After the election: Has unionism the courage to debate a united vision?

Another great piece from Open Unionism, this time from David Vance, fresh from the streets of East Belfast who argues the time has come and gone for a single unionist party. He observes:

Seduced by the Stormont Assembly they are relatively disinterested in traditional unionist values and even recoil from that which is branded Conservative. A Sovietised economy and memories of historical betrayals make even brand Cameron seem toxic. UCUNF was perhaps a noble aspiration but it foundered because it misunderstood the mood of Unionist voters. TUV encountered similar problems in terms of message delivery and electoral response. A significant section of Unionism has been conditioned to accept that what we have is the best available and we just need to get on with it. Their Unionism broadly extends as far as the size of the block grant, the rest is detail.

The DUP perfectly encapsulate their ambitions and I believe this is why the DUP has become so ascendant in local tribal unionist politics. By morphing into an NI version of the SNP, Ulster Nationalism appears to hold a greater attraction for many of those who do vote. Essentially administrators of the block grant, the DUP variant of Unionism postures as wanting ”more” from the Exchequer, indicating a preparedness to even enter into an anti-English pact with the other fringe Nationalist Parties.

And he concludes:

The real political challenge lies with those who value Unionism but in a broad British context.  These are the people who need to unite in some way and offer a big vision alternative in contrast to small minded Ulster Nationalism. If they try to unite with the Ulster Nationalists, they will of course be devoured.

The challenge lies in constructing attractive policies around a solid narrative that can energise unionist voters into seeing that the best future lies within the United Kingdom.  It needs to be a pluralist unionism, leaving rancid sectarianism in the past. It needs to be an appealing Unionism that people can see being relevant to their daily lives. I am certain people are turned off by negative politics and are looking for a dynamic form of leadership that focuses on providing better outcomes for our people and more stable government. A united unionist vision has a role to play here and there is an urgency to bring this about before the next set of elections.

Perhaps the critical issue is whether Unionism chooses to look outwards over the next 12 months or instead prefers to navel gaze. Will short-termism trump strategy? Unionism cannot go back in time. What is done is done. However those with common interests can now choose to set aside petty rivalry and engage in a positive debate where the objective is a united unionist vision for a better Northern Ireland within this United Kingdom. Have we the courage to embrace this?

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  • joeCanuck

    The trouble may be that they never had a vision. They should probably even drop the word “unionist”.
    Instead, as David implies, they should simply set out their stall as “this is the sort of society which we wish to create…..”. Oh and by the way, we insist that this is to happen in the context of a United Kingdom, as long as the majority want it. They have always been on the defensive as far as I can see. We need a clean sweep of the tired old folks in all parties and give younger men and women the chance to create a truly inclusive society. Now would seem to be an ideal time.

  • TheHorse

    The people have already give their opinion of the TUV and UCUNF, what they thought of them and their policies. Thinking new ways of making negitive unionism attractive only makes this type of unionism look even more desperate than it really is. Maybe unionism needs to follow their own yellowbrick road. “Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again”.

  • Dev

    It is always going to be difficult for any Unionist leader to proclaim a vision. Irish Nationalists/Republicans can point to the future and dream and blame the status quo for current failings. To build any Unionist vision it must transcend the argument that ‘no one else can afford us’, and include a significant shift to appeal to Catholics whilst continuing to appeal to Protestant voters. Not so easy.

  • slug

    The main point I took is that unionist unity is one thing, but since the DUP’s unionism extends no further than the block grant, there is little point in a unity that includes the DUP.

  • It is not the death knell for unionism or republicanism, yet, but it is approaching. Sinn Fein are only useful so long as they promote a peaceful process to a united Ireland. In the south they are less than significant. Unionists are no longer as much unionist as they are protestant. A protestant block vote would be enormously powerful in the south. Change is happening and as always it is painfully (sometimes literally) slow.

  • smcgiff

    Hang on…

    Maybe the DUP have a point. Maybe the traditionalist Northern Ireland “unionist” has much more in common with themselves than either those south or to the East on the UK mainland.

    Take away the monarchy and what do the likes of Robinson et al have in common with the good citizens of Finchley?

    And if the English are willing to hand over 9 Billion each year then who are the loyal Ulster nationalists to insult them by not accepting?

  • copenhagentheory

    I think David’s point is a good one, though under the current political system it will never be more than a pipe dream.

    As necessary as the peace process was, it enshrined the idea that intransigence and tribal chest beating gets the best results. It is difficult to blame the parties, both unionist and nationalist, for their base tribalism: they are operating in political structures which demand it to be so.

    Unfortunately, we may need to be more patient and wait for the old guard and their fiefdoms to slowly disintegrate. When the next generation take control there will then be the opportunity for a confident, modern unionism to fully emerge.

  • copenhagentheory

    To broaden further, the intense saturation of politics here make such proposals impossible to implement anyway. Our bloated assembly and council chambers ensure that any political talent or potential we have is drowned in a perennial swamp of mediocrity. The current constituency set-up means its almost impossible to remove/deselect the knuckleheads. Unionism needs a strong youthful leader to initiate change, as happens in most mature democracies (eg. Obama/Cameron/Blair/Thatcher). Few of the potential leadership candidates for the UUP or DUP have remotely comparable characteristics.

    It’s a pity Basil McCrea is so unpopular within his own party, as he strikes me as someone who could charm the electorate towards a credible, positive message, For the DUP, Simon hamilton has similar potential, though is nowhere near ready yet, and seems to be consistently overlooked in favour of such eminent minds as Poots, McCausland, Storey etc…

  • slug

    Hamilton I think is a great disappointment – very narrow party point scoring person.

  • Henry94

    A united unionism without the DUP? Would they stand against them in every constituency? Or is an Ulster nationalist still better than an Irish one?

  • copenhagentheory

    That is true, I put that down to political immaturity, and greasing the slippery pole.

    Well, at least he doesn’t think the world is 5000 years old. By DUP standards, that makes him Galileo.

  • slug

    Electoral pacts aren’t what this is about.

  • slug

    I suppose so. I only ever hear petty point scoring from him.

    Indeed even the question to Martin McGuiness – “would the deputy agree that….” in Stormont seemed petty.

  • slug

    I agree with David’s basic point – lets think about values and move beyond constitutional questions – which appear to be pinned down – and to broader questions about values , pluralism, quality of life and socioeconomic issues.

  • Maybe he could start by indicating what he thinks this idea/party could achieve for NI that the current arranagement does not or at least in theory could not. There is rough and smooth for Wales and particularly Scotland in their situation too but there it’s about appointing competent local administrators who can run things regionally in a reasonable manner in the context of acceptable relationships with the centre which mature over time. Why does Vance think that an alternative here is necessarily either possible or desirable, notwithstanding his undertandable personal antipathy to the DUP ?

    I’m getting bored listening to this unionist whining about ‘their’ disunity and talk of the need for and urgency of new departures and visions and values and pan-union consensus without any substance or detail or concrete ideas.

    Let’s get beyond the tired old distractions of monarchs and flags and fear of Rome rule and cut to the chase. Facts, figures, chapter and verse. Or is unionism still not ready to ‘go there’ and instead continue to content itself with this pitable self-pitying whimpering about values and disconnectedness from ‘London’ ?

  • bulmer

    Can anyone explain to me what’s wrong with being an Ulster Nationalist?

  • bulmer

    Yes, I can, It means you are by definition not a unionist.

  • David Vance

    So Ulster Nationalist = Bad, unionist = Good. Think this summarises a lot of what you’re mounring in your article and some of what I’m attempting to criticique in that argument. Take the sentimentality, the sectarianism and the identity politics out of your argument as to why you feel that this is true and you may be halfway home to explaining your own way forward. Or indeed not, as the case may be.

  • Los Lobos

    Nationalism is nationalism be it British or Irish, it focuses on the nation as opposed to the citizens therein. It narrows to the lowest possible denomonator peoples views of how a society should be run. It demonstrates a race to the bottom, in terms of values, principals and basic human decency. So lets be clear, Nationalism as an ideology is a bad idea for any society. In the case of NI it is, (as Hobbes put it) “brutish, short and nasty” as each Party seek to wreck it’s opponent within the various “nationalisms” on offer.
    Sinn Fein and the DUP are mirror images of each other much like the SDLP and UU’s are and as such consentrate their false battles within their ism, as opposed to differing on how a society should be run for the common good. This sham fight is used with great skill within Unionism and has only served to switch people off voting, the same can be said about SF and the SDLP in terms of negitive political activity. The only reflection the TUV could get from it’s political mirror would be the BNP or Republican Sinn Fein as it seeks to sear it’s “truth” on a disgruntled minority of people who’s notion of politics resemble Pol Pots idea of turning the clock back to year Zero. If we keep voting the same way we get the same results, if we wish to see positive change then the first thing we as a society need to do is understand that “nationalism”, British or Irish will not solve any of our problems, it will only make them worse.

  • John East Belfast

    That whole second section is straight out of the Pro Agreement Unionist Handbook – author Lord Trimble – as per first half of this decade – the same language and people DV referred to as Vichey unionists.

    The whole bigger picture, non sectarian vision was what it was all about and such unionism got the shit kicked out of from outside and within so that the DUP could scramble to the top of the pile and Paisley could be First Minister.

    Well they got their wish and now look at the mess they have left behind.

    From my memory David Vance was at the front putting the boot in

  • JEB

    Utter nonsense. The UUP failed to sell their message and the fault lies entirely with Trimble and those foolish enough to folow him. DUP success is the factor of UUP failure and Unionism has to rise above Ulster Nationalism. I oppose Trimble entering into government with IRA terrorists and I oppose Paisley when he followed such a dishonourable route.

    It was the electorate who put the boot in and you need to reflect on how Unionism can survive if it cannot articulate a vision that goes beyond inter-party diatribe,

  • SammyMehaffey

    This must be the first time I can unreservedly agree with you Mr Joe.
    Bon apetite.

  • SammyMehaffey

    Certainly. The state would be third world, bankrupt which in turn would lead to civil unrest if there was no dole money being handed out and if 80% of civil ‘servants’ were out of a job. Get real.

  • David Vance

    A vision of what exactly ?!

  • Bulmer

    You’ve totally missed the point.

    Noone is advocating independence. But to define yourself as being an Ulsterman/woman, what’s the problem with that or voting for a party that also represents that identity.

  • Bulmer

    I don’t think PC or SNP would accept your definition. In fact both have non-white representatives and push centre left all inclusive policies.

    Of course that isn’t the case here. But it could be…

  • apollo293867

    Well done Could not have saiod it better myself.

  • apollo293867

    Vance

    you have just stood for the TUV (BNP) in East Belfast where you were shown the door by the good people there. The majority of Unionist voters have endorsed collaborative government and your party’s silly rantings, Now you are talking of Unionist Unity. You say:

    “you need to reflect on how Unionism can survive if it cannot articulate a vision that goes beyond inter-party diatribe”

    However you have not the humility to recognise that your brand of ultra right wing Unionism has been comprehansively rejected.

    Time to shut up, leave the field to those that can offer a vision that reflects the thoughts of the majority of the electorate rather than offering up more of bigoted views of the rump that you represent.

  • Bulmer

    David,

    As you point out the electorate (it is a democracy) put the boot in because they no longer have a need for Unionism Glengall st variety.

    But here’s a thought.

    The Unionist party was in many ways in a symbiotic relationship with the Catholic Church. Both exploited and subdued their sides by fears of the other. The Cathoilic Church is now a threat to noone but itself. Unionism is no longer needed because the Union is not in danger and the average Ulsterman has stopped fearing his neighbours.

    So has Ulster outgrown Unionism and doesn’t need it? Indeed why would any low income or lower middleclass person vote for a far right conservative party?

    Of course they didn’t. Clearly some people think it has a right to exist but it doesn’t. Like Churchill in 45, its role is done. Time to move on.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Sounds wonderful, just one small matter, the electorate disagreed.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Wrong, I am a Unionist because I think NI is part of the UK and should remain so.
    I guess in some ways it a Hobson’s Choice, either be a tiny player a strong state, or be a strong player in a tiny state.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Lets try shared language, culture, history, legal systems, educations systems, media, climate, diet, work practices, geography, etc.
    Can you actually tell what we havn’t got in common with Finchely?

  • Drumlin Rock

    It is contradictory to being an Ulster Unionist, nothing wrong with it as an aspiration but you cant be a both.

  • Bulmer

    Who wants to be an Ulster Unionist?

    I want to be an Ulsterman, an Irish Brit.

  • apollo293867

    To be fair (if we really must be), DV’s obviously reflecting on the terrific pasting that the TUV incurred, one wonders though it didn’t occur to him before standing that what the electorate wanted was other than some form of grazed knuckles reinvention of 1980s Paisleyite demagoguery.

    As you say though, given the drubbing the TUV received and the unbelievable miscalculation of the mood of the unionist electorate, might it not be more dignified to leave the stage and indeed the theatre altogether rather than hanging around pondering yet another failed gimmick idea in such adolescent narciscisstic fashion. It would evidence an element of self-respect, if nothing else.

  • Down South

    Culture is very different; History is very different; legal system is certainly not the same; education system is different; media is different – although we can access each others; climate here is very different from south east England; diet – don’t know – we al seem to eat curries and chinese food now; work practices??; geography – it’s erm… different. Alternatively all of the list above might suggest Finchley is in Dublin.

  • Drumlin Rock

    I would suggest Dublin is as British as Finchley, possibly moreso.
    as for the rest, the differences are minor compared to Paris for example, physically closer to London than much of England, yet taking it further Dover has much more in common with Aberdeen, Derry and dare i say Dundalk as compared to Calais just a few miles away from it. The basic culture, ie. the way we live is same, with variations, for the last 1,000 years one basic history could cover the whole of the British Isles, with only about 20% of it needing altered for the different regions. We have the same four seasons and temperate climate, much less variation that there is across France for example. In other words using the normal factors distinguishing nations, the British Isles is clearly all one on the larger scale of things.

  • Re-engaged

    Apollo293867,

    Your response and tone show more bigotry and distain than anything David Vance has posted or stated. As other Sluggers will know I am neither a fan or support of David Vance or the TUV but this post is both wrong in tone and sentiment.

    Sinn Fien and DUP were both minority parties and all NI parties are minority views in both a wider Irish or British context . Also I do not recall the TUV calling for non-collaborative government but voluntary coalition somthing many Unionists would prefer and may become a possibility in the coming years – 2015 StAA review etc…

    A bit of common courtesy in debating goes a long way!!!

  • apollo293867

    I am sorry you feel this way but I am intolerant of intolerance. For some reason the TUV gets a free pass in here for its Racism, it’s Sectarianism. David Vance called Islam a Pathology not a religion, yet here he appears to be being praised for offering a vision of unity for Unionism. If that is what Unionism recognises as positive thought, it is in deep trouble. I refuse to respect racism, and I will fight it wherever it comes from.

  • Re-engaged

    What is Ulster Nationalism – a desire for a Ulster / NI state(let) of 6 counties indpendent from both Dublin and London? If that is the case it is a long time since we have seen that propigated to the electorate and certainly not what any of the 3 unionist parties or 2 main independent Unionist candidates proposed.

    Protecting Northern Irelands interests at Westminster – this is not nationalistic or any different from any other region of the UK or wider body for a region or representative for that region looking to support / protect / ensure funding and the best interests of that area.

    Quote – “Perhaps the critical issue is whether Unionism chooses to look outwards over the next 12 months or instead prefers to navel gaze. Will short-termism trump strategy? Unionism cannot go back in time. What is done is done.”

    What is true is Unionism cannot go backwards – how does it move forward – let go of the past, including Peter Robinson and forge a way forward that while ensuring Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, it does so by being an attractive, imaginative and dynamic region within the UK-
    – reduce dependancy on Westminister
    – reduce over representation in councils, Stormont etc…
    – build a national stadium (a multi purpose arena)
    – maintaining our education system and rejecting comprehensive education as a failure
    – forge a regional identity and sell – we really are only playing second fiddle on tourism
    – cut welfare culture
    – tackle real issues cutting heart out of our towns / villages / cities – drugs / alcohol / organised crime

    Without all the overt rubbish UCUNF went through to appeal to all shades of unionist this year the above and many other aspects of NI can be developed both as a region and as part of the UK. Just because a Yorkshire man or woman when asked says they are a Yorkshireman does not make him a Yorkshire Nationalist – it just means he has a region and heritage they can be proud of and are prepared to stand up for in a broader English or UK context. Nothing wrong with that in NI either – it is both outward looking and positive and in no means nationalist – what is the alternative a quack republican agenda rejected in the Republic but for some reason clung to by a quarter to third of the population which delivers nothing but marxist economics and a 3rd rate (probably being kind) education system.

  • Re-engaged

    Do not disagree – I cretainly do not find David Vance any more positive than the next man, nor have I given him a free pass on this site but to bring yourself to speak in the same manner as his leader and Nick Griffin speak does not make you any more right or better.

    There is a long series of unanswered questions on the TUV manifesto on this site from myself and Greenflag which were never answered by David Vance who came on and posted some idiotic comment (cannot find or remember) – prob caused by sun stroke while out campagining and not wearing a hat! – the TUV are clearly not recognised as positive here or as it turns out by a vast cross section of the electorate.

  • Re-engaged

    “-reduce dependency on Westminster” – what do you mean by this exactly and how would you bring it about ?

  • apollo293867

    Re-Engaged

    “but to bring yourself to speak in the same manner as his leader and Nick Griffin speak does not make you any more right or better.”

    I don’t understand what you mean by this?

  • John East Belfast

    David

    “It needs to be a pluralist unionism, leaving rancid sectarianism in the past.
    It needs to be an appealing Unionism that people can see being relevant to their daily lives. I am certain people are turned off by negative politics and are looking for a dynamic form of leadership that focuses on providing better outcomes for our people and more stable government
    Unionism cannot go back in time. What is done is done. However those with common interests can now choose to set aside petty rivalry and engage in a positive debate where the objective is a united unionist vision for a better Northern Ireland within this United Kingdom”

    Surely you have to appreciate that when a Vichy, push over unionist like me reads that I can be forgiven for having to take my chin off my chest ?

    You have spent the last 10 years lambasting any progressive unionist reformer – first the UUP then the DUP when they eventually caught up.
    All the UUP ever did was recognise SFs unfortunate, but democratic mandate combined with a ceasefire and a process of eventual disarmament.

    Unionism the past 50 years has been moving in this direction – from O’Neill right through to Pro Agreement Ulster Unionism. Paisleyism was the one big factor that was the thorn in the side – but in the end it was all about him being able to Chuckle with the Chuckies.

    The anti modernisers have been dragged kicking and screaming all the way – until all that is left of you is the remnants of the TUV completely out on the margins.

    However I dont hold grudges – if any unionist wants to talk about making NI work, pluralism and moderation then that is fine by me.

    But I think you should reflect just how strong unionism would be today if there had been no viscious No Campaign and the DUP had stayed in the process. There has been substantial damage done to all unionism in the past 10 years to prevent us ending up in a process that was inevitable for everyone other than the slow learners.

    However if you want to be a pluralist unionist you need to know the tune and not just the words.

    You need to create an environment where non protestant and non orange can be at ease with the symbolism. For instance your election literature lambasted Trevor Ringland because he said the IFA should consider having a different anthem to the UK one at NI football matches – something that is supported by the majority of NI fans.

  • Re-engaged

    A stronger private sector in all areas, exporting jobs increases the revenues being generated and fed back to Westminster in terms of taxation, thus reducing the value of subsidy we get for there in return.

    If we were to start putting more back into the economy (we will always be a net taker of funds but if we can reduce the difference then that is a positive step to a healthier future

  • Greenflag

    ‘What is true is Unionism cannot go backwards –’

    I would”nt bet on it . Based on the actual experience of the past 100 years of it’s political existence -‘unionism’ has shown a remarkable ability to go backwards whenever it faced a challenge . It’s only in recent times that talk of a more ‘open ‘ unionism has raised it’s head but the UCUNF outreach effort scored an own goal and the TUV stance was seen by the electorate as merely a return to a past that did’nt work then and won’t work for the future -not in a 6 county NI context anyway .

    The ‘unionism ‘ which David Vance and others advocate is on it’s way to post existence . As of now it’s between two worlds -one dead and the other powerless to be born . It is not in any event achievable in a 6 county NI context . I suspect that David Vance and the TUV know that -the UCUNF ‘ers continue to pretend to ignore the political realities while the DUP work with what is and make the best of it . Not a pretty sight but then the people have spoken – the bastards -as somebody said .

  • Delta Omega

    O couple of years ago when I first starting reading this blog, I posted (under a different pseudonym) that Unionism always has had a tendency to drift towards the centre, and that a right wing element is regenerated into a new party. Official unionism moved to the centre ground giving rise to the DUP. The DUP have now moved into that centre ground territory and the right wing element have established the TUV. Irrespective of what it is called, or who the leadership is, there will always be that right wing element. TUV took just under 5% of the vote in the last election, standing in only 10 out of 18 seats. I think it is premature to consider them as written off just yet, or if the TUV are written off then there will be something else created out on that wing. Why? Because there is a core right wing vote out there that couldn’t stomach David Trimbles concessions to SF, and who were again sickened when Paisley and Robinson adopted a similar tactic. I have to state that I am not a member of the TUV, but I do understand where they have come from.

  • Bulmer

    Who cares about chasing the far right? Who cares about the Ulster versions of the BNP or UKIP? We are talking about a party that reflects the majority view not the fringes. For too long, and I mean over a 100 years, the far right has held far to much sway over the majority. And what did we get for this ‘loyalty’? Sectarianism, gerrymandering ending up with terrorism and the destruction of the economy. Not a lot of return.

    The far right persisted in all Irish politics for far to long. There is a place for it, and I’m sure Nick Griffith will keep the seat warm. The rest of us have moved on.

    TBH to see the final end of the UU has been a dream come true. I loath everything they did for the 50 years they squandered their rule. You might want to go back, but noone with any sense would want a return to the deference society full of Capts, Majors and assorted double barrelled condescending toffs lording it about. Even worse for them its a roughly hewn but representative DUP which has seen its descendants off as well as bury TUV.

  • Greenflag

    ‘I do understand where they have come from.’

    So do we all. And we know where they’re going to . It’s called utopia – a political nowhere . They are similar to those people who want Stalin to return to Russia or Cardinal McQuaid to return as primate of the RC Church in Ireland or those Islamic fundies who want to see Sharia law imposed in Birmingham .

    Nothing to offer except a discredited past and a more hopeless future 🙁

  • apollo293867

    Absolutely. Please don’t underestimate the damage they can do, or the fear they can inspire in minority groups.

  • Greenflag

    I’m not underestimating their potential damage capabilities for the ongoing ‘peace process’. At the same time I would not be too concerned at what you refer to as the ‘fear’ they can inspire in minority groups be they recent immigrants or the almost half the population that is ‘tribally’ opposed to them.

    We have however moved on from the 1920 ‘s -1960’ period and the fear that you refer to which was a very real concern back then and would have displayed itself in ‘croppy lie down ‘ behaviour at that time has now changed into something else . The ‘croppies’ won’t lie down anywhere and are much more likely to come out with guns blazing against any moves by the far right in NI against the present hard fought for status quo .

    The ‘croppies’ have learnt the hard way that whereas in the final analysis politics can be made to work to improve or progress democracy in NI -the jury is still out on whether that would or would not have progressed much more quickly and with less upheaval had the ‘gun’ been entirely absent . As we look at ‘unionism ‘ trying to find itself we should be mindful that even if if eventually does find itself it will still be implacably opposed to Irish national aspirations .

    Finding a modus operandi with ‘unionism ‘ within that limitation is never going to be easy for either side . It may prove ultimately impossible in time or simply not worth the cost or bother . But as of now there is no present alternative and doubly so given the current economic situation on both sides of the border and in the UK .

  • braniel unionist

    in my view, the biggest challenge facing unionism today is getting our own people out to vote!
    it’s a paradox… we’re probably further away from a united ireland than ever so many unionists don’t feel that fussed; throughout the troubles ulster elections were invariably a referendum on the status quo……. but the new status quo is saint andrews; UCUNF was a worthwhile project but could only work if we had a chance to vote either Conservative and Unionist or Labour AND Unionist; as for TUV its a case of rebrand or die, drop the negative rhetoric and campaign FOR the right to form an opposition!

  • georgie leigh

    Delta Omega’s observation of unionism’s gradual drift in from the right, punctuated by splits by those who cannot stick the pace, is correct.

    But Trimble, who died by this sword, also lived by it. A former Vanguarder, he was the most right-wing of the candidates for his successful leadership race.

    The problem for Unionism is that it once thought it could only live with Nationalism only by dominating it. If it can live with it in Partnership, a Pandora’s Box is opened.