Political Unionism is strange creature. It has spent sonmuch of its long life (about forty years longer than partition) in a defensive posture, that becoming future positive may feel painfully like growing a new limb. Leave advocate Alex Kane argues that Brexit has complicated matters, and suggests that it could be fatal for its own long term interests if Unionism doesn’t rise to the challenges of creating a multi identity Northern Ireland…
I’m not sure that unionism has grasped that reality. I voted Leave, but I acknowledged during the campaign that a victory for Brexit would change everything. It has.
So unionism has to rise to the challenge. What will it mean to be a unionist in Northern Ireland in 2021, when the United Kingdom is out of the European Union and a whopping majority of the English will probably not give a toss about Celtic unionism?
What message will Arlene Foster – assuming she remains leader of the DUP – have for soft unionists and Catholic unionists? Which big beasts, if any, of pan-United Kingdom unionism will be flying to Northern Ireland to make the case with her?Unionism doesn’t have a single identity. Beyond a belief in the union it does not even have a single message. So this is now becoming an existentialist debate for unionism.
Yes, many, many unionists will vote for the union come hell or high water, but increasing numbers will take a more measured, nuanced position. They will want solid answers to some very difficult questions, and the leaders of unionism will need to have those answers. Worryingly, they don’t seem to have them at the moment.
That, it seems to me, is the issue Brexit all over. Like the bottom of Pandora’s box, when all else has flown, there’s hope. As we noted back in 2003, the parity referendum is the only rule of thumb for serious minded constitutional Unionists and Republicans by which to measure their own political progress.