UUP: A party with less and less visible means of political support…

Fairly brutal says Basil McCrea. But John McCallister is gone as Deputy leader of the UUP. Why? For making this speech to the Young Unionists on the future of Unionism at the weekend.

Nesbitt loyalists grumble that McCallister (Nesbitt’s defeated rival in the recent leadership election) was doing little more than laying out his alternative vision for the party. Odd when you think he’s supposed to be Deputy leader.

Picking a fight over Nesbitt’s call for Unionist unity was presumably a matter of choice on the part of the Deputy Leader. There are a dozen things he could have talked about that might not have triggered such a strong reaction.

For Nesbitt’s part a major fall out with a second senior party figure with a few short months begins to look more like carelessness than misfortune. At the very least it looks like he’s not been keeping his party rivals closer than his friends.

Chris Farringdon has written well on the ungovernability of the old Ulster Unionist party. But with all the reforms to party structures in recent years, that’s not necessarily an excuse any more.

The party has a social profile which is mixed and broad. It’s the sort of profile Peter Robinson would love to have, but finds it difficult to reach. In Belfast many former unionists are choosing to slide across and into Alliance as much as turn to the DUP.

The party’s problem is more political than social.

In a presentation at an Electoral Commission event at Queens just after the 2005 general election, I suggested the party faced a “What are we for?” crisis. Seven years have passed, and it remains a question that has not even been close to being answered.

The DUP continues to control any Unionist realignment, a reality underlined by Nesbitt’s joint appearance with the First Minister. This after a summer in which many of the parties former middle class voters have noted Nelson McCausland’s failure to back the Parade’s Commission ruling.

Busy in the woodshed conjuring up new candidates who can appeal to the middle class core of the Ulster Unionists the DUP believe they can cope with their rival’s long slow decline.

Mike Nesbitt’s problem is a little like a rear gunner who’s not quite in control of his political gunfire. Having done for McNarry on one wing, and Maginnis and McCallister on another, it remains to be seen just how long this old crate of a party can continue to fly.

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  • John Ó Néill

    Are the UUPs troubles the reason for Alliance’s reversal on equal marriage (a feint whiff of residual fundamentalism to suggest they aren’t completely pinko-liberals)?

    I think I’ve said before – UUPS, like Fianna Fáil, evolved into a ‘machine’ to access and control socio-economic and cultural levers – with limited access/control it has been forced back on ideological resources it never really developed and is frantically unable to ascertain its own position on a lot of issues.

    As to Alliance, it may be developing its own crises as well.

  • salgado

    “Are the UUPs troubles the reason for Alliance’s reversal on equal marriage?”

    I don’t think so. I remember them being very apathetic on it a few years ago when the issue came up and the UUP were still in slightly better health.

  • Really they have “lost” three…..McCallister, Ken Maginness and David McNarry.
    I note in the sidebar, Sam McBride notes they have lost a leading UUP person (a Catholic).
    Added to the people theyve already lost or are semi deatched Hamililton, Ringland, Bradshaw, McClarty then it cant be good.
    Its not necessarily good news for Alliance as they dont want their Party unbalanced by “unionists”
    I notice that Basil McCrea was actually speaking at a Conservarive gathering last night (and it would actually suit AP better if he jumped in their direction). I think that he will at some point.
    Not just in constitutional terms but in left-right terms the Alliance Party will want to hold on to what they really are.

  • IJP


    No, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Alliance Party and one which sees other parties continue to lose ground to it.

    Unlike the UUP, the Alliance Party does not look at what the electorate thinks and try to act in line with it (what UUP senior figures openly call “looking for a gap in the market”).

    Rather, it looks at how to move towards a more integrated society and tries to act accordingly – whether or not that is popular. Electing Maskey in 2003, for example, certainly was not popular but electoral considerations played no role in the decision (if they had, the decision would have been different!)

    This week, there’s no point in denying there was a collision. The vast majority of party members (as evidenced by the Party Council vote), like me, see that moving towards an integrated society means integrating everyone with equal liberties, regardless of our own personal religious or moral views. Others, typically older or evangelical members, believe that that can be achieved without, as they see it, “redefining marriage”.

    But it has nothing to do with assessing what the electorate wants. Otherwise, again, it is unlikely that the MLAs’ vote would have been 4:1 in favour.

  • BarneyT

    Well, having read the contentious speech, its clear the UUP leaders vision was not shared with his deputy and unless the DUP has moderated, McCallister is making a fair point. Unionism can unite when there isn’t a hairs breath between them, but irrespective of their middle-class\working-class alignment, there are still fundamental differences, which McCallister points out.

    In terms of a battle, it makes sense for the UUP and DUP to join forces to ensure a majority unionist government. Equally you could argue that the SDLP and SF could take the same approach to gain collective ground. But, as the speech suggests that would benefit no-one. There are too many fundamental differences at root level (particuarly in within Unionism)

    I dont believe the DUP has shifted ground (religiously), so I can only conclude that the UUP under its present leadership is going to move into DUP territory or indeed join forces (merge) , rather that pursue a moderate unionist line i.e. more plural, less fanatical. Hence McAllisters removal? A moderate UUP would provide a vehicle for Catholics who want to remain part of the union, just as the mainly catholic SDLP would offer the same for pro-unity or left leaning protestants. The polarised DUP cannot provide this political service. (who serves the republican protestant unionist socialist…a valid but rare voiceless combination?).

  • GavBelfast

    Still interesting that two relatively high-profile Alliance MLAs for East Belfast (conveniently?) went missing yesterday ….

  • Alone and Easy Target

    And the UUP continue their long slow slide into decline with hardly a whimper. The UUP cannot attack the DUP because the DUP are doing pretty much (there or there abouts) what the UUP want to do in office. In reality they are not far apart and the McCallisters and McCreas know that but cannot garner enough support to put clear blue sea between them and the DUP – and policy light McCallister and McCrea are attempting to move the UUP away from the where the key battlegrounds are.

    But Nesbitt is shocking. Simply shocking.

  • HeinzGuderian

    As soon as Nesbitt opened his mouth,and told us how deeply christian he was,I switched off.

  • vanhelsing

    @IJP what about the vote yesterday. Apparently Chris Lyttle, Judith Cochrane and Kieran McCarthy were all in the building – perhaps they just couldn’t find the chamber?

    Seems on some issues the Alliance are as divided as the UPP – just they have a better Whip or a larger cupboard to store people…

  • Framer

    Unsympathetic readers will never get the Ulster Unionist Party. In truth it is not a party but still a movement, and does not sit well with the requirement of having an Assembly group with policies etc.
    That said, it now represents an irreducible rump that won’t go to the DUP or the Alliance Party or the Conservatives, so John McAllister’s fear of the party unifying with others is groundless.
    It won’t although it could co-operate with those others, and should do so in elections, if to unionist advantage.
    It could grow again when the DUP falters.
    The party is composed of ordinary, decent, respectable Unionists, is British in outlook, moderate in mode. Its members tend towards small town and rural Ulster (particularly in the south and west), are religious without being bigoted or extreme, into membership of the Loyal Orders in many cases but in far from all, are associated with military and police service, and don’t antagonise Catholics although few will join. They are somewhat integrationist (unlike the DUP and Alliance) yet a little devolutionist; fair minded and liberal without being fashionable.
    That is a good half of Protestants with some Catholics, so no matter how many splits, sacking and defections there are the party will continue and at times prosper.
    The truth is there is no other political home for these good people and I suspect Basil McCrea knows that.

  • Alone and Easy Target

    Framer – the problem as I see it is that all the things you have stated as positives for the UUP are being incorporated into a wing of the DUP. In a two party system power can be cyclical as it only goes between two parties – and the UUP don’t just need the DUP to mess up (which they have already with Mrs Robinson, Maze Terror shrine, Special Advisors etc) but they need the DUP to have a huge leap to the right to concede some centre ground. That’s not going to happen.

    Jim Allister on the right, DUP invading UUP ground everyday.

  • John Ó Néill

    Ian – sorry, not wanting to overstate the Alliance having problems, but not voting for marriage equality, which one would have assumed having voted yes to this:

    “That, in line with Alliance’s core commitment to equality and to freedom of religion, party council supports the extension of civil marriage provisions to same sex couples, provided that robust protections are provided through legislation to ensure that faith groups and religious celebrants will not be forced to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies or to have them conducted on their premises.
    “In recognition of the importance of freedom of religion, Alliance further believes that faith groups which, in conscience, wish to marry same sex couples should not be prevented by the state from doing so.
    “We would also support the extension of the authority to solemnise marriages to accredited humanist celebrants, which cannot currently do so.”

    After that one would assume that the MLAs would vote for marriage equality in the Assembly and when they didn’t and they do appear to be competing for votes with the UUP, from the outside it looks like a very political move.

    But, as I say, I wouldn’t want to distract from the UUPs difficulties at the moment (nor would Alliance, ahem).

  • “A party with less and less visible means of political support…”

    Where’s the Kleenex when I really need it? They ought to be able to say, “You know you’re gonna miss us when we’re gone”; but that seems increasingly unrealistic.

    Going off at a tangent (would I ever?), one of the what are we for? points that will eventually need considered is the 2015 UK General Election — considered, that is, by all comers.

    As things stand (and they won’t, but let me argue from that premiss) there’s a strong possibility of an unclear result. Last week the LibDems were assuming that they would retain enough seats to remain the “third party”. I’d seriously doubt that as a real option — particularly if we consider a different conceit.

    If we aggregate the “others” (SNP, PC, DUP, SDLP, Green and … umm, who’ve I left out there?) we are at 23 seats in the present parliament — I’d suspect more next time round. What happens if the LibDems fall below a score? There must be an attraction in forming what the Dáil treats as a “technical group”. That gives the “regionalists” (and I’m treating Brighton as one such region) extra clout in the parliamentary pecking order — notably, third spot in every debate, rather than coming on just before closing.

    OK, OK I know all the difficulties, all the contradictions, but it’s a glorious “what-if?” Like it or not, there are more economic points of common interest between the “regionalists” than any differences over creed and any Kulchurkampf.

  • Mick Fealty


    It would be good to see more of what you were driving at in that first post, but as another separate thread? Let’s try and let this one be about the UUP?

  • John Ó Néill

    I know – I tried to turn around in the second one but the wheels wouldn’t stay on the road…

  • Red Lion

    This is now the 3rd thread in 2 days ive said this on – let the UUP and DUP merge, the likes of basil and J McC
    won’t join in the fun. The DUP are just 2 sections of the same party that split apart 30 odd years ago and who are now heading full circle back together again. Its natural.

    But its not natural for liberal unionists like Basil and J McC to join this dynamic, or even be associated with it. The UUP will never allow its truelly liberal elements to rise to the top (even though so doing would give it a true raison d’etre), the ideolgy of the UUP is to be a clone of the DUP.

    Time for liberal unionism to have proper representation – Basil and John McC are well placed to form and lead a new liberal union party, secular progressve left of centre, particularly when UUP and DUP re-unite. Only then will unionism have a proper choice, and this could well be the driving force away from NI old tribal politics.

    Such a liberal union party would take some of the old uup vote, a few dup people, some alliance, motivate non voters back out, entice a small but increasing Cathloic vote and should seek to give a proper voice to working class unionists particularly in Greater Belfast.

    This is an excellent cross section of a vote and membership for starters, and with talented and visionary people like basil, j McC, possibly McClarty Dawn Purvis, Bradshaw at the helm I believe such a movement in time would grow , expand the middle ground and take a younger vote and outdo the re-united DUP and UUP.

  • Mick Fealty


  • Red Lion

    Tories -Too much baggage, may not attract Catholics , would prefer a left of centre ethos, doesnt provide the broad base potential that a NI liberal union party does, tories aleardy tried by empey didnt work (though to be fair to Empey at least he was trying something different for the UUP unlike elliot and nesbit blundering on with same old lack of vision)

    Tories old and predictable, need something fresh. Tories just dont turn people on in NI.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Read the speech, can’t fathom what it was John McC said that made Mike Nesbitt over-react so badly?

    Surely it’s still all right for a leading Ulster Unionist to say he’d prefer to see the UUP remain an independent party?

    Or has Mike already cooked up a merger deal with Robinson, and now just has to sell it to the grassroots?

  • Progressive Unionist

    It was also a highly intelligent speech by John McCallister, which laid out a convincing rationale for a pluralist and civic unionism.

    John’s still relatively young for a politician, and is emerging as one of the most thoughtful and intelligent leaders of unionism – not least because he can speak like this, direct and to the point and with no mistaking what’s he’s on about.

  • Red Lion

    Certainly was a fine speech, but surely J McCallister must be catching on that the liberal end of the UUP will never become the dominant force within that party.

    Surely he must start to plot about how else he can get his liberal unionist sensibilities and future policies out onto a wider NI audience??

  • Neil

    Nesbitt seems to have over reacted in a big way. It must rankle some within the party to put in years of service/loyalty whatever you like to call it, and then Nesbitt turns up. I used to be on TV you know, I’m cool in am over 65, UUP kind of a way, I’ll be your leader.

    Next thing you know some of your big names are getting shown the door for expressing their point of view, or in McC’s case of expressing more or less Mike’s point of view.

  • IJP


    There’s a degree of truth to that.

    But there is a fundamental difference, namely that the Alliance Party stands indisputably for something distinctly from any other party whereas the UUP stands for the same as the DUP. Not only does that make Alliance clearly distinct, but it also motivates its campaigners.

    Not sure the whip was too good this week, mind!

  • The DUP did not split away from the UUP. It started out as a very tiny party set up by Paisley and called the Protestant Unionist Party and members were mainly Free Presbyterians. It grew slowly at first and changed its name to the DUP after a few years and started attracting many from the UUP who were unhappy with even the least tentative reforms which were moving towards equality for all citizens.

  • The UUP doesn’t have an ideology; that’s its biggest problem. They previously had a double ideology. First priority was to keep the Protestant “underclass” as poor as possible in order to keep the “overclass” as wealthy as possible through maximising of profits. That was hidden, of course, and was achieved by frightening them into a circumstance where they feared that the Catholic “underclass (most Catholics) could take their jobs by offering to work for even lower wages. Their single public ideology was to protect the Union by ensuring a permanent unionist majority at Stormont. That no longer exists as a “glue” since the GFA and SAA put any decision into the votes of the people directly in a referendum.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Its not necessarily good news for Alliance as they dont want their Party unbalanced by “unionists”

    Alliance has a far, far more serious problem at the moment in the form of its MLAs jumping up onto the fence rather than voting for marriage equality, despite the clear affirmation of the party’s ruling council.

    Alliance voters do not support the “separate but equal” system that some of the party’s MLAs do.

    But we’ll save that debate for the time when Slugger gets around to having a thread on the matter.

  • mjh

    Let’s give Mike Nesbitt the benefit of the doubt, and assume that his sacking of McCallister was the result of careful political calculation.

    Let’s also assume that he still wants to position the UUP as a modern non-sectarian party capable of appealing to immigrants and Catholics, as he set out in his conference speech. And therefore, by implication, sees a continued existence for the party separate from the DUP. (Leave aside whether you think that is possible, just assume that he believes that it is.)

    Let’s assume that he suspects that the UUP is headed for further losses whatever he does. And further assume that he now suspects that his party would lose patience with him if that happens.

    He needs to do something.

    Answer: not a merger with the DUP, but an electoral pact. This would see the DUP limit themselves to one candidate at the European Elections in 2014. The parties would carve up all the Westminster seats between them. The DUP would stand unopposed by the UUP in seats where they were the sitting MP, plus at least East Belfast. UUP would get a free run in others such as South Belfast, North Down and maybe Fermanagh. This would start in the Mid Ulster by election, which might be contested by the DUP alone.

    At the Assembly and Council level the parties would agree the number of candidates from each party to stand in each constituency. They would compete for votes, but encourage transfers between them.

    The price to the DUP for this cooperation would be to calculate the number of candidates from each party in a way which meant that the DUP did not take seats from the UUP at the Assembly and Council elections.

    Such a pact might not be announced in one go. It might start just with the Mid Ulster by election. After all Peter Robinson may need time to sell it to his grassroots.

    But Mike would not want the announcement to be spoiled his Deputy resigning in protest. The clever thing would be a pre-emptive strike. Dump the Deputy at the first available pretext.

    Who knows if PR would go for it? But Mike would have his ducks all in a row.

  • mjh,

    What would be the ultimate purpose of such a pact? To keep themmuns (Catholics?) out of a real share of power. Yep, that will attract “Catholics” in droves. That’s plain silly.

  • mjh

    Mister_Joe “What would be the ultimate purpose of such a pact?”

    Answer: To keep the UUP afloat and Mike Nesbitt in the leadership through the next Assembly Elections.

    By the way I’m not advocating it, only trying to make sense of what Nesbitt has been doing and saying this last week.

  • mjh,
    Non runner my friend.
    Why on earth would Robbo go for it?
    What could the UUP offer him?
    And why would he want to bail out the terminally self destructive UUP?
    Nesbitt is rapidly running out of ducks in his bathtub

  • Red Lion

    Bangordub what would be in it for Robbo is that its a first step to so called ‘unionist unity’ where he reckons he can be in charge of, or be the main influence of an enlarged main unionist party or movement, I suppose.
    I think robbo may play a longer game and see it as not bailing out the UUP but grafting on their core over time.
    I think mjh’s reading could poss be plausible, and vote pacts is a tangible way to move toward so called ‘unionist unity’ over time

  • Red Lion
    You may be right but Unionist Unity backfires, the old battlegrounds are now gone, you saw what happened in Fermanagh. If you doubt me add up the combined Nationalist vote.
    Name me one constituency where Unionism would benefit?

  • Mr Fealty…..
    Conservatives….yes but only in a very limited regional way.
    Basil McCrea was speaking at a Conservative thing last night in Lagan Valley. And there may not next time round be enough liberal unionists in Lagan Valley to secure his election. There may not be enough votes to secure a Conservative candidate but McCrea could easily attract enough Conservative votes to get elected….as either UUP or Conservative.
    McCallister who I heard speak at the SDLP Youth Conference…and part of his speech was a half joking appeal for transfers as he needs them faces a harder challenge in South Down…….either as a UUP, Independent, Conservative candidate. He did not give the impression in March of a man who would be at ease in the Alliance Party.
    I think if the UUP is reduced to a rump after the next election then its bones will be picked over in a regional and generational way……with perhaps the Alliance and re-activated Conservatives doing well in the East and the DUP doing rather better in the west.

    I think Comrade Stalin is being far too pessimistic about Alliance. Bringing so many disenchanted liberal unionists on board will be a challenge to its comparatively modern “neutral status” but back in its earliest days I would certainly remember them as unionist-lite. A revitalised and credible Conservative Party could nibble at the Alliance vote in a way that the Womens Coalition did a decade ago. And might cause a re-think among avowed conservatives who jumped ship to Alliance after Westminster 2010.
    The middle ground could get a little crowded. And votes could go to major personalities rather than party labels……Trevor Ringland for example could benefit. Basil McCrea also……..and with some Alliance figures likely to bow out next time round, some co-options might be on the table to get them known.
    But Alliance retains the advantage of being the brand leader for that section of the electorate.

  • Red Lion

    Bangordub i think you need to read my earlier posts on unionist unity and liberal unionism.

    Im not for unionist unity at all….or rather i am as it opens up the possiblity of liberal unionism properly searching out a hom,e for itself and a proper way out of tribal politics here, particularly if Mssrs McRea McCallister at el get their finger out and react to a ‘unionist unity’ attempt at a monolith party by forming a new liberal unioist party.

    So hopefully unionist unity would ‘backfire’ by being a catalyst for liberal unionism to find its voice and grow, diversify and thrive.

  • Red Lion,
    Fair enough, I misinterpreted what you were saying.
    The question I would ask is; Is there a constituency for Liberal Unionism?

  • mjh,

    I guess you have forgotten your nursery rhymes:

    “Come into my parlour”, said the spider to the fly….

  • Red Lion

    BD – there is definately a foundation of a strong vote there, a chunk of UUP, a few DUP, some Alliance, entice back some of the nonvote, small but increasing Catholic vote, also.should make it its business to give proper representation to working class unionist vote.
    Add in some of the possible personalities – Basil , J McC, hopefully Dawn Purvis, Bradshw, Harry ‘10000 votes’ Hamilton

    Its a diverse and therefore strong and fairly unrepresented section of the electorate which would be an excellent starting point.

    So many unionists are sick of bighouse unionism and dont vote, or vote DUP to cancel out the SF threat. They would love a unionism to be proud of not embarrassed about – progressive, secular, left of cebtre, pluralist, moderate, doesnt bring scripture into their politik or talk bollocks about dancing in a circle in front of chapels.

    A true challenge to tribal politics in NI

  • PeterBrown

    Red Lion – another seeker after the Holy Grail of the mythical garden centre prod last seen on a long forgotten episode of The X Files

  • Red Lion,
    Interesting thoughts and I would welcome such a party, although I would be unlikely to vote for it. (I am not a Unionist)
    The reality is that Unionist parties have thrived on creating fear and loathing while doing little to advance the lives of the majority of their electorate. I agree entirely that Unionism needs a Centre Left voice. I think that’s what you are getting at and I think it may work.
    I actually believe that the one quality missing from Unionist politics over the last 40 odd years is “Confidence”.
    Every step has been taken grudgingly, every political development is painful. The fear is palpable of being branded a traitor. Still.
    Perhaps Unionism needs leadership?

  • Red Lion


    Harsh, but not true, Liberal unionists arent too hard to find. Give them a proper alternative unionist choice and more will come out of the woodwork.

    Hell, liberal unionist politicans already receive votes.

    A garden centre prods vote counts just the same as a disenfranchised Tigers Bay prod vote who is sick of interface hassles and sees the DUP in their ivory towers throwing stones etc etc liberal unionists can seek votes from a number of backgrounds

    Past my bedtime

  • Red Lion

    BD, thats exactly what unionism needs, and NI in general

  • PeterBrown

    How is this party different from the Alliance Party and is there room for it on the TUV / DUP / UUP / Alliance unionist spectrum?

    And where are its voters – they didn’t appear to back the UUP (when I was actually an elected representative for it) in 1998or thereafter hence my sceticism as to their existence

  • Peter,
    With respect, 1998 was 14 years ago

  • PeterBrown

    But it was a time when a unionist party which this thread now deems an irrelevance as a direct result trie4d to embrace RL’s vision and blew up on the runway!

  • Yes but timing is everything. If you look at what the DUP were saying in 1998, would you believe it was the same party?

  • Red Lion

    Jeez, trying to get to bed here

    prob not a million miles from alliance except that it actually comes out and says NI better in the union, alliance have moved to be neutral on the union etc if alliance said, ok Ni is better in the union and then carried on with everyday politics it would probably take a bit more of the unionist vote. I think a lot of unionists only feel confident enough to fire ahead with their liberal sensibilites when then feel secure in the union.So say it.Thats the starting point.BUT its a reformed pluralist liberal union which doesnt have a voice currently, hence people dont vote or just stick to the only current options available. Give a proper attractive choice and a diverse range of backgrounds will engage in liberal unionism.

    And there is room 4 it on the unionist spectrum because of precisely that, a liberal union party is attractive to people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

    NI a very different animal now than in 98 – unionists where scared of the sf rise and UI prospect and flocked to the hardline dup as a counterbalance insurance policy. The unionist electorate has evolved since then but the choices available to it hasn’t really, and the UUP certainly hasnt evolved into an attractive alternative
    The amount of groans i hear about the dup from unionists – give an attractive liberal secular alternative and people will vote

  • aquifer

    Nesbitt needs to keep the DUP on his sectarian right, so should back the parades commission and harsh action against paramilitaries.

    To keep them on his economic left, stave off the tories, and interest the rich catholics who should not be voting SDLP, he should back a corporation tax cut and benefit reform.

    He will do none of this, and the Orange will drag him down.

  • PeterBrown

    If that’s the only difference between the new UUP and Alliance it’ll never succeed – most unionists think that Alliance is a liberal union party is attractive to people from a diverse range of backgrounds.The groans about the DUP are about a party in government and yet they still retain those voters – it might be a runner if it hadn;t been tried before and failed miserably largely because the party was incapable of sticking to any policy, something it appears to still have a problem with!

  • Ben Cochrane

    If Nesbitt goes down path of unionist unity candidate in Mid-Ulster then how does he avoid the demand for similar deals in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast further down the line.

    What about North Down—would he give the DUP a free run against Hermon if he got a free run in Strangford?

    What about East Belfast—would UUP stand aside there for Gavin Robinson (an excellent candidate I would have thought) or just put up a no-hoper of their own?

    Nesbitt has blurred all of this. He says unionist unity wouldn’t come in the form of some sort of electoral monolith, but that hasn’t ruled out the possibility of ‘electoral arrangements’ with the DUP as and where he wants them.

    This is now about saving the UUP from meltdown. It is clear that the UUP is not attracting new votes and needs DUP votes to prop it up. So that’s what Nesbitt will do and, with Robinson’s help (which is offered because it helps the DUP!), will sell it as cooperation aimed at maximising UUP/DUP votes and seats.

    Wouldn’t it just be better if Nesbitt ‘fessed up to this rather than continue with the transparent pretence that he is building up the UUP and reaching out.

  • IJP

    Red Lion

    Not the first time I have put this on here, but again here is what I said as the Alliance Party’s European candidate, and no one in the party had any issue with it:

    “We were the first party to advocate power-sharing within the Union with cross-border bodies as the only viable means of governing Northern Ireland on a cross-community basis. We have seen no reason to change our position since.”

    No Nationalist Party has come up with a remotely workable means of governing a United Ireland on a cross-community basis. Naturally, we would listen to such a proposal with interest, but it’s been 42 years…

    Our difference from Unionists on this is that, from the starting point of needing to govern Northern Ireland on a cross-community basis, we arrive at a specific set of arrangements which are indeed within the Union, while also involving cross-border cooperation.

  • Eire32

    The disunity in the UUP really is shocking, it seems they’re voting in the wrong leaders for some reasons.

    If they can figure out a way of going into some sort of opposition it might give them a purpose, and a few votes.

  • Progressive Unionist

    I like Red Lion’s idea of a liberal/progressive unionist party, and would like to see what unionism could look like once freed from the need to constantly appease the dinosaurs in the ranks.

    I had hoped that Mike would try to turn the UUP into a progressive minded party but, with his lurch towards ‘unionist unity’ it seems he’s not interested…

    Unionism would be much poorer and much weaker if it only had one party – the lack of choice would end up driving lots of unionists towards non-union parties.

  • Reader

    Eire32: The disunity in the UUP really is shocking, it seems they’re voting in the wrong leaders for some reasons.
    Maybe they are voting in the wrong leaders because they don’t want to be led?

  • IJP

    Mike Nesbitt last week defined the (I quote) “Protestant side” as the (I quote) “side I was elected to represent”.

    Not sure he’s be welcome in the DUP. Bit hard line!

  • Red Lion

    Comments no.2 -50 seem to have gone walkabout from the first page.

    Cheers PU, but to me I find it hard to believe that liberal unionism isnt more widely talked about, its like a chunk of the union spectrum is resigned to big house unionism being dominant and feels it cant be challenged. Its been beaten down. To challenge big house unionism in coherent liberal union and organised fashion would be the healthiest thing for politics in NI since the GFA was signed.

    Why do McCallister and Basil seem resigned and continue to put up with fighting a losing battle within the UUP. It done McClarty no harm to get out, nor Lady Sylvia Herman – the latter is a left of centre politician with a safe westminster seat who would surely be interested in a liberal union party??

    But PU, how do we make this happen, or get the idea of a liberal union party more widely talked about and debated and interest garnered?

  • Neil

    The disunity in the UUP really is shocking, it seems they’re voting in the wrong leaders for some reasons.

    I think they just love political gimmickry. See: pact with Davy Irvine, Pact with the Tories, and when that didn’t work, hey let’s vote a ‘celebrity’ who has little or nothing to do with the party as leader. Every time they move they hemorrhage more blood.

  • Red Lion, the Older Comments page works properly if you log in.

    IJP, do you have a reference for that “Protestant side” quote?

  • Red Lion

    IJP at 2.15
    I think though Alliance’s position on the union is not well known, and comments from Ford ‘agnostic on the union’ and Long just after she won her seat ‘I am not a unionist..i am not a republican’ puts a section of unionists off …if Long had made such a statement 2 days before the election rather than after she may not have got the vote in East Belfast that she got.

    If Alliance made their position on the union more clear, rather than giving the impression its something to be fudged or embarrassed about, they would take a bit more of the unionist vote.
    Hold the union up a cornerstone of liberal [principles, then let those liberal principles flow…

  • Ian,

    I was confused about some of your posts until I checked wiki and saw that you are quite an ingenious fellow as Winnie would have said. 😉

  • Progressive Unionist

    Good stuff Red Lion – between Sylvia Hermon, John McCallister, Basil McCrea, David McClarty, Trevor Ringland (and many others), there’s definitely no shortage of top notch politicos who share a broad liberal/progressive unionist perspective.

    They all began in the UUP, but have now split in multiple directions, it’s a real pity. As a team, they’d take some beating!

    A big part of the challenge any new liberal unionist party would need to address is that, for most moderate voters , ‘the Union’ as an issue just doesn’t matter so much any more – as a result of how the ’98 Agreement has played out, the Union is blindingly obviously safe. (so why not vote Alliance?)

    Don’t get me wrong, people definitely want to stay in the Union, but with stable devolution, power-sharing at Stormont, strong and mutually respectful North-South links, polls saying 50% of Catholics want to stay in the Union – the Union’s obviously safe for the foreseeable future (unless you’re Scottish!)

    I’d love to see a strong, progressive minded unionist voice, committed to the Union and to dismantling all the societal structures of division, slowly but surely step-by-step over 10, 20, 30, 50 years building a shared society for all the people of Northern Ireland.

    Always wanted the UUP to be that voice. Though if Nesbitt does merge into the DUP, maybe that will create the space for a proper progressive unionist voice to sustain itself electorally?

  • Red Lion

    PU, your last line, thats my thinking entirely on the issue really. Unionist Unity would be no bad thing as I hope that it would act as the spark and catalyst that is evidently required for Liberal Unionism to stand up and be counted.

    To stand up and shout at the DUP – dancing in a circle in front of a chapel is wrong and you are embarrassing and abusing the union and UK principles of live and let live by not denouncing it. You are also weakening the union as how the hell does that entice Catholics of the true merits of the union.

    Such a party brings secular mainland GB liberal principles into unionism in NI – not the DUP narrow NI-one-tribe only brand of unionism that people here have almost been brainwashed into thinking is the only type that exists. Its actually sickening how the DUP get to define unionism in NI – dont they realise they are doing SF’s job for them??? Where is unionisms self-scrutiny and intellectualism?? Its there, it exists but it has given up. This is not good enough.

    This liberal unionist ‘explaining’ of what the union should be (is championing too strong a word when such a liberal secular publicspirited diverse union is truelly something to be proud of???) is not a role Alliance I sense want to take on, even though they in some respects would be decently placed to do. It is actually down to ‘unionists’ to take on this role.

    Imagine a Stormont with A liberal unionist party leading it – sharing power with SDLP – could this be possible if a liberal union party vote-pacted with SDLP in the future??

    Anythings possible – I honestly believe that a liberal union party, in time, through sheer reason of argument, through sheer liberal left of centre principles, through promoting more mainland GB liberal open house values of Britishness not the DUPs narrow tribalism brand, through attractiveness to a broad range of voters (see previous posts) has the true potential become the bigger unionist party – surely the younger generation coming up want this type of party.

    Especially when you consider some of thepossible personalities, Lady Herman for leader?? I note your name, PU, surely this is a project the likes of Dawn Purvis should be getting involved in, getting her teeth into giving a true voice to working class unionists?

    And every action causes a reaction, if nationalism sees unionists no longer as the barking dogs of the dup its vote feels ready to moderate also??? I believe this scenario has the potential to come about – we need the spark and we are teetering ever so slightly towards that spark currently with a much hoped for liberal reaction against unionist unity. A growing band of people in NI are getting sick of carve-up politics and want a powersharing arrangement that delivers good government, and shows proper leadership on community relations. DUP-SF are provideing a level of stability but people are now sick of the rut they are in and want something more, something different. People also now feel secure in the power sharing arrangementsand are ready to try something other than dup-sf conserving their position – there is that mood but people also need a choice to express that mood.

    The UUP were offered a liberal leader in Basil McCrea but chose Tom Elliot. Then they were offered J McCallister but chose Mike Nesbitt. The UUP is not interested in becoming liberal, or indeed having a raison d’etre of its own. Let it die or be swallowed up, and let a new unionism, one which has long been about but has been too meek, emege. Its time is now.

  • Progressive Unionist

    Very well said RL, you make a strong case – any new LUP should draft you in as a PR operative!

    I agree with where you’re coming from 100%. It’ll be very difficult to get there though – you’re right, it does need a ‘spark’ or a trigger and maybe a united unionist party would provide that.

    My gut feel is that unionism is far too diverse a beast for a single ‘big tent’ United Unionist party to last for more than a few election cycles before its first big split.

    Politics in NI is increasingly turning to the day-to-day, economic issues – and, as we saw in the strong reaction among UUP grassroots against the Tory merger, there are lots of unionists who are left of centre. Would a United Unionist party accommodate them and, if so, how? What would happen when a serious black-and-white economic issue came up?

    Same deal on the more old-fashioned, sectarian issues – part of the DUP (esp those close to Robinson) and much of the UUP see the need to move to the centre ground and work with nationalists. Another large part of both parties is still rooted in sectarianism and so they find it difficult to clearly condemn sectarianism when it’s coming from supposed loyalists.

    Again with power-sharing – part of the UUP and DUP is comfortable with it, another part is wasting time pining after a return to either majority rule or a weighted system etc., which no nationalist would ever agree to. So even the unionists (in both DUP and UUP) who see power-sharing as the best way forward are afraid to actually come out and champion it… (if they did so, it would set a lot of nationalist minds more at ease that we were committed to this thing over the long, long run and address their widespread perception that unionists yearn to go back to the old Stormont days…)

    These divisions cut across both parties (there are people in the DUP who are much more progressive than some in the UUP) but are muddied because unionist politics focusses on the contest between the UUP and DUP. In any ‘united unionist’ party, the division between progressives and the traditionalist hardliners would become much more obvious and may well lead to a split down the road.

    RL, when you get a critical mass to rally behind your final words – “It’s time is now”! – that’ll be the spark that’s needed for a unionism that wants to work together with nationalists, republicans and loyalists to build a better Northern Ireland for all of us. 🙂

  • Red Lion

    Your’e right, Its time isn’t now, though it should be. It’s time needs to be soon and I appreciate there are probably quite a few hurdles to jump through before Liberal Unionism makes the leap from a few lonely politicians and a resigned and sleeping portion of the electorate, to a coherant and easily identifiable group/movement/party.
    The spark has to fall to the likes of aforementioned personalities to stand up and come together to offer the alternative, rather than be a lonely voice or two in the dark.

  • PaddyReilly

    I am amused rather than impressed by the idea of a liberal/progressive unionist party, since Unionism is inherently reactionary and incapable of being progressive. What you propose is merely a notational variation of what Captain O’Neill proposed, and the whole unsuccessful UCUNF experiment. Perhaps you may think this is a nice idea: but there simply aren’t enough votes to float it. The psephological reality is as follows:-

    In Westminster, the UUP held every single NI seat in 1964 and now holds none. Reasonable prognosis: will never hold another seat.
    In the Assembly UUP lost 1 in 2003, 9 in 2007, 2 in 2011. Prognosis: will continue to lose seats to DUP and Alliance.
    European Parliament: 1 seat, vulnerable to Alliance or SDLP in 2014.

    The party is kept alive by the unusual 6 seats per constituency rule in the Assembly: if this is changed it could well cease to exist. A not very large surge in the Alliance vote could sink it forever: if the opinion polls that predict this very event turn out to be correct, then we may expect its proximate disappearance.

    My interpretation of these data, which will be quite different from yours I am sure, is that there is a section of UUP voters which sees a United Ireland as imminent, and which therefore will be realigning itself to Alliance in order to retain its influence in the new political order.

  • Progressive Unionist

    “since Unionism is inherently reactionary and incapable of being progressive.”

    Nonsense! Unionism is the idea that the people of these islands, in all our multicultural, multiracial diversity, share more than enough in common that we’re better off together than apart.

    In the Northern Ireland context, that means building a shared society within the Union, with strong north-south links based on mutual respect with the Republic.

    With regard to your last point, I doubt you’ll find many people across the whole island of Ireland, let alone a ‘section of UUP voters’, who see a united Ireland as imminent!

  • Red Lion

    Er, looks like you’ve missed the point Paddy.

    How is liberalism a variation of the Tories aka UCUNF? (If you make reference to the coalition govt in response to this im never coming on slugger again).

    If you think that I think that the core of the UUP is liberal then you need to read my posts again.

    UUP is dying on its arse, that is my point!
    Dont know why you had to go quoting voting figures to agree with me.
    The reason, in my view , as to why its dying is because it didn’t make the choice to follow an alternative liberal choice for unionism when it selected Elliott/Nesbitt over liberals McCrea/McCallister.If it follows and grows a liberal path it offers a new and refreshing choice. It didnt, leaving certain liberal individuals and voters alienated and weary.

    The points you make seem to be more about you reinforcing your stigmatizing of the unionist community rather than any meaningful attempt to understand the complexities and in particular the liberal unionist end of the spectrum, Thats a shame.

    Its ignorant and/or predjudiced to think liberal unionism doesnt exist in Northern Irish society, or within unionism .In some ways though I cant blame nationalists for this stereotype as its up to the liberal end of unionism to organise, find their voice and take their message to all the people. Such unionists exist, just not in a coherent enough grouping. A galvanisation is needed. The argument for liberal unionism is fairly subltle and draws on a diverse support base: its easier for nationalists to just assume the loudest shouters of the DUP and the head in sanders of the UUP represent everybody.

    DUP and UUP core might give the impression of not being progressive and or reactionary as you say Paddy, its just sad that you chooose to then lump all of the unionist spectrum into this category (or does it suit your politics to peddle this).The complex and interesting overlap between Alliance and liberal unionists has also been discussed.

    Seeing as you are so keen to use statistics, too bad you didnt try and work out what percentage of the unionist community didn’t vote (or NI society in general), what percentage of alliance might be seen as some degree of unionist, what percentage of the unionist community votes for liberals like mccrea, mccallister, herman, mcclarty etc already, these are the groups most likely to support liberal union in the first instance, and it kind of makes your sweeping, labelling, ignorant, prejudiced generalisations rather unbalanced at best.

  • Red Lion

    my 6th para , its not that the argument for liberalism is subtle – the arguments for liberal unionism are strong and clear cut! I meant that locating the various diverse supports/voters for liberal unionism is subtle, as you might expect with something that is diverse.