By St Etienne
“Unionism’s great challenge” has now apparently been reduced to keeping a Shinner out of the perceived top job in local politics. In truth, not a great strategy. We need to get over it.
Contrary to the most popularly understood of peace-processing narratives (the one that’s painted with the broadest brush), the majority of NI is not transitioning from some kind of guerrilla warfighting capability and into politics. That’s only the people some of us choose to elect. How people like McGuinness can be a role model/leader for NI is any sane person’s guess. But at present neither do we have a sane solution.
From the initial kite flying of voluntary coalition/opposition/normal politics, it is clear there is a deepset paranoia among Irish nationalists that unionists fundamentally do not want to share power. And crucially, not from a “we don’t like murderers” principled standpoint but from a “they don’t want a Catholic about the place” perspective. Ultimately this is wrong, but like it or not that is the perception (perhaps driven largely for reasons of political capital as much as community mistrust). Action is required to change it.
So wny not drop the preoccupation with McGuinness becoming FM (in a local administration that is mostly non-funcational anyway)? Both in terms of Executive decisions and, from the inception of the Chuckle Brothers at Stormont, the public perception of FM and DFM is one of equality. Attempting to blow the proposition of an SF man occupying whichever position is reminiscent of Ulster’s perpetual historic OCD with saving itself from crisis.
In 2010 it is both embarrassing and, more importantly, hiding the real goal. So let the ideals of the three unionist parties fight it out to define what kind of future people in NI want – the pull-the-plug and to hell with the consequences of the TUV; the Ulster nationalism of the DUP; and the nascent departure into non-sectarian politics of the UUP Conservative linkup.
Granted the UU-Tory pairing will be fighting separately in any Assembly election, but as the largest change of direction any of the main unionist parties have taken for quite a few years the UU’s will surely be regarded as a vote for a way out of the current zero-sum impasse relying on the accommodation of extremities. Using the advantages of PR, it is likely that 2nd preferences etc would be heavily encouraged between the UU and Conservatives. Such a scenario assumes this alliance gets out of its Westminster cradle of course.
Let’s be clear about it – the acceptance of a non-sectarian agenda in politics here is the single greatest weapon NI has against separatism. But to fully leverage such a force it is necessary to drop the obsession with symbolism – particularly symbolism that has absolutely no net effect.
So take the question of the FM position for McGuinness – I, for one, don’t care.
Far from a location on your ‘roadmap’, in reality this would be just another sign that the Shinners’ equality agenda is a redundant and dated nationalist argument that belongs firmly in the era of colonial atavism. But it is just as important that unionist politicians realise this as it is for any current nationalist voter in the street to see it. It is this that may well turn out to be “Unionism’s great challenge”.