Is Murdo Fraser right? No, but he’s got a point.

“No, but he’s got a point” was probably the most succinct answer to the question “Is Murdo Fraser Right?” posed at last night’s Young Unionists’ event in QUB Students Union.

Robert Price, Iain McGill, Mike Nesbitt, Bill Manwaring, Ian Parsley at Young Unionists debate asking Is Murdo Fraser Right?

With Mike Nesbitt in the chair, four centre-right panellists took ten minutes to outline their response to the question as well as the implications for unionism in Northern Ireland. There were 21 in the audience, nearly all young male students.

Young Unionists: Is Murdo Fraser Right? (part 1) (mp3)

Organiser Richard Price sympathised with Fraser’s polling-based, history-repeating (the 1950’s Unionist Party in Scotland) and future-proofed approach. Scottish conservatives had a lack of momentum, and their lack of traction (and power) was at the detriment to business entrepreneurs, victims of crime and graduates seeking jobs. Price wanted a strong centre-right party in NI and reckoned that it was the UUP rather than the NI Conservatives who should be working for businesses, victims and students.

While most of the panellists had some experience of losing more than one election, Iain McGill had a record of ten defeats (sometimes with three on the one day)! He pointed to the confusing structure of the his party in Scotland, with many different chiefs. Murdo Fraser was deputy leader during the last two unsuccessful Holyrood elections. While Fraser describes the party as a ‘toxic brand’, McGill is less swift to dismiss the 400,000 voters who still support them. With McGill supporting Ruth Davidson for leadership, he wonders whether the debate is “smoke and mirrors” and more about Fraser wanting to be seen as the radical candidate. McGill also argued for the continued presence of big characters like Boris Johnston who can criticise the central party and yet be seen by everyone as being part of the Tory brand. (Iain’s behind the recently launched Scottish Conservative Home Tory Hoose blog.)

In the midst of a lot of negative comments from the panel about the UCUNF project, Bill Manwaring reminded the room that Jim Nicholson had been re-elected to Europe during that period. Manwaring said that Northern Ireland parties were failing to engage with grass roots and singled out the UUP as being particularly guilty. He called for better delivery on the ground. Manwaring also mentioned many Catholic “natural unionists” who are not willing to vote for the current unionist parties due to their perceived religious intolerance. Observing that there are more conservatives in the UUP than the NI Conservative Party, he argued that historically the UUP has been a right wing party, taking the Tory whip in Westminster, and ideally placed to be NI’s conservative party of delivery.

Young Unionists: Is Murdo Fraser Right? (part 2) (mp3)

Robert Price, Iain McGill, Mike Nesbitt, Bill Manwaring, Ian Parsley at Young Unionists debate asking Is Murdo Fraser Right?Ian Parsley started by observing that political parties are often bad at communication and welcomed the openness within the Young Unionists to debate issues. His basic position was one of wanting the people of NI to have the maximum say over decision making. Returning to the central question of the debate– Is Murdo Fraser right? – Parsley said “no, but he’s got a point”. What was the point of reorganising the Conservative parties before figure out how they would seek to organise the United Kingdom. ‘Devo max’ wasn’t viable since it would break the symmetry of the union. Parsley highlighted that the Lib Dems have a federal executive sitting over their Scottish, Welsh and English parties, which works well for devolution (though currently works differently in NI). Coming back to Northern Ireland, Parsley questioned the clarity of the unionist vision and suggested that vagueness wasn’t a vote winner. While other panellists mentioned the German CDU/CSU model, Parsley threw another approach into the discussion. He pointed to Canada and explained about the different parties that operate at provincial and federal level, making it possible for unusual alignments.

Young Unionists: Is Murdo Fraser Right? (part 3) (mp3)

Speaking during the long Q&A after the main speeches, Manwaring said there was no need to change the name of the UUP, but there was a need to start to deliver. Parsley remarked that the Alliance Party had discussed potential name changes back in 2003 before concluding that it was not necessary. He went on to highlight the risk that in the absence of anyone promoting the positive benefits of the union, people across the UK might default to a position that the easiest thing to do would be to split up.

Young Unionists: Is Murdo Fraser Right? (part 4) (mp3)

Asked about the current UUP position on Tory links, Mike Nesbitt explained about the paper he had written in the run up to a meeting between Tom Elliott and the Conservatives, noted the difficulty in having three groups involved in the discussions (UUP, NI Conservatives as well as Conservative Central Office), and states that discussions continued and the UUP were still seeking a political pact, though with the proviso that they could disagree on NI issues.

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  • Langdale

    As a matter of interest, Alan, what size was the audience?

    I’m just wondering if he issue is actually one that excites or interests many here?

    Thanks,

    LP

  • Langdale

    Alan, how silly I am: have just noted that you mentioned there were 21 in the audience.

    I think that prbably sums up the level of interest in the subject, although figures probably weren’t helped by what looks like a fairly lacklustre panel.

    LP

  • PJ Maybe

    Were Weir or Bell there? One last opportunity for them to wave bits of paper while shouting “point of order” in the Student Union as the Shinners danced rings around them?

    Ah the memories.

  • Langdale

    PJ:

    Weir and Bell came after me, but I have my own memories of Jim Wells, Alan Kane and Wallace Thompson doing something similar in the mid-late 70s.

    LP

  • Granni Trixie

    Alan – can you clarify if Ian Parsley was there as a “unionist”, a Tory or a mixture of the two?

  • student

    GT – I believe Parsley was there as an ‘independent political commentator’. I seem to remember him saying something about not being a politician anymore so he could say what he liked. Always thought he seemed like something of a shifty character, changing political parties perhaps added to that, but he came across as being much more genuine than he seemed in the media.

    Was at the event and found the discussion quite interesting. Hadn’t previously heard Bill Manwaring speak, and of all the panel I was most impressed with what he had to say. Some good sentiments on delivery which he appears to be putting into practice. Very admirable what he seems to be trying to achieve in West Belfast. Perhaps someone who could have a larger role in the future for the UUP, if he achieves the unlikely and is elected there, or is persuaded to leave the West.

  • GT – Ian was billed as an ‘independent blogger’ who had electoral history with centre-right politics. He was speaking as an outsider – but spoke well (you can’t really tell from the audio that he constructed his pitch without any notes in front of him).

  • DC

    Alan – can you clarify if Ian Parsley was there as a “unionist”, a Tory or a mixture of the two?

    I’d wager it being a blend of the two.

    He’s out of the closet now, but sure what appeal is there in uniting with Ireland at this moment in time, we’re all unionists for the short-to-medium!

  • IJP

    Yes, I was there as an Independent, which is what I am, though I make no secret of the fact I canvassed for Alliance at the last election.

    I think the YUs should be applauded for extending the invitation beyond their own membership. I’d like to see more such events, ideally jointly organised.

    One thing which was instantly noticeable, however, was that there was only one female in the room (and she a member of the Conservative Party). It seems the issue has some traction, but only with males!

  • SethS

    “One thing which was instantly noticeable, however, was that there was only one female in the room (and she a member of the Conservative Party). It seems the issue has some traction, but only with males!”

    Perhaps that says more about the membership of the young unionists than anything else.

  • OneNI

    Bill Manwaring says ‘more conservatives in the UUP than the NI Conservative Party’ Not true Bill and more and more of your colleagues are joining the Conservatives (no such thing as NI Conservative Party’)
    BTW apparently Conservatives recruited 66 members at Queens Freshers how many did UUP attract?

    Bill ‘he argued that historically the UUP has been a right wing party, taking the Tory whip in Westminster, and ideally placed to be NI’s conservative party of delivery.’
    ‘Manwaring said there was no need to change the name of the UUP’
    Assume you have some sort of get out clause Bill if things change in next few weeks?

    Mike Nesbitt
    ‘states that discussions continued’ between UUP and Conservatives – not factually correct!!

  • New Blue

    OneNI

    I am not interested in getting into ‘flame wars’.

    However, as I pointed out on Tuesday night, the UUP / Conservative project returned an MEP and raised over 100,000 votes in a Westminster campaign that should go down in the history books as the official guide on how not to run for elected office.

    The big challenge is not about seeing who can make the highest wet mark up a wall, it is about who can earn the trust of those who vote.

  • OneNI

    No ‘flame wars’ Bill just pointing out your inaccurate remark and enquiring how many people joined the UUP at Queens Freshers ?

  • DC

    IJP

    You’re fooling no one but yourself.