Unionists too distanced from the future of the Union debate?

One of the reasons I argued that making the proposed marriage between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists would work well for both parties was that it would shore up Cameron’s party colleague’s woeful lack of understanding of the constitution of their own country. Something at Reg Empey shows a residual grasp of:

“I feel that there is a real danger of the UK sleepwalking itself into a major constitutional crisis unless there is a proper and open debate on the merits of the UK continuing in its present form.”

As we noted back in 2003 (page 41), there is a tendency amongst Unionists of all stripes to externalise all forms of threat to the Union. In actual fact one of the biggest threats is the attitude of Unionists themselves. Arthur Aughey’s evocation of Schopenhauer captures the self-sidelining of the Union’s most committed and passionate advocates:

‘A number of porcupines, Schopenhauer wrote, huddled together for warmth on a cold day but as they pricked one another they were forced to disperse. The cold drove them together again and the process was repeated. After many turns of huddling and dispersing they discovered that a comfortable relationship involved maintaining a little distance from one another. It is only when we discover a moderate distance, Schopenhauer believed, that life becomes tolerable: our mutual needs can be reasonably satisfied and, as far as possible, we can avoid pricking one another.’

The fable is powerful. But there is one problem. To the rest of the UK’s inhabitants it seems that Northern Ireland’s unionists now prefer a chilly distance to exchanging heat and light with their neighbours.

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  • HeinzGuderian

    A quick look South Mick,tells us all we need to know !!

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    Could Schopenhauer’s point have been made any clearer??

  • cavanman

    “A quick look South Mick,tells us all we need to know !!”

    What exactly is meant by that?

    Have you abstracted us away to the point where every housewife in Macroom is one GAA match away from diesel smuggling?

  • I sometimes feel a bit distanced from the Slugger debate; I prefer a greater use of primary sources. Also, thanks to a BT’s sub-contracting engineer, I’m currently hanging on by broadband thread – 5% normal speed and no traditional phone connection – so I can’t access the likes of BBC iPlayer.

    Here’s a link to Reg’s press release; it gives a better context than the News Letter’s selective quoting.

    Reg says he’s putting down questions. Here’s one that was tabled yesterday:

    Lord Empey: to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the event of independence from the United Kingdom being granted to Scotland, the name of the country would have to be officially altered to take account of the change to the nature of Great Britain. HL14804

    It’s due for answer by January 30 – and the question is unlikely to shake the UK to its core. [contd]

  • “the proposed marriage between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists would work well for both parties”

    The marriage of convenience between David Cameron’s inner circle and Reg Empey’s inner circle proved to be short lived – and a bad and unlikely match. It’s hard to see what Reg has in common with the Chipping Norton Tea Party. UU is an alliance of Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists and IMO it was the Liberals like Thomas Sinclair [pdf file] who played a key role in UU strategic thinking in its formative years. Sinclair brought a strong Scottish Presbyterian flavour to the debate.

    Ulster Unionism’s desire at the end of the 19th Century, as I see it, was for the island of Ireland to remain within the then UK; there was a dread that Home Rule would lead to repeal and that they would find themselves in a Catholic state for a Catholic people.

    That spectre – from a UU perspective – continues to haunt them and their ‘external’ energies have been directed at opposing the expansion of Strand 2 rather than ensuring that the development of NI’s ‘external’ relationships with GB and Ireland were based on equality and the common good.

  • The Strand 2 secretariat was established fairly soon after the endorsement of the 1998 Agreement; the BIC Standing Secretariat has only just been established:

    The Council welcomed the establishment of the Standing Secretariat in Edinburgh, which became operational as of the 4th January 2012. The Council noted the forward workplan of the Standing Secretariat, including the completion of actions needed to reach full capability and a review of existing workstream activities with a view to producing a draft BIC Strategic Business Plan for approval at the Scotland Summit in June 2012.

    If David Trimble had not had to endure the internal wranglings of his own party, the sniping from the DUP and the corrosive side-deals between London, Dublin and the PRM perhaps – but only perhaps – the UUs would have put more effort into developing all of NI’s ‘external’ relationships.

    Is it worth pointing out that Slugger is well behind the game in this regard too; it’s got no complement for Andy Pollak. I wonder if a BIC promoter would get an easier ride here than Andy – perhaps if they collaborated they both would.

  • “To the rest of the UK’s inhabitants it seems that Northern Ireland’s unionists now prefer a chilly distance to exchanging heat and light with their neighbours.”

    There’s a wee problem with Arthur’s round table. The chilly distance has mainly come from GB and Ireland as the respective HQs in London and Dublin sought to contain NI’s faction fights. By the way, our spiky resident is the hedgehog, not the porcupine.

  • Here are four more questions which illustrate the nature of Reg’s involvement in the debate:

    Lord Empey to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Government will campaign for a pro-Union vote in the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. [SO] HL14728

    Lord Empey to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether there is any legal provision to allow expatriate Scots to participate in the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. [SO] HL14729

    Lord Empey to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether it is their intention that, in the event of independence from the United Kingdom being granted to Scotland, they would agree to Scotland being part of the sterling currency area. [SO] HL14730

    Lord Empey to ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the event of independence from the United Kingdom being granted to Scotland, what rights Scots who do not wish to reside in Scotland would have to move freely to the remaining parts of the United Kingdom. [SO] HL14731

    Here appear to be the only other related recent Lords questions [same link]

    Lord West of Spithead to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of current uncertainties regarding Scottish devolution, they are putting in place plans to ensure the building and sub-contracting for the Type 26 frigate programme can be conducted by companies based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. [MoD] HL14712

    Lord West of Spithead to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether there are plans to ensure future refitting and maintenance work on the new aircraft carriers can be conducted in English, Welsh and Northern Irish yards, and to ensure that the Valiant Jetty can easily be moved to Devonport or a similar deep water port such as Milford Haven. [MoD] HL14713

    IIRC concerns were expressed during the 1892 Ulster Unionisn Convention about the possible fate of Belfast shipyards and other centres of manufacturing.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Lord Empey to ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the event of independence from the United Kingdom being granted to Scotland, what rights Scots who do not wish to reside in Scotland would have to move freely to the remaining parts of the United Kingdom.

    Ask the Scottish government that one … I’d imagine the answer’s yes.

  • Republic of Connaught

    I would imagine the average person and politician in Scotland could not care less what people not from Scotland like Reg Empey think bout their independence decisions.

  • Reader

    Republic of Connaught: I would imagine the average person and politician in Scotland could not care less what people not from Scotland like Reg Empey think bout their independence decisions.
    Then they will never read your contribution either.
    Though Empey’s last two questions touch on areas that are relevant to Scots, but won’t be decided by Scots. So I’m not sure the answers will be ignored as comprehensively as you expect.

  • antamadan

    Re ‘Lord Empey to ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the event of independence from the United Kingdom being granted to Scotland, what rights Scots who do not wish to reside in Scotland would have to move freely to the remaining parts of the United Kingdom

    I wonder after a Yes reply, is Empey’s follow-up, to suggest that UK (taxpayers) funds should be used to grant-aid UK loyalists from Scotland to move to Northern Ireland (and vote ulster unionist). After American independence, the British funded the then-called ’empire loyalists’ from the US to move to Canada, to shore up the loyal Canadian majority, that was starting to look a bit shaky. By-the-way I have a vague memory of unionists suggesting to the UK Government that Gibraltar residents should be allowed to vote in NI european elections as they had no MEP representation and NI was over-represented. Right-sort of people etc.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Reader,

    I’d be very surprised if any Scottish voter thinking of voting for independence will care what English, Welsh or Irish Unionists, or indeed English, Welsh or Irish Nationalists have to say. After all, none of these groups are truly interested in what’s best for Scotland.

    Empey, like all NI Unionists, is more concerned about how it will affect the NI situation than anything else. If Martin McGuinness came out in favour of Scottish independence, then he too would have a biased agenda behind it.

    Only Scots truly care about Scotland. So they should heed their own counsel.

    .

  • FuturePhysicist

    By-the-way I have a vague memory of unionists suggesting to the UK Government that Gibraltar residents should be allowed to vote in NI european elections as they had no MEP representation and NI was over-represented. Right-sort of people etc.

    Gibraltar does have parts of many MEP’s from UK South East

  • Graham

    Scots might learn something from listening to reasoned debate from ‘outsiders’. To see ouselves as others see us. I think the potential implications of Scottish independence for EWNI are substantial and it’s in their own interests to consider and discuss this. When all is said and done though, talk is cheap, only votes from within Scotland will determine it’s people’s future, and that’s exactly how it should be.

    It’s astonishing that the UK Government is only now waking up to the reality but, to be fair, few predicted this precise coming together of circusmtances and fewer still the timing. The monarch cannot be best pleased about any of it, least of all having had to give her Government a shake herself.