Scottish unionism is finding an idealistic voice. There are lessons for their “Ulster” cousins

This comment piece in the Guardian by  Chris Deerin, a former Daily Telegraph journalist who has moved back home to Scotland is just about the first I’ve come across that the celebrates  historic Britishness as an argument against separation. Amazing when you think about it that we’ve had to wait all this time.  I doubt if Ireland in any form entered his mind.  Even for committed unionists (small or large “u”), Northern Ireland doesn’t smoothly fit into the same celebration of British tradition; it needs it separate chapter. Nor are Irish themes easy to incorporate into the British story except as factors largely external to the domestic British experience.

For me, while that doesn’t automatically invalidate the unionist case, it exposes the wide gap between the aggressive and paranoid tendency in unionist politics in Northern Ireland and mainstream “unionism”- a word which is now being used for the No side in the Scottish debate.   Unionists here would be well advised to play their part in closing the gap and begin to acknowledge that the causes of paranoia are disappearing and that confident engagement is the theme of the future.

In this article, whether it’s to your taste or not, here we have an emotional expression of unionism as a modern mainstream, comfortable force.   As the Union is under challenge in Scotland there are lessons to be learned from the case made here by a modern Scottish unionist.

Britain allows us to plug ourselves into a vast network, to be citizens of a globally minded country that has always based much of its military, intellectual and economic success on Scots and their genius. The idea that it is rational or desirable to erect barriers between our nations seems both impractical and unpleasant to me. I find the suggestion that we’re anything other than one people utterly bizarre….

I will tell ( my children) that I think the argument for the continued existence of our United Kingdom is first and foremost a moral one: that our country embodies values that are unmatched anywhere else in the world; that it stands as a beacon to those who are struggling their way towards modernity, through civil wars and ethnic tensions, through tyranny towards democracy, through poverty and corruption and the oppression of the spirit; that it spends blood and treasure on protecting the world’s most vulnerable people – on stepping in – because it is the right thing to do. I will tell them that Britain is beautiful. “

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London