Unionism 2021: Unity could bring a more strategic, confident and professional unionism

By my reckoning the News Letter’s series on the future of Unionism has been something of a resounding success. Perhaps on reflection the questions posed each of the writers might have been more challenging, but it has drawn in folk from across the unionist world, and beyond. Today, it is Arlene Foster’s turn. She could almost be thinking of what’s left of her support in the UUP:

The mistake civic/liberal unionists make is that they believe they can build a new city upon exclusion of those who come to Unionism on the basis of identity. They are wrong.

They wrongly present people’s political choices as one dimensional. Unionism will be its most successful when all its gateways are open and it has a message that aims to attract the greatest number to the cause of the greater good.

Unionism can have a breadth and depth to it that can make it relevant to more people than the narrowness and restrictiveness of Irish nationalism.

Unionist unity could help deliver such a vision. The idea of the new city is an inclusive one. It is an idea that a credible and sustainable broad church could be built around.

It can create space for Unionism to adopt new approaches. The human and financial resources of Unionism can be focused on delivering a positive vision for Unionism and Northern Ireland rather than back-biting and sniping.

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  • joeCanuck

    and it has a message that aims to attract the greatest number to the cause of the greater good.

    She shouldn’t leave us hanging! What is the message? The same tired old slogans? Did unionism ever have any vision other than maintaining the union (yes, that is a fair cause for their supporters) but what do they really offer? I’ve never been able to figure it out. And the usual call for unity, on their terms I presume – best way to keep the undesirables from taking over.

  • alan56

    I suspect that Arlene’s version of unionist unity will get short shrift from those who worked along side her and Jeffrey while they were still in the UUP !

  • fin

    I’m obviously missing something here, all I can pick out are rather bad (comical even) soundbites. What exactly is it that she thinks unionism can deliver?

  • aquifer

    Content-free, just all vote DUP

  • ultonian

    Arlene, is probably yearning, possibily pining for the old days when the Unionism she espoused looked towards a new vibrant Northern ireland not shackled to to the religio/political ideologies that still haunt the DUP.

    Even with a further influx of UUP members to the Assembly under the DUP banner, Arlene realises the pull of the DUP isn’t enough to inspire the pro union electorate. The pro union vote has decreased as the DUP has risen, the electoral turnout has crashed, unlike the rest of the UK. The unionist brand appears tainted as the DUP remain in charge.

    Now the UUP haven’t capitalised on the problems of the DUP especially in relation to the scandals but the electorate has walked away. East Belfast and to a certain extent Fermanagh & South Tyrone proves that.

    Ultimately if Unionist unity with the DUP as the lead came about, the signs are the pro union vote would drop further and the combined nationalist and republican votes could surpass the Unionist unity party vote. This does not mean there willbe pro nited Ireland majority just the politiacl picture will shift.

    Arlene’s 2021 piece lacks vision, underlying it, there is still a sense of keep them out all the glorious inclusive talk does not seem based in a truly inclusive plpuralist society. but who here believes that the bulk of the DUP believes or actually know what pluralist or inclusive means.

    All in all, Arlene you’re hitched to the wrong party if that’s what you want.

  • Unity (if this means one Party) is always presented as a panacea, but in reality it is a placebo – which is the basis of what Ultonion is saying (forgive the presumption). Take away Party and most unionists already agree. What is lacking is the actual vision/leadership (call it what you will) around which the unionist electorate will coalesce; the positive winning narrative in which they can believe and trust. Unionists know they are looking for something. Whoever as leader, or whichever Party provides the leadership, will claim the reward of electoral success.

  • Cynic

    What does she want? She had the chance to unseat Peter and take the DUP forward. She chose not to.

  • Dan

    Don’t worry, there won’t even be a union by 2021. Apart from Wales. But they don’t count.

  • White Horse

    The notion that the DUP could easily populate the city on the hill, an allusion to the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation, is delusional. Can anyone tell us what’s Christian about the DUP? David Ervine could tell tell us the colour of their wallpaper. Enough said?

  • Driftwood

    Unionist unity could help deliver such a vision. The idea of the new city is an inclusive one. It is an idea that a credible and sustainable broad church could be built around. !!!!

    The lyrics/hymn ‘Jerusalem’ sprung to my mind. Leaving aside ‘dark satanic mills’, what a pile of shite.
    Pathetic, delusional speech, and NI politics is rudderless if this sort of inane commentary is all they can produce.
    Quite simply, if Northern Ireland was a dog, it would be put down rather than carry on with HM Treasury Morphine keeping it on life support.
    But Arlene is not a supporter of euthanasia, so on we go, palliative care and spoon fed.
    Maybe the Celtic Tiger can afford a rest home-nope- running out of options.

  • USA

    I read Fosters’ piece to see what kind of vision she had. Apparantly, very little. It read like a party political broadcast on behalf of the DUP.

    She talked about unionism being afflicted with” back-biting and sniping”, she then refers to the UUP as having suffered “defeat” at the hands of some political opponents (didn’t actually mention her partners in government by name…SF) with the UUP then choosing “to carry on regardless with its weak-kneed approach”.
    But that was not enough “back biting and sniping” for Arlene.No, for fn true DUP fashion she just couldn’t stop herself and further described the UUP as “defeatists” with a “poverty of vision”. She also lists these as here reasons for leaving the UUP and moving to the DUP.

    Strangely she goes on to claim that the apparantly evil Good Friday Agreement was the work of those who simply wished “to hide their intellectual poverty and desire to cut a deal at any costs with nationalism”. Then claiming the resulting mantle fell to the DUP and they delivered a “fair deal” for unionism.
    Does she realize that while the GFA train was pulling out of the station the British govt, the Irish govt, the US govt, the UUP, SDLP, SF etc were all on board. It was the only game in town for years while her new friends pissed in the wind. When we finally picked up their toys and put them back in the pram, we set up St Andrews so they could waffle to their supporters about getting a better deal. But not everyone bought that line of crap, certainly no one inside the tent and seemingly a few outside also ie TUV).

    Arlenes’ much vaunted St Andrews was just embarrasing and shows the lengths the other participants were prepared to go the get the DUP on board. Ian junior was running around with a shopping list for his own constituency (pathetic given what was at stake). In his determination to secure the DUP as leaders of unionism at St Andrews, Peter (Einstein) Robinson demands that the largest party is allowed to select the First Minister…..the forward looking SF readily agreed to it (wonder why,) and were then cute enough to extract another concession because they agreed to it.

    By claiming the DUP “was able to square the policing and justice circle” i’m afraid Arlene enters the world of fantasy and looses what little credibility she has left.
    For over a year SF plainly told their partners in government that P+J would have to be devolved. Eventually the British had to tell them also.
    The DUP had been waxiny lyrical about “not in a political lifetime” and various other phrases that now rank up there with “Never” in the annals of complete horse shite.

    Arlene has fallen way down in my estimation following this piece of twisted fiction.

  • Alias

    “The mistake civic/liberal unionists make is that they believe they can build a new city upon exclusion of those who come to Unionism on the basis of identity. They are wrong.”

    That’s probably the only part worth quoting. How inclusive could inclusive unionism actually be if it excluded the ethnic unionists? It would be excluding the vast majority of them from the political franchise.

  • Secret Squirrel

    Driftwood wrote : “a pile of shite”

    That’s probably the only part worth quoting.

  • USA

    And before I forget. As with nationalism, unionism and society in general is better served with more than one unionist option. A single unionist party smacks of reducing the game to a sectarian head count.

  • Comrade Stalin

    No, for fn true DUP fashion she just couldn’t stop herself and further described the UUP as “defeatists” with a “poverty of vision”. She also lists these as here reasons for leaving the UUP and moving to the DUP.

    The problem here is – she’s right.

  • By my reckoning the News Letter’s series on the future of Unionism has been something of a resounding success.

    I think the majority of contributions have added to the debate. The main disappointment is that none of the political elite (or indeed, the various elements of our patronising religious mafia) have been able to move meaningfully outside their public comfort-zone.

    Arlene Foster’s piece is a case in point.
    Unionism can have a breadth and depth to it that can make it relevant to more people than the narrowness and restrictiveness of Irish nationalism.

    It can have, but its N.Irish version doesn’t deliver it at the minute as the DUP and an significant element in the UUP are incapable of moving beyond the communalist version- hence the drive towards “Unity”.

    .If Mrs Forster had been brave enough, she would have told us how she thinks civic/liberal unionism could be incorporated within the present structures of the the DUP.

  • slug

    Arlene puts forward some arguments worth considering:

    *a single unionist party would have to compete at the margin, therefore would compete with Alliance and SDLP for votes. That is, its incentive would be growth of unionism. Unlike two parties in unionism who can compete for votes off each other.

    *a single unionist party would have the resources to fund research and marketing, benefiting from economies of scale

    I am not one who believes in unionist unity but these arguments in its favour are worth considering.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    That’s the odd thing about unionism though – and it’s not good or bad, it’s just in the nature of unionism – it isn’t in itself a programme. Unionism is really a one-issue movement that has found itself having to fulfill the role of a multi-issue political party – or parties. And it hasn’t had clearly agreed principles for doing that, other than broadly representing the interests of British people in Northern Ireland and those of others who prefer to maintain the union.

    It’s not the mirror image of nationalism, but I see unionism as having an advantage in this regard, if one that many unionists themselves do not appreciate. Nationalism is focussed on an END and needs a kind of philosophy and story to justify moving towards it; unionism as a movement is about the START of politics only i.e. deciding what country we ought to be in. Where you go from there is then not a question unionism tries to answer, it’s determined by other political philosophy, liberal or conservative and so on.

    I think it is actually a strength of unionism that it doesn’t need to build a political programme based on national rights. The fact it too frequently did fall back on the politics of national rights in the past was unnecessary, a great shame and down to laziness and lack of imagination on the part of our past leaders. It can have a minimalist approach to the national question (i.e. park it unless there’s a massive demographic change) and get on with other questions, without its approach to those questions being in some way affected by the national question. Nationalism does not have that freedom.

    Both unionist parties get locked into anti-nationalist bickering. A lot of it is just habit but a lot of it is quite understandable: Irish nationalist discourse seems often still stuck on the national question and seems slow to digest the 1998 settlement, particularly on acceptance of Britishness in Ireland and parity of esteem. As long as it is bowling these deliveries, unionism has no choice but to bat them away stolidly.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    oneill,
    “its N.Irish version doesn’t deliver it at the minute as the DUP and an significant element in the UUP are incapable of moving beyond the communalist version- hence the drive towards “Unity””

    I agree with your sentiments. What about a realignment of unionism not into one party but two new parties – a unionist left of centre party and a unionist right of centre, so British people in Northern Ireland can really have a choice about the kind of politics they want? The current DUP / UUP choice does not give people a meaningful choice.

    The best of way of getting there, though, may be unionist unity first; then for that big umbrella party to make the new split along the more sensible lines I suggest.

  • Rory Carr

    “Breadth” and “depth” but no height, width, radius, circumference or volume – she missed out there.

    But I liked best the “vision” that, “The idea of the new city is …. an idea that a credible and sustainable broad church could be built around.”

    It was not unusual for villages, towns even cities to be built around churches in the past but the idea of buliding a church around a city is a novel, not to say radical, idea indeed. It would certainly need to be “broad” among other interesting dimensions that would be required.

    Why is it that the language of politicians and those poor lost souls who insist on writing the most awful doggerel, believing it to be poetry, often have a commonality of sheer awfulness?

    When one is bereft of ideas one resorts to “visionary” waffle which, like amateur poetry, is excruciating to read and leaves us only with an equal sense of pity and loathing for the author who pressed it upon us.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I’m not averse to unity either in the short term; in the longer term though, one unionist party means inviting people to vote by ethnic block only. True, people are used to it, but we should be giving people a choice.

    Could be good for Alliance though: could gain a lot of votes from liberal unionists who feel uncomfortable voting purely on ethnic lines.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Yes, more of a doughnut-shaped church really.

    Or what about Arlene building a new hub-cap, with a new unionism as the wheel and its representatives as the run-flat Michelin tyre, gripping onto the tarmac of the polity …

  • Slug,

    “a single unionist party would have to compete at the margin, therefore would compete with Alliance and SDLP for votes. That is, its incentive would be growth of unionism.”

    A single Unionist party (assuming it carried forward all the UUP and DUP voters with it) would be the biggest party in NI- there wouldn’t then be an incentive surely to upset the horses by attempting to also compete at “the margins”?

    The “resources” point probably could apply to “marketing” but again, I’m not sure whether there would be much incentive for the likes of Mrs Forster to disturb the self-serving status quo by bothering too much with the “research” side of things>

  • lover not a fighter

    Chill out unionistas

    What will be will be !

  • Brian Walker

    Arlene’s formulation is intriguing

    “A gateway into this city will be the Ulster Protestant identity but it will not be the only one.

    The mistake civic/liberal unionists make is that they believe they can build a new city upon exclusion of those who come to Unionism on the basis of identity. They are wrong”

    When were Unionists excluded on the basis of identity? If she means the DUP, they walked out the GFA talks and yet were part of the first Executive on the old half in, half out basis -a victory for inclusion I should have thought

    Who are “civic unionists” anyway when they’re at home? People who are unionists because they want jobs? They died out after 1972 when patronage ended. Today I’m sure plenty in all parties want jobs.

    No point is labouring the case that without a Trimble there would have been no Paisley mark 2 and that it was Blair who facilitated the rise of the DUP to the leading role by Assembly suspensions and deferring elections rather than let the institutions collapse altogether.

    Arlene has to be allowed her political myth and anyway, it’s water under the bridge.

    She now has to explain how ” identity unionists”
    ( whoever they are exacly) can contribute to building a “shining city.” At least her emphasis seems different from the aggressive old DUP formulation that St Andrews’ was all about the route to a unionist victory.

    It therefore seems like a modest broadening of the DUP agenda. Or it may just have been a rhetorical flourish.

    Tell us more, please Arlene.

  • madraj55

    USA. Foster is incapable of hiding her sectarian outlook. She has come out with some bitter comments in recent times, including her comments when Gildernew first took the FST seat in 2001 i think. responding to a suggestion that Nats should have parity of esteem in NI. She said ‘They can’t have it, then. Ulster is British and that’s it’.

  • loftholdingswood

    I have enjoyed most of the contributions to the debate, particularly the UPRG piece and the Dawn Purvis piece. One can only assume that some new form of Loyalist political voice could emanate from this combination.

    I was depressed by the piece by Arlene Foster; depressing and narrow of vision.

  • Politico68

    As a nationalist i would love to see Unionist unity asit will be the final nail in the coffin in what was once the great monolith of the North.

    One great big right wing Unionist party would drive more of their voters into the hands of alliance or off the register altogether. Thus allowing the Nationalist Block to have a majority seats.

    Unionism is and always was a one issue dog: save the Union at all costs.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Politico68,
    I am reposting, but I addressed this earlier in response to JoeCanuck – you are right unionism is a one-issue dog in a sense, but that’s in the nature of where it fits in, i.e. as a response to (the rather unnecessary) 32 county nationalism. It is actually quite a different animal from nationalism. I see its de minimis approach to dealing with the constitutional issue as, increasingly, an advantage:

    “Nationalism is focussed on an END and needs a kind of philosophy and story to justify moving towards it; unionism as a movement is about the START of politics only i.e. deciding what country we ought to be in. Where you go from there is then not a question unionism tries to answer, it’s determined by other political philosophy, liberal or conservative and so on.”

    It can, if it allows itself, be less weighed down by the national issue than Irish nationalism is. This is surely a political advantage unionism has over nationalism, which is a meaningless idea these days. Post-GFA Northern Ireland, which is 12 years old, is run by sharing power between the communities, regardless of a few per cent here or there either way. So your hope for some kind of victory for a “Nationalist Block” is pretty forelorn in 2010 – very 1980s. We’re locked into this place together, you know, and you can’t wish away unionism. It just might take different forms in the future (and I hope it does).

  • slug

    Indeed. In fact an alliance of UUP with Conservatives is more likely to produce quality political research in terms of state of the art centre right ideas to present to the electorate.

  • Johnkingii

    Just read ed currens piece in the Telegraph on this probably the most intelligent and truthful insight on unionist voters I have read so far

  • Politico68

    Unionism politically speaking has one agenda and that is to maintain the Union. It’s social and economic policies get completely lost and tangled up in the struggle to be more Orange or more British.

    I feel Nationalist parties are more socially grounded which is reflected in their solid support base. Nationalist voters are rarely confused by in-fighting or Religious bigotry and social exclusion.

    SF and SDLP have stated as policy their wish for a united Ireland plain and simple. Neither parties realistically expect that to come about in the next few decades and their voters are equally aware of that fact, as such nationalism tends to ‘get on with things’ rather than worrying about the likelyhood of realising their aspiration.

    SDLP and SF will continue to make in-roads into the Unionist Vote if current voting trends continue and the Democraphic shift continues. There is nothing to indicate a change on this front. The North is divided on Religious and politcal grounds, it would take a monumental effort and a
    phenomonal change in basic mood for that to change.

    We need to accept that and hope that within the two Blocks we have parties independantly solid and open to their particular electorate.

    I believe Nationalism has that. Unionism does’nt and there-in lies the sword on which Unionism will fall (politically speaking)

  • Johnkingii

    I feel Nationalist parties are more socially grounded which is reflected in their solid support base. Nationalist voters are rarely confused by in-fighting or Religious bigotry and social exclusion. That is why they vote for the largest nationalist party which supported murder and ethnic clensing of their fellow countrymen for thirty years and the stoop party climbed on the back of it over the same period.

  • Politico68

    Your post simply points to another problem for Unionism.
    Living in the past and failing to accept maturely that we are where we are, like it or not.

    NI was created on the back of Unionist threats of violence against home rule so you can run with that bit of history if ya like.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Come on Politico68, you have to admit the high Sinn Fein vote leaves nationalism with zero moral high ground over unionism.

  • Johnkingii

    Politico68 by statement regarding living in the past therefore the NDSAP would be entitled to be in government in Germany again and the Kymer Rouge in Cambodia a people who forget their past are destined to repeat it. Noone in Norther Ireland comes out of the past well but only one party is trying to rewrite it.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Unionism can’t fall unless nationalism does. Nationalism requires us to be unionist. If nationalism weren’t there, we’d be able to get on with normal left / right politics.

    SDLP and SF are not making inroads into the unionist vote, they have barely swayed anyone. The overall vote nationalist vote may have grown through demographics, but (1) the trend is flattening off and (2) is that what Irish republican ideals amount to – out-breeding another ethnic group? Truly these are intellectual titans who have won us all over with their wisdom, fairness and integrity.

    “Nationalist voters are rarely confused by religious bigotry” – ahem, the Sinn Fein vote, ahem …
    Or is violent bigoted ethnic chauvinism OK when it’s against British people?

  • Politico68

    the high Sinn Fein vote only materialised after the guns were left behind. there is a whole generation of SF voters who would have no idea other than media reports etc. of what went on over the years.

    Unionism had no problem voting in droves for their representatives despite the fact that they were treating Catholics as second class citizens, a kind of polite terrorism was at work then.

    Apeople who LIVE in the past are destined to repeat their mistakes, remebering the past as a guide to the future is healthy.

    The bottom line is SF are here to stay, screaming at Nationalists for voting for them is pointless and a waste of energy.

  • Obelisk

    The past is the past MU, and as is pointed out below support for SF grew only after they left violence.

    Besides, last night I was watching the UTV documentary about King Rat and saw him sharing a stage with a very fired up Willie McCrea, the same Willie McCrea who refused to share a stage with Martin McGuinness.

    Sinn Fein doesn’t possess the moral high ground, this is true, but the DUP’s hypocrisy is equally contemptible.

  • johnkingii

    The bottom line is SF are here to stay, screaming at Nationalists for voting for them is pointless and a waste of energy. I am pretty sure a former ex-corporal made the same sort of statement in a European Capital in 1933 and we know what happened to him. If you are not sure reading the biography of that great Irish Republican hero Arthur Griffiths will help refresh your memory as he was pretty close to the greatest Korporal of our time.

  • USA

    JohnKinkii,
    All through the troubles the Catholic population voted in huge numbers for the SDLP. We all know the SF vote did not start to grow until after SF began engaging with the peace process. Don’t try to portray the Catholic population as the villians in your dirty little war. They only began to vote in large numbers for SF after the republican movement started to look for alternatives to violence.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    USA,
    Well it wasn’t my “dirty little war” at all since I never wanted any of it. Unlike Sinn Fein.

    “We all know the SF vote did not start to grow until after SF began engaging with the peace process.”
    I note you don’t say “after the IRA stopped their violence” because that wouldn’t be true. Or “after they apologised for the violence” because that wouldn’t be true either. The rise in the Sinn Fein vote, after a 30-year terror campaign it actively encouraged, supported and in some cases engaged in, asks serious questions about the moral values of large sections of the nationalist electorate.

    The reality about “rewarding peace” is that the Sinn Fein vote moved up considerably in the period when Sinn Fein was trying to avoid decommissioning, was excuse-making for continued IRA violence [see IMC reports in early 2000s] and was generally selling the “armed struggle” as a necessary, heroic endeavour, if one they no longer wished to pursue. If voters simply wanted to reward peaceful politics, they surely would have voted for the SDLP, the nationalist party with the best record on that.

    But no, they wanted to vote for a party that advanced nationalist interests aggressively, regardless of the horrific and cruel recent history of that party. In doing so they have treated with contempt both their Protestant neighbours and Catholic victims of Republican violence.

    I’m not blaming everything that’s wrong in NI on nationalists by a long chalk, but I do think nationalism needs a big reality check on its sense of its own moral superiority, which I see frequently in Slugger. Two reasons: (1) most killings in the Troubles were done by and in the name of nationalists (60 per cent overall; for most years in the Troubles it was 70 per cent – the Troubles were demonstrably not some morally equal struggle); (2) nationalists disproportionately supported those same terrorists electorally both during and after the Troubles. I

    I say this in support of moderate nationalists who have done much more than I have to face down Sinn Fein, but have been let down by large sections of the nationalist electorate who have acted in a heartless, uncaring and selfish way towards society as whole. There is no more excuse for voting Sinn Fein than there is voting for the BNP, Vlaamse Blok or any other ultra-nationalist ethnic chauvinist movement. Indeed, if any of those other parties had the record of violence Sinn Fein has, they would probably be banned.

    So please, let us on the peaceful side of unionism (that is, nearly all of us) get on with our political debates about our future direction without pointless emanations from the twisted wreckage of Irish Republicanism. We managed fine when we were being shot at and we’ll manage fine now.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    “polite terrorism”? Oh please. The ‘moral equivalence’ argument revealed in its absurdity I’m afraid.

    “screaming at Nationalists for voting for them is pointless and a waste of energy”
    Quite possibly. But anything’s worth a try: what else can we do? All it takes for bad people to succeed is for good people to do nothing, as they say.