What’s important for the Union (and Unionists)…

Is not necessarily the Union, if it comes to it. Or so says Andrew over at A Tangled Web in response to Adam Maguire’s original question. As he points out, break up seems a highly unlikely outcome to the current controversy. But such conditionality is part of the Presbyterian, contractarian view of the Union. However it’s possibly worth returning to a couple of things mentioned towards the end of our study of the future of Unionism, A Long Peace?There are few more acute observers of unionism than Arthur Aughey. He precisely captured the creative problem of managing relationships within the Union with the retelling of this modern fable:

‘A number of porcupines, Schopenhauer wrote, huddled together for warmth on a cold day but as they pricked one another they were forced to disperse. The cold drove them together again and the process was repeated. After many turns of huddling and dispersing they discovered that a comfortable relationship involved maintaining a little distance from one another. It is only when we discover a moderate distance, Schopenhauer believed, that life becomes tolerable: our mutual needs can be reasonably satisfied and, as far as possible, we can avoid pricking one another.’

Our conclusion:

The fable is powerful. But there is one problem. To the rest of the UK’s inhabitants it seems that Northern Ireland’s unionists now prefer a chilly distance to exchanging heat and light with their neighbours. Re-engagement is needed at many levels. Unionist MPs have the opportunity to move into the mainstream of UK politics and to start arguing for long-term changes that will strengthen the Union, as well as Northern Ireland’s place in it. Relationships must be deepened right across the United Kingdom.

Re-engagement is needed at many levels. Unionist MPs have the opportunity to move into the mainstream of UK politics and to start arguing for long-term changes that will strengthen the Union, as well as Northern Ireland’s place in it. Relationships must be deepened right across the United Kingdom. It is not enough to focus on the Scots, considered as favoured cousins. Northern Ireland’s unionists may not care much for the English, but with over 80% of the UK’s population, they should not be ignored.

Also somewhat puzzling is the lack of unionist engagement (widely, but particularly here on Slugger) with the Conservative case on the West Lothian question. As Iain Dale points out in his recent Slugger podcast interview, in essence, it is not an anti Scots measure, but a way of addressing the quality of relations within the Union. Precisely the issues Aughey highlights with the Schopenhauer fable.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty