I’VE been going through the bottom few entries on the daily Newshound digest, following the national debate on Britishness. It’s a debate from which Northern Ireland’s tribes could either learn from, criticise or contribute to in some way. But I found Gordon Brown’s Telegraph article today extraordinary. Despite it’s title – We must defend the Union – there is not one single mention of Northern Ireland. It is clear he does not regard NI as part of the Union in any real or meaningful way, since there are four mentions each for Scotland, Wales and even England. As Jack Straw launches a consultation on a “statement of values that define British citizenship and on the case for a full British bill of rights and duties setting out rights and obligations for all citizens”, it is pretty clear that one part of the Union has no part to play in defining what Brown calls our “shared values”. Brown’s “bonds of belonging that make us all feel part of a wider Britain” simply do not appear to extend to Northern Ireland.
Oddly, unionist politicians have contributed very little to this debate thus far; perhaps they can cry ‘Me too!’ in the consultation, but something tells me our ‘unique status’ as a place apart means they’ll be ignored – as usual. One unionist who seems to be espousing the ‘British values’ Brown suggests is Alex Kane, who wrote recently: “There is an overwhelmingly convincing socio-economic-political-philosophical-intellectual-historical case to be made for the Union and for the constitutional and geographical integrity of the United Kingdom.
But it is a two-way process and unionists in Northern Ireland are going to have to begin to promote the case for themselves.” Kane concludes: “If the Union is to survive then we have to prove that it is a Union of benefit to everyone.” How would a unionist convince a Scot living in London that NI’s current contribution to the Union is “of benefit” to them?