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The Argument against Unionist Electoral Pacts

As a belated reply to Andrew Charles’ piece last week and in anticipation of possible internal debate tomorrow at the UUP conference, here are my ten arguments against UUP-DUP pacts at this present-time:

1. They are undemocratic

The electorate is entitled to expect the widest possible choice of candidates and political views to choose from. In a democracy it should be the voter, not the parties, who decides whom is returned to parliament.

More below the fold

2. They are not “British”

Despite the threat of the SNP and the BNP to the integrity of the United Kingdom on the mainland, the three main parties there have continued to offer individual candidates at election time. Why should those who believe in the continuance of the Union here be seeking to show how much Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the United Kingdom?

3. They do not guarantee success

 If the pro-Union parties offer a single candidate, what then is the guarantee that the nationalist parties won’t do the same or, as is more likely, their usual voters will plump for the candidate most able to beat the Unionist (i.e. SDLP in S Belfast, Sinn Fein in Fermanagh and S Tyrone) ?

4. They will signal the end of the Conservative and UUP agreement

Owen Paterson confirmed on no less than three occasions over the last fortnight that there would be a Conservative-approved candidate of some description contesting each seat in Northern Ireland. If South Belfast still then gets the OK from the UUP’s leadership to go unilateral will there then be an agreed DUP/UUP and also a Conservative candidate contesting the next Westminster election? Combined with the fact that creating a joint “communal” candidate defeats the declared purpose behind the agreement reached between Reg Empey and David Cameron, the agreement will be dead before it’s been given a chance to prove itself

5. They make no recognition of the fact that the DUP and UUP are two separate parties

Unless the true purpose behind the talk of pacts is eventually for there to be a sole Unionist party in Northern Ireland, then, whatever is decided for the next election, the DUP and UUP will remain two individual and separate parties. When their policies and priorities diverge how then would a “joint” MP represent both parties’ interests at Westminster?

6. They appeal to the lowest communal denominator

Vote Unionist in order to “smash themmuns”- will that be the pre-election slogan?

7. They are short-termist

The Union to survive needs to pull in a greater total pro-Union vote than the various parties manage at the minute. Whilst a “joint” candidate may ensure 2 more seats are “captured” at this election, by its very communalist nature such a pact will attract very few new votes to the Unionist cause.

8. They are defeatist

Both seats can be won for Unionism with or without a pact. Winning either or both seats without a pact would deliver a much powerful longer-term blow to Irish nationalism

9. They provide too narrow a definition of Unionism

What should Unionism stand for? Selling the benefits of the Union to the widest possible audience or merely preventing two Irish nationalists from winning the right to sit for two United Kingdom constituencies in a United Kingdom parliament?

10. They hide the fundamental structural weaknesses of N.Irish Unionism

Again, a short-term victory could prove to be a Pyrrhic one as it will distract attention from the issues that need to be addressed by the UUP, DUP and TUV- e.g. the top-heavy party structures, the lack of critical and creative thinking and the inability to motivate potential pro-Union voters.

In times when our position within the United Kingdom really has been under threat, pro-Union folk in Northern Ireland have always, irrespective of party or community background, united to fight for our democratic rights. Our position within the United Kingdom is presently not under threat; we should be taking advantage of this truth and also the fact that Irish nationalism is, at this moment, not only incapable of moving beyond the sectarian comfort-zone, but also completely intellectually bankrupt. We should be using this window of opportunity to widen, not narrow the battleground.

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3 Responses

  1. WhiteVanMan says:

    1.The electorate will rather have a good chance of representation that does actually represent THEM (unionists) rather than somebody else. Minor ideological differences, rather than major constitutional ones, do not count when a seat is in the balance. Coincidentally, if the electorate have a right to a large number of candidates, wouldn’t it be better for them if the Torys and Officials stood separately?
    2.Allowing somebody who considers themselves not to be “British” to be elected isn’t very “British” either.
    3.This is obviously true, but having a pact, where those not necessarily voting for the candidate they’d like, know that at least there preferred party is going to be elected somewhere else on the back of it is obviously a bonus. They will still be voting for unionism, and will be happy to, if that means representation for the main issue.
    4.Well, wouldn’t that be a shame. No votes for the party of Sunningdale, AIA, “no selfish interest” etc…
    5.As stated, a pact would mean one seat for each party, meaning divergent views, (at party level at least) would be respected. A united party might be a bad thing, but party squabbles are hated by the non-hack electorate.
    6.How about vote Unionist – to save your Union? Or are you of the opinion that Unionism without the trappings of Party Political dogma is automatically sectarian/bigoted?
    7.A week is a long time is politics, a term of parliament seems long term in comparison.
    8.Winning can hardly be defeatist, but as 2 or more parties are “Unionist” and the electorate is still rather interested in the “Union” it is hardly likely that one party will win alone without major changes in the political minds of many.
    9.Preventing Anti-Unionists from gaining representation in parliament obviously helps the union, and the best way the change peoples minds is to have speakers and people of influence (MPs perhaps?) persuading them. When two different parties with different policies (debatable sometimes) but with a unifying ideology of unionism stand, surely that, by definition, would be BROADER unionism, free from party political rubbish?
    10.All those issues do need to be address, but do the Unionist electorate of FST and SB have to suffer to achieve that? It only needs strong willed, ideological, and non-party political men of principle to achieve those aims, perhaps that it too much to ask.
    Our position within the Kingdom is always under threat, whether physical (dissidents, read IRA) or political (Disloyal parties, read IRA). Widening a battle ground when you are not winning the battle in the first place is suicide, the battle should be to win seats, hearts and minds to Unionism first, and then move on to normal politics.

  2. oneill says:

    1. “The electorate will rather have a good chance of representation that does actually represent THEM (unionists) rather than somebody else.”

    There is no such thing as a Unionist electorate as you seem to be implying here, only an electorate. Between them at the moment the Unionist parties poll about 35% of that potential electorate- reducing the number of potential pro-Union candidates will not increase that figure.

    “Coincidentally, if the electorate have a right to a large number of candidates, wouldn’t it be better for them if the Torys and Officials stood separately?”

    If they are offering different policies and varieties of Unionism, then yes.

    2.”Allowing somebody who considers themselves not to be “British” to be elected isn’t very “British” either.”

    It is not up to you or any political party to “allow” people to be elected- that’s the electorate’s right. And again, the Uk parliament is full of people who would not consider themselves to be British, yet Labour, the LDs and the Conservatives still compete in every seat- they are attempting to defeat the separatists by strength of argument not by backroom deals. Why should NI be different from the rest of our nation?

    3.”This is obviously true, but having a pact, where those not necessarily voting for the candidate they’d like, know that at least there preferred party is going to be elected somewhere else on the back of it is obviously a bonus.”

    No guarantee both or either candidate would be elected and no guarantee also that UUP voters will automatically switch over to the DUP or vice-versa

    4. “Well, wouldn’t that be a shame. No votes for the party of Sunningdale, AIA, “no selfish interest” etc…”

    By my reckoning David Cameron was about 10 at the time of Sunningdale- is it still his responsibility? If they are anti-Unionist, as you seem to be implying, why then do you think the Conservatives have decided to link in with the UUP?

    5.”. A united party might be a bad thing, but party squabbles are hated by the non-hack electorate.”

    Your evidence for that last statement? As a % of the electaorate who voted the total % Unionist vote actually rose (albeit slightly) at the last EU election when we had three Unionist candidates as opposed to 2004 when there were only two.

    6.”Or are you of the opinion that Unionism without the trappings of Party Political dogma is automatically sectarian/bigoted?”

    Unionism is the belief in the Union of the United Kingdom- it is not sectarian or racist.
    Trappings of party political dogma here often are linked more with the communalism and sectarianism than the promotion of that belief (eg how often do we here either party refer to the needs and desires of the *protestant/Unionist/British community* as if it were one homogeneous mass?)

    7.”A week is a long time is politics, a term of parliament seems long term in comparison.”

    I was thinking more 10, 15, 20 years into the future. Can the Union between NI and the rest of the UK survive only by continuing to appeal to that mythical community I referred to above?

    8.”Winning can hardly be defeatist, but as 2 or more parties are “Unionist” and the electorate is still rather interested in the “Union” it is hardly likely that one party will win alone without major changes in the political minds of many.”

    And how do you think we can effect those major changes in the political minds of those not presently voting for pro-Union parties? Should we even be bothering in your opinion?

    9.”When two different parties with different policies (debatable sometimes) but with a unifying ideology of unionism stand, surely that, by definition, would be BROADER unionism, free from party political rubbish?”

    That broader Unionism wouldn’t be universally on offer to the electorate though would it in the case of *agreed* candidates?

    10.”All those issues do need to be address, but do the Unionist electorate of FST and SB have to suffer to achieve that? “

    Again there isn’t a Unionist electorate, only folk to previously voted for pro-Union parties in the past and those who may in addition vote for them in the future. Srong enough candidates and a diverse Unionist message can maximize that total Unionist vote and as I said in my original post the psychological blow to nationalism would be much greater if the seats are won without the DUP/UUP pact.

    “It only needs strong willed, ideological, and non-party political men of principle to achieve those aims, perhaps that it too much to ask.”

    Now that is defeatist;) but first the target needs to be agreed; I believe it should be the maximization of the total unionist vote, what do you think?

    “Our position within the Kingdom is always under threat, whether physical (dissidents, read IRA) or political (Disloyal parties, read IRA). “

    The terrorists need to be defeated but they threaten the physical safety of our fellow citizens, not our place within the Union, quite the opposite in fact. The SDLP and Sinn Fein do oppose our position within the UK but they are doing as bad a job as the Unionist parties at the minute of persuading people from beyond their *traditional* community over to their vision of the future.

    “Widening a battle ground when you are not winning the battle in the first place is suicide, the battle should be to win seats, hearts and minds to Unionism first, and then move on to normal politics.”

    Amidst the hysteria of not “smashing SF” at the last EU election the fact that in contrast to the pro-Union vote, the total nationalist vote remained static or even dropped slightly compared to 5 years ago was missed. It was a small drop admitedly, but if we were losing the battle in the first place then they would be moving in the other direction. Regarding “winning seats, hearts and minds to Unionism”? Switch the order round and finally we are in total agreement!

    • WhiteVanMan says:

      A lot of points to come back on.
      1. There is a sizable voting part of the electorate that considers itself Unionist, in the broadest sense. Integrationist (like myself), or devolutionist, whatever. We are more than willing to accept that the representative elected might not share our particular “brand”, or our particular centrist political ideals, but at least they will be maintaining that union. Most are willing to make that sacrifice. Now an important element of this is that it’s a First Past the Post election, obviously if we could transfer our votes things might be different. Decreasing the number of candidates would funnel votes to a possible win with FPTP. There are people who will not vote for the UUP if they have a choice of the DUP, and the other way round, but one vote for a united candidate would get votes regardless. As I say, at least with a pact I’d know the party of my choice got a free run somewhere else.
      And what is the position of the UUP and the Tories on the Union? I am a Unionist, I want to vote for a party that will pursue Union despite any other considerations. I’ve heard very little from the New Force on this issue. If there was a majority in NI to end Union would they drop their support?
      2. When your primary aim is the maintenance of the Union, running many candidates, (and you cannot seriously argue against this) will undermine the chances of a Unionist being elected. Representatives are there to represent the views of the electorate. Unionists already exist, they want representation.
      NI is different from the rest of the UK is that the disloyal minority are more violent and more numerous. Their minds can be changed; the argument for the union can be made. But “allowing” disloyal representatives to be elected by running many candidates will hardly help that. It’s hardly a backroom deal when it;s the most public deal available, and in elections where united candidates stood in the past, unionist advocates have fared well.
      3. There is a never a guarantee, the Union is important to me, I’ll take the best chance available. Again, at least with a pact I’d know the party of my choice got a free run somewhere else. My vote will work harder.
      4. David Cameron is firstly not the Tory party by himself. The Tories have proven themselves to be pragmatic with the things I referred too. For a party that puts Unionism at the top of the list of ideological goals, and will not sacrifice them for anything, they can afford to be pragmatic about other things. I do not believe the Conservatives are that party. If it suited them to abandon Ulster, I believe they would. I believe the UUP link suits the Tories at this time, if it proved unproductive, expensive, or embarrassing elsewhere, they may drop them, and the unionist rhetoric.
      5. Yes about the EU election you’re right, but as I say, many of these arguments are valid mostly for FPTP elections. The original point talked about two separate parties. I hate the fact there are two (at least) separate political parties representing unionism here. Once the issue of the future of the Union is over, and its secure, then we can get back to party politics, much like most of the 19c, but until then, I want to insure the country I live in still exists.
      6. No, I was actually referring to dogma like the parties on the mainland argue at every general election. There is a general social democratic consensus at Westminster (nobody clambering to scrap the NHS or stop Child Benefit), the fight is essentially between managers now, but my big issue is constitutional. I would argue that the “PUL” community, as they say, is not indeed homogenous., but there are significant overlaps, at the moment, and those opposed to the union, are most often Sectarian against Protestantism and Britishness. One need only look at opposition to the Orange Order, which one needs to remember, predates the Union.
      7. That Community does exist. There are people who vote for Unionists, because they are Unionists. They may not be monolithic, or ethnic, but they do exist. The original argument holds water in a PR election, but not in FPTP. For the long term Unionist representation at any price is worthwhile.
      8. Of course we should try to attract traditionally anti-union voters to the union, but not pursuing victory for a Unionist candidate will not help that cause.
      9. Broader unionism would be on offer, although admittedly indirectly. AGAIN, at least with a pact I’d know the party of my choice got a free run somewhere else. If the choice between candidates from 2 or 3 different unionist parties being elected, and none of them being elected, as a unionist, I’d prefer the former.
      10. Unionists do exist in those constituencies, as argued in 7. Without Unionist representation, not only are their views on the Union ignored, but most likely the victorious candidate will ACTIVELY be pursuing the end of that Union.
      As to the psychological blow of increased unionist vote. In the EU election what was the bigger story? Sinn Fein topping the poll, or Unionism increasing its overall percentage of the vote? Getting elected in the big story, not how many people voted for the looser.
      In a PR election your argument for maximizing the vote is quite alright, and as general plan, and as an Ideological goal, it’s excellent, but first, lets just get some Unionists elected.
      For the disloyal parties, having representation in Westminster and the letters MP after their names make converting people to their cause a lot easier, same with Unionism.

      Finally the end of this horrible post! Minds, Hearts and Seats! In an ideal world, yes, absolutely. In our world, were a loss to disloyal parties means actively trying to undermine that union, It’s a price a unionist voter I’m unwilling to pay, and the Minds and Hearts can be one, with one agreed candidate. I may have preferences, but all the Unionist parties are in favour of the union. A co-operative approach would be good. It would temper the radicals who are sectarian bigots who essentially want to bring back the penal laws, or reverse sectarian bigots who would ban members of the orange order from political office. It could create a broader base upon which to build and move NI beyond separatist politics.

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