Unionism: pragmatism versus idealism

Alex Kane has a very interesting piece on the Newsletter website this week. It is a book review of Frank Millar’s book on Trimble and David Vance’s book “Unionism Decayed.” The whole article is well worth reading but one paragraph in particular stood out for me: “What they document is the clash between pragmatic unionism (which can be summed up as making the best of unpleasant political realities) and moral high-ground unionism (the view that almost anything is better than terrorist appeasement). The pragmatists have carried the day, so far. Yet, to be brutally honest, I acknowledge that as a matter of fact, rather than as a matter of pride.”

Although I am extremely reticent to claim the high moral ground for an anti agreement unionist position, as that ground is very likely to be found to be a high horse instead; Kane encapsulates the dilemma which many unionists may feel over the current dispensation. Many unionists who support the agreement do so with a heavy heart, there are still massive misgivings regarding the current process. Incidentally I am sure this position is mirrored within nationalism / republicanism.

Supporters of the agreement (or maybe acceptors would be a better term for many of them?) will often assent to all the criticisms made of the current agreement and then, with varying degrees of unhappiness, say that they still support it. Even here on slugger we have self proclaimed unionists from positions as disparate as Jo to Bigger Picture and many, many in between clearly not delighted by what has happened but willing to accept it for varying reasons but essentially either because it was a necessary price to end the conflict and / or because it was better than the alternatives.

Whilst I do not in any way impugn the moral rectitude of those who make this argument, I would submit that this is a very flawed approach and one which is not going to help build a civic society here. The lack of an alternative is also a very valid criticism albeit one which Jim Allister has begun trying to address.

Alex Kane’s last comment is also extremely valid and on it (as well as other issues) may depend the future of the agreement, the UUP, DUP and the TUV: “The electoral strength of the TUV… has yet to be properly gauged; but I’m increasingly of the opinion that it is much stronger than any of us think.” Then again of course I want to believe that.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.