Cross posting: No platform for liberals

This is behind the paywall on forth but I’ve reproduced it here in full, in case anyone’s interested:


No platform for liberals

Precious pieties never solved anything, says JASON WALSH

THE GREAT and the good, or at least the nice and the acceptable, of Northern society have come together once more to demand more niceness and less nastiness. Meet the Platform for Change.

Officially launched today, the Platform for Change seeks to have the North’s politicians address pressing issues, such as academic selection and economic policy, that they are currently ignoring in their endless orange-vs-green bunfight. Or, to put it another way, borne out of growing frustration with the Sinn Féin-DUP arms race in the assembly, the Platform for Change wants to see the normalisation of political and social life in the North.

So what kind of change is on offer? Unfortunately it’s just more of the same. While the Platform does recognise the problems – founder Robin Wilson notes the peace process is a “a conservative arrangement which has been premised on a fixed and stereotyped concept of communal identity” (1) – it offers literally nothing we haven’t heard before: demands for ‘green collar jobs’, ‘decarbonising’ and ‘financial incentives’ directed at ‘stakeholders’. The group’s manifesto reads like Tony Blair speaking on autopilot: managerial in nature and buzzword-compliant but entirely without meaning.

The Platform for Change’s management committee – yes, it actually calls itself that, as though it were some kind of business or state bureaucratic endeavour – includes one Conall McDevitt, the newly co-opted assembly member for the leafy environs of South Belfast, precisely the kind of place where nice people would rather get on with what they consider to be ‘real politics’, such as complaining about water rates.

The Dublin-born McDevitt also writes a blog and on it today he said of the Platform: “The consultation meetings which took place with hundreds of people over the past six months were a real breath of fresh air. They proved to me that there is a huge appetite for real politics here in Northern Ireland and that people want their politicians focussed on the issues that matter.” (2)

‘Issues that matter’ is code for moving away from the sectarian politics the North remains mired in. A worthy aspiration. And yet McDevitt is a member of the SDLP, the party which is most directly responsible for the content of the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement, the very thing that ensures Northern politics is incapable of expressing itself in any colour other than orange or green. If McDevitt, a former member of Labour Youth, is serious about what people refer to as ‘bread and butter’ issues why does he not persuade the SDLP to disband and merge with his erstwhile comrades in Ireland’s Labour party?

A pessimist might be inclined to say that the North, engineered to be a place apart, can never have normal politics. It’s certainly a point that can be legitimately argued. However, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the localisation of the issue to the North can only make things worse. That is to say, denying the role of the wider national polities of Ireland and Britain is to fundamentally misunderstand the demands that are actually being made by the people.

The logic of the peace process is to disarm the conflict by attempting to find a consensus on contentious issues. The Platform for Change follows just this logic and is composed of people who are disappointed at the abortion of an assembly delivered by the process itself. The problem is, the sectarianism of the assembly is guaranteed by the peace process itself and its codification of division along unionist and republican lines. This latest initiative will do nothing to change this.

What both the original Belfast Agreement and now the Platform for Change want is to obscure the fact that there is, in fact, a real political issue at the heart of the conflict. Unfortunately, this kind of polite, middle class short-circuiting of politics is what got us to this impasse the first place – all process and no politics.

The fact that there is a political dispute is itself not a real problem and need not lead, once more, to violence. After all, throughout the twentieth century the left and right slugged it out in parliaments across the world, only occasionally shooting one another in extraordinary circumstances. The fact is that politics is all about conflict.

The SDLP, Alliance and the rest of the North’s, frankly, disengaged and creaking middle class institutions are not solely responsible for the conflict, far from it, but they are also not uniquely able to solve it. In a democracy the way change is supposed to be achieved is through the ballot box but so long as Irish and, to a lesser extent, British parties refuse to take a direct interest in the administration of the North there is no way out of the sectarian ghetto.

The only way forward is outward.


(1) Building a Platform for Change: An interview with Robin Wilson, Irish Left Review, April 15, 2009
(2) Platform for Change is launched, O’Conall Street, February 25, 2010

  • LabourNIman

    I love how an unelected MLA, in a tribal party, continually preaching that he wants to create a new politics in NI… while being in a party and having a leader that is part of the problem.

    Good luck, but from looking at the platform it looks like a grouping of academics and high brow politicians.

  • Mark McGregor

    Jason,

    Your own subconscious sectarian slip seems to be showing with this entry. You’ve targeted the SDLP very specifically and Alliance to a lesser degree but you miss or ignore the Unionists signed up.

    I’d suggest that’s because you aren’t naturally thinking of protestants when you analyse platforms presenting themselves as non-sectarian.

  • Driftwood

    Jason, is it impossible for you to write (or speak)of Northern Ireland, or is that beyond your mindset.
    The Conservative Party have taken a big interest here (in case you hadn’t noticed). Lots of people here are keen to see the tired old socialist politics of Labour replaced by the Tories.
    Mervyn King has more power here in ‘the Black North’ than any MLA.
    HMG de facto administrate this UK region through the NIO and a block handout from HM Treasury.
    The British Army are in charge of defending our territory (SF have accepted this as normal)and our Foreign affairs are conducted by David Milliband.
    The placebo assembly is meaningless, but we get by all the same.
    Fish and Chips, Finchley, etc

  • Driftwood,
    I agree whole heartedly. LabourNIman, when talking of unelected MLA’s, also forgets to mention our unelected Prime Minister! Bring on the election and lets count the Labour Party M.P.’s then.

  • Jason Walsh

    Driftwood, what are you on about? I don’t mention the Tories specifically but you will notice I wrote “but so long as Irish and, to a lesser extent, British parties refuse to take a direct interest in the administration of the North”. “To a lesser extent” indicates the fact that one British party, specifically the Tories, are involved. Labour and the Lib Dems aren’t.

    And I don’t know what you mean by “Jason, is it impossible for you to write (or speak)of Northern Ireland, or is that beyond your mindset.” Please clarify. Are you talking about semantics? If so, who cares? You call it Northern Ireland, I don’t. So what?

    Mark, I ‘ignore’ the unionists because the future of unionism is not my problem. I want to see greater engagement with the North on the part of Irish parties. I’ll leave the argument for closer integration with Britain for unionists to make.

  • Damian O’Loan

    “Mark, I ‘ignore’ the unionists because the future of unionism is not my problem.”

    Jason, surely by now you’ve reckoned with the fact that one community’s security depends on that of the other’s.

    “the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement, the very thing that ensures Northern politics is incapable of expressing itself in any colour other than orange or green.”

    This is a gross over-simplification of consociationalism. It is open to abuse, but it has potential to help all identities. That will be achieved only by dissociating issues like education from the constitional question. Why is that, for example, a bad idea?

    “The logic of the peace process is to disarm the conflict by attempting to find a consensus on contentious issues.”

    This is a misunderstanding of such epic proportions that it disqualifes you from being taken seriously.

    The logic is to put contentious issues in the long grass and hope that, by focussing on ‘normal’ politics in the meantime, when those contentious issues are eventually tackled, it will from a completely different, and politically mature, perspective. Why is this a bad thing?

    Incidentally, why do you not mention the SAA and its veto system? Is that too much rigour to expect from your half-finished analysis?

    “there is, in fact, a real political issue at the heart of the conflict”

    Which will be resolved by referendum only, not at Stormont. So why waste time?

    “so long as Irish and, to a lesser extent, British parties refuse to take a direct interest in the administration of the North there is no way out of the sectarian ghetto.”

    Along with TUV, you’re one of the very few who don’t regard London’s statement of disinterest in NI as a positive contribution. But you want to go further and have Dublin launch a counter-claim. What planet are you living on? Are you aware of how sensitive republicanism is to British interference? Did you miss the Tory/UUP/DUP link scandal? Do you think loyalism might not be roused by ‘Dublin meddlng?’ Are you honestly suggesting, this week, that the risk of a return to violence should be discounted?

    You can criticise the Platform for Change for hollow policies, but your alternative strategy is, to put it mildly, incoherent. This is the worst argument I’ve seen advanced on Slugger for quite some time.

  • Jason Walsh

    Damian, my alternative is called politics. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s centred on the robust exchange of views based in coherent ideology.

    I think London’s statement of disinterest is a joke. London clearly has a part to play. For a start, it was a player in the conflict – I know it’s popular to pretend the British army was in Ireland as a peacekeeping force, but it’s not true. Secondly, it is the place where the government to which unionists pledge allegiance is based.

    And, yes, I would welcome Dublin making a statement of interest.

    I grant you that London and Dublin’s governments are displaying uninterest – but that’s not the same as disinterest. As soon as they could ‘Ulsterise’ the dispute they could, simply to get the problem off their backs, no matter what the cost to the people in the North.

    A good, honest argument doesn’t have to result in bloodshed and is a lot more honest than the fantasy that says Dublin and London aren’t involved.

    “Which will be resolved by referendum only, not at Stormont. So why waste time?”

    Why indeed? The assembly is a pointless pretend parliament anyway.

    “Are you honestly suggesting, this week, that the risk of a return to violence should be discounted?”

    More or less, yes. Aside from mosquito operations like the recent Newry carbomb and odd murder, which the governments don’t really care about anyway. Widespread conflict requires popular support and an immediate grievance. Neither is present despite the dull-as-fuck shadowboxing in the assembly.

    “disqualifes you from being taken seriously.”

    Whatever you say, old bean.

    Pip pip,
    Col. Walsh. (Retired).

  • Jason Walsh

    “Jason, surely by now you’ve reckoned with the fact that one community’s security depends on that of the other’s.”

    I don’t presume to take it upon myself to argue on behalf of unionists. They are perfectly capable of dong that for themselves.

    All you have to offer is an endless, frozen conflict with two equal and opposite sides locked in a permanent mortal conflict. Balls to consociationalism, let’s have democracy.

    It’s high time the political class stopped treating the people like children.

  • LabourNIman

    Intelligence Insider – what?

    Gordon Brown stood at the last election and was elected by his scottish constituency. McDevitt has never won an election and will likely vanish at the next assembly election.

  • Driftwood

    Jason
    It’s a minor point, but do you realise that Northern Ireland (I know that term hurts so much to you)is a constituent part of the United Kingdom. (Give you a few seconds to draw breath).
    Honestly, it is.

    Not quite Robert Fisk are you?

    Did David Sullivan ever approach you for a job? Jim McDowell?

    9

  • [i]All you have to offer is an endless, frozen conflict with two equal and opposite sides locked in a permanent mortal conflict. Balls to consociationalism, let’s have democracy.

    It’s high time the political class stopped treating the people like children.[/i]

    This is all ridiculously simplistic for a so-called political commentator.

    You say that the “problem is, the sectarianism of the assembly is guaranteed by the peace process itself and its codification of division along unionist and republican lines” but we had an election 3 years ago and the electorate voted in 2 parties who under any system are unlikely to be able to operate together. The political class we have is the one put there by the electorate and all those people complaining about it should perhaps remember that.

    You write, “The fact that there is a political dispute is itself not a real problem and need not lead, once more, to violence. After all, throughout the twentieth century the left and right slugged it out in parliaments across the world, only occasionally shooting one another in extraordinary circumstances. The fact is that politics is all about conflict.”

    In doing so you turn ‘political dispute’ into some sort of homogeneous concept which allows you then to make the claim that “left and right slugged it out” so all will be solved in this manner. The problem with NI’s particular ‘political dispute’ is that it is not along left and right lines so your logic collapses. If it was along left and right lines we would see little or no correlation between community identity and party allegiance; in NI the opposite is true.

    So in calling for ‘democracy’ over consociationalism what do you mean? We had a non-consociational assembly before from 1921 to 1972 and it led to a permanent majoritarian government which alienated one third of the community. Because the political conflict itself involves notions of contested legitimacy and state sovereignty the likelihood of a participative polity in which power can pass from one party to the other without endangering the reproduction of the state itself is largely precluded. Even under our current consociational system Unionists will probably refuse to serve under SF First Minister.

    The problem is formulated best in Richard Bourke’s book, Peace In Ireland: The War of Ideas:

    “Majorities ought properly to be accepted as decisive in determining both the selection and tenure of democratic governments, but not as a means of prescribing the democratic inclusion in the state… Democracies, in other words, are ordinarily formed e pluribus unum, as the motto on the Great Seal of the United States is at pains to emphasise. In the absence of such unity, democratic governments can all to easily operate as instruments of division in defiance of their accepted role as arbiters of peace. In this context, it is of vital importance to grasp the essential difference in political analysis between democratic governments and democratic states. The confusion between the two is responsible for our inherited, dogmatic attachment to the idea that political majorities constitute a reasonable basis on which to establish the legitimacy of democratic states. Democratic procedures of government like decision by the majority are expected to operate for the benefit of a community of citizens- for the benefit, in other words, of what we term a nation-state, not for a sectional interest in what might be called a ‘majority state.”

    Involving British and Irish parties isn’t going to solve this underlying problem because you have no assurances that it will not just manifest itself in Unionists voting for British parties and nationalists voting for Irish parties with the chance, then, inter-jurisdictional clashes between the two governments. Remember the Unionist reaction to the ‘Irish dimension’ to Sunningdale, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the North-South Ministerial Council? Do you really think full-blown involvement of Irish parties is going to solve the issues in Northern Ireland?

    And finally, here is a group at least trying to offer something different and you just dismiss them with a lot of sniffy and half-baked bourgeoisie-bashing.

  • 1967:

    Well said. I’ll disagree with you on one point: there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with GB or RoI parties standing in NI – it’s just that the only ones that have done so far have fallen into the trap of sectarian politics (the Green Party being the exception that proves the rule). If an outside party were to stand in NI on a platform that was sellable to both sides of the divide, would that be intrinsically harmful? Obviously there would be a huge outreach effort required to allay the suspicions of the “other side” (UCUNF fell at the first hurdle there), but I could see FG, the Lib Dems or either of the Labour parties making a credible effort if they were so minded.

    I’m interested in that Richard Bourke quote, but I wouldn’t say it was a well-formulated argument. I forget which Greek philosopher said that the only basis for government was by the consent of the governed, but I would put it thus: if there is no consensus on the basic paradigms of the state then there is no stable basis for government. A majority of the governed is not enough to justify the state’s existence, as the logic is circular (aren’t we all thoroughly sick of the sterile arguments over which “majority” is more legitimate?). Only once the existence of the state is accepted can we start to introduce efficiencies into the decision-making process, like requiring majorities instead of consensus for decisions. But at all times the legitimacy of the actions of the state must be bootstrappable from consensus, no matter how many times removed. Pre-GFA we had no such basic consensus, but now we do – barely and, in the case of SF, provisionally. It doesn’t mean we can’t improve the system, but it does mean we have to be careful not to sever the bootstrap when doing so.

  • Andrew,

    You should read his book, it’s very interesting even if I don’t agree with all of it. It was tricky to find a passage which summed up his rather long and complex argument but I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote ‘if there is no consensus on the basic paradigms of the state then there is no stable basis for government.’

    I do agree with you that other parties standing isn’t necessarily doomed to fail, I just think Jason is being a bit simplistic in seeing it as a panacea. The Greens are a good example. One way it could work is if it was a triumvirate structure with a regional NI party with links and inputs into related parties in both the UK and the Republic. FF-Alliance-Lib Dem, FG-UUP-Tory, IL-SDLP-BLP etc perhaps? Might even take whole new parties.

  • Damian O’Loan

    So what’s your argument exactly Jason? Scrap Stormont and have joint rule? You haven’t even argued for that.

    You haven’t argued for anything, only against. I’d agree with 1967 when he says “ridiculously simplistic”, but when you suggest abandoning all cooperation in favour of an international dispute with an almost guaranteed consequence of locally unprecedented violence, “dangerously simplistic” might be more apt.

    And founded on petty sectaranism too. I was over-generous in calling this ‘half-finished’, it’s dire commentary, baseless and directionless.

  • I wish Platform for Change well and have a great deal of respect for Robin Wilson, but in the end I did not feel able to sign the launch statement. Whatever about who is involved, this is yet another civil society organisation which will (I hope) lobby politicians effectively for policies in which both ‘sides’ can agree to some extent. Parallels are being made with the Alliance Party but perhaps NICVA would be more accurate.

    If Platform for Change gets more people involved who were previously sitting at home watching TV then fair play to them. If it takes people out of the political parties then I will be less impressed. Because ultimately I believe
    change comes through being a member of a political party and trying to get some votes. Or in my case, trying to get the party or parties concerned to agree to stand for election in the first place!

  • Jason Walsh

    Damian:

    “And founded on petty sectaranism too.”

    Er, actually it’s your “consociationalism” that is not only founded upon, but actually *intensifies*, petty sectarianism. My suggestion is the widening of horizons outside of the local specifically in order to get away from petty sectarianism.

    I never said it would be a panacea, just a recognition of the actual reality of the situation.

    “So what’s your argument exactly Jason? Scrap Stormont and have joint rule? You haven’t even argued for that. You haven’t argued for anything, only against.”

    Why should I argue for anything? I’m not in the business of peddling fantasises. The point is that a defective agreement can’t be fixed by having nice intentions.

    1967:

    “And finally, here is a group at least trying to offer something different and you just dismiss them with a lot of sniffy and half-baked bourgeoisie-bashing.”

    Something different? What, precisely? Circumvent the ballot box? Everyone wants ‘bread and butter politics’… and then they vote otherwise.

    Driftwood:

    Surely I am not the first person you have ever encountered that says “the North”? Go and do a Lexis-Nexis search on the papers here. North of Ireland is the preferred nomenclature. It’s no different to certain papers in the North using “Ulster”.

  • Mack

    Jason

    refuse to take a direct interest in the administration of the North there is no way out of the sectarian ghetto.

    The only way forward is outward.

    I disagree, I suspect (given your preferences) you are thinking of something along the lines of Yugoslav internationalism? I don’t think that was particularly stable. There are two nationalities sharing the same teritory in NI –

    Let’s take a look at the Belgian political scene –

    Belgium is a federation with a multi-party political system, with numerous parties who factually have no chance of gaining power alone, and therefore must work with each other to form coalition governments.
    Almost all Belgian political parties are divided into linguistic groups, either Dutch-speaking parties (see also List of political parties in Flanders), Francophone parties or germanophone parties.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_parties_in_Belgium

    There is no way out of the ‘sectarian’ ghetto, the solution is to respect both cultures and to work together such that the both flourish, not to pretend they difference does not exist.

  • coconnor

    Driftwood: …tired old socialist politics of Labour

    Ha! Socialist politics? I’ve not seen any…

  • 1967:

    FF-Alliance-Lib Dem, FG-UUP-Tory, IL-SDLP-BLP etc perhaps?

    Because UCUNF has been such a roaring success? And if you have both GB and RoI parties standing, what’s the point of having an NI party too?

    Mack,

    I don’t think Belgium is a fair comparison – for a start there is a linguistic divide, but more importantly the communities are largely geographically separated: The Flemish parties operate in Flanders and in the Brussels-Capital Region. The Francophone parties operate in Wallonia and in the Brussels-Capital Region. Thus, the PSC and the CVP are not rivals, as they do not operate simultaneously in the bulk of the country (with the exception of Brussels), and therefore they do not significantly split their vote. The NI-analogue arrangement of simultaneous sectional contests in the same constituency is not the norm.

  • Mack

    Andrew –

    My point about Belgium is that the different ethnic groups there vote along ethnic lines – you can find lot’s of similar situations across the world. The (stable) alternative would be for parties to recognise and respect both cultures here as valid and campaign on that basis. That can’t happen right now, for a various reasons – including the border issue, a lack of trust and a lack of agreement on the importance of each other’s culture and cultural values.

    The bulk of NI First constituencies are not open contests between nationalists and unionists. They’re pretty much decided demography and in the case of First Past the Post also the degree of vote splitting. Nationalist and unionist parties aren’t really direct rivals. The TUV has no chance of winning over Sinn Fein voters and vice versa. SF and the SDLP on the other hand are real political rivals and can win swing voters.

  • Mack

    Andrew –

    The Flemish parties operate in Flanders and in the Brussels-Capital Region. The Francophone parties operate in Wallonia and in the Brussels-Capital Region.

    We could replicate that in NI to some degree, if you think it is an advantageous structure. It would be straight forward to draw a line from somewhere near Coleraine down south east, through western Antrim, winding through North Armagh, south towards Banbridge and then north Eastwards to the coast. That would, when the shared / mixed Belfast Capital region is removed, split NI into two distinct regions each with a clear dominant culture – Irish in the West, British in the East and one shared region.

  • Mack,

    We could replicate that in NI to some degree, if you think it is an advantageous structure.

    But this is not how NI is governed, nor is it ever likely to happen. In Belgium, a federal structure has evolved so that each community can stay on its own side and largely ignore the existence of the other. Flemish- and French-speaking parties operate separately in the regions in the same way that French- and German-speaking parties operate in France and Germany, but form coalitions in the EP. There is no analogy to this within NI.

  • Mack

    Andrew –

    I think you are making the point that within Northern Ireland, unlike Belgium, at the sub-national level it is not possible for the Irish and British parties to ignore each other. That’s fair enough as far as it goes. I don’t think it amounts to a convincing argument that the parties will shed (or be supported in shedding) their ethnic and cultural baggage.

    But this is not how NI is governed, nor is it ever likely to happen

    I don’t know about that, local government offers path towards federalisation / cantonisation or whatever name you’d want to give it. The current structures are in their infancy and have already collapsed a number of times.

  • [i]Because UCUNF has been such a roaring success? And if you have both GB and RoI parties standing, what’s the point of having an NI party too?[/i]

    Sorry, Andrew. I didn’t mean them all standing but the NI party being attached to both of the other parties and able to have input, therefore, into both jurisdictions. UCUNF haven’t had an outing yet but they have messed things up by doing daft things like discuss Unionist unity.

  • 1967:

    the NI party being attached to both of the other parties and able to have input, therefore, into both jurisdictions

    Some (not all) NI parties are already “attached” to GB and RoI parties at European level. The SDLP sit on the Labour benches. Unless they take part in a coalition government or merge, I don’t see how their input would be taken any more seriously than it already is.

  • Worth pointing out that there were elected (and co-opted) reps as well as candidates from UUP, SDLP, Alliance, PUP and Green Party there at the launch. So it’s not just an SDLP thing – though they are the only party I can see that has issued a press release to support Platform For Change at a party level.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Jason,

    “My suggestion is the widening of horizons outside of the local specifically in order to get away from petty sectarianism.

    I never said it would be a panacea, just a recognition of the actual reality of the situation.”

    Consociationalism is just that – a recognition of the present reality and an attempt to widen horizons. You want everyone to forget everything else and fight over the border. Do you think this is credible?

    In fact, you are arguing for something. It’s just so ill-considered, poorly argued and imperceptive that you wouldn’t lay claim to it as a position. I look forward to seeing you defend it in a year’s time.

    I’m not quite sure what you meant at the end of your post 7, could you spell it out?

    On the Belgium analogy,

    One significant difference is the comfort with complicated tiers of power and decision-making. I would fear that in NI this could lead to greater problems. Also, I don’t see it as necessary or useful to abandon integration, better surely to encourage it, including politically where expedient.

  • Damian,

    From the outside, it would appear that Belgium is ultimately doomed. The linguistic divide means that both politics and society operate almost completely independently in Flanders and Wallonia. For better or worse, NI is still a single polity and repartition is not on the cards. The process of integration should be easy by comparison.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Andrew,

    I’m not sure if I’d agree with your first sentence, despite the difficulties I think there is an awareness of the economies of scale, among other things. I’d certainly agree with the last.

  • Jason Walsh

    Damian,

    I have no idea what you think I am arguing for but I promise you I will still be making critical arguments in a year’s time. And that the assembly will still be a failure in a year’s time, too.

    “You want everyone to forget everything else and fight over the border. Do you think this is credible?”

    Straw man. I said no such thing. I said pretending the border isn’t an issue is a nonsense. There is no reason why other issues can’t be hammered out while still admitting there is a major political division.

    “I’m not quite sure what you meant at the end of your post 7, could you spell it out?”

    What, the ‘pip, pip” joke? Responding to the patronising tone of your sneering posts and seeming inability to comprehend that I might be making an argument, albeit one I admit is not fully-formed, in good faith?

    Mack,

    Why assume I’m arguing for a Yugoslav-style solution? Because of “my preferences”? What preferences? Is that some sort of attempt at a red smear? If so, think again. If not, then I’ve no idea what you mean.

    And, for the record, at a recent event in Belfast I argued specifically against the Belgian model.

  • Damian O’Loan

    “Responding to the patronising tone of your sneering posts and seeming inability to comprehend that I might be making an argument, albeit one I admit is not fully-formed, in good faith”

    I don’t doubt your good faith. I don’t think it’s as valuable in a publc forum as you seem to, but as to your accusations of me patronising and sneering, I’ll leave you to figure out why you think that. You can accept my good faith, I prefer constructive debate.

    “I said no such thing. I said pretending the border isn’t an issue is a nonsense. There is no reason why other issues can’t be hammered out while still admitting there is a major political division.”

    But when a group appears trying to hammer out other issues, you castigate it for not giving the constitutional question false relevance. How do you expect these other issues to be resolved if they are always in the shadow of the border?

    I’m glad you admitted your arguments not fully-formed. Nor is mine. But you appear to have filled in the spaces with facile criticism of the institutions in place with no thought to what could be better.

    And I think that brings us to the nub, you think it’s enough to criticise – “I promise you I will still be making critical arguments in a year’s time” – and I think if you try to move beyond that you find answers to some of your own criticism.

  • Mack

    Why assume I’m arguing for a Yugoslav-style solution? Because of “my preferences”? What preferences? Is that some sort of attempt at a red smear?

    Eh, no. Sensitivity guage set to low 😉

    Preferences – socialism, which tends to be more readily associated with internationalism rather than nationalism.

    In Yugoslavia separate national identities were (temporarily) supressed and replaced by some sort of common socialist ideal – workers united etc. It wasn’t stable and it didn’t last.

    In Northern Ireland ‘sectarianism’ can refer to two distinct things. In politics the phrase ‘sectarian politics’ and it’s synonyms nearly always refer to the nationalist / unionist divide. Moving away from that type of politics towards ‘normal politics’ (which means politics as practised in monocultural regions) is probably not possible and definetely not desirable.

    What needs to happen within NI’s politics is that the parties can work together for the betterment of both communities & cultures as well as society as whole. Things like the status of the Irish language, Ulster Scots, Marches, British symbolism, placenames etc do matter. They’re probably more important to most people than 90% of the assembly’s business (though perhaps less important than sorting out the school system). I notice you making similar points in the comments.

    And, for the record, at a recent event in Belfast I argued specifically against the Belgian model.

    I think yourself and Andrew are misinterpreting my comment on Belgium. I’m not specifically recommending the Belgian model – merely highlighting that people there continue to vote for ethnic specific parties. You could contrast that with Switzerland where the parties seem less ethnically restricted. But to get from where we are to where the Swiss are – is a much longer journey than to reach the kind of stable society the Belgians have achieved.

  • Alias

    “What both the original Belfast Agreement and now the Platform for Change want is to obscure the fact that there is, in fact, a real political issue at the heart of the conflict. Unfortunately, this kind of polite, middle class short-circuiting of politics is what got us to this impasse the first place – all process and no politics.”

    This isn’t true about the GFA. The GFA directly addressed the core issue: sovereignty. The state that made a competing claim to sovereign British territory – stating that it denied its right to national self-determination – formally renounced that claim to the territory and the nation on whose behalf the Irish state asserted that claim also formally renounced its right to national self-determination. As far as the British state was concerned it was unacceptable that another state would make a claim to its sovereign territory. Wherever one state makes a claim to another’s state territory, then the dispute is either settled by one state withdrawing its claim as a result of some political process or being otherwise defeated in that claim.

    Because the constitutional issue is now settled to the satisfaction of the British state (the claim to the formerly disputed territory by the foreign state having been duly withdrawn), the agenda is about integrating those who have renounced their former right to self-determination into the British state. Those people no longer have Irish national rights as a birthright (having, instead, the right to apply for Irish citizenship subject to Irish national law), so they are born as British citizens and must live within the legitimised British state as British citizens. This is why they must now led encouraged to focus on internal British issues, and be led to de-focus on the settled constitutional issue.

    The British state is generously prepared to allow equal rights to the Irish nation just as long as these do not involve equal national rights which would involve by default equal sovereign rights and, of course, lead back to the nation reinstating its repudiated claim to ownership of British territory. Indeed, this is how the British state always operated since it is an alliance of non-sovereign nations.

    Since the state is the sovereign territorial entity by which a nation exercises its right to self-determination, only one nation can exercise this right within the UK, i.e. the British nation (with the four non-sovereign nations in the union all sharing British nationality and having no other nationality). In contrast to the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish nations, the Irish nation is a sovereign nation – and only because it is not within the union. It simply means that on other nation holds a veto over the Irish nation.

    The GFA recognises that there are two nations within Northern Ireland, and it gives both of these nations a democratic majority as its method of resolving how two nations are to share one state. This, of course, is the practical outworking of why two nations cannot share one state: these majorities cancel each other out, giving one nation a veto over the other and ensuring that neither can exercise its right to self-determination.

    The UK can only function because only one nation is sovereign. These two majorities are needed as a transition to one nation. Unfortunately, the common nationalism is unlikely to be the British nation or the Irish nation since both of those are exclusive to each other within NI. The actual nation is the Northern Irish nation, but it is debatable as to whether or not this nation will ever serve as the required common nationalism that will allow the two tribes to function as one nation and ergo as one political unit.

    I don’t think this really matters to the British state. The main determinants of policy are the Security Services. MI5 is to protect and to promote British sovereignty and national security and economic interests (and not to enhance the wellbeing of its only English-speaking competitor for FDI in the EU), while the principle interest of MI6 is bringing Ireland into NATO and protecting the backdoor to the UK. Either way, British sovereignty over Ireland is secured by declaring that there are two nations and not one, whether it by keeping Northern Ireland within the UK or by bringing a united Ireland into the UK as the means by which “parity of esteem” between the two competing nationalisms of British and Irish is to be achieved

  • Alias

    Incidentally, in a ‘united’ Ireland with parity of esteem between two nations, which of the two nations would be sovereign? The correct answer, of course, is neither.

    Since it is proposed by the British state that the Irish nation is demote itself to a non-sovereign nation, isn’t that best acheived by the Irish nation rejoining the UK where the other nations are also non-sovereign?

  • Mack, Jason,

    I wasn’t under the impression either of you were advocating the Belgian model. I was just pointing out that Belgium isn’t a useful comparison.

    Alias,

    You’re continually going on about the sovereignty of nations. If you can articulate an objective method of defining a ‘nation’ I might start taking you seriously.

  • Jason Walsh

    “Eh, no. Sensitivity guage set to low ;-)”

    Extremely. Evidently on that day anyway.

  • Jason Walsh

    “And I think that brings us to the nub, you think it’s enough to criticise – “I promise you I will still be making critical arguments in a year’s time” – and I think if you try to move beyond that you find answers to some of your own criticism.”

    It’s a process. The onus is not on me to have solutions – for a start, I’m just a journalist, not a policy wonk; secondly, I have no mandate and only speak for myself. Through criticism we may yet find an answer.

  • st etienne

    “Mark, I ‘ignore’ the unionists because the future of unionism is not my problem. I want to see greater engagement with the North on the part of Irish parties. I’ll leave the argument for closer integration with Britain for unionists to make.”

    Jason Walsh, the only voice capable of injecting a sectarian viewpoint into non-sectarian politics.