What makes a ‘unionist’ these days?

Just picking up on Kensei’s discovery of buried treasure in Slugger’s comment zone, I’m tempted to ask the obvious question arising: what is Unionism? For a lot of Slugger’s nationalist commenters it is something akin to an insult or personal slur. In fact, as a political phenomenon in Ireland it’s about 130 years old. Before that the more common split in Ulster was largely in House of Commons terms of Liberal versus Tory.

These divisions collapsed in the general election of 1885, when Catholic voters of Ulster were drawn off to nationalism upon settlement of the land question and energised by Gladstone’s offer of Home Rule. At that point, according to Frank Thompson’s excellent “The End of Liberal Ulster”, the News Letter asserted that “Union with Great Britain is the question of the hour” and the Northern Whig added that “in Ulster, at least, all other political considerations are secondary”.

So is the new UCU-NF alliance ‘Unionist’ in the strictest sense of maintenance of the political union with Britain being its primary purpose, or an embryonic attempt to return us to British state politics?