Unionist relations with Nationalists: “They don’t have to love us, but…”

Alex Kane argues that whilst (if we are to believe the latest NILT survey) Sinn Fein’s pitch for united Ireland is firmly in the top level percentile of the population’s 80% of optimists (this disunited kingdom is likely to remain united for some time to come), Unionist should not get complacent over their own latent forms of optimism…

The next decade is littered with all sorts of anniversaries for unionism, starting next year with the centenary of the 1912 covenant and ending in 2021 with the centenary of the first sitting of the Northern Ireland parliament in June 1921. It isn’t enough to mark these occasions with dinners, speeches, marches, exhibitions, pamphlets and re-enactments: and nor is it enough to have some sort of triumphalist theme based on Elton John’s “still-standing-after-all-these-years”.

Unionism needs to show itself to be bigger, bolder, broader than that, celebrating an ongoing union which remains the best future for all of the people of Northern Ireland. The constitutional guarantee is built around the maintenance of a pro-union majority, so it’s essential that unionism continues to market the benefits of the wider union while implementing a socio/economic agenda in the assembly which brings tangible benefits to every area of Northern Ireland.

While it may be true that there is some sort of residual belief in a united Ireland, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of republicans/nationalists would never again support an armed campaign to achieve that end. So it is important that their experience of the union and of unionism is, at best, positive and, at worst, neutral. Put bluntly, they don’t have to love us, but they must never again hate or fear us enough to support a terrorist campaign in favour of Irish unity.

And while all of this is going on unionists must also challenge Sinn Fein on the decidedly dodgy Marxist number-crunching that underpins their economic strategy.


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  • keano10

    “Marxist number-crunching”?

    A bit melodramatic surely? As for the rest, Alex is simply sharing his personal utopia of how he would love Unionism to be perceived. But it will never happen, simply because Unionism as an entity is still built on suspicion and an introverted and irrational need to self-preserve itself at the exclusion of all others.

    In the end perhaps, it’s inability to change or re-invent itself will possibly be it’s ultimate downfall.

  • JH

    I think he’s hit the nail on the head. As a United Irelander myself my biggest concern would be that Unionists one day actually realise the position they’re in and embrace normality.

    They hold the center of the ring but have no idea. They keep backing into a corner and defending it instead!

  • Nunoftheabove

    “It isn’t enough to mark these occasions with dinners, speeches, marches, exhibitions, pamphlets and re-enactments”

    – Why isn’t that far too much rather than not enough ? What’s more significant about it being 100 years ago than it being 99 years ago or 101 years ago per se ?

    “Unionism needs to show itself to be bigger, bolder, broader than that”

    – I think “show” is rather a key word there; it would demonstrate a litle more ambition to endeavour to substitute “show” with “be”….or at least pretend/”show” that that was indeed an ambition to do so to begin with.

  • Into the west

    Meeting A.Kane I’d ask two questions:

    1) For someone who repeatedly says:
    “My own view remains that there will not be a united Ireland any time soon (and probably never”
    you seem to spent a heck of alot of time worrying about it, writing about it., opining , why is that?

    2)”The union may be safe, but unionism itself needs to constantly reinvent and remarket itself to reflect the changing needs of a changing world and changing demography”
    Alex you’ve been saying this for over 20 yrs also.

    Is it possible that you also are stuck in the 80% loony territory of positive “wishful”thinking.?

    I think I’ve read 20-50 articles by Kane over the last 10 years; and they aways say the same thing.
    I just find that odd, it doesn’t add-up
    I wish I could tease out his deeper anxieties,
    but I’m not that skilled ..

    what we do know is he sounds like a broken record.
    For even his facts don’t comfort him…

    If he really believes what he says, why keep repeating it.?
    who is he trying to convince?
    Is his repetition just the flip side of SF’s repetition?

    Just playing records, tapping the feet over and over, to the same tune.
    That’s not confidence, there’s something rather tired and sad about it.
    sometimes , after a few, I’ll play a few oul tunes, more as a comfort thing, before I crash out; and do it all again the next time.
    I know though that if someone ever knocked on the door, radical fresh, even revolutionary, and caught me in one of my nostalgic moments, almost self-pitying , and confronted me about my insecurities they’d wipe the floor with me…
    so perhaps that’s the fear I cannot face….
    what is your fear Alex , masked in these articles?

  • “an introverted and irrational need to self-preserve itself at the exclusion of all others”

    keano, those words remind me of a recent Hunger-strike exhibition in Moyle Council offices – even the folks manning the exhibition were former SF councillors, one of whom had been dropped from the team – at the cost of a seat.

    More generally, the Border Question still prevents councillors of all hues from consistently working together for the common good.

    Anyone who thinks the mobs will never again be at each others’ throats IMO needs to dust down a few history books; I’d recommend the late A T Q Stewart’s “The Narrow Ground”.

    Centre ground Unionists and Nationalists badly misread the flow of events fifty years ago and the extremists on both sides were more than willing to use confrontation and violence to advance their own cause or frustrate that of their opponents.

  • MonkDeWallyDeHonk


    I largely agree.

    Firstly the laughable NILT survey that Unionists love so much also showed that SDLP support among Nationalists is higher than SF. And they accuse Nationalists of living in a fantasy world.

    As a moderate Nationalist, I used to enjoy Alex Kane’s column as a rational moderate far sighted Unionist view. However, since he got out of the UUP, he seems to have resorted to hitting at easy targets such as unrealistic targets set by SF.

    However, he lives in a dream word himself. He describes some sort of of UK wide supported Unionist utopia which has never and will never exist. The vast majority of British people don’t give a shit about NI and couldn’t care less if it left the UK.

    Due to the current economic situation, support for a UI is at a low ebb. Hardly surprising but it will not last forever.

    He is right that SF are being ridiculous in some of their claims about 2016 and all that. I think most sensible people saw that a long time ago.

    However, he supported Tom Elliott (a middle aged ex UDR farmer from Fermanagh) for the UUP leadership. That’s real blue sky thinking for Unionism. Elliott won by bussing in loads of other middle aged Orangemen from Fermanagh!

    What a success Elliott has been in moving towards the sort of Unionism that Alex Kane describes.

    He makes fair criticisms of many SF policies etc.

    In truth, the way forward for Unionism would be to do what Alex Kane describes.
    However, the truth is that Unionism has shown no desire to acknowledge Catholics/Nationalists as equal citizens with every right to aspire to a UI.

    Most of the changes in NI have been forced on Unionists by a UK govt that finally had enough of their sponging and whining.

    The OO are a classic example of how middle class Unionism has moved on – not.

    I just don’t see why Alex can mock SF, then promote someone like Tom Elliott as a champion of the type of Unionism he aspires to, then expect to be taken seriously.

  • Barnshee

    “introverted and irrational need to self-preserve itself ”

    Hardly irrational






    The reality of the various forms of roman catholic/nationalist attacks on Protestants and protestants right to reject catholic republican Ireland are hardly “irrational”or are the above examples just “suspicious”

    “Introverted” ? Acts like the few exampled above tend to set one`s views in concrete.

    “self preservation” = will not lie down to Catholic/republican murder gangs? What an unhelpful people

  • Mick Fealty

    Can we try to keep this focused people. Heinz has had his piece removed and pinged with a yellow, for inane deflection from the point.

    Into the west, you are next in line. If you cannot talk about the points raised and choose instead to talk generally about the man you will be out of here so fast….

  • JR

    This article seems to make no distiction between Nationlaism and the IRA campaign.

    “I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of republicans/nationalists would never again support an armed campaign to achieve that end.”

    His use of Again seems to imply that the vast majority of nationalists supported the armed campaign.

    “they must never again hate or fear us enough to support a terrorist campaign in favour of Irish unity.”

    The whole thrust of the argument seems to be that support for Irish unity is based on Fear and hate and the only atempt at achieving this has been violence. This shows a profound misunderstanding of those who favour Irish Unity.

  • keano10

    In some respects I think Alex has miscalculated when talking about the need for Unionists “to implement a socio-economic agenda which brings benefits to every part of Northern Ireland”. Unfortunately the shared and unique nature of the Assembly means that Unionism no longer implements policies solely on their own. If there is a significant improvement in the economic situation over the next decade then Nationalists are just as likely to award credit to the main Nationalist party within the Assembly.

  • “some sort of residual belief in a united Ireland,”

    I find the above remark by Alex quite insulting, especially for those who aspire to a united Ireland. As I’ve said on numerous occasions both aspirations are equally valid; it’s important we work the common ground together and develop good relationships across both islands and with the wider world.

    “implementing a socio/economic agenda in the assembly which brings tangible benefits to every area of Northern Ireland.”

    The mechanics of the Executive prevent Unionists from doing this on their own. The 1998 Agreement has left us with a tug-of-war legacy and a mutual veto in the hands of the two most extreme parties.

  • “As a moderate Nationalist .. Due to the current economic situation, support for a UI is at a low ebb.”

    Monk, I don’t believe our two opposing constitutional aspirations have much to do with economics of the UK or Ireland and I’d point out that, unfortunately, support for moderate Unionism and Nationalism is at a low ebb.

  • amo


    Unionism is not an aspiration, it is a reality. If you are writing from Northern Ireland, you are writing from The United Kingdom, no two ways about it.

    Unionism exists mostly as a defensive mechanism against the political want of some to join the Republic of Ireland. If there was no Irish Nationalism in Northern Ireland then there would cease to be a need for Unionism.

    Certainly there is a lessening in support for a United Ireland, and if this is insulting to you then that is really your own problem. Don’t shoot the messenger that brings you news of defeat.

  • sonofstrongbow

    I wonder sometimes what a ‘moderate unionist” actually is? Perhaps someone who’s thinking is bobbing about in the middle of the North Channel?

    I have no problem with anyone’s aspiration for a united Ireland although I do challenge their right to deny that they live in the UK and somehow already live in (political) Ireland and their associated complaining about public displays of British symbolism. For example their desire to elevate the national flag of the Irish Republic to equal status with the Union flag. They may feel it is ‘their’ flag, they may feel that they are politically Irish as opposed to geographically Irish, as I am, but their wishing it does not make it so.

    As to the News Letter piece. I am a confident unionist secure in the continuance of the Union and very happy for that.

  • keano10


    “Support for moderate Unionism and Nationalism is at a low ebb”.

    That statement perhaps sums up why the SDLP and UUP have reached the point where they are largely politically irrelevant in terms of having any real power in The North. The reason why the respective stars of the DUP and Sinn Fein confinue to shine is because they are now regarded as being co-operative and moderate voices by the majority of voters here.

    They have both successfully made inroads into the middle class elecorates within both Unionism and Nationalism. Indeed, even The Alliance Party are stealing an increasing number of votes from their middle ground partners. The UUP have responded by installing an old fashioned, insular leader, more reminiscent if pre 1969 Stormont. The SDLP have embarked on another tense leadership contest in the hope of finding a Hume/Mallon-esque Messiah to lead them out of the wilderness. Both parties lack direction, strategy and vision, so they cant really complain about the increasing loss of electoral strength. Voters can spot weakness a mile away and they dont like it.

    Whatever the reality, at least McGuinness and Robinson portray the appearance of mutal strength and purpose. Confidence is an under-rated commodity and it is the one thing significantly lacking presently within both the UUP and SDLP. They have a long way to go…

  • “Unionism is not an aspiration, it is a reality.”

    amo, as I see it, the Unionist aspiration is that NI remains within the UK. Correct me if I’m wrong but, leaving out the vote for the ‘neutral’ APNI, the vote for the main Unionist and Nationalist parties in each case is under 50%.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    “Unionism as an entity is still built on suspicion and an introverted and irrational need to self-preserve itself at the exclusion of all others”

    I wouldn’t have said self-preservation was irrational.

    If unionism often comes across as defensive and negative in its tone, try seeing it from our point of view – nationalism’s ambition is our nightmare.

    It feels like being Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction – no matter how many times you say no, the embittered ex keeps coming at you, telling you you’re a worthless piece of sh**, trying to break up your marriage and attacking your kids – while tearfully professing her undying love.

    So excuse our being slightly freaked out by the whole thing.

  • Dec

    Yet again the construct of the Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is framed as nothing more than a parochial victory of us’uns over themm’uns in the rump end of the UK, determined by the wildly incoherent results in a life style survey. Still, what else can you expect when you get your global news from the News Letter?

  • amo


    1. Aspirations are to do with acheiving defined goals. As Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom, Unionists need not aspire to this. They also cannot aspire to something which may have an infinite length of existance in time, as aspiration only works in terms of limited goals. Achieving a United Ireland is an aspiration, but maintaining such a state cannot be an apiration as there are no limitations to your aspirations.

    2. You fall into the trap that many fall into, that is, equating voting patterns with unionist/nationalist support.

    I think you would be mistaken to rule out a mild form of sectarianism, one that is understandable from how Catholics in particular vote in elections in Northern Ireland.

    If there was an active push by Unionist parties to firstly, attract more Catholic members and secondly run more Catholic candidates then you would no doubt see an upsurge in votes towards Unionist parties.

    Catholics rightly want to maintain the hard-fought for representation in houses of power, so it serves no purpose to vote for a Protestant candidate who is standing under the banner of keeping a continual state (the union). Catholics do not want to vote power out of their own hands.

    3. I would try to correct you, but I am not too sure what you mean by ‘main’. Do you mean DUP would be main compared to UUP as minor? Or UUP would still be main due to it being larger than PUP or UKIP?
    Either way, Unionist parties command over 50% of the seats in the NI Assembly, and if the DUP and UUP could merge they would currenly have 54 seats, which is 50% of the total 108 seats available. If there was better co-operation on elections there is strong evidence that this would have increased by at least one seat from West Belfast, reducing SF by one, leading to 50.9% of the Assembly seats.

  • Stewart Finn

    I think he is basically right. Although the ability of Unionism to ‘market itself’ to a wider audience and not encourage people to ‘hate them’ is questionable – Unionism has certainly not done itself any favours in that regard before…but the theory is sound enough.

    Things stay as they are until enough people think otherwise which is by no means certain and in my view very unlikely in any foreseeable future. So while not in any immediate ‘danger’ of a United Ireland, Unionism could be doing a lot which would be in their best interests anyway, would help further stabilise society here and would also legislate against a United Ireland and potentially be a convincer for (if not the Union explicitly) the constitutional status quo.

    But again this would require balance, humility, forward planning, strategy, discipline and some sort of common message…again not things Unionism has proven itself particularly adept at 🙂

  • amo, AFAIK the Unionist goal is to ‘maintain the Union’ so that fits with an aspiration.

    Can I point out that the 54 DUP + UUP share of the seats is based on a 43.2% share of the vote? The SF + SDLP share of the vote was 41.1%. A small wobble could see quite a shift in the number of seats.

  • between the bridges

    a lot of comments here on how unionist got it all wrong etc…last time I checked northern ireland was still in the UK, go figure…

  • Nordie Northsider

    Amo wrote: ‘If there was an active push by Unionist parties to firstly, attract more Catholic members and secondly run more Catholic candidates then you would no doubt see an upsurge in votes towards Unionist parties.’

    The Alliance Party doesn’t lack Catholic members – how do you explain votes like 1.8% & 0.9% in seats like Fermanagh/S.Tyrone and Foyle?

  • Nunoftheabove

    Stewart Finn

    Difficult to say whether they’re adept or not as matter of fact. I’d be desirous of some evidence that they were trying (or even an indication of willingness to try would do, for now) – to demonstrate those things in order to comment on their adeptness one way or the other. I’m unconvinced there’s as yet a consensus within unionism of any shade that those things are even worth trying to demonstrate, still less attaining.

    BTB – indeed. I think that what Kane’s trying to get at though is that unionism’s setting its sights too low; sitting behind a relatively comfortable union-is-safe-today majority consent veto and occasional flag-waving is all very well but ultimately…so what ? In other words, if that’s the genuine ceiling on unionist expectations (as opposed to its bottom line position, now realized) then….

  • JR

    The NILT survey is undoubtedly a comfort blanket for unionists but an issue they have yet to address in for all their professed comfort in the Union there is the constant and steady fall in the combined Unionist vote in almost every constituency in almost every single election in since the foundation of the state.

  • amo

    Vote share would be a valid arguement in terms of a first past the post, but with STV there are many complications which do not line up to make a good arguement.

    I’ve a quick look at the voteshare and yes you are right, the main unionist parties are only 2.32 seats ahead if you brought voteshare into seat share (so 10% of vote got your party 10% of the seats).

    There are two things to be said about such an occurance.
    1. SF and SDLP lost one seat between them in the last Assembly election. DUP/UUP broke even from the 2007 election. It would seem that there is very little room for nationalist parties to increase their vote. Either the votes were not cast or those who voted for nationalist parties before hand have decided to vote another way.

    2. If this voteshare-equivalence was to be enacted or given importance your arguement would be put into jeopardy even more when you realise that independents would receive 8.5 seats in the Assembly. How they could be divided would be tricky, but since none are designated nationalist this would only go to increase the unionist-nationalist voteshare equivalence gap.

  • amo


    Remember Nationalism is not an arguement about whether you want to be in the union or not, but whether you want to be in a United Ireland.

    One can easily not want the union, yet not want to be in a United Ireland.

    Apathy for the union is not a vindication of nationalism.

  • amo

    @Nordie Northsider

    Your question can only be answered in the context of the battle. Alliance as a party has massive issues in appealing to voters in the west of Northern Ireland. There is a clear trend of failure to attain support in places where nationalist parties take the most votes.

    I understand your point, but it would be much better made if there was a Catholic candidate standing for a Unionist party in Fermanagh South Tyrone, where the margins are so close in terms of nationalist/unionist seat split.

    I would agree that the Alliance Party does not lack Catholic support, but does lack strong Catholic candidates. My point however is not about the Alliance party, but about Unionist parties running Catholic candidates.

  • amo

    @Nordie Northsider

    Just a note. Alliance have no seats in constituencies which are not in Belfast or touching the boundaries of that city.

  • Henry94

    So it is important that their experience of the union and of unionism is, at best, positive and, at worst, neutral.

    I don’t see how any nationalist could have a problem with that. We should ensure unionist experience of us is the same. I suppose the problem is with who gets to decide. Is it the person creating the experience or the person experiencing it?

  • JR

    Well given that 30 years ago the combined nationalist vote struggled to hit 20% in 2011 it is at over 40%. That seems like an increase in Nationalism to me.

    For the most part not wanting to be in the Union indicates a desire for a united Ireland.

  • Nunoftheabove


    The customer’s (nearly) always right ! In the current climate even some form of authenticity in terms of commitment to this would vaguely impress (surprise, moreover) although in fairness it’s tough to call on votes as residual value but this is why in effect the UUP have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ‘going there’. I’d take soundness of character and sincerity with some leadenness of delivery over slick but transparently vacuous most days of the week.

    Unionism’s great advantage is the head start and the devil-we-know. If it warms the house up sufficiently (OK, to the point of neutrality – ‘body temperature’, if you like) for nationalists – reasonableness on symbols, some semblance of partiality on parades, openness and tolerance aplenty on language and culture, plain and undisputable commitment to equality, fair crack of the whip etc – then the nationalist job of persuasion becomes mammothly more difficult than it already is in terms of winning those of even mildly unionist disposition over to a position that says that they’re better off somewhere other than they, so to say, already are.

    Ultimately though of course it’s the substance which matters; it’s material interests that count and will prevail, assuming the security situation doesn’t escalate substantially. There may come a time when economic recovery in the south collides with some form of determination in Britain not to continue to subvent the north to the extent that happens now . That feels like it’s a terribly long way out though and unionism therefore has a very sizeable window within which, from a position of safety and security, it can install said central heating and win people to the union if not to political unionism per se as we know it now. Insurance through inclusion, basically.

    Whether it has the vision, the energy or even frankly the talent to pursue this path, that’s a whole other matter and based on the level of maturity demonstrated to date, they have it well within their grasp to send the pro-union cause backwards, inwards and downwards through passivity, paranoia and the innate sense that clinging to the Prods will do. It’s still yet to learn that to truly secure the union into perpetuity they’ll have to do more than keep their friends close and ignore or stigmatize their enemies and also that their enemy’s enemy isn’t necessary a sound friend all of the time.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I agree with a lot of your post, but just to ask: when you say “it’s material interests that will prevail”, do you mean that somehow if a united Ireland is economically attractive, unionists will go for it? It’s a common misunderstanding, if so – and one I’ve heard a lot from the same people over here who were surprised by the re-emergence of Eastern European nationalisms in the 90s. I’m afraid it is a deep old ethnic divide we have, made impossibly deeper by the events of the 70s, 80s and 90s. There’s really very little anyone can do to bring about a consensus for a union between the two peoples.

    In my view there will never be a single Irish nation in that sense; nor should there be; nor is aspiring to it a good thing. It is to aspire to the dismantling of another people’s ethnic identity. This is not admirable, in fact it is profoundly wrong.

    We need to think in terms of living together, not trying to take each other over. This is where I think unionism inadvertently has stumbled into the right approach towards nationalism and where nationalism has some catching up to do.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Mainland Ulsterman

    I simply mean that, by and large, people will behave rationally in relation to their primary materials needs and circumstances will determine what they are and where those interests lie.

    I don’t agree that to aspire to a UI is not a ‘good thing’; in and of itself I believe that by and large it is a harmless but laudable aspiration if only because I believe that the creation of the northern state was a regrettable and avoidable historical error which still haunts us and distorts the potential of the people who live here to do so harmoniously and in a pluralistic, secural and progressive modern fashion where material interests can transcend the twin poisons of extreme nationalism and the wickedness and backwardness of religion.

    I disagree that to argue for an independent and unified state is to aspire to the dismantling of anyone’s ethnic identify necessarily – why would it ? One can either argue that there are a sizeable number of ethnic Irish living in a part of what is currently part of the UK – NI – or one can argue that there are a sizeable number of ethnic British living in NI who may at some point in the future still live there but be part of an Irish state rather than a British one. Their actual substantial material interests may either align comfortably with the condition of living in one state vis-a-vis the other – or otherwise – but neither dispensation requires any dismantling of any ethnic identity as I understand the term. That’s not to suggest that there are not people who would be happy to try to do so but their political position – fanatical nationalism takes poisonous forms pretty much anywhere – doesn’t require it as such.

  • There are a number of themes brought together in this post – the common thread being the future of the United Kingdom.

    Alex Kane sets out to criticise Sinn Fein’s nationalist propaganda whilst, of course, making plenty of Unionist propaganda himself. He also seeks to undermine Sinn Fein by suggesting that they are adopting nonsensical reasons to justify Irish unification to unionists and also suggesting that they have failed to address the really important issues which need to be tackled if they are serious about Irish re-unification. I believe he is right on both of those counts but what about the Scottish angle?

    You highlight this in the posts that you have linked to. In my opinion, if Scotland became independent, such an event would be game-changing for Irish politics on both sides of the border.

    I made a search of the Newsletter website for Articles about what Alex Kane thinks about the effect that Scottish independence would have upon the thinking of people in Northern Ireland. I found nothing. I should not be surprised. Alex Kane is much too tribal a journalist to discuss the weaknesses of the union, as well as its strengths.

  • “but what about the Scottish angle?”

    … or the proposals to alter the Royal succession.

  • “or the proposals to alter the Royal succession”


    I wont be drawn on that subject here, except to say that I hope somebody else writes a separate post on it but as regards the question you impliedly ask
    “what would be the impact on the thinking of Northern Ireland unionists in relation to the union if Catholics were allowed to ascend to the throne,”
    is an interesting one and one which Alex Kane might find to be even more taboo. He is, after all, a Unionist Republican.

  • “union if Catholics were allowed to ascend to the throne”

    Cameron seems to have ruled that out. Presumably such an option would require a disconnection between Head of Church and Head of State.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    In theory the position of both putative minorities ought to be the same, whether Brits in a 32 county Republic or Irish in the UK. But

    But belief in a single Irish nation is deeply illiberal, in sense that believing there are two nationalities on the island is not. If Irish nationalism does believe there is only one Irish nation and our Britishness is to be ignored – as continued objection to the border suggests – then this is treating Britishness as of less value than Irishness. If it accepts equality however as it did in 1998, then it has t

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Bloody iPhone!
    I’ll be brief: nationalism requires the creation of an Irish nation; it requires us Brits to embrace Irishness: or what is it? It’s supposed to be about actual unity, right, not domination? Unionism on the other hand does not require nationalist people to be British or change their cultural allegiances at all. It allows everyone to be what they want to be. To put it another way, compare flying an Irish tricolour in London to flying the British flag in Dublin. Compare the likely public and political reactions. We as Brits are anathema to the Irish state in a way that isn’t the case the other way around.

  • orly

    I’d love a vote on the issue tomorrow.

    The vote would be so comically one sided that SF would be crying that it was rigged within hours.

    For all the romantic pining for a United Ireland…if you gave nationalists the hard choice where an actual decision is required you’d find a jittery “er well we’re not quite sure how that’ll work out”.

    Unionists would tell you to shove it.

    And the “Irish” would probably shite themselves at the prospect.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Mainland Ulsterman

    I’d be a very poor spokesperson for nationalism, largely because I’m not a nationalist however your point an allowing everyone to be what they want to be is not restricted to unionism although as I say if unionism genuinely follows through on a pluralist agenda it’ll undercut nationalism and will feed it if it refuses or continues to defer to those who want to undercut it and to insist on the narrow exclusivist conception of Britishness that orange supremacists and those on the right of unionism are loathe to leave behind. I’ve said before that if there is one benefit to the implosion of FF, the accepted rottenness of the catholic church and to the economic woes in the south it’s that they really need a new republic and should think carefully about constructing one which jettisons the narrow conservative and explicitly catholic notion of nationality, of identity and instead builds a genuine pluralist republic based on modern secular values which creates ample space for expressions of identity – including Britishness, such that at some point in the future a transition to an all-Ireland political infrastructure is unthreatening to anyone.

    But belief in a single Irish nation is not necessarily deeply illiberal at all in sense that believing there are two nationalities on the island. There is of course a mono-nationalism but I wouldn’t suggest that it’s as widespread as you appear to believe.

    “If Irish nationalism does believe …..Brutishness is to be ignored – as continued objection to the border suggests”

    – Nationalism is a broader church than you appear to suggest and while some do believe this not all do but as say it’s not up to me to defend the nationalist position and there’ll be no shortage of takers to engage you on that point

  • Skinner

    Alex makes a very good point that unionists should be careful in the way we celebrate the union. There has to be a promotion of it looking to the future alongside the proud history. I would go further and say that any of the looking back should include an acknowledgement of the things unionists got wrong, which would go some way to reassurng nationalists that they won’t happen again.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I don’t think there will be a huge celebration of the anniversaries by Protestants, though I’m sure it will be an excuse for a few boozy days out. Can’t see 2012 or 2021 arousing that much emotion. 2016, by which I mean the Somme anniversary, may actually be the big one for us … will be interesting to see. The power of the First World War to continue to move people in the 21st Century is a really interesting cultural phenomenon (the latest example being PJ Harvey’s amazing “Let England Shake”)

    But who knows. I’ve just written an article about how bad expert predictions are (drawing the Freakonomics piece on this back in June) so inexpert ones from me are unlikely to be any better.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    “There is of course a mono-nationalism but I wouldn’t suggest that it’s as widespread as you appear to believe.”

    My point is about a theoretical issue within the nationalist belief system – that it is fundamentally at odds (despite the undertakings given in the GFA to the contrary) with the “two nationalities” principle. This is because it still believes at some level that there is, or should be, a single “Irish people”, which we either are part of, or should be made to be part of (they seem to disagree on this point).

    Even moderate nationalism has to believe this, because it holds that the creation of an all-Ireland nation state would be morally superior to the current position of having part of the island in the UK. For, if putting Northern Ireland under Irish rule is only supposed to be a morally neutral alternative to British sovereignty, without any sense of it being somehow “better”, why the clamour for it, in the face of being an electoral minority in Northern Ireland? The change would inconvenience more people than it would convenience, so why do it? Unless nationalism somehow assumed a moral superiority of Irish to British sovereignty.

    The good news is I don’t think many nationalists actually believe in nationalism in that way any more. I think many do believe in live and let live and just getting on with life. But the Irish nationalist project then needs to change to reflect that it is not about either trying to create a single Irish nation.

    In which case, should we maybe call it something different?

  • FuturePhysicist

    In which case, should we maybe call it something different?

    I would perhaps suggest the phrase “cultural Irish nationalism”.

    This is where things like GAA, Irish language, Irish music, Celtic and pre-Celtic Irish identity, supporting Irish sport and people, community identity, and other Hibernian heritage even Irish citizenship are promoted … but also in the context of an island shared and a people together outside of political and economic definition and with respect to other shared traditions of this island.

    Perhaps people like Trevor Ringland who are Unionists may have some sympathy for Irish “cultural nation” definition of Irish nationalism.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Another dimension to question is the survival of the “kingdom”

    I personally can’t see the monarchy lasting 30-50 years if the economy leads to depression after depression, which is inevitable unless young unemployment is addressed (which it clearly isn’t), it would be tough to have a real kingdom if events go that far. So the “kingdom” may end whether the lands leave the union or not.

    Of course the big problem I think “average Jo” British people have are with Kings without thrones, who are free from the kinship of which the word King is defined from.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    They need some term that recognises they are no longer about seeking to “convert” British people into Irish people. I think the term “nationalism” is too laden with the old “one nation” tradition. I’m really struggling to think of a name for it though.

    It would be nice to see people debating more deeply what “Irish nationalism” actually means now it can’t be about creating an “Irish nation” as such.