“To reach out to a generation very largely shaped by similar values”

Alex Kane has been ruminating on the Convenant, what it means for Unionists but perhaps more importantly, what’s their next challenge. First, the past:

The Covenant is clearly worth celebrating. It was one of the pivotal moments of unionism, a moment when they proved to themselves that they were capable of getting their act together, coordinating a collective response and orchestrating massive support.

It’s worth remembering, too, that in 1912 there weren’t emails, mobiles, texts, Twitter, television or radio. Keeping hundreds of thousands of people informed and getting them to meetings (even organising the signing of the Covenant itself) was a massive logistical and propaganda exercise.

And the backbone of that exercise was the Orange Order, for it was through their local and county structures that so much of the work was done: which is why it was right that they should take the lead in celebrating and organising the centenary celebrations.

Then the future:

…what unionism needs to do in the run-up to April 2021 is promote the Union and the United Kingdom rather than what could be described as a narrower, exclusive, self-interested local unionism. As both Peter Robinson and the UUP’s John McCallister have said over the weekend, ‘unionist unity’ (and let’s interpret that as some sort of UUP/DUP merger) is not the way ahead.

But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a genuine, serious effort to build support for the Union: within groups who wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘unionist’ (but who aren’t for Irish unity), as well as within the wider pool of non-voters who are maybe looking for a different manifestation of unionism.

Is that what Robinson meant when he advocated “a Council for the Union (which) could entwine all strands of unionism and people who are pro Union and who agree on a common set of democratic principles. I see it as containing people of all backgrounds. From those who can trace their ancestry to before the plantation, to those who have lately come to our shores and for whom English was not the language of their birth. The message and purpose would be to persuade and convince those with whom we share this space of the importance and value of the Union”.

Is it what McCallister meant when he argued that “a new generation would turn its back on a unionism mired in the divisions of the past? The alternative is for an Ulster Unionism confident in its pluralist, liberal, pro-Union values. To reach out to a generation very largely shaped by similar values. It is this opportunity that our Party squanders if we consent to a re-heated politics of sectarian division under the guise of unionist unity”.

  • OneNI

    Of course the biggest ‘Councils for the Union’ are the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties who function in all parts of the Union and come together in annual conferences. Whose membership includes people of all faiths and none, who incorporate those ‘who have lately come to our shores and for whom English was not the language of their birth’.
    A true Council for the Union would involve these parties with a very small role for parochial regional parties.
    Robbo’s idea is little more than a ‘pan unionist front’ to smother the UUP (with Nesbitt’s conivance?) and would probably involve the ‘loyal orders’.
    The DUP and the ‘loyal orders’ with their bizarre rituals remain the greatest threat to NI’s position in the Union.

  • Mick Fealty

    Biggest in the UK, certainly. Even the LibDems outpoll the biggest of the NI parties. But even put together they are still puny in terms of NI.

    The image of a small chap with a HUGE LOUDHAILER (but precious few votes) comes to mind.

  • Red Lion

    Talk is cheap with robinson(and the majority of unionist politicians). Anybody can say they want shared understanding, all strands of unionists coming together, persuading nonunionites of the unions value, reaching out blah blah blah but it means damn all if you continually play to a hardcore gallery every time a band dances in a circle in front of a Catholic church

  • BarneyT

    Mick – I wasn’t sure if you meant to say, lumping all the NI parties, they are puny in terms of the UK?

    Red Lion – Whilst there is a distasteful element at the heart of the Tory (unionist) party in Britain (those that might lay on reception parties for foreign far right dignitaries etc..), I doubt they can generally be paralleled with the DUP and faith based politicians in the UUP. I feel they would look at the Unionist parties here chiefly as religious single issue parties rather than mature political parties and think, trouble. I can see they may look at even SF and in comparison see them ironically, as a more reasonable bunch, “now that old paddy has put down his spear!”
    The Ulster Unionists and orders and institutions have failed to step up to the mark, with or without orchestrated offence, in dealing with the recent incidents. It has yet to be seen if the prosecution service toe the line and defend the rulings of the commission.
    Looking back to 1912, I’m not clear what support the then Tory opposition would have actively given to the Covenanteers had it kicked off, but there is now, I suspect an evolved gulf between Ulster Unionism (core behaviour) and traditional Tory unionism in Britain.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Unionists will have to wait another 9 years to get another opportunity to sell the Union like the one they had last week. And wasn’t the Orange Order every bit as much the backbone of the creation of Northern Ireland as they were the Ulster Covenant?

    Here was an opportunity for Unionists to tell wider society why they should embrace the Union or atleast why they should believe that it acts for them. Instead, they treated it as an extension of the Marching Season. A exclusively protestant anti catholic organization was not only allowed to lead the commeration, they were the beginning Middlesbrough end of it – with Stormont replacing the field. I have no doubt that in 9 years time it will be the exact same.

    Nationalists should be happy about that. It’ll be interesting to see if the Easter Rising commemorations can be a bit more open. It’s certainly possible to connect the Republican Ideals with what is needed today…

  • Lionel Hutz

    *”middle and” not Middlesbrough, damned predictive text

  • Mick Fealty

    BarneyT,

    No. I meant that if you put together the NI assets of all the UK based parties, they would be puny in comparison to the NI/Ireland based parties.

  • OneNI

    Mick what is the Union you talk of? is it a Northern Ireland only thing?

    The Union I talk of is NI, Scotland, Wales and England and is inclusive of all citizens.

    DUP – less than 0.5% of the votes cast in the Union

    You can fall for Robbo’s self serving narrow Ulster definition if you wish

  • OneNI

    Mick remember over 100,000 people voted for Cameron for PM and a Conservative manifesto at the last General election.

    Lionel – entirely right that it was a mistake to let the Orange lead the celebrations about the Covenant. Not one person here seemed to object.
    Many here cant see that Orangism is fundamentally anti British and detrimental to the cause of strengthening the Union

  • Alex Kane

    Hi OneNI,

    Re: 5.38pm post—I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that ‘over 100,000 people voted for Cameron for PM and a Conservative manifesto at the last General Election.’

    The vast majority of that 100,000 would have voted for the UUP irrespective of any UCUNF deal: a point which will, I think, be proved when (if) the Conservatives field candidates in all of the same constituencies at the next General Election.

    While it is very likely that the UUP vote will fall, it is very unlikely that the lost votes will veer towards the Conservatives in any significant numbers.

    Regards,

    Alex.

  • galloglaigh

    Alex is correct, it’s not the NI-CONS who will benefit from a decline in UUP votes. Sadly it’s the DUP, with the AP gaining a percentage. With unionists complaining about anything Irish (education ads for example), it will be the garnering strength of the Shinners and their electorate across the island, that will be the only threat to the Union in terms of Ireland.

    And before anybody starts any shite: I’m not a Shinner – I’m a realist with an eye on our history.

  • Hopping The Border

    Alex I see you will be contributing to the Irish News from next week – will you also be continuing the NL column on a Monday?

    OneNI – I’m not so sure the OO is fundamentally anti-British as it is detrimental to the wider perception of “Britishness” here.

    However, I think it is fair to say there wasn’t always such a gap between what the OO stand for and British values (which have probably only changed in the last sixty/seventy years or so).

    So the question is can the OO move with modern British values or will it stick to its traditional outlook in the coming years.

    Given that it appears to be an institution based entirely on tradition and an appreciation of the past I would wager option A is more likely.

  • Backbencher

    ‘Modern values’ as you call them are not always for the better. The OO obviously believe that ‘traditional values’ will serve the country best, therefore no change.

    What are the modern British values you refer to?

  • Backbencher,

    The word moral has its root in the latin word “mores” – the prevailing “norms” accepted by society. These are not static values handed down by “god” but an everchanging thing, just like language. We don’t see much bearbaiting these days, for example.

  • Covenanter

    “With unionists complaining about anything Irish (education ads for example), it will be the garnering strength of the Shinners and their electorate across the island”

    If you are referring to the Irish language then you will find that objections to the largesse heaped in its direction are not limited to unionists. In the ROI the ‘real Irish’ are also pointing ouyt that their education system is the only one in Europe that does not have a mandatory foreign language. In effect in the Republic of Ireland the foreign language being taught is er, Irish.

    The Sinners are great at spending other people’s money, but I think that the evidence from past elections is that their mandate has bottomed out.

  • OneNI

    Alex we could debate for ever what UCUNF were voting for the only point I was making was that we used to be told that we had to have parochial ‘unionist’ parties because people would simply not vote for UK politics. However the UCUNF candidates were very clearly idenitifed as being part of the Cameron Conservative team.
    You may well be right about the future. If you are it is a grim prognosis as it is clear that the UUP is going nowhere and the DUP are determined to be ‘Little Ulster’

  • USA

    Covenanter,
    Have you asked any of the “real British” what they thought of the latest Orange parade. How about Nick Clegg of the BNP, after all he is actually from Britain. From the holiday snaps we seen, he did seem to be enjoying his visit 😉

  • Reader

    USA: Have you asked any of the “real British” what they thought of the latest Orange parade. How about Nick Clegg of the BNP, after all he is actually from Britain. From the holiday snaps we seen, he did seem to be enjoying his visit
    Do you mean the ‘Real British’ who elected him as an MEP, or the rest of the ‘Real British’ who are just glad he has stopped mooching around Wootton Bassett?

  • USA

    Reader,
    Either one, both or neither. Just ANYONE who can be defined as “real British”. Seems Covenentor can supply the necessary “qualifications” as he seems to be in possession of a definition of Irishness that is superior to that defined in Bunreacht na hEireann, a definition not disputed by the British parliament.

  • Reader

    USA: Either one, both or neither. Just ANYONE who can be defined as “real British”.
    That would be anyone who is entitled to have a passport that describes them as a “British Citizen”. There’s plenty of us round here. I’m not planning to join in Covenanter’s trolling over Irishness, by the way, though he does seem to be making the distinction between people born *in* Ireland and those born “on” Ireland. Bunreacht na hEireann – combined with the rules for Irish citizenship – makes that distinction too.

  • Red Lion. Robinson’s idea of ‘reaching out’ is simplified as themmuns’ must do the reaching out and on reflection he might respond but on unionist terms only. His attitudes haven’t changed since the days of his Clontibret invasion and beyond. He’s just too old to spit hellfire all the time as before, is really the only difference from then. Same happened with his former master Ian Paisley who sold out his ‘flock’ when it suited.