Swann makes his opening pitch as UUP Leader

Robin Swann became the Ulster Unionist Leader yesterday. He candidacy was unopposed.

He delivered his first speech as leader to the few hundred delegates gathered at the party’s AGM in South Belfast.

On a single Unionist Party;

So to those who seek a single unionist party, I ask them to consider carefully the consequences of such an outcome.

A single unionist party would limit choice, stifle debate and quickly result in the depletion of Unionist votes at the ballot box.

I am in the Ulster Unionist Party – we are in the Ulster Unionist Party – because we believe in its vision, its policies and its priorities.

No other Party comes close to representing the brand of Unionism that we have and I believe in.

And if there is anyone out there still not convinced think on this.

It would also run the risk of driving those who consider themselves unionists, but only with a small U, into the arms of a Party which is at best agnostic to the union and it would leave many others with no one to vote for at all.

Members I say to you do not under estimate yourselves, your ability, or your value. Northern Ireland and unionism, needs a strong Ulster Unionist Party.

On Unionism

This party has a fantastic amount to offer and part of our role is making that union attractive to everybody in Northern Ireland.

It’s about promoting a positive unionism, a confident unionism and an embracing unionism.

Members, we are moderate people, we are willing to embrace different traditions, whilst remaining unapologetic about our own historic culture while retaining a firm belief in civil and religious liberty for all.

In recent times much is being made of the Irish language. Can I remind members of the work completed by Michael McGimpsey as Northern Ireland’s first Culture Minister and what he delivered in challenging times, against vocal opposition?

My brand of unionism, which may be traditional for those who find a need to pigeon hole me, is generous enough to accommodate others.

In this hall today, I don’t see traditional unionists or liberal unionists, I see Ulster Unionists united in a bond which is this Party, united in a single quest and that is to do what is right for Northern Ireland.

On the last election and the future

Whilst we can cite our vote increasing to 103,314, we did not turn those extra votes into seats. I want to pay tribute to my colleagues who didn’t come back to represent the party in the Assembly and I wish to thank them for their service and their continued involvement and support of this party, their party, and I also wish to thank all those candidates who put themselves forward and stood.

Who knows in the next few weeks we may be dusting down the posters and walking shoes again, but we must be able to channel the hurt and frustration we feel today into a positive energy that drives us forward and transfers into the strength and determination that will turn results around.

However, I am a straight forward individual and I ask each and every one of you to look into yourself and ask the question could I have done more? Was I fully committed?

My challenge to you is to consider the part you will play in the next election!

With a huge effort other constituencies can emulate the feat that John Stewart performed in East Antrim, by taking a seat away from Sinn Fein, and it is this Party, that is most likely to and is best placed to take further seats off Sinn Fein, in places like West Tyrone and Newry and Armagh, and I have my eye on a few other seats as well…

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  • the rich get richer

    The Dup need an Opposition within Unionism . They have been resting on their laurels and like a lot of political parties without a viable alternative become tardy and wasteful .

    The UUP need to supply that much needed competition………

  • Karl

    The stance of the need for a two unionist parties will be undermined by electoral pacts at national and local level.

    Like the unionist position, that the main reason for maintaining the union is to retain their Britishness, while refusing to enact many of the laws that are seen as a cornerstone of British values, so too will the maintenance of a separate party while espousing the same positions and candidates at election time will do for the UUP

    Its an invidious task but the UUP are merely circling the plug hole. Swann is right on why unity would be a bad thing for unionism but unless there is a cataclysmic event to drive voters away from the DUP he will merely be overseeing the UUPs palliative care as the DUP nibbles away at it to the point of irrelevancy

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    The UUP have a big question to answer.

    What exactly is the point of the UUP?

    Mike Nesbitt tried to answer that question and they tore him apart.

    Robin Swann seems to leader for managed decline. As MLAs,Councillors and activists begin to defect en mass to the DUP he’ll be the one in charge of selling off the party assets. The reason why nobody wanted the leadership of the party is because it was akin to assuming the captaincy of the Titanic post the encounter with the iceberg.

    Northern Irish politics is a very small pond and the UUP have appointed a political minnow. He has made no previous impact. Yesterday was the first time I’ve heard the guy speak and he’s no Carson.

  • Gopher

    I think Robin confuses a single “unionist” party with a single “protestant” party. Nothing wrong with a single “unionist” party if it embraces 21st century values. There is no difference between the DUP and UUP except when at five to midnight Mike decided to transfer to the SDLP. The SDLP rewarded him with joint soveriegnty and a position you could not get a sheet of paper through between them and SF on legacy, language or anything else in an election they said was about RHI. Any unionist should let nationalists get what they vote for without interference whether that is SF or the SDLP it dont matter, that is the quickest way to grow the non nationalist vote.

    Robin and I wish him luck has the problem that Foster for all her incompetence and other vices was correct about two things the election was about the border and Gerry Adams running the negoiations. How on earth are you going to change those facts in the next election? You cant go right, thats where the DUP live and you have been there and done that and you cant repeat Mikes brain storm on vote transfers, so your only direction left open is to the centre. That means Parades Comission no ifs no buts, Gay Marriage, not “minded” but full on enthusiasts, Easter opening and a good few other things that somehow the UUP has previously felt are incompatible with being “British”.

    Time to walk the walk or just have one “protestant” party and a plague on everyone

  • Gavin Smithson

    The Swann song of the UUP

  • Gavin Smithson

    Britishness is a nationality, not a set of here today gone tomorrow values, fads and fashions.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    There can be an competition within Unionism without the UUP between the DUP and Alliance. Alliance is a de facto Unionist party and if they played their cards they could cater to the centrist middle class arm of Unionism whilst the DUP can keep its support amongst the fundie head the balls within its base. There doesn’t seem to much room for the UUP. They’ve tried to be the local wing of the Tories and that was a disaster.

  • Gopher

    It has been cracked before on here

  • Brendan Heading

    Alliance is not a Unionist party, de facto or otherwise. It has no interest in winning votes by adopting a tribal vocabulary. Every political party could win more votes by abandoning its core values (and arguably SF has done precisely this) but you have to ask then what the point is ..

  • Karl

    I would argue that Britishness is a political construct and not a nationality. English, Scottish and Welsh are nationalities. Northern Irish may or may not be a nationality in the making. Unlikely it will be given time or reason to develop into one.
    Not sure that values are as transient as you make out.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    Alliance is totally a Unionist Party. They are for the status quo and the status quo is the Union. This is underlined by total antipathy towards any sort of expression of Irish nationalism as seen as how they reacted to the 1916 celebrations last year. Their letsgetalongerist attitudes are skin deep. Their core constituency is cosy East of the Ban middle class Unionists.

  • Brendan Heading

    Alliance is totally a Unionist Party.

    No it isn’t. And if you really believed in ideas like mutual respect and parity of esteem, you would accept this.

    This is underlined by total antipathy towards any sort of expression of Irish nationalism

    I do not accept this – but in any case – you are saying that a Unionist is someone who is antipathetic towards nationalism ?

    This is a strange idea. I’m quite OK with the idea of a united Ireland; I may well even vote for one. But the fact that I want nothing to do with Sinn Féin or their ideas about reunification means I’m a Unionist ?!?

  • Karl

    “And if you really believed in ideas like mutual respect and parity of esteem, you would accept this.”

    If you dont agree with me you dont believe in mutual respect and parity of esteem.

    Interesting way to argue something. Not sure as to its efficacy.

    “…you are saying that a Unionist is someone who is antipathetic towards nationalism ?”

    Unionism isnt about being for British values. It is about being against Irish nationalism. The unionist narrative during electoral cycles that I can remember (30 years) has been about stopping nationalism / republicanism not espousing British ideals as better better than the SDLP / SF alternative.

    Maybe not individal unionists but certainly the parties that represent them. I would say that thats case proven.

  • Zorin001

    Good analysis Gopher, if Unionist continues to remain synonymous with Protestant then I don’t see where the UUP have left to go.

    Alliance have already staked out their position in the Centre and have done it well. The UUP should have made a play for that back in 2005 but tried to “out-Right” the DUP, always on a hiding to nothing.

  • Ryan A

    We could have done that a long time ago and potentially consigned the UUP into the history books.

    Sorry, not interested in scrapping the party’s core principle for electoral purposes.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Not a bad speech even having a blast at the Alliance Party but I think that the horse has already bolted through the stable door on that score ! What the UUP needs to try and do is entice pro union voters to the polling booths who have no home in the current political compass ?

  • Nevin
  • Karl

    The ones that dont care about flags and language acts? The ones who would support marriage equality and progress on reproduction rights?

    Not sure the UUP are ready for that.

  • Brendan Heading

    If you dont agree with me you dont believe in mutual respect and parity of esteem.

    Interesting way to argue something. Not sure as to its efficacy.

    Is this really that hard to grasp ?

    For example, there are some people who say that everyone in Northern Ireland is British, whether they like it or not. Calling someone British, when they wish to be identified as Irish, is clearly disrespectful to their identity and their views. This is something that was hard-fought as part of the GFA.

    Similarly, calling Alliance “Unionists” when the party has made clear that it does not identify as such is disrespectful in the same way.

    I am not asking for much – just that the nuances of my identity are respected. If you cannot agree to this, you have no business expecting that people respect yours; and you have no credibility if you claim that you seek an Ireland of equals.

    Unionism isnt about being for British values. It is about being against Irish nationalism. The unionist narrative during electoral cycles that I can remember (30 years) has been about stopping nationalism / republicanism not espousing British ideals as better better than the SDLP / SF alternative.

    A person could, with equal validity, argue that Sinn Féin are not about Irishness but are about hating the British.

    Unionism is a collection of constitutional, traditional and religious views anchored around the idea that Ireland or, latterly, Northern Ireland, should be part of the UK. Alliance expresses no views on any constitutional question, nor does it express any adherence to any of the usual Unionist traditions. Indeed it has spoken out against some of them, has had its representatives subject to intimidation/death threats and its offices were picketed and burnt out as a consequence.

  • Nevin

    “That means Parades Comission no ifs no buts,”

    That reminds me that I have a blog to write about the PC apologising for an explanation that it gave to me last autumn when I inquired when and why a protest notice was removed from its website. The initial explanation fitted with the circumstances I was familiar with but the second explanation denied that the protest notice had ever been posted – because its offices were closed that day. Some might say you couldn’t make it up but the PC has made a valiant if futile attempt!

  • Karl

    Its not that hard to grasp but just because I identify as a squirrel, it doesnt make me a squirrel and it doesnt make the people who point out that I am not a squirrel as morally bankrupt bigots for not respecting my delusions.

    I make the point because in the binary political stasis in which NI operates, Alliance is a unionist party.

    We are not discussing SF, we are discussing unionism and I dont know whether to categorise your argument as a simple case of ‘what about themmuns’ or not but it smacks of the false equivalency that is often brought up because one side has to be as bad as the other.

    Alliance expresses no view on the constitutional position and therefore supports the status quo which is NI as part of the UK.
    Just because they are not uber fleggers doesnt mean they are not unionists.

    I do take your points but I wont be signing up for your pamphlet just yet.

  • grumpy oul man

    Nevin go write your blog if any body is interested we will google it!

  • Nevin

    gom, I’ve given you the outline. Do you or do you not find it surprising that a government quango should apologise for telling the truth?

  • grumpy oul man

    I don.t really care Nevin and it not got a lot to do with the thread.

  • Katyusha

    Alliance is a Unionist party in as much they wish to see people content within the Northern Irish state and the union, rather than trying to scuttle it or assimilate it into the Irish state. “unionist” does not have to mean flag waving and tribalism. “unionist” does not necessarily mean rejection of mutual respect or parity of esteem.

    They are also probably the best chance the union has of preservation, for the electoral success of the Alliance party would in reality copper-fasten the union for ever more, by attracting the votes of liberal unionists, agonstics, and Catholic voters throughout the economic spectrum, something the DUP will never do. I think its fair to say the battle within unionism for years to come will be between Alliance and the DUP. A liberal, inclusive and modern Northern Ireland vs. British nationalism and Evangelicalism.

    This is a strange idea. I’m quite OK with the idea of a united Ireland; I may well even vote for one. But the fact that I want nothing to do with Sinn Féin or their ideas about reunification means I’m a Unionist ?!?

    No, there are plenty of nationalists, republicans, and especially conservative Catholics who want absolutely nothing to do with Sinn Féin. That does not make them unionists. It doesn’t necessarily make them Alliance voters either.

  • Gavin Smithson

    And I will crack it again

  • Ryan A

    See NI21. 2013-2014. RIP.

  • babyface finlayson

    Swann’s Way: À la recherche du temps per dup?
    In search of lost seats.

  • Gopher

    Unfortunately for any party claiming to represent the the centre ground parading is too easy an issue to either embarrass or manipulate a reaction or both. Accepting the parades commision takes you out of “going round the mulberry bush” again and again. Incidently it is quite evident that being anti the parades commision has got the UUP absolutely nowhere electorally so they have nothing to lose anyway. Its not as if the the DUP can preach to anyone presently.

  • Granni Trixie

    It is an unfortunate name,yes. But let’s give him a fair wind. Comes across as ‘genuine’ unlike hIs predecessor.

  • Jollyraj

    I would tend to see Alliance as a party that moderate nationalists vote for, actually.

  • Katyusha

    You might see that, but given that you’re from FST, it would be difficult to see how you reach that conclusion.

    I mean, do Alliance even exist in FST? I certainly saw no tangible evidence of their presence in all my years there.

  • Karl

    I tend to agree in the main although obviously not in the implication.

    However, I suspect it is nationalists in constituencies where less than 20% of the population are of nationalist background. The question is are they loaning their votes to Alliance by voting tactically and will they go SDLP / SF if their viewpoint is shared by 25%+ ie a notional tipping point is reached.

    Any analysis done on the N Downs , E Antrims indicating which community background Alliance votes came from?

  • Gopher

    You kind of took conceit in your Republicanism to a stratospheric level there Karl deciding what someone can or cant be, reminds me of that scene from Cross of Iron when Maximillian Schell spars with James Coburn

    Capt. Stransky, “Well, may I suggest to you that you do not underestimate your present company. Everything you are and may become is dependent upon this present company.”

    Sgt. Rolf Steiner “No, I will not forget that, sir. But I may add that a man is generally what he feels himself to be.”

    May I suggest going to Windsor Park and explaining Northern Irish might not be an nationality

  • Karl

    I wouldnt classify myself as a republican. Too much socialism in it for me, however, a football team doesn’t make a nation.

    You’re on fairly weak ground when only 20% of the people living in the place identify as Northern Irish.

    I’m not deciding what people see themselves as. Im saying that I dont believe that a northern irish nation exists.

  • Gopher

    Nope I’m certain that I can define myself as whatever I want whether that is British or Northern Irish and therefore both nationalities exist

    Capt. Stransky “But Kant and Schubert were exceptions. We’re talking about general concepts, – not individuals.”

    Sgt. Rolf Steiner “But I am one and so are you.”

  • Karl

    Im a squirrel. Grab your nuts and join me in applying for a seat on the UN security council for our new nation.

  • Gopher

    I dont remember Wales or Scotland having a seat in the UN. Red or a Grey Squirrel?

  • tmitch57

    “because in the binary political stasis that Northern Ireland operates…”
    Not everyone in the province is a tribalist. That is why the “other” designation for parties under the GFA exists, even if the two ruling identities gutted it of power.

    I wouldn’t take the political analysis of people who only recently have admitted that there is no 32-county political entity on the island as all that sophisticated.

  • Karl

    A seat at the UN defines a nation?? 30 million Kurds are confused.

    We’re going left field with Black Squirrel.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Was that not one of Basil’s current Fabs at the time until he threw the baby out of the pram ?

  • mjh

    Quite, quite brilliant!

    “pre-dup” perhaps?

  • Mark Petticrew

    Undoubtedly, there are nationalists in identifiably unionist areas who vote Alliance so as to shore up the vote of the chief competitor to whoever the leading unionist party is.

    However, I don’t think it’s entirely to do with nationalists simply lending their vote to an accommodating Alliance Party; rather I think another element to this is that of Irish nationalism itself simply being less popular amongst Catholics in those areas.

    For instance, in the 2011 Census, a greater proportion of Catholics declared a British identity in the strongly unionist former council areas of Carrickfergus (41.1%), Larne (38.8%), and North Down (37.1%) in comparison to what were the strongly nationalist former council areas of Armagh (7.1%), Newry and Mourne (7.1%), and Derry (7.3%).

    If proportionally less Catholics in unionist areas identify themselves as being within the ‘green’ clan so to speak compared to Catholics elsewhere in the country, then the collective nationalist vote in these unionist areas is likely to remain somewhat weaker than some might have expected it to be.

  • mjh

    The transfer evidence suggests that Alliance voters are a pretty diverse group. When their own last candidate is eliminated more transfer to another cross-community or non-aligned candidate (when available) than to either unionist or nationalist. A Green candidate can expect to pick up the majority of Alliance transfers.

    This pattern was in evidence at the last election in North Down, where Green took 56%, other non-aligned 6%, 19% unionist and 15% nationalist. 4% did not transfer.

    There were three constituencies where there was no remaining cross-community candidate and the Alliance voter was forced to chose between unionists or nationalists, East Londonderry, North Antrim and Upper Bann. In that case 41% transferred to a unionist candidate (predominantly UUP) and 47% to a nationalist (predominantly SDLP. 12% did not transfer.

    Of course transferring to UUP or SDLP is not necessarily an indication of the Alliance voter’s community background.

  • babyface finlayson

    Thanks.
    Pre-DUP would have worked better!