Are Unionists as strategically unthinking as ever?

Who decided that McGuninness would meet the Queen?

According to an especially shrill Alex Kane op ed, “They had no choice in the matter”.

Look, I assume the Queen had a say in this meeting but who had the final say on whether McGuinness would meet her? McGuinness and Sinn Fein did. Yet from Alex Kane’s boyish response you’d think Nationalists are dancing to a unionist flute.

The reality of the Queen-McGuinness meeting, like all significant political developments in Ireland since 1985’s Anglo-Irish Agreement (the one exception, to some extent, being 2006’s St Andrews Agreement) is that unionists are unable to escape the observer’s posture. Just as Alex Kane looks on now.

The tone and substance of Kane’s article unintentionally captures Unionists’ relative power loss very well. Unionists continue as political actors caught in a permanent state of reaction.

Historically the reactions have ranged from mostly panicked and hysterical to Kane’s gleeful gracelessness; always responsive, never agenda-setting.

Some strategy.

Kane delights in an alleged “utter, utter defeat” for Nationalists, going on to claim that “unionism is stronger today than it has ever been.”

C’mon Alex. From a one party state to being barred from ordering a wallpaper change at Stormont without Nationalists’ sign-off, you know that while the union is (only) as secure as the desire of a majority’s votes, unionists have never been less autonomous and northern nationalists have never had so much power.

This is why the Queen, if she’s coming to Belfast, whatever her personal feelings, must meet the McGuinness. Northern Nationalists have real power now and its limited in potential only by the strength of its arguments. Arguments it can remake, reconsider and re-adjust again and again and again.

Far from 2012 being little different than 1952 as Kane absurdly suggests, today has new rules folks.

With the gun largely removed from Irish politics the end game is based on who can be the least threatening to the other rather than the most.

This is how persuasion works. To get a flavor of Unionists’ fitness for the challenge, sample Kane’s reaction to northern nationalisms’ s leading figure’s forthcoming meeting with the Queen:

“And Martin, bless him, is still one of her citizens and subjects. Three cheers, say I!”

Petty, spiteful, clumsy, provocative; Kane literally cheers a perceived humiliation for nationalists.

How foolish. How short-sighted.

With the ROI’s collapse into chaos and the rise of equality in the north, the case for Irish unification needs to be remade for many nominal nationalists, never mind unionists and the ‘depends on the grocery bills’ rest/most. No doubt about that. But Unionists are blowing a golden moment to act.  They could secure their constitutional preferences by embracing a place not just for their imagined hoards of closet Catholic unionists but for nationalists.

While Kane’s attitude is a little depressing and boring, Nationalists should be releived by it. Given every other contemporary challenge to a building a “united Ireland”, Kane’s contentment with sleepily cheering the imagined humiliations of his neighbours indicates that in the battle for the ideas that will make the future, Kane, for all his hot air, ain’t building any headwind.

And if he can’t in this climate, he never will.

Strategic Communications Consultant, located in Washington, D.C.