and a nationalist “leave it,” or vice versa. Mind you, such an outcome would give both governments the cover they need to mothball the Assembly and formally move on to Plan B; seven new councils at Provincial level and full-blooded joint sovereignty at British-Irish level.

Interestingly enough, there are signals that certain elements within the DUP are now prepared to abandon devolution and move on to integrationist territory. Speaking to the party’s association at Queen’s University, MEP Jim Allister said this: “Generically, devolution is desirable, but not essential. In Belfast Agreement form it is patently unacceptable, inherently unstable and destructive of unionist interests…If there is to be devolution then, it must be on a fresh and radically different basis…If others aren’t interested in securing durable and workable devolution, then we as a party should signal we’re moving on. We can devote all our energy to better integrating Northern Ireland within the UK and with an uncertain government majority in place and maybe a hung Parliament again in prospect, opportunity beckons.”

This is important stuff, because if I were a betting man I would place a considerable sum of money on either Allister or Nigel Dodds being the DUP’s next leader. If Jim is prepared to trot out this line of thought, then you can bet your bottom dollar that it is an opinion that is widely shared throughout the ranks. I have no doubt that key figures, including Ian Paisley Jnr (and probably the Big Man himself) share this analysis. Putting it bluntly, Jim Allister would not have made this speech without consulting an influential circle within the party.

But let me urge some caution. Unionism has been down this road before. In the period between 1975 and 1979, former UUP leader James Molyneaux was reputed to have a reasonably cosy relationship with Mrs. Thatcher (then leader of the opposition). Yet, when she became Prime Minister, she embarked upon a series of policy and inter-governmental initiatives, which undermined the Union and isolated unionism. Again, in 1992, when John Major needed—and was given—UUP support to help him counter his Maastricht rebels, it didn’t prevent him from later humiliating Mr. Molyneaux with the Downing Street Declaration.

Jim Allister may imagine that the DUP’s Parliamentary strength allows them to play big-boy politics with the Conservative and Labour parties. And I have no doubt that a Prime Minister who needs votes anywhere he can get them, and a Conservative leader who wants to inflict damage on the government, will both be willing to flatter the DUP Parliamentary Party. But neither Tony Blair (let alone Gordon Brown) nor David Cameron will entertain the idea of integrationism.

The problem for the DUP is that it has left itself with little room for manoeuvre. If it agrees to talk, it will look like it has blinked first. If it decides to walk, it risks the collapse of everything. If it tries to remain put, then there is the likelihood that the Secretary of State will pour concrete around its feet. Integration is neither an available nor a viable option at this stage and the DUP should be very careful about soaring too high on the paper wings of its supposed influence in London.

In some senses there is an element of truth in the claim that the only form of devolution available to us is undesirable. But if the choice is between undesirable devolution, and undesirable direct rule, then perhaps the DUP should concentrate on authentic mammon rather than a bogus utopia.

First published in the Newsletter Saturday 4th March 2006.

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  • fair_deal

    Well-written as always but the argument has four flaws

    1) It is reading too much into one speech. Jim Allister’s role has been the political hard-man of the DUP and this speech is no different.
    2) The integration versus devolution debate is a throwback to the early 80’s it is not were Unionism is at today and also the lack of uniformity in Blair’s constitutional reforms makes “integration” a nonsense argument, there isn’t a singular system from the mainland to adopt/intergate NI with.
    3) It misjudges the internal dynamics of the DUP. The Sunday Times poll at the DUP conference would cast doubt on Allister being a contender for the leadership. Also Robinson and Dodds have the potential to be a highly effective team as each compensates for the others flaws and because of the age gap Dodds can afford to wait a while longer for the leadership.
    4) The article falls in the common trap of seeing the DUP and UUP as similar bodies. The DUP and UUP are very different political animals so a Major-Molyneaux scenario is not on the cards. One of the key advantages the DUP has in the process (beyond what the UUP has) is the salutary wreckage of the UUP to learn from.

    Regrettably as always there is the tinge of defeatism to the analysis. Sad that a good political mind spends more time working out why good things can’t happen to working the political process so that they can.

  • yerman

    All good points by fair deal.

    I think Alex also fundamentally misjudged where Ian Paisley (snr) sits on the devolution issue. Alex tried to paint him as an integrationist who may well support the purported intentions of Jim Allister’s comments. Howevever, I’ve seen Ian Paisley speaking a few times and he always stresses the “DUP is a devolutionist Party” stuff.

    The speech by Jim Allister was probably a shot across the Government’s bows with regard to devolution. Yes, the DUP is devolutionist, but it has to make it clear to the Government that it will not accept a bad deal simply because it is a devolutionist deal. That’s the Reg Empey philosophy where he entered negotiations in 1997/98 determined that a deal, any deal, must be done. That stance meant he was prepared to accept what he thought was the least worst deal rather than holding out for the best deal.

    Unfortunately for Alex, the fortnight’s gap in posting the article here on Slugger has shown just how badly that piece of writing has aged. I like Alex’s writing but I feel that while he seems to have a good grasp of the internal wranglings of the UUP his view on other unionists and of unionism in general are too tainted by thinking that everyone operates the same way that the UUP does.

  • bob Wilson

    Being outside of the main political parties of the UK puts Unionism at a huge advantage – and reduces them to dreaming about ‘what if’ there is a hung Parliament, etc. As long as Unionism remains isolated from the political mainstream it will have little real understanding/sympathy at Westminster let alone support.

  • Bob wilson

    Ooops meant huge DIS advantage – sorry

  • Mick Fealty

    Freudian slip Bob?

  • willis

    yerman

    Surely you mean david Trimble?

    willis

  • RmcC

    A very good and considered analysis by Alex Kane.

    I wish he could have been more hopeful. But we’re contending with this kind of thing:

    “If it [the DUP] agrees to talk, it will look like it has blinked first.”

    It sounds like a kid’s game. A shame we can’t grow up a little bit instead of forever playing silly-buggers. But I live in hope.

    RmcC

  • slug

    Does anyone know if the DUP voted with the givt tonight (I hear that the govt got through narrowly).

  • fair_deal

    slug

    They said they were going to.

    http://www.dup.org.uk/Articles.asp?Article_ID=2110

    On the first vote the government majority was massive but they could be in trouble with the second

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4810898.stm

  • slug

    On the first vote the government got through with Tory support only.

    That link says that the second vote went through with a 10 vote majority only. Did the DUP vote with the government on the second vote?

  • fair_deal

    Slug

    Don’t know

  • slug

    Its interesting.

    Brian Walker in the Belfast Telegraph writes today: “The DUP have dismissed Labour fears they could switch sides tonight and join the Conservatives in the second vote. This tactic encourages the belief that the DUP wish to stay onside with Mr Blair to give themselves maximum leverage over the future of the Assembly”.

    And if the DUP supported the government on the second vote, it was the DUP that swung it, since the government won by only 10 votes.

  • slug

    12 was me (Slug).

    Slug

  • yerman

    willis
    “Surely you mean david Trimble?”

    If you meant what i said about the Empey approach to negotiations of having to get a deal, any deal, then no. I have heard it attributed to Empey that on entering the negotiations he was stating that a deal must be done – the extension being that no matter how bad it ended up he would ultimately sign.