The TUV and Unionism’s options and opportunities (Part 1)

These threads try to engage TUV thinking around Unionism’s options and its future opportunities. In particular, it focuses upon the ‘Direct Rule’ alternative to the present devolutionary system. It aims to examine its morality and suitability for the interests of the Union and Unionist community. Part 1 focuses on St Andrews, the DUP and TUV, the immediate alternatives and a publication called Alienated but Unbowed.The St. Andrews Agreement

Like TUV supporters, I was not happy with the St Andrew’s Agreement as I outlined in a number of threads. However, I came to the view that another full re-negotiation was not possible. The best opportunity for change would be within the process not without it as the instrumental nature of the deal works itself out and the practicalities of trying to operate the systems highlight the need for change.

Allister, after opposing it within the DUP, chose to leave. I viewed this with regret. He had been (and still is) an active and able representative. He had left the option open to remain within the party. He could have opted for a ‘conscience’ of the party role (something the DUP has lacked post-devolution) but he chose the door. I held out a hope that as before relationships could be repaired. However, through the decisions and actions of both Allister and the DUP, this became a forlorn hope now an impossibility.

The DUP and TUV

The DUP handling of TUV and Allister has not been a success, in my opinion poor. A key attack line has been “There is no alternative” (TINA). This has been an unwise choice. First, it is wrong. There are always alternatives. It is the suitability of the alternative to accomplish long-term goals that needs to be debated. Second, it makes the DUP sound like Trimble. This does not invoke good memories in the Unionist community especially the DUP base and its new ex-UUP voters. Third, the dismissive nature of the statement shows a disregard for concerns and questions that are fair and reasonable about a far from perfect arrangement.

Instead, the DUP should engage the TUV and Allister but the intention should not be to attack, undermine or deride but to persuade others of the validity of the choice the DUP has taken. The spirit should be for a constructive debate between fellow Unionists. I accept that many in the DUP come from the school of the verbal bludgeon but that is not what is required in this case.

Alternatives

As far as I can see the TUV has two alternatives. Their preferred alternative is devolution with a number of changes e.g. minus D’hondt and stronger default mechanisms achieved through a full re-negotiation. However, accepting that this will not just happen immediately, they argue ‘direct rule’ is preferable in the interim. They reject that joint rule was a realistic threat in this scenario.
In a recent debate, Allister went so far as to describe the ‘direct rule’ option as ‘British rule’. He has also been derisive of the DUP claims that the alternative was joint authority. This is, I believe, a serious misrepresentation.

So how can the ‘direct rule’ alternative to devolution be assessed? How can this be shown to be a serious misrepresentation? How can an argument be made for the DUP’s choices? I have the sense to realise that my own thoughts would have a limited impact, if any. So instead, I offer arguments from an Unionist pamphlet called Alienated but Unbowed written by Jim Allister.

Alienated and Unbowed

Allister was a feature of my early political life. For most Unionists my age the formative political event was the imposition of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the unsuccessful campaign that followed. Part of my political self-education was the various pamphlets produced at the time. One of the most persuasive was ‘Alienated but Unbowed’ authored by Jim Allister in 1987 (purchased from Gregory Campbell’s stall at an Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry. The last occasion I met with Jim Allister I had intended to bring it along for his signature but as usual I left it on the kitchen table.)

In this Allister outlines Unionism’s missed opportunities in the early 80’s, challenges the claims that Unionism was negative or inert, offers a critique of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and argues for continuing opposition to it. It also offers a full-throated defence of devolution as a fundamental element to a solution in Northern Ireland. It does explicitly oppose power-sharing, instead, offering very powerful checks and balances to the nationalist minority.

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