Unionist unity is illogical, impractical and wrong

Michael Shilliday argues in today’s News Letter that competiting visions for Unionism is natural and required to push unionism onwards:

If united unionism was the natural way of things, the DUP would never have existed in the first place. If it was good for unionism, it would have happened by now, and if it was wanted the people would have voted for it. The idea that a “cosy relationship” between the UUP and DUP benefits anyone is fanciful.

Taking the competition out of unionism in terms of support and ideas will simply leave it complacent and devoid of new ideas.

This is said to be the reason why long-serving governments get voted out of office. What happens when an entire ideology gets into that position?

The fact is that there are 100,000 voters in Northern Ireland who disagree with the ‘all Prods together’ vision of unionism. If the UUP leaves them, they will vote for someone else. And so will I.

  • Obelisk

    I agree with what Michael Shilliday has written. He gets to the heart of the argument and points out all the problems that will flow from what is happening. Unionist unity is the ultimate circling of the wagons in the face of the demographic shift and the Scottish Independence debate.

    Because I agree with Michael Shilliday, I enthusiastically support any moves towards Unionist unity.

  • Nordie Northsider

    What would One Big Unionist Party mean for the TUV? I know they didn’t poll well at Assembly or Westminster elections up to now, but would they have the wit or the flexibility to benefit from being the only alternative on the Unionist side?

  • john

    As a nationalist unionist unity is fantastic news, should that not be enough to tell the Unionists that it is a big mistake. A United unionist party will get less votes than 2,3,4 or 5 unionist parties end of story. I have said earlier that a united party only works in a Westminster election. Looking at the current constituencies a united party changes nothing. Under the revised constituencies a united candidate may have a chance in Glenshane but that chance is even slimmer than the current FST and we all know how the Unity candidate did there (for those who cant remember he lost with a reduced unionist % despite everything and the kitchen sink being thrown into his campaign to stop SF).
    STV elections in Stormont would result in losses for Unionism due to zero transfers the only positive is the token First Minister is guaranteed Wow!!

  • pauluk

    The UU’s are well past their sell-by date.

    The liberals among them should join forces with the Alliance or the Greens (are they still around?); the right-wingers should go to the TUV; and the pragmatic conservatives should join up with the DUP.

    Simple!

  • Michael Shilliday is absolutely right.
    I have long argued that unionism benefits from having two parties and nationalism benefits from having two parties.
    Voters need an alternative . Thats basic democracy.
    UUP need to provide an alternative to DUP.
    SDLP need to provide an alternative to SF.
    Both as per May 2011 lost ground but the rise and rise of DUP and SF is not inevitable. Indeed Id argue that both DUP & SF are just about on their maximum vote as theres probably a hard core of UUP & SDLP voters who cant be persuaded.

    Robinson is therefore trying to bring the UUP within his Party……and if the UUP divides, most would go to DUP and perhaps a few into a Conservative type party which would ultimately fail. The AP would pick up afew also. The third tribe.
    But theres already moves to keep a third tribe minimal with fewer govt departments.

    And of course this is mirrored on the nationalist/republican side.

    Thats obviously the game plan.
    Is the rise and rise of DUP/SF inevitable?
    They would yes.
    Is a recovery by UUP/SDLP inevitable?
    They would say yes.

    I say …….all to play for. But unionist and nationalist votes with no alternatives would be a bad thing.

  • “John” is only half right.
    A single unionist party would be good news for nationalists only if it can be thought that it hives off some voters to a Tory party with only realistic possibilities of two or three seats anda boost to the AP to push them up around ten/eleven.
    (although clearly predicting future elections is not exactly an exact science).
    There is however a principle of sorts that democrats need alternatives.

  • john

    FJH
    Nevermind votes going to the Alliance Party and the Tory Party which will happen the big problem is a number of unionist voters will be turned off from voting altogether!

  • Thats just fantasy.
    Nationalists and Unionists indulge the fantasy that the other side will just stop being unionists and nationalists.

  • Bigger Picture

    Of course Mick has only painted half the picture with the above extract, how about:

    “Fundamentally, I object to any implication that the DUP is morally, ethically or idealistically equivalent or superior to the UUP.”

    Take everything else out of the question and you find someone who is opposed to co-operation with fellow unionists. His argument fails in the view of most Newsletter readers as he shows his hatred and contempt above the argument that he is trying to deliver. He’s discredited before he even begins. He should remember this when delivering final arguments for the BPTC.

    This also flies in the face of all that has been said this week. McNarry, backed by the UUP leader, wants greater co-operation between the parties, not unity. Peter Robinson has said we should be speaking with a single unionist voice. This does not denote a merger, this does not signal the death of the UUP and does not point to an end to competition within the unionist fraternity.

    Instead it shows an honesty and willingness by the leaders of the two parties to get together, share ideas and policy. Not to combine, not to merge but, were practical, to further the unionist cause and message. This is a good thing and Tom Elliot in particular should be praised but he also needs to bring his party with him and to say grow up and shoulder some responsibility.

  • The reason some unionists are clinging to this unity notion despite their better judgement is that, to acknowledge it leaves unionism having to openly face the demographic tide going against them and they dare not think about that.
    If they were to accept thgey would need catholic votes, what future would the marching season have? This is why they will resort to talk of repartition to get the comfort blanket of the contrived majority back. The alternative is to ditch the whole orange triumphalism and where would they get their kicks if they had to moderate their attitude to Catholics to keep the union safe?..

  • OneNI

    Unionist unity is an oxymoron.
    What passes for unionism in NI is in fact tribalism.
    Bigger Picture typifies this when he talks of ‘unionist co-operation’ between UUP and DUP. No mention of the big unionist parties – the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib dems.
    We have a staunchly pro Union Prime Minister in David Cameron and Robinson’s party villify him and Tom turned his back on him.
    Pygmy politicians

  • ‘staunchly pro union prime minister in David Cameron’

    Problem with that theory is DC is talking about the union between England and Scotland, and being passionate about that specifically, not the rest of the UK. Unionists have realised that so they don’t trust him, and rightly so.

  • Bigger Picture

    OneNI

    The alternative being for Tom to continue with UCUNF?!? Live in the real world.

    Unionism does not mean tribalism, my above post never did, and it’s a pretty tedious link to spin the phrase “unionist co-operation” as tribalism. For Unionism to co-operate and to ultimately stop the infighting, to leave the questions and acquisitions of sell out and hypocrisy to one side and to say this is what we want for a better NI is right, proper and will be of benefit to everyone in NI.

    If people say Ian Paisley was the greatest vote winner for Republicans and Nationalists because he attacked the UUP for being sell outs. Maybe nationalists and the fence sitters now fear that modern strong and robust unionist parties will ultimately rob them of their unionist “bogyman” and their own appeal to voters (to stand up to the big unionist bigots) will ultimately look dated.

    OneNI’s post certainly sounded dated and fearful. If greater co-operation did happen I wonder how long before we would hear the same from Ford, McGuinness or McDonnell?

  • Jo

    Nordie, I think the answer is a resounding NO. The TUV contribution in recent times was the temporary unseating of Robinson in E Belfast and, er, the Alliance success. For that and nothing else, we should be grateful to Vance for moderating NI representation in London. Ironic, eh?

  • OneNI

    madraj55 Can I suggest you take five minutes on google to find out Cameron’s position on NI?

    Bigger Picture ‘fearful’ of what that the UUP and DUP create a monopoly?

    Real unionists should want to become fully involved in the politics of the UK not engage in some ‘ourselves alone’ against the world fantasy

  • Neil

    I think as mentioned above, it would be a short sighted Republican who would not thoroughly approve of a Unionist merger. At any rate it’s non of our business.

  • Surely a united unionism came about initially principally to oppose Home Rule and ensure that the union would be maintained. As the only way now to bring back a united Ireland will be through a referendum ballot, it matters not a hoot how many unionist parties there are so long as they all vote to maintain the union in such a referendum.
    We need a good dose of left/right politics.

  • Bigger Picture

    OneNI

    To fully bring your point out then, the UUP and DUP co-operating will in the end produce two entities that are what? anti British? in essence anti unionist? because they don’t always see eye to eye at times with the government at Westminster?

    And on the point of being fully involved in the UK, i’ll let you in on something that has been going on here, on and off, for the best part of 14 years. It’s called devolution, and believe it or not has the support of your party and its leader, our Prime Minister.

    Let’s not take into account that you have yet to read my first post correctly were I said the negotiations between the parties was NOT about creating one party. But then again why let facts get in the way of a good argument, eh?

  • Nordie Northsider

    Thanks for that, Jo. You can get a false impression of the TUV’s vitality by following the Northern media from Dublin. He gets around does our Jim.

  • Drumlins Rock

    All politicians should co-operate with each other on matters they agree with or almost agree even, espically when they have much common ground or else a large enough prize to warrant the compromises. Co-operation between the UUP & DUP is mainly the former, and between SF & the DUP its the latter, I’m think the Con-Lib Coalition is more the latter also and forms a much bigger challenge to the conservatives than a NI tattle.
    The UCUNF link was the former mainly, and could have worked if handled better by both sides. Tom Elliott has not turned his back on the Conservatives, he bent over backwards to try and come up with a practical relationship, short of the political suicide they were demanding, but there was no flexibility shown, however relationships remain strong with many mainland Conservatives both in and outside government.
    I fully support co-operating with the DUP on areas of agreement, thats what politics is about, but big differences remain, I think Unionism stands better on two legs than one.

  • HeinzGuderian

    mad…. you come across as someone stuck n the 70’s.
    Ditch the parallels and join us in the 21st Century.

    The UUP will never merger with the DUPers,as the DUPer vote only increased from the perceived threat from the shinners.
    As that wains,(or wans,as Marty might say),the UUP vote will recover,and all will be well.

    By the by,I have still yet to hear how Scottish Independence,(currently running at 3/1 against),will suddenly make Unionists,nationalists ?

  • I think as mentioned above, it would be a short sighted Republican who would not thoroughly approve of a Unionist merger. At any rate it’s non of our business.

    A more pithy condemnation of modern Irish Republicanism I couldn’t have written myself. Whatever happened to “Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter”? Shouldn’t you be out trying to sweep up those extra votes? Nah, “Republicans” is just a euphemism for “ussuns”. What themmuns do on their side of town is nothing to do with ussuns. Wolfe Tone is spinning in his grave.

  • Greenflag

    I believe it was some French notable who commented that he liked Germany so much that he thought having two Germanies (West and East ) was good for Europe and that having even more than two would be even better .

    I think his remark could be applied to ‘Unionism ‘ with even more pertinence .

    People forget that it was a ‘monolithic ‘Unionist Party ‘which sleepwalked it’s way into the somnolent regime which could not cope with changing times in NI in the 1950’s and 60’s and which eventually had to be put out of it’s misery by a humane HMG in 1972.

    Given the current GFA it would hardly make any real difference to have one big Unionist Party -the same can be said for the republican /nationalist bloc . The external bars of the cage are designed to quarantine NI from the rest of the UK and the internal bars within the cage are designed to prevent those behind separate bars from eating each other with just enough egress allowed to give one and all that they ‘masters ‘ of their own destinies .

    Now once upon a time there were three bears etc 🙁

  • latcheeco

    madraj55,
    Couldn’t agree more. It seems absurd that the very people unionists might be dependent on for the survival of the six county sectarian carve up are the people who were most discriminated against and screwed by it. Smacks of fantasy and delusion that some unionist strategists are actually thinking of repackaging themselves on those terms due to future demographics. Time to face the music. The Titanic is going down and it doesn’t help that the band playing on is a flute band .

  • OneNI

    Poor Tom he is completely out his depth. He sends out a letter essentially down-playing the significance of the talks – and then disciplines the person who conducted those talks with Tom’s permission?
    IF McNarry has any proof that Elliott approved the talks and that the remit was anything beyond mutual co-operation Elliott is finished

    Bigger Picture – what is the difference between the DUP and the UUP. You do realise they are not real political parties.Do you ever envisage moving politics beyond unionist v nationalist?

    Devolution – what has NI devolution delivered. What was it that NI politicos did differently – that hasnt been a cop out or a cock up?

    ‘however relationships remain strong with many mainland Conservatives both in and outside government’ Yeah right there are loads of Tories who are keen to defy the PM.
    Remember the UUP does not exist in the Commons or the Lords.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Much as I dislike to say it, Michael is right about this. If unionists want a single political party to represent them, then why does approximately one-third of them still support parties other than the DUP ? If unionists are warm to the idea of a pact, then why didn’t Rodney Connor win convincingly in FST (which he should have done based on the 2005 numbers) ?

    Bigger Picture :

    Take everything else out of the question and you find someone who is opposed to co-operation with fellow unionists. His argument fails in the view of most Newsletter readers as he shows his hatred and contempt above the argument that he is trying to deliver. He’s discredited before he even begins. He should remember this when delivering final arguments for the BPTC.

    I think it’s over the top to describe the thing as hatred and contempt. It is obvious that there are a lot of unionists who do not agree with the DUP’s idea of how things should be done.

    This also flies in the face of all that has been said this week. McNarry, backed by the UUP leader, wants greater co-operation between the parties, not unity. Peter Robinson has said we should be speaking with a single unionist voice.

    You’re obviously a DUP activist of some kind but surely you can see that it is kinda hypocritical to hear the DUP talking about the need for speaking with one voice given the ~30 years he spent working against precisely that.

    This does not denote a merger, this does not signal the death of the UUP and does not point to an end to competition within the unionist fraternity.

    Perhaps you could spell out exactly what this one voice you have in mind would be saying differently from the two voices there are now ?

  • Brian Walker

    Why was it then that unionism appeared to be a monolith for much longer than it was divided? It surely depends on the length of your perspective. A century ago, rising unionism united as a protest or resistance movement to meet the challenge of Home Rule. After almost 50 years of single party government, Unionism fragmented after 1968 because it could not meet the challenge of first civil rights and then civil disorder including that from Paisley. In the long years of single party government, unionism had tacked to accommodate restive elements within the unionist big tent, for example from the urban working class when times were hard and from border Protestants most of the time. It had never seriously chosen to accommodate the aspirations of the Catholic minority which was mainly outside the nexus of power. The stifling of political development built up a head of steam within and beyond unionism which had always been likely to end the appearance of a monolith sooner or later. Analysts sympathetic to unionism as well as its critics will flesh out this analysis.

    In my view the unionist establishment never got over the shock of the speed of the collapse after years of dominance. Tragically it took more than a full generation for unionism to come to terms with new dynamics, a process of course made far more difficult by communal violence and insurgency. But it could and should have done a deal with the democratic and modernist SDLP much much earlier. I know lots of the details of how it didn’t happen close up, but it still depresses and baffles me why it didn’t.

    Post 1972, it wasn’t ”new ideas” that divided unionism (with a few brief and quickly stifled exceptions). It was a competition between different fractions to see who could hold the hardest line against pressure and with the minimum exposure to new ideas. It was David Trimble who broke the logjam, partly under massive pressure, partly through his own hard headed and very unionist analysis. The rules of the competition changed and the DUP began to play catch-up.

    Today under STV voting there’s no reason why at least two or more unionist (or for that matter nationalist) parties can’t exist. But maybe Michael would tell us what either of them stands for, except to maximise the communal vote and try to stay in business. Where are these “new ideas”?

    I see a crab- like moderating tendency which of course is to be encouraged but little translation into policy. From this distance, unionist and general politics seem as dead as they were in the late Brookeborough era. And look what happened soon after that.

  • PaddyReilly

    The mathematics of a unionist merger is as follows.

    In the European Parliament elections it could have no effect, because here we have a tranferrable vote, and inter Unionist transferring is more than adequate, even between sworn enemies like the TUV and the DUP.

    In the Stormont Assembly elections it would equally have no effect, because this is also a transferrable voting system.

    But in the Westminster elections, it might have made a difference. However, it was unnecessary in DUP held seats: E Londonderry, N, E, & S Antrim, N & E Belfast, Lagan valley, Strangford & Upper Bann: here the DUP won without any Unionist unity.

    There was in effect a Unionist Unity candidate in North Down, because the DUP did not challenge Lady Sylvia, but there was of course no chance of her losing to a Nationalist, or even to another Unionist.

    Nor could Unionist unity have brought any advantage in safe Nationalist seats: Foyle, W Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Newry & Armagh, S Down, W Belfast.

    Which leaves us just two constituencies where it might have given an advantage.

    In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, there was a Unionist Unity candidate, but he lost by 4 votes.

    Had there been a Unionist Unity candidate in South Belfast, and had he received the combined vote of the DUP and UCUNF, then he would have lost by 16 votes, the combined Unionist vote being 14,010, and the SDLP vote 14,026. Here there was, in effect, a Nationalist Unity candidate, as SF did not stand.

    So the sum total of advantage of Unionist unity in the last three Elections would be nil: had there been only one Unionist party, the number of seats won by Unionists would be exactly the same.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Paddy,

    The ironic thing is that the best way to maximise the unionist vote – or at least to ensure that it is properly reflected – would surely be to introduce AV (which both the DUP and UUP opposed). With AV, unionist seats would be held in East and possibly South Belfast, although FST would be permanently lost to unionism.

  • PaddyReilly

    With AV, unionist seats would be held in East and possibly South Belfast

    I think you mean would have been held. If the current coalition stays in power these constituencies will be merged, just about. You are also committing the fallacy of imagining that people will vote the same way if they have a different system.

    With AV, Alliance might lose East Belfast, but they would be put in a position where they could conceivably win South Antrim. Again, no gain.

    Alasdair McDonnell has been masterfully pushing his and his party’s share of vote upwards from the 22% they received in 1998 to an unassailable position. There have been many opportunities to reverse this trend but Unionism has failed all of them.

  • Greenflag

    @Brian Walker

    Thanks for your 7.44 pm post above .By far the best short summary on the state of unionism in NI that I’ve ever read on Slugger or indeed elsewhere .

    ‘In my view the unionist establishment never got over the shock of the speed of the collapse after years of dominance’

    The bigger they are the harder they fall syndrome .FF in the Republic appear to be repeating the phenomenon.

    ‘But it could and should have done a deal with the democratic and modernist SDLP much much earlier.’

    True but by the time Brian Faukner took the reins and made a serious attempt to ‘modernise’ it was too late . A succession of seen to be ‘weak’ Unionist leaders Captain O’Neill , Chichester Clark and the suspension of Stormont all added to the psyching out of a majority of unionists and prevented Brian Faulkner’s brave attempt at bridge building .

    ‘it still depresses and baffles me why it didn’t.’

    In any normal ‘polity ‘i.e one in which the basic foundation of the state i.e it’s constitution written or unwritten is accepted by the vast majority of it’s citizens /residents i.e 98% plus then ‘political ‘accommodations -realignments of interests – compromise etc become practical possibilities . In the NI context and in particular once the guns and bombs entered the equation then compromise politics was forced to the back of the bus . Thereafter it was an almost linear sequence of events which allowed the most extreme proponents of both constitutional positions (DUP & SF ) to overtake their ‘moderate’ opponents .

    The answer as to why it (Unionism ) did’nt reach out sooner to the SDLP is quite simple .It did’nt have to or assumed at the time it did’nt have to .Eventually it was forced to reach out but only after a generation of violence and needless death and destruction and then it was pressured into an accomodation with the SDLP’s bigger successor SF .

    It could have been a whole lot worse so while it ‘depresses ‘me also I can live with the ‘baffling ‘ There are worse ‘ideologies’ in the world than unionism as we have seen from history .An idea or ideology which has little or declining relevance to peoples lives ought to go quietly into the night but some don’t . They drag on trying for a ‘rebirth ‘ of hope or relevance in a world which has passed them by .As the man said the past is another country .

    Hope springs eternal. As the First Leader the Rev Ian Paisley retires as an FP Minister and his successor Mr Robinson attends a GAA football game then those of us who may be impatient for new ideas or political revival or some form of resurrection might want to reflect that the cart travels best when the horse is in front .