In an interview with Barton Creeth, the SDLP council candidate for Balmoral, Justin Cartwright made the following statement which caused a bit of a brew ha ha when he said this about whether he was campaigning for Irish unity
No I’m not. I’m an economic unionist. Increasing numbers of nationalist voters are moving away from this idea of a united Ireland. There’s a reason for that, because people aren’t economically illiterate. They look at the the economy of the Republic of Ireland and they see a foundering ship. So for us to tether our wee boat to that, both vessels would go down. And that’s not in anybody’s interest, it’s certainly not in the interest of working people.
Now, I don’t agree with a word of this statement, as it ignores the fact that in terms of wages, private sector growth and many aspects of living standards the Irish economy outperforms our own by a country mile. Moreover, if you see Northern Ireland’s future as being tethered to British subsidies, forever waiting for the next hand-out then that’s where both economies would go down. It also ignores the fact that in many ways our economies are increasingly inter-linked whether it is the Irish government being our biggest land lords or 75% of our SME exports going south, we actually already are on dependent on one another.
Above is the way that I think people should have responded to this statement-in a calm and economically rational way. Debating facts and using them to put a strong, often undersold case for economic unity. However, the response we got is summarised best by a tweet from Gerry Kelly
SDLP candidate Justin Cartright has described himself as an ‘economic unionist’ according to Irish News. That means Not Irish Nationalist!
— Gerry Kelly (@GerryKellyMLA) February 11, 2014
Let’s leave aside the fact that Cartwright is actually an Australian-so that kind of voids the Irish nationalist bit, but I felt that this response really missed the point that perhaps Cartwright’s statement was 1) a chance to rebut with a credible vision, and 2) perhaps ask why a neutral observer in a nationalist party concluded that a unified Irish economy was not a good idea. Nope, instead the debate took on a ‘they walk among us’ kind of feel as people pondered how on earth a economic unionist would be in a nationalist party. The only question Irish nationalists should be pondering is how do we answer these arguments about economically viability when they are put before us.
Either way, I actually found Cartwright’s comments refreshing and at least he was prepared to stand out from the crowd, which in our culture of strong party whips and everybody spouting the same platitudes, is a pleasant change.But what I liked most about Cartwright is-he made me pause for a moment and honestly think about a very important argument-which is not something I can honestly say many politicians have ever made me do. I hope this standing out from the crowd malarky will catch on as we come closer to the election.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs