“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”.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty