Donaldson calls for DUP-led pan-UK unionist movement #dupconf

Beyond the headline of attracting more Catholic unionists in Northern Ireland, Jeffrey Donaldson raised an interesting proposal for the DUP to lead a pro-Union campaign for unionists WITHIN Scotland and Wales…

Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Thomas Hennessey, Ian Paisley MP, and Jonathan Bell MLA (Chair), panel discussion "Strengthening Unionism", Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) annual conference, Le Mon Hotel, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Unexpectedly bumping into my friend Thomas Hennessey, I chose to stay at the DUP annual conference and attend a discussion panel that he was participating in, “Strengthening Unionism”:

  • Jonathan Bell MLA (Chair)
  • Jeffrey Donaldson MP
  • Ian Paisley MP
  • Thomas Hennessey

Mr Hennessey made reference to the late Sir Philip Gould and his offering of strategic vision within politics; Tom suggested that this is what Ulster unionism needs — moving from tactical behaviour towards a strategic vision, and he praised Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, for setting such a vision out in the party leader’s speech earlier today.

Tom said, “I am a unionist because it is about pluralism — not only that I am an Englishman but I am British … It is about being part of a state that recognises different sorts of identities, aspirations and, indeed, rights and privileges.” He elaborated on the history of British unionism, saying that the only thing Scotland lost when it joined the Union was its parliament; it was able to retain its identity.

He added the the Union with Northern Ireland, thanks to the Belfast Agreement (1998) and the St Andrews Agreement (2007), is stronger than ever before. But it’s the longer term that he thinks unionists need to think about, refering back to the need to think strategically. Specifically, for him this means how to have a situation whereby Catholics are comfortable belonging to Unionist political parties.

Mr Hennessey believes that there are positive lessons to be learnt from John Hume (SDLP), who spoke of “an agreed Ireland”, which was particularly well received by an American audience desperate to hear a positive message amongst the regular negative news feed of division. Tom suggested that unionism can do the same, not by compromising its principles, but talking about pluralism and how Northern Ireland is a society for all.

While describing the history of home rule and how the likes of John Redmond were advocating an Irish nationalism that was prepared to accept some form of union, Ian Paisley interrupted by saying that he agreed with the goals of a strategic vision of unionism, but that there were necessary steps in the process of reaching such goals.

Mr Paisley stated a maxim that without a vision, people perish, and how his party has set out a very powerful vision that should enliven people and give them hope. For him, first and foremost what is needed is for politics at every level, from local to European, is seen to be working, delivering for everyone in practical terms. The result would be that by doing real work for people, the DUP will be respected as a “normal political party doing the work for everyone who comes through our constituency doors”.

He continued by saying that the biggest challenge his party faces is complacency, due to their size and lack of effective opposition, outside the party (official parliamentary Opposition) or inside the party (because they are so united). The only real opposition the DUP faces, Mr Paisley argued, is from the media, and this was not genuine (“it’s just all negative”) in that it isn’t electoral based or an ideological conflict of vision.

Jeffrey Donaldson added the challenge of how his party reaches out and engage more with people “from a Catholic background” and at the same time reconnect with working class Protestants, whom he claimed two-thirds do not come out to vote. Individually, he has noticed a marked increase in the number of Catholics who have come into his constituency office over the past five years, seeking help. He values this, but reiterated the need to reconnect with working class Protestants.

The next question was in regards to the relationship between Westminster and the European Union, and whether the “mother of all parliaments has become a baby sister to Brussels”.

Mr Donaldson stated that he and colleague Mr Paisley are members of the Better Off Out campaign, and cited Norway as an example of how a country in Europe can thrive economically without being a member of the European Union. Furthermore, he saw the EU changing in the years ahead, whether as a two-speed entity revolving around Germany and France with a secondary periphery, and/or with individual countries leaving altogether.

Mr Paisley said that a crucial matter is for the British parliament to assert its sovereignty in Europe and do what is in the best interests of the British people.

Declaring his agnosticism over the EU, Mr Hennessey reminded the audience why the UK entered it: the bi-polar world of the Cold War. But as we are now in a multi-polar world, the need to remain within the EU in order to promote British economic and security interests no longer holds, he argued. Mr Paisley added that today’s current state of disarray in Europe presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for Britain to do “what is right”, i.e. leave the EU.

To encourage debate, Chair Jonathan Bell argued that access to Europe’s market of 400 million consumers, and the EU’s relatively generosity towards Northern Ireland, were good reasons to cooperate.

Mr Paisley immediately replied that most of Northern Ireland economic activity is with the rest of the United Kingdom, followed largely by the Republic of Ireland. For him, Northern Ireland firms should be encouraged not only to export to Europe but beyond it.

Mr Donaldson acknowledged the contribution the EU made towards the peace process in Northern Ireland, but that Europe has reached a level of bureaucracy where it hinders business more than it helps it. He again made the comparison with Norway, and cited the benefits of access to the British Commonwealth.

The third question was in regards to the rise of the Scottish National Party and relative demise of unionist politics in Scotland: “Has Scotland become the weakest link in the Union?”

Mr Paisley said that clearly the greatest threat to the Union today is Scotland, with his party help securing the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. He said that Scotland “does not feel loved by the Union”, placing much blame on the English and their indifferent attitude towards the Scots. Mr Paisley argued for an assertive campaign that shows the people of Scotland that they are cherished, are an integral part of the Union, and that the Union would be poorer without them (economically, socially, and culturally). And that if this does not happen and Scotland departs the Union, then the question of Northern Ireland’s union would then be reasserted by republicans and Irish nationalists. “We have something significant to gain by ensuring that we push our English brothers and sisters to embrace the Scottish union,” he argued.

Mr Donaldson jumped to the defence of the English, citing the significant subsidy that English taxpayers contribute to the public spending in Northern Ireland, as well as the West Lothian question (whereby representatives elected outside England have a vote on matters inside England). He placed major blame on the failure of the Labour and Conservative parties in Scotland making the case for the Union. Especially for Scottish Labour, all its senior politicians are sent down to Westminster, leaving SNP’s leader Alex Salmond ineffectively challenged in the Scottish Parliament. This is in contrast to the DUP, which Mr Donaldson explained as having made a conscious decision to divide the talents and labour between the Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster.

While believing that the majority of Scots would vote to maintain the Union in a referendum, Mr Donaldson said that there is a challenge for “our Conservative friends”, endorsing the call by Murdo Fraser for the current Conservative party in Scotland to disband and be recreated as a centre-right party with a distinctive Scottish identity. Mr Donaldson called for the DUP to be at the forefront of a pan-UK unionist movement, to challenge “our fellow unionists” so as not to underestimate the threat of nationalism in Wales and Scotland.

Mr Hennessey agreed that the biggest danger to the Union is English ambivalence, if for no other reason of historical accident being the largest member with an English population of 47+ million out of 60-odd million in the Union. As Tom said at the start of this discussion, with every Act of Union the parliament of Westminster remained; from an English perspective, this would evoke continuity of English superiority.

Tom disagreed that having a nationalist party in power in Scotland ipso facto bodes ill for the Union: “There are plenty of other examples, historically, where nationalist parties have taken power … but the constitution has survived and continued.” Instead, he gave a political explanation, whereby he thinks Conservative leader, David Cameron, does not want to play the SNP game. Tom argued that the Conservatives did not want to take on the likes of Mr Salmond during the years of the strong Irish Celtic tiger economy, as it might only stokes the demand for full Scottish independence. Mr Paisley added that it was time for those in Scotland to set the agenda, alternative to Mr Salmond’s.

Full audio recording: http://mrulster.podomatic.com/entry/2011-11-27T02_14_46-08_00

Original posting: http://www.mrulster.org/2011/11/donaldson-calls-for-dup-led-pan-uk.html

  • Rory Carr

    If there was ever anything more likely to attract moderate Welsh and Scottish nationalists away from the politics of devolution and eventual independence it must surely be the prospect of finding themselves in political harmony with the party founded by the Rev, Ian Paisley.

    What statement could possibly be more inclined to impress one’s fellow diners in Helen’s Bay or Caerleon. than to surprise them with,

    ” No, Janet and I have recently linked up with the Democratic Unionist Party, you know, the Paisleyites.” ?

    As mouths fall agape and cutlery crashes to the floor, a scene is played out likely to once have been a fitting subject for a Bateman cartoon .

    http://bit.ly/trRnS8

    http://bit.ly/rJQVu1

  • Peter Robinson (along with, *ahem*;),The Editor of Open Unionism) has apparently been on BBC Radio Scotland this morning stating the consequences for NI if Scotland were to separate from the rest of the UK. He is also quoted as saying that NI Unionists should play their full part in ensuring that doesn’t happen.

    Rory touches on the danger of a possible plan which might involve IP Jr stomping in his hobnails all over English sensitivities and a party which still emits a strong whiff of religious fundamentalism publicly carrying the banner for the pan-UK Unionism.

    However…. what the pro-Union side seriously lacks in Scotland is strategic nous and organisational skills. If the DUP is serious about helping the fight out there that’s exactly where its own strengths could be put to the most beneficial use

  • Rory Carr

    The value of DUP organisational skills might well be considered a counterweight to any negativity their fundamentalist reputation (whether or not deserved) secretes , O’Neil, but only if such organisational skills are not themselves negated by a lack of knowledge of the local political terrain and all the contours of the many nuances therein. Do you think?

  • If they are serious about helping out and it’s not a PR stunt merely for domestic consumption, then I’m sure they’ll do the necessary research to make sure those skills will be an asset to the pro-Union side.

    I don’t think that reseach would point to the beneficial effects of Gregory Campbell knocking on the doors in E Glasgow, more the backroom team of strategists and specialists helping out the locals. If they (the DUP) are serious about helping out…..

  • OneNI

    The staggering self importance of the DUP never ceases to amaze one.
    Why would anyone suggest that a pan UK movement for Unionism be led by the DUP – a small regionalist party that panders to parochial populism?
    Indeed the DUP are a threat to the Union because they attack the UK Govt and anyone who suggests that the UK Govt might have to take unpopular decisions for the good of the UK.
    And frankly the idea that any of the NI parties have organisational or campaigning skills that come anywhere near the ‘big two’ is laughable.
    The UK’s premier Unionist is David Cameron and slatting the English and setting up a Celtic fringe of unioinsts is counter productive. It reeks of the notion that somehow the English are the problem, ignores our own capacity for self decption and our unwllingness to look at the ‘deal’ we get from the Union in a mature fashion

  • john

    The DUP have to be careful here. There is no doubt that they have something to offer in terms of organisation and electioneering especially in Scotland where the Unionists are a rabble but at the same time their image in the mainland UK isnt great and Im sure the Scottish Nationalists will be hoping their interference will only help the Nationalist cause further

  • OneNI,

    And frankly the idea that any of the NI parties have organisational or campaigning skills that come anywhere near the ‘big two’ is laughable

    Have you seen the mess the “big two” (sic) are making of the battle against Salmond in Scotland?

    Whatever else, you (and I) may think of the DUP, they are capable of running rings around the present joke efforts to protect the Union of the Scottish Labour and Conservative Parties.

    If the full organisational might of the UK Conservative and Labour parties are going to be employed against the SNP, then great.
    Any idea when they are thinking about starting?
    The day after Scotland separates?

  • john

    The other point that OneNI touches on is that the DUP are a Northern Irish/Ulster nationalist party these days rather than a Unionist party – are they not?

  • michael-mcivor

    If Jeffrey donaldson was truly interested in a campain for the unionist cause in scotland and wales [ not england ] then he should be calling on the d.u.p to stand for electons in the u.k-

    bit hard to pretend you love the u.k whilst him and his d.u.p political party shy away from electoral politics in the u.k-

  • A bit more on that Robinson and BBC Scotland:
    http://tinyurl.com/c5htrmw

    I’ll get the whole thing up when I can find it!

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Taken from the BBC interview

    “I think we will play a full part in encouraging our Ulster Scots brethren and sisters to be part of the Union, to reject the notion of separation.

    “I believe that ultimately sense will prevail and that they will remain within the kingdom and play a full part in it.”

    Taking two specific words from this – ‘brethren’ and ‘sense’. The 19th century religious language and the usual DUP habit of disparaging those with different views will not play well and the DUP will not play a positive role in maintaining the union.

  • O’Neill. From what I’m reading in this thread, Donaldson and Paisley are taking not a blind bit of notice of their leader’s[and i’m using the word advisedly]message the other day. Their attitude seems to be ‘more of the same and forget what Robinson said about cosying up to themmuns’ What is the point in marching if we can’t gloat over the defeat of them every summer?. Where would the kicks come from? ‘.

  • Munsterview

    Rory Carr : “…If there was ever anything more likely to attract moderate Welsh and Scottish nationalists away from the politics of devolution and eventual independence it must surely be the prospect of finding themselves in political harmony with the party founded by the Rev, Ian Paisley…..”

    This would be a laughing matter if it was not so serious. To paraphrase a Munster saying ” if those people were hanged for self awareness, they would die innocent !”

    Time and time again at conferences and discussions across the pond I have found myself in the ironic position, of where I am forced to defend “Those appalling people”….( and that is one of the kinder epithets I have encountered regarding Unionists) and put the historical blame right back where it belongs in past British Policy.

    I cannot believe that that parties such as the DUP and the UUP who would claim to be cued into ‘Britishness’ cannot be aware of these ‘Mainland’ attidutes?

    I can remember one occasion where a former British Army Major and my self told it how it really was up there in a general discussion at a meal after a conference and genuine indignation and anger by the ordinary decent English, Scottish and Welsh people that these ‘Counter Insurgency’ activities should be done in their name and with their implied consent.

    The sad fact for Unionists is that where the majority of the English are concerned they are ‘ the bloody Irish’. However I am 100% behind the proposition that the DUP should lead a ‘Pro Union’ campaign, I would even subscribe to such campaign fund if led by the DUP and recommend all Republicans do likewise.

    What better ‘Fifth Column’ could Republicans have working for them in the UK? If results it in alienating British People proportionate to the numbers of pissed off Nationalists they were responsible for and who joined the Republican Movement, then the Union’s days are surely numbered!

  • Neil

    The sad fact for Unionists is that where the majority of the English are concerned they are ‘ the bloody Irish’. However I am 100% behind the proposition that the DUP should lead a ‘Pro Union’ campaign, I would even subscribe to such campaign fund if led by the DUP and recommend all Republicans do likewise.

    Damn straight. Peter and Ian Og, at once menacing, condescending and ice cold, lecturing the Scottish about their own future.

    The farcical thing is the idea that, of the 65 million people in the UK, the roughly 0.8% that vote for the DUP should spearhead a campaign to get the 99.2% to see sense. LOL, ROFL, and so on.

  • Munsterview

    Neil, I do not have time just now to look up the figures, ….would you ever please work out the ‘Truly Useless Visage’ of Unionism’s vote % via the UK voting population as a whole.

    Should be interesting ?

  • The principle of wider Unionist collaboration is positive. What exactly the DUP brings to this other than its dominant NI position is not clear. Its strategic and organisational capacity has been of great value to itself. What other ‘external’ campaign that has embraced a ‘partnership approach, or any that campaign of its own (even inside NI), has it led to success that would suggest that it has the capacity to take a leadership position across the UK. That seems like a bit of hubris. However, yes, collaboration among unionist parties is necessary across the bigger picture. The path to that place remains unclear.

  • Wasn’t the Robinson interview from near the end of Sunday’s Inside Politics – quite near the end.

  • HeinzGuderian

    I may have pointed this out before………..but I guess the facts and non stories make good copy ?
    Over 66% of the Scottish Electorate wish to remain in The Union. 😉

  • Alan,

    BBC Scotland did a follow-up on their morning news programme.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    I’m guessing ‘And when can you start?’ will be the reaction from the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

    When they can stop laughing.

  • grandimarkey

    Due to the nature of Northern Irish politics the DUP have never really been required to proactively sell the Union before, all that has ever been required is singing GSTQ and draping themselves in a union jack. The Scottish situation is completely different with a pro-independence movement building momentum on the benefits of separation, as well as the staggering incompetence of the pro-union parties. I’d imagine the SNP would wipe the floor with the DUP.

    The Scottish electorate have consistently shunned right and far-right parties for decades, not least since the devolution of parliament in Holyrood. The DUP are viewed as a far-right party outside of the north and to think that parachuting themselves in to help convince a growing number of Scots that they are in fact wrong about their views on independence is a slight delusion. As was said previous, the reply from Salmond would no doubt be “when can you start?”

  • Roy Walsh

    This is an issue I raised years past, the six county Unionists dilemma ought their homeland leave the union with Britain, what then should they do? They might of course rely on the east-west strand of the Good Friday Agreement and remain in union with both, an alternative is let them sink and rely on their primary funder (per Jeffery above).
    A third of course is re-unification with their own country but something tells me they would not jump at this option.
    All this, over several months from DUPies and the media smacks to me of a creeping fear that their beloved union is unsafe, like calls for turkey’s (Catholics) to vote for Christmas.
    I am heartened by this belief and look forward to the inevitable ‘border poll’

  • Roy Walsh

    This is an issue I raised years past, the six county Unionists dilemma ought their homeland leave the union with Britain, what then should they do? They might of course rely on the east-west strand of the Good Friday Agreement and remain in some union with both, an alternative is let them sink and rely on their primary funder (per Jeffery above).
    A third of course is re-unification with their own country but something tells me they would not jump at this option.
    All this, over several months from DUPies and the media smacks to me of a creeping fear that their beloved union is unsafe, like calls for turkey’s (Catholics) to vote for Christmas.
    I am heartened by this belief and look forward to the inevitable ‘border poll’

  • Red Lion

    Glad to see that a representative in big house unionism (Jeffrey D) has highlighted the need to engage working class unionists – now, i’m all ears as to how they plan to do this???

  • Wee Jeffrey and Ian Og promoting the union to Scots?????????? Salmond surely can’t believe his luck.
    If ever there was an example of self awareness failure, this has to break all records. Whining and whingeing is meat to Salmond’s mill. England’s gain ids NI’s loss. Carry on wee jeffrey.

  • Dewi

    Can’t find anything in today’s Scottish papers on this. Real shame – could have done with a laugh.
    Strangely enough one of the possible drivers of an anti-independence campaign which could gain traction would be that ancient appeal of anti (especially anti Irish) Catholicism. There are ancient and modern layers of that in areas of Scottish society. A bit crass but might get some votes.
    Here’s Alex on St Andrew’s day. Class.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfLnMvIg038
    Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

  • Rory Carr

    “…as Scottish as whisky and education.” That’s got civilisation covered all right, Dewi.

    Salmond really was impressive. His delivery was flawless. No highly trained actor could have improved upon it. It’s all in the breathing, and Salmond looks set to be breathing the rarefied air of the First Minister’s office for as long as he chooses

  • Strangely enough one of the possible drivers of an anti-independence campaign which could gain traction would be that ancient appeal of anti (especially anti Irish) Catholicism. There are ancient and modern layers of that in areas of Scottish society

    As I’m sure you know, Dewi that appeal of anti-Catholicism is something which elements of the SNP exploited until relatively recently and also they still derive a lot of their support from the fundamentalist protestant areas in the north and the island.

    Scottish Labour has also never been slow in playing the sectarian card in the other direction, so I don’t think it is quite as clear an equation as you make out.

  • ayeYerMa

    Zzzzzzz, republicans – so boring and predictable.

  • Jack2

    My head is spinning from this.

    I have bleated about this before: Last Month Jeffrey Donaldson DUP MP hand delivered a letter to Downing St protesting a change in law permitting Royals to marry Catholics. PERMITTING.

    This law dates back centuries to a time more akin to Apartheid, yet this fool wants to keep them’uns down.
    On the next breath he’s at a conference where they are asking for more Catholic votes.
    He cant even bring himself to say that Catholics enter his office he uses the term “from a Catholic background” – what does that mean? Reading between the lines, hes softening the fact that they may well ask him for help but its ok as they no longer practice their faith?
    ————————————————————————–
    We were never at war with Eastasia, we were always at war with Eurasia.

  • IrelandNorth

    It’s time for primitive/neo-imperial unionism to progress to more consensual/democratic paradigms. Genuine democratic unionism cannot be imposed. Hence 1916-’22/1848/1806/1798/1641. As a Leinster unionist(?), I propose a federated (provincial) Ireland in a Confederated British-Irish Isles – within a Commonwealth of Nations as the most amicable compromise between the United Kingdom of Great Brotain (UKGB) – and Ireland. A final act of union or settlement to which all traditions might subscribe.

  • PaddyReilly

    they still derive a lot of their support from the fundamentalist protestant areas in the north and the island

    Presumably, by island you mean Western Isles (Na hEileanan an Iar), which does contain some of the last bastions of Sabbatarianism, etc. But this is only one constituency out of 59, and the least populous,
    so it can hardly supply much support to the SNP.

    It is true though that the SNP has an MP in this constituency, with between six and seven thousand votes. But he is a Catholic. There is, thank God, nothing else like Northern Ireland.

    Over 66% of the Scottish Electorate wish to remain in The Union

    Someone else thinks that NI conditions prevail in civilised countries. Such a statement could (in 1964 at least) be made about the NI electorate, and it would be true, and unalterable. Nothing would coax them to change their minds: only the birth-rate could bring about a change in the statistic. But the issue of independence for Scotland should perhaps be compared to the Irish Republic’s electorate’s view on the Lisbon treaty. One moment they are against, another for. For most, it is a purely economic issue, to be decided on rationally.

  • Roy Walsh

    ‘ I propose a federated (provincial) Ireland in a Confederated British-Irish Isles – within a Commonwealth of Nations as the most amicable compromise between the United Kingdom of Great Brotain (UKGB) – and Ireland. A final act of union or settlement to which all traditions might subscribe.’
    Yeah, great idea, that’s precicesly what the Irish have been fighting for. Sorry but if you want Brit. the bus leaves about 20.00 from Busaras

  • Paddy,

    Presumably, by island you mean Western Isles (Na hEileanan an Iar), which does contain some of the last bastions of Sabbatarianism, etc. But this is only one constituency out of 59, and the least populous,
    so it can hardly supply much support to the SNP.

    I actually omitted the “s”, so “islands” plural. But the point remains that they did have an anti-catholic tendency in the past and today they do pull in support from some of the most protestant areas in Scotland. That being the case, why would Scottish Labour, given their own historical background, appeal to anti- catholic sectarianism in order to strengthen the pro-Union vote? Wouldn’t make sense.

  • notnowjohn

    I enjoyed the first 4 minutes and 22 seconds of the audio.

    The point that seems to be missed is that Ulster Unionism and British unionism are two entirely different things.

  • Dewi

    My (pretty obscure) point was the pre – 1707 anti jacobite (catholic) stuff. extremely effective in them days.

  • IrelandNorth

    As a Leinster-Irish (Green) Unionist, (i.e. a United Irelander), it’s exasperating to see Messrs. Donaldson & Assocs. running around the United Kingdom of Great Britain (UKGB) desperatelly trying to resusitate an imperial British unionist paradigm which has evidently lost favour with Whitehall mandarins. This quasi-erotic fantasy is doomed to failure in an incresaingly democratised world, where imperialism is rightly seen as politically primative and defunct. Be a real unionist, Jeffrey & Co. Love Ireland & the Irish!