Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

Cameron gaffe will hurt marriage

A marriage is about partnership however the UUP – Tory marriage seems to have been anything but it. In fact one could say that it has entered a rocky course less than two weeks before an election.

David Cameron’s comments with Jeremy Paxman on Friday night have caused quite a storm but are not exactly surprising.

In December of 2005 I, working for a small student newspaper, was invited to go and meet the new Tory leader on his first visit to Northern Ireland. At this show of strength at Lagan College, Belfast I overheard Mr Cameron ask his advisor: “We want devolution here, yes?”

His latest gaffe does not surprise me to be honest. He is a man with a lot on his mind but when it comes to Northern Ireland he has really put his foot in it this time which the local UCUNF will find hard to defend.

Some blame the media, others say his interpretation was an accurate one. Eamon Maillie has described it as similar to Harold Wilson’s infamous ‘Sponger’ speech – directed at the people of N.I. protesting against the 1974 Sunningdale Agreement. The day after these comments people ran round protesting with sponge lapel badges. It was a classic two finger salute to the late Prime Minister. We should remember of course that Reg Empey, David Trimble and Co. were part of this protest against Sunningdale under the banner of Vanguard led by Bill Craig.

Cameron’s comments therefore represent a major gaffe on his part. His comparison of N.I. to a former communist state was damaging. His point was of course about the large public sector we have here in N.I. but why single out N.I.? Why not other parts of the UK?

Much of the population around London funds the entire UK given the concentration of private enterprise there. After Thatcher dismantled the machine of what was left of British Industry back in the 1980’s Britain was left with high unemployment. Thatcher created a vacuum in parts of Britain as people hit the dole queue  and the easiest thing for Government was to give them public sector jobs as the service industry couldn’t sustain those who were left unemployed. Many young professionals left for London to find work, including many from N.I.

Cameron’s comments therefore highlight the unbalance of private investment across the UK. Much of this is down to the individual companies who having the choice want to be where the epicenter of business is.

His comments highlight the problems we face in the UK and something other N.I. parties have argued. However it is unsure what he meant by this: is he suggesting cutting the public sector in N.I. and slashing the budget? Or is he simply stating a well known fact? But then why single out N.I?

These comments will only go to dispel the feeling: can we trust the Tories?


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Fermanagh South Tyrone: a time for unionists to unite

Elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone can be pretty grim affairs with the spectre of the sectarian head count never far away. There is a certain inevitability in this due to the relatively closely balanced sizes of the two communities and the fact that during the Troubles and indeed the Border Campaign, right back to the 1920s; Fermanagh and the neighbouring parts of Tyrone were stalked by terrorism. Michelle Gildernew has held the seat now for two terms and until the agreed unionist candidate was finally settled, it seemed inevitable that she would win for a third time. With Rodney Connor emerging as the united unionist candidate this certainty has evaporated and there is a real chance that the seat could revert to unionists.

Connor is a genuinely good candidate: originally from Castlederg (hopefully Fermanagh people will not hold that against him) and the former chief executive of Fermanagh council, in which post he had a track record of serving the whole community to a very high standard. It is difficult to characterise him as a bigot or a narrow sectional candidate. He has made a major issue of the need FST has for full time representation at Westminster and has been at pains to pledge to be a champion for the whole community.
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Best of the Web

[First published in the News Letter on Friday April 16.]

This week I’m taking a look at the TUV and how well their candidates have been exploiting the internet.

Up until recently, the TUV’s presence on social media had been spearheaded mainly by Party Leader Jim Allister and East Belfast candidate David Vance. Jim is extremely active on twitter, and David’s a well-known blogger. But now we can add a third name to that list… East Londonderry candidate Willie Ross.

For this week Willie announced the launch of a brand spanking new campaign website and twitterfeed.

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Unionist Unity is not Sectarian

The below is a platform piece by Jeffrey Dudgeon which is published in today’s News Letter.

Liam Clarke in his column suggests Alasdair McDonnell is no threat to the Union (News Letter 13 April) and instead says that the Sandy Row Orange Order’s failure to condemn an Orangeman in England standing for the BNP makes them hypocrites for seeking to thwart the SDLP candidate’s re-election.

This is a straw man argument as the issue for the south Belfast Orange Order is who represents unionists in the South Belfast constituency. Currently we have a semi-abstentionist, double jobbing MP who was elected on a minority vote because Unionists had rival candidates in 2005.

Mr McDonnell’s response, despite him saying he has worked with the Orange Order, is typically abrasive and, as before, he tars his opponents with the ‘S’ word: “If their hostility is simply because I’m a Catholic then it seems to be little more than naked sectarianism.”

However you don’t have to be in the Orange Order to be concerned about nationalist triumphalism in South Belfast. You only need to go to the Holyland area on St Patrick’s Day to see an unpleasant future. Or read that nationalist students stoned the City Church either in a sectarian or anti-immigrant response to the Roma issue.

That there have been 70 sectarian attacks on Orange halls in Northern Ireland in the last year is another telling fact. Similarly Gerry Adams in calling for an agreed nationalist candidate in South Belfast says “That’s what we’ve been getting on the doorsteps ‘why don’t you guys get your act in order and try and ensure the Orange Order doesn’t end up choosing who’s going to be the MP’”.

Liam Clarke also argues that the “Border can only be removed” if a referendum so agrees” and that the current Stormont arrangements have stabilised Northern Ireland by “allowing nationalists a place in the sun.”

This may be so but we are in a “peace process,” a phrase coined by Sinn Fein to indicate unceasing political activity leading to Irish unity (after a 30-year war). And some continue the war. Devolution does not mean giving nationalists a free run to take unionist constituencies.

For the ‘process’ reason, every election in Northern Ireland can only be a referendum on the border. The loss by Unionism of any and every seat is marked down as a step towards unity. Remember it was Eddie McGrady MP who said on his victory in South Down that the border had come to Belfast.

A victory for Unionism by means of a single candidate in South Belfast is not “a sectarian approach.” Rather it would provide a psychological boost to those who want stabilisation of the Union and a non-sectarian city.

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Conservatives and the Union…

From the Conservative manifesto

Change Politics Strengthen The Union

We are a Unionist party and we will not put the Union at risk. But we support devolution and are committed to making it work for all countries. We will take forward the proposals of the Calman Commission, grant a referendum on greater powers for the Welsh Assembly, and support the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. We will rebalance the unfairness in the voting system for devolved issues in Parliament.

In recent years, we have been hearing things that we have not heard for a long time: people in Scotland saying they want to leave the UK, and some people responding with ‘let them go’. Labour’s constitutional vandalism has weakened Parliament, undermined democracy and brought the integrity of the ballot into question. our unbalanced devolution settlement has caused separatism to gather momentum in Scotland, and separatists have propped up a weakened Labour Party in Wales.

The Conservative Party is passionate about the Union and we will never do anything to put it at risk. and, because of the new political force we have created with the Ulster Unionists, we are proud that at the next election we will be the only party fielding candidates in every part of the UK*.

Support devolution

We support the changes proposed by the Calman Commission for clarifying the devolution settlement and creating a relationship of mutual respect between Westminster and Holyrood:

the Prime minister and other ministers will go to Holyrood for questioning on a regular basis.

the Scottish Parliament should have more responsibility for raising the money it spends. We will produce our own White Paper by may 2011 to set out how we will deal with the issues raised by Calman, and we will legislate to implement those proposals within the next Parliament.

We will not stand in the way of the referendum on further legislative powers requested by the Welsh assembly. The people of Wales will decide the outcome and Conservatives will have a free vote. but our priority remains getting people back into work and strengthening the Welsh economy. So we will seek ways to work with the Welsh assembly government to increase economic growth and improve people’s quality of life.

In Northern Ireland, we strongly support the political institutions established over the past decade and we are committed to making devolution work. We will continue to promote peace, stability and economic prosperity and work to bring Northern ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics. We will produce a government paper examining the mechanism for changing the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland, in order to attract significant new investment. And we will stop the practice of ‘double-jobbing’, whereby elected representatives sit in both Westminster and Stormont.

Labour have refused to address the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’: the unfair situation of Scottish MPs voting on matters which are devolved. A Conservative government will introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England, or to England and Wales, cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries.

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‘Best of the Web’

[First published in the News Letter on Friday April 09.]

As promised, I’m looking this week at the UCUNF online campaign and how their candidates are embracing social media.

Things are falling together pretty well. Gordon Brown called the election on Tuesday and within 24 hours the New Force had gone live with their campaign twitter stream (@vote4changeni) and campaign blog ( Both of these are neatly branded and full of links, lists and information sources – all very useful and user friendly.

But  haven’t we seen that blog URL before? popped up as a campaign site for Barack Obama in 2008 – UCUNF will hope similarities with the wildly successful Obama campaign don’t end there.

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TUV Platform: Go East!

A  number of candidates have been invited to put forward personal manifestos for the coming election. First up, David Vance of the TUV who’s standing in East Belfast. He states below that, as the TUV are neither hostages to David Cameron nor little Ulster Nationalists, they offer a “fresh, new vision” for the constituency…

In 1979, Peter Robinson narrowly won the Westminster seat of East Belfast from Bill Craig by claiming that time had run out for “political weaklings.” Thirty years later, in power as long as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Mr Robinson now seeks another five years. I come to East Belfast to say that time is up for Mr Robinson and to borrow his own term, to insist that there will be no more political weaklings representing the unionist people of this constituency!

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Unity candidate agreed for FST

Below is the full statement from unity candidate Rondey Connor (hat-tip Slugger O’Toole):

“Today I am announcing as a candidate for the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I want to be a voice for the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone at Westminster.

Through my work, over the years I believe that I have already demonstrated a proven track record of delivering in the constituency for people from right across the community. I know what Fermanagh and South Tyrone needs and I believe that I am well equipped to help deliver it.

Now more than ever it is essential that Fermanagh and South Tyrone has representation at Westminster. At a time of financial difficulties and recession it is vital that a constituency so far geographically removed from Westminster has its voice and influence maximised in the House of Commons.

While, if elected, I would sit as an independent, I am prepared to accept the Conservative Party whip. However on matters affecting Northern Ireland I shall vote on the basis of what I believe is in the best interests of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.”

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“Unionists Unite”

The Times have an excellent resource for this election. They have based statistics on the new Parliamentary boundaries. Under the new boundaries using the 2005 election data they give Alasdair McDonnell a majority of just 188.

McDonnell would be right to worry in this election as the statistics show (using the 2005 result), given the fact that the DUP is only 189 votes away from victory.

Michael McGimpsey standing for the UUP back in 2005 polled just under 8,000 votes. According to the Times calculation with the new boundary changes the UUP would poll just over 8,000 votes (remember based on 2005 election figures). However this time round the now Conservatives and Unionists are running a little known candidate Paula Bradshaw whereas the DUP are running Jimmy Spratt again. The choice is therefore clear in South Belfast. If two Unionist candidates remain in the contest the DUP are the party most likely to win. Let that be clear.

However should South Belfast follow the news tonight (brief and unclear as yet) that a single Unionist will run in Fermanagh South Tyrone the chances of a Unionist coming through this election victorious would increase significantly!

A few comments on the Conservatives and Unionist campaign – does it appear very ‘Alliance’!? – Woman, shared future etc? Furthermore does it appear too Tory? Given the fact that the Tories have stood in NI elections for some years and not done very well will this marketing strategy backfire on them?

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Sir Reg to run in South Antrim?

Hand of History, an impeccable source on these matters, is reporting that Sir Reg Empey is to go forward as candidate for South Antrim. It’s a bold move. This at least will go some way towards superceding the otherwise negative stories emerging from the constituency.

How strong are Reg’s chances of capturing the seat from McCrea?

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