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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty