Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

A Unionist’s reading list?

I was recently asked to recommend reading material for a Canadian political student needing to get an “insight into Unionism”. It was a difficult request to deal with; firstly because whilst the person in question was restricting his definition of Union merely to Northern Ireland’s link with the rest of the UK, to do so I think misses the bigger picture presently unfolding in the rest of the nation. Secondly, there simply isn’t that much material which attempts to look at the wider subject in any kind of impartial never mind sympathetic manner.

Nevertheless, in no particular order, here’s the rough and ready list that I came up with:


The Ulster Crisis: Resistance to Home Rule, 1912-14: ATW Stewart

First encountered during A Level History many moons ago, but for my money still the best objective account of one of the most tumultuous periods in the Union’s history.


The Progressive Patriot: Billy Bragg

Those of a certain vintage will remember Billy as a croaky protest singer-songwriter constantly berating “Fatcha” and her Baby-Eating Tories. Times and Mr. Bragg have both moved on and he is now a regular Comment is Free contributor and occasional author. Here he makes a passionate argument for reconciling British/English patriotism with the nation’s long and worthy progressive tradition.


Unionism Decayed 1997-2007: David Vance

No member of the fabled Unionist “family” escapes the boot up the backside in this first book from Northern Ireland’s answer to Rush Limbaugh. Polemical (obviously) but argued with the kind of logical rationale which may surprise those more used to reading the Condensed Vance Worldview on A Tangled Web. Falls short of offering any kind of an optimistic vision for the pro-Union reader but despite (or more likely, because of) that destined to become the TUV version of Mao’s Little Red Book.


Good Friday, The Death of Irish Republicanism: Anthony McIntyre

Perhaps an unexpected choice but McIntyre’s view of events since the Belfast Agreement should be required reading for the more pessimistic of our pro-Union brethren. Its conclusion (Adams & Co lost, they just haven’t got round to admitting it yet) provides an interesting contrast to David Vance’s version mentioned above.


Empire: Niall Ferguson

Open Unionism contributor in “Imperialism is Cool” shocker? No, Ferguson is certainly not a revisionist apologist for its excesses; he does however argue convincingly in this book that it was the British Empire which helped shape many of the principles underlaying the liberal democracies of the modern world.


The Secret History of the IRA: Ed Moloney

The quotation from Ulysses Moloney included at the beginning of this “ultimate insider’s account” is a brilliant introduction for what follows:

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

For us in Northern Ireland to “fully awake” will require much more honesty from those who were involved in creating that nightmare- while we are patiently waiting for that moment, this monumental work does a great job in filling in those inconvenient gaps in The Troubles’ main player’s CV.


Himself Alone: Dean Godson

Not only the best political biography I’ve read but also a valuable record of exactly what kind of forces faced Trimble and Northern Irish Unionism in general in the post-Ceasefire, pre-Agreement period. Godson (and admittedly most others) misjudged perhaps the true long-term motives of those forces, but still I think this is a book which will prove to be the most accurate historical review of the period.


Breaking Up Britain: Mark Perryman (and others)

A collection of contributions from all corners of the United Kingdom, for the most part nationalist and for the most part already planning how the now (apparently) inevitable break-up of the nation will affect their own particular region

To be honest, 80% of this ill-thought-out (Gerry Adams in the “Civic Nationalist” section??!) concept fails to hit any kind of target but Charlotte Williams, Salma Yaqoob, Michael Kenny & Guy Lodge and Arthur Aughey move enough beyond the soundbytes and stereotypes with articles to make it worth preserving with.


Rethinking Unionism: An Alternative Vision for Northern Ireland: Norman Porter

Subsequent events have dated it a little bit I think, but his basic premise still rings true. And if “Decayed Unionism” can be regarded the TUV Bible, shouldn’t an updated version of “Rethinking” now become the Conservatives and Unionists’ equivalent?


Will Britain Survive Beyond 2020?: David Melding

Melding is a Welsh Conservative MLA who has rattled a few cages with this one; basically he believes it is quite possible we will see within the next decade the demise of the unitary state…but not necessarily the Union. In other words, as a confessed Federalist he sees the Union more as a process or journey than the finished product or final destination- opposing directly the vision of the nationalist/separatist disciples of the philosophy of Endism” being promoted regularly elsewhere.


So that’s my ten…criticisms and further suggestions are welcome in the comments zone!


*More detailed reviews of several of these books here can be read at the Unionist Lite Bookstore.


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5 Responses

  1. owenpolley says:

    I’d add The New British Constitution by Vernon Bogdanor, Ireland Since 1939: The Persistence of Conflict by Henry Patterson, Transforming Unionism, Michael Kerr’s look at the UUP’s 2005 election disaster, David Trimble – The Price of Peace (hilariously called the Prince of Peace by Amazon for a while), Armed Struggle by Richard English, Perhaps that Rose book which I’ve read a little of.

  2. Toque says:

    Not necessarily applicable to Northern Ireland, but – Patriots, Richard Weight; The Territorial Dimension in Government, Understanding the United Kingdom, Richard Rose; Common Sense, Tony Benn; Devolution, The End of Britain, Tam Dayell; A Useful Fiction, Daniel Hannan; After Britain, Tom Nairn; Britons, Forging the Nation, Linda Colley.

    Any political student wishing to understand the Union should, no…must, read The Territorial Dimension in Government, Understanding the United Kingdom by Richard Rose. It’s a superb book and still extremely relevant even though it dates from 1982. You can pick it up for a few quid on Amazon.

  3. David says:

    I’ve enjoyed Billy Bragg’s music for many a year but wasn’t aware he’d written ‘the Progressive Patriot’ – I’m heading over to Amazon now to look for a copy!

  4. oneill says:

    Toque and Chekov,

    Thanks, Amazon will be getting some overtime!
    Although it’s Patrick and not Dan Hannon that wrote a Useful Fiction (my review is here: but if my memory serves me correctly Dan also has done something about the longterm constitutional future of the UK?


    It’s a good, although sometimes a bit of a muddled, read- it lets his passion run away too quickly sometimes for the proofreader to catch up!

  5. Framer says:

    How about

    Queen’s Rebels by David Miller.

    The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide by MW Heslinga.

    The Economics of Partition by Brendan Clifford (Athol Press).

    Under Siege: Ulster Unionism and the Anglo-Irish Agreement by Arthur Aughey.

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