Unionism 2010: Does it really matter who gets to be ‘titular head’?

I have a piece coming out in the News Letter’s series on Unionism 2021, although I am not sure when. All contributors have five questions to answer, the final one asking whether Martin McGuinness would be acceptable as a First Minister.

Perhaps surprisingly Paisley senior accepts the prospect with some equinimity, but not without a little dig at his successor, “Sinn Fein didn’t become the majority party on my watch.”

Without giving too much away, my own take is that Unionists have more important things to worry about and that “achieving good governance is a great deal more important than who gets to hold the largely titular office of ‘head honcho’”.

With the NI Water story we have had a passing glimpse inside the machinery of government and it is far from impressive. There needs to be a decisive shift away from the things of ‘war’ to the concerns of ‘peacetime’.

Today’s contribution comes from David Vance, who worries not about Northern Ireland’s Britishness, but that of the UK as a whole

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  • Obelisk

    Unionism getting itself in a bind it put itself in due to Peter Robinson’s short-sightedness at Hillsborough is depressing because there are indeed far more important things to worry about.

    Is next year’s election campaign when we have to somehow manage our way through this recession really going to be reduced to a sectarian headcount?

    Don’t get me wrong I’d be pleased to see a Nationalist First Minister, but even if Unionism comes together in some herculean effort and Sinn Fein don’t emerge as the biggest party I can’t see us being too sad over it. We’ll simply shrug our shoulders and move on and try again next time.
    All for the ‘titular head’.

    What we need is someone to suggest something really brave, take a leaf from Jim Allister’s book and simply designate them both Joint First Ministers. It removes the symbolic sting in the tail for Unionism, grants parity of esteem for Nationalism, and removes this ridiculous potential squabble over an office from the body politic.

  • Superb typo in Vance’s piece:

    Since 1973 the UK has witnessed the sustained haemorrhage of national sovereignty since power was cravingly handed over to the European Union and this is changing the nature of the British Union.

    Look up ‘cravingly’ and compare to ‘cravenly’ which is what he seems to have meant.

    We also seem to have moved on from ‘Britishness’ to pluarities of Britishnessl. Vance cites un-Britishness as well but we aren’t offered any actual signposts to what these terms are supposed to mean beyond the fact that Carson wouldn’t have recognised them in 1921. With another major world war, myriad smaller and medium sized ones, the Cold War, the deep lying centre-forward, penicillin, the internet, the Velvet Underground and Hunter S. Thompson all appearing in the century since 1921 that is surely not that much of a surprise.
    The series hasn’t exactly been visionary so far, Mick.

  • Greenflag

    David Vance ,

    ‘The truth is that the essence of the Union with Great Britain is being slowly dissolved by the toxic provisions of the Belfast Agreement.’

    Utter rubbish and Vance knows it . If the Union is being slowly dissolved it’s because in it’s former as per Vance presumably non toxic state almost half the NI population had no political allegiance to it. Unionism’s failure 1920 through 1998 to deal with the inherently undemocratic and basically unstable 6 county NI State is what has led to the current stand off and ‘imperfect’ accomodation of forced power sharing .If Vance wants his ‘union ‘ to be preserved based on 1920 to 1969 status quo then he needs to pull out his plans for a ‘repartition of Northern Ireland ‘

    More of Vance’s Don Quixoteisms’ 🙁

    ‘Unionism faces a clear choice: Does it resolve itself for continued Union with Great Britain demanding the same quality of democracy as that enjoyed elsewhere in the UK ‘

    ‘There is no choice and it’s not for Unionism alone to decide the future of NI . To put it bluntly ‘Unionism’ is not Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland continues to exist ONLY because those who are politically opposed to it’s very existence are prepared to uphold it’s existence under the GFA format . Nationalists and Republicans have an equal say as they now comprise almost half the NI population and probably more than half the population under 35 years of age as the late Horseman showed in his political demographics charts

    ‘or is it content to become semi-detached from it as a price worth paying for the current Stormont assembly? ‘

    Thats the one and only choice for NI as long as the current NI State exists .

    ‘Does it choose British pluralism or settle for the polarisation of the Belfast Agreement?

    This is a ‘false ‘choice as Vance knows . NI was built on polarisation in 1920 and the NI State worked overtime to increase that polarisation . The current GFA if anything has helped to move NI away from the Unionist party induced extreme polarisation of the 1920’s and later periods, to a more politically acceptable form of polarisation today .

    Vance could call it equality of polarisation if he wants .

    In any event it’s an improvement on the presumably non toxic one party polarised rule of the Unionist Party 1920-1972.

    Northern Ireland in it’s present format has no option other than to be semi detached from the rest of Britain . The hard facts of local political history and simple geography make that clear to anyone with eyes to see .

  • Greenflag

    I’m looking forward to Mick’s piece . So far it’s mostly been an exercise in circling around in well rutted grooves 🙁

    I liked Dr Graham Gudgin’s piece which seemed to me to be at least honest and direct with no punches pulled .
    As he put it

    ‘The annual subvention from taxpayers in Great Britain is huge at £7 billion, or £4,000 a year for every person in Northern Ireland. Without this support Northern Ireland would have one of the lowest living standards in Europe, somewhere between Portugal and Argentina, and would have to close down half its public services.

    I’ll assume that Dr Gudgin is aware that Argentina is NOT in Europe . More tellingly he says and I quote

    ‘As economic advisor to David Trimble during the first post Good-Friday Agreement assembly, I observed the lack of any real interest in the economy within the UUP.’

    Indeed ;( But to be fair it’s not just a UUP trait . It goes with the NI territory. All of the parties eschew economic detail mainly because they can do sweet fanny adams about it anyway

  • Teaser

    I totally agree with DV’s analysis; the penny is finally dropping for him and his mentor JA. Great Brittain finally trusts Ireland as a reliable and friendly neighbour and has no need for OO and other unionist neanderthals spoiling that relationship.

    It is enthusiastically promoting economic integration with the ROI hoping perhaps for some eventual relief on its strained Treasury.

    And in recognizing NI “as British as Finchley” the Iron Lady who produced the Anglo Irish Agreement, played a cruel joke on the Loyal Sons of Ulster.

    She and her successors recognized that NI is not part of GB and its citizens are not Btitish but Northern Irish, a separate part of the UK; and they provided for its eventual political separation from the UK.

    Gradualism yes by Nationalists and Republicans, but also by Perifidious Albion.

  • My answer to the question in your headline is “no”, because none of those who think they deserve that title deserve it. I can’t think of one of them who has the necessary brains, charisma or sense of strategy.

  • RepublicanStones

    You highlight an important point Greenflag, with regard Mr Vance’s view of the north and who shall get to decide what. It demonstrates quite clearly that he (and perhaps the Dinosaur party) are oblivious to the fact that a large chunk of the populace in the north are not unionist and have as much right to be involved in deciding the future as his beloved unionism does. Of course the fact his party are about as successful at the polls as Helen Keller was at eye spy, hopefully illustrtes that this blissful ignorance isn’t shared by the entire unionist community.

  • Damian O’Loan

    I can think of nothing more dangerous to Unionism than to define it in terms of a fixed notion of what constitutes Britishness. Aside from the absurdity of the latter (a debate wisely ignored when pushed by Brown and disastrous for Sarkozy), the former – as the expression of a different set of individuals – would be bound to depart from it. Unionism would be thus defined as increasingly unBritish and doomed.

    Incidentally, apart from Vance’s telling lapsus already mentioned (and the incorrect whence – where from?), the article provides some insight into his thought process. There are some observations, based on little or no evidence, from which ‘conclusions’ are drawn in a completely abstract manner. It’s almost painful watching the man grasp to make the world fit his preconceptions in such a public self-humiliation.

    Mick’s point on the FM post’s relative insignificance is valid and if not wildly insightful, I hope is remembered during the election period.

  • lover not a fighter

    Well I don’t think it will be David Vance or anyone that could have any assocition with him either.

    His only relevance is his irrelevance.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, I’ll be interested to see what you think of mine when it comes up. But the remarkable thing is that this kind of debate appears only to be happening within Unionism (led, it has to be said, by the Open Unionism blog).

    There is no such open textured debate within Nationalism/Republicanism happening beyond party political hacks, where hurling from the ditch seems to be the order of the day.

    Perhaps it is time for a long awaited Future of Republicanism paper as a companion to the one we did seven years ago for NI Unionism?

  • Mick Fealty

    As it happens, I use Finchley in my piece as an illustration of the opposite…

  • Unionists have traditionally shared their platform much more amicably than nationalists, I suppose. Nationalism has the feel of significant sub-surface flux at the moment – you’d probably need a rake of high altitude porters to even drag the real discussions into the light of day.

  • John East Belfast

    “Not only is this inherently un-British, it is a mutant form of government that has no counterpart anywhere in the civilised world”

    The very nature of the Union has no counterpart in the civilised world.
    The Union of the peoples who traditionally made up the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish is a cherished miracle – but it is inherently dynamic in its nature – some might say unstable.

    To that have been added new traditions and religions in the second half of the 20th century which will ultimately enrich the UK – not weaken it – so long as we hold up our democratic priciplas and value individual liberties.

    The Union is a bubbling pit but I prefer it anyday to individual little nationalist statelets.

    We have more in common than divides us and we are stronger together than apart.

    I love the dynamism and diversity of the United Kingdom and long may it continue

  • slug

    Although I don’t like at all McGuinnes’s past, if SF are the largest party then SF should have the FM post.

    I don’t think the FM post and DFM post should be determined by designation – I am opposed to designations.

    In most democracies the party with the largest seat count takes the top job.. Let us be mature and accept that in NI.

    Finally, the two jobs FM and DFM are equal in their formal powers. This is only a symbolic taking of the top job. In most democracies the top job would mean real discretionary power to going with it. Not here. So its really not someting to worry about.

  • slug

    Hear, hear.

  • JoeJoe

    Just read a lot of the 2021 Newsletter pieces. A lot of the contributors are not helping their U.K. cause, as they confuse Britishness with the U.K., thus alienating those that are not British (i.e. pre-colonisation people). If British rule over any part of Ireland is to survive, some voters descended from the Gaelic population will have to be persuaded to vote for it (say 30 or 40 yrs time), & the union would thus have to be sold as British and Irish, not British.

    Mind you, IMHO (I mo thuarim), this is a hard sell, similar to changing the name of the British Empire to the British and Indian Empire and selling it to the Indians before they jump ship.

    Did you know that 1.5 million Indians fought for the empire in the first world war (fact) ~(because they loved the empire!!) , and 2.5 million in the second world war (fact) (because they loved the British?/were British/ or were hungry.

  • Garza

    double hear hear.

    nationalism is a horrible philosophy.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Did you know that 1.5 million Indians fought for the empire in the first world war (fact) ~(because they loved the empire!!) , and 2.5 million in the second world war (fact) (because they loved the British?/were British/ or were hungry.’

    And over 100,000 German Jews fought for the German Empire in WWI and some of them even became ace pilots . None were hungry at least not at the war’s beginning.

    Somehow their ‘sacrifice’ of lives and heroics were forgotten when the ‘politics’ went belly up and a little man with a mustache and a penchant for sticking his right arm stiffly forward at a 55 degree angle convinced tens of millions that he had the simple answer to the people’s problems and he had found out who had caused them 🙁

  • Greenflag

    Joe Joe ,

    ‘the union would thus have to be sold as British and Irish, not British.’

    I think you meant to say ‘the union would thus have to be sold as British and Irish and not JUST British .

    Apart from a small area around Belfast -most Irish memories of the Union 1800 – 1922 are predominantly negative . Apart from British opposition to any form of Home Rule for Ireland or equal citizenship for Irish Catholics there were the quashed rebellions of 1798 and the Famine . Ireland’s ‘demographic ‘ experience under British rule was not just unique in Europe but even ‘unique’ in comparison to all of her other colonies . Ireland’s economic development was also very much hindered and restricted as Britain corralled Ireland off as a supplier of food and soldiery for the Empire .

    Sensible Unionists (there are some ) will know that trying to persuade Irish nationalists and republicans to vote for the British Union is even a more thankless task than trying to persuade Unionists of the benefits of an Irish ‘union’.

  • madraj55

    Yes, Obelisk. Nats voters know that Marty won’t have any less power than now by missing out on FM job. DUP are insulting their own voters intelligence [or perhaps accurately assessing it] by going on about SF getting FM post. Nothing new there after they blackmailed their own voters in ’07.

  • HeinzGuderian

    El Beardo ??? 🙁

  • HeinzGuderian

    Our nat/rep friends and neighbours,have been predicting the demise of The Union since 1922………I like to refer to it as,’A Notion Once Again’. 🙂

    el Beardo and chums,with their dirty little sectarian skirmish,have set that back for at least 50 years,by which time sovereignty will be an irrelevance,to all but a few,ner do wells !!

    With the demise of religion. The education of our children in non religious schools. The fading away of the oo and the aoh. The choice will be a simple one…………to be part of the Glorious British Establishment,or to belong to the joke state ? I mean to say…………..who,in their right mind,would want to be associated with priests,pixies and plastic paddies ?? 🙂

  • Munsterview

    “……….There is no such open textured debate within Nationalism/Republicanism happening beyond party political hacks, where hurling from the ditch seems to be the order of the day…….” This from a foregoing posting may be in the main factual, but is not the full story.

    An absence of debate do not mean an absence of action! In another thread the postings on Fianna Failure and quite outreach and organization into the West of the Bann in particular is proof positive that for once their deeds are outstripping their words. In fact FF are uncharastically silent on this one.

    Again for those of us who know the party machine, this is par for the course. The ‘big plan’ on anything is seldom discussed outside of the inner cabal tasked with its implementation. That was ever the FF way where the rank and file of the party were concerned the hierarchy believed in mushroom management, keep all in the dark and throw s*** at them!

    How the whole financial banking crisis was handled is a relativly recent case in point; all decisions were taken by no more than ten people, if that, on the Fianna Failure side in the small hours of the morning while the Country was literaly asleep. Then the Government as a whole, the parliamentary party, the National Exectuive and the rank and file were given information on these decisions post implementation and forced to support them as a fait accompli.

    Once the smoke and thunder following the Arms Trial disappeared consolidating the organization was all and they were no sacred cows. Paddy Hillary, ( if memory servers me right as to the person involved), put it in a nutshell when he challenges the FF rancorous Ard Fheis from the stage that ” Ye can have Boland or ye can have Fianna Fail but ye cant have both ”

    The choice was to be true to FF ideals and rhetoric on National Unity and Republican principles, or to be pragmatic, adapt the party to the new situation, put FF first and play the long game. Even while seeing off the Blaney/Boland internal threat, there was still a concentrated effort at squashing Provo Sinn Fein in the South and ignoring the organization in the North.

    I was on the Ard Chomairle of Sinn Fein and held office in a number of other structures of the organization during this period. Part of that involved presenting an educational course for new and existing members as well as organizing new SF cumann. Once organizing activity started in any given area it was the local FF councillors, not the FG ones that were pressuring the Garda authorities to act and step up the harassment.

    I was once arrested, or rather detained by eight special branch after giving one such educational course in a South Munster town. In the exchange the Branch Inspector said…

    ” look here xxxxx we only want a quite life too……. are we interfering with the IRA here ? As long as they play the game and keep the rules we will and nobody is too bothered if there are a few people with guns running around in the woods! What you are up to is another matter we are going to have every FF councillor in the town in screaming at the Super and the Super screaming at us. Trouble for us means we will make trouble for you. Come back to this F’ing town again and we will start pulling army lads and your own f’ing crowd will stop you anyway ”

    I was back, they did as they said they would, I had a run in with the local O’C and it took the direct intervention of some top people on my side my and my threat of an open resignation from the Ard Comhairle if I did not get that support, to get me a free hand to implement what was in the first instance, unanimously approved Sinn Fein, Ard Chomairle educational policy.

    In fact during all my time as a Sinn Fein activist and organizer I got far more hassle than those organizing other sections of the movement did and this was also true for other SF organizers!
    So much for the exortions to Sinn Fein during the post ceasfire years from senior FF figures to ” cease violence and become part of the political system”….. this was the very last thing FF wanted!

    From this period in the early seventies FF has always had coherent strategies in place to deal with the North and other than the elimination of Sinn Fein as a significant political force and the absorption of the greener elements of the party, Sinn Fein did not figure in the equation over the years.

    It is very interesting in the other thread that just as the debate on FF northern activities was starting to contexualise and clarify that there was a disengagement from certain posters. Again par for the course on that, Fianna Failure want to continue their actions, not have their plans laid bare for all to see. Why should they ? Things are moving along very satisfactory indeed from their perspective and exposure is one of the few things that could throw a spanner in the works!