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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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21 Responses

  1. Malone Perk says:

    It’s a simple choice that faces both Unionist leaders: are we going to throw this seat away again? Neither the DUP nor the UUP are going to do it on their own in competition with the other.

    Let’s just do the sums: I say Spratt is still clearly in 2nd place, but, let’s now see what happens with him running against another unionist. Even if Jimmy *wasn’t* at a highwater mark last time, and even if he doesn’t shed votes due to collateral off the back of Irisgate, and even if the new unionist wards have some DUP slanting, and even if the BBC’s love-in with Bradshaw abates, and even if – v unlikely, this one – the DUP spends, a la Ashcroft, up to the constituency cap (absolutely impossible, btw, as Spratt wasn’t selected in time), will he do this time what he couldn’t do last time? Will he beat McDonnell?

    To do that, he’ll in addition to *all* those things I’ve just mentioned as needing to fall in his favour, also need the following: no more, ahem, communal slippage in SB, no incumbency gain having accrued to McDonnell, no damage whatsoever having been done to SF among by far and away NI’s most sophisticated nationalist electorate, and, finally and most implausibly, now that the SDLP (unlike either unionist party for their respective bloc) is firmly established as the nationalist flag carrier, we’re meant to believe that nationalist voters won’t coalesce round him as the most likely man to hold the seat? This is garbage, and I can’t see how anyone who claims to be a unionist can believe it.

    As things stand today, there’s every chance that while the overall Unionist vote will increase in SB, because Spratt’s share and Bradshaw’s will converge, McDonnell’s majority will actually go up! Spratt won’t the seat, and with the best will in the world to the more, uh, youthful UUP posters, there isn’t a cat’s chance in hell that Bradshaw, in competition with the DUP, is going to do it either. Indeed, if both of them are in as of Tuesday, 4pm, I’ll happy wager any amount anyone likes that she doesn’t even get second place. So we have to do a deal if we’re serious about unionism getting the seat back. What exactly is the argument against it? What exactly is the argument for both parties standing and the seat being needlessly lost once more? The ‘we’ll fight all 650 seats’ argument is gone on the Tory/UUP side, and what is the unionist argument for the DUP running to give Spratt the chance of coming second again? Please let’s put aside the tedious, petty factionalism that ruins most efforts to talk about unionist politics realistically. Jimmy Spratt couldn’t win last time, backed by Martin Smyth and Jim Molyneaux, and up against Trimble’s most unpopular igor. He is not going to win this time: so why should the DUP do in SB what they’ve declined to do in FST?

    Surely there has to be a Connor both parties can agree to?

  2. Ballynafeigh says:

    The 2005 result allowing for boundary changes gave the SDLP just over 11,000, the DUP just under 11,000 and the UUP on 8,000. I am not convinced that this is the real situation now. Demographic change has probably helped the SDLP. Plus, remember that the new wards have come from majority unionist constituencies. Catholic Alliance votes cast in East Belfast or Strangford could quite conceivably go SDLP in South Belfast. McDonnell should be add to his vote by tactical voting, demographic change and incumbency.

    I reckon a successful unionist would need to poll 15,000 to be certain of victory. I doubt whether either Spratt or Bradshaw can do so if both are in the race. Bradshaw would have to double her party’s notional 2005 vote. She just isn’t going to do that.

    On the face of it, Spratt seems better placed to win but would need tactical voting from UUP people and squeeze Bradshaw down to 4,000 odd. I am not sure that there is sufficient dislike of McDonnell among unionists to bring this about. Plus, this will be a difficult election for the DUP. Robinson’s people are said to be getting a hard time in East Belfast and this animosity could well spill over. It is entirely possible that Spratt will be unable to increase his notional 2005 vote to anywhere near the necessary 15,000 mark. Remember that the DUP seriously underperformed here in the Assembly elections when it failed to get Stalford elected as widely predicted, a time when it was possibly at its strongest.

    I know the DUP is very publicly supportive of a pact. Some leading figures certainly are. However, there is a feeling that others privately believe that all they need is One Big Push and they’ll win even without a pact. I think this is wrong.

    The unionists have had 5 years to work out how to remove McDonnell and have let people down. Here we are with less than 96 hours before the close of nominations, and both parties are still more keen to rip each other to bits than to find a compromise. Ultimately I think that only a united candidate can win SB and that such a person, not necessarily Spratt or Bradshaw, needs to be found.

    Question is: anyone out there listening? Thank goodness that the union rests on the presence of the unionist people. If it depended on the feuding politicos it would be in deep trouble. FST has been sorted out after 2 successive nationalist victories. Do unionists have to lose SB a second time before they get their act together?

    I repeat: anyone out there listening?

  3. Ballynafeigh says:

    Well said, Malone Park.

  4. thedissenter says:

    The UUP certainly didn’t take time to even think about listening with election literature landing in South Belfast even before the election was called and delivered within a day or two after. Posters up almost immediately. I guess leafy suburbs are particularly within a simplistic ‘must be tory’ analysis. But the lady is clearly embedded in the life of Newtownabbey, not Newtownbreda. Sitting on lots of worthy boards in the Consituency is poor when compared to Anna Lo, who is an althogether worthy person to take a vote from those leafy avenues.

    No idea why the DUP has invested or stayed with Jimmy Spratt as he is not that effective on the ground. He has failed to make a community impact, or create a presence that by now ought to be unassailable: he has been around long enough.

    Both Malone Perk and Ballynafeigh have ably outlined the maths of the constituency, which means that both the DUP and UUP are likely to lose. I suspect the Conservatives are the absolute sticking point: to lose principle on one constituency is unfortunate, to lose two would be…..

    It all tends to apathy in SB. McDonnell winning and I suspect Anna Lo building the Alliance base for next year’s Assembly election.

  5. Framer says:

    Two excellent posts. Who are these clear thinking people?

    Without a single unionist candidate there is a faint hope that one of the two can win if certain things happened.

    Unionist turnout is increased by whatever means possible,

    Enough people of substance in pro-union circles issue a statement saying voters should support the candidate most likely to win. Which one?

    Meanwhile why is Fermanagh allowed to be an exception and the unforgiveable happens in S Belfast?

    Anyone willing to go and see the leaders?

  6. St Etienne says:

    “Currently we have a semi-abstentionist, double jobbing MP”

    Er… who exactly are you talking about there?

    Anyhow I’d like to point out the fact the chief failure with ‘unionism’ (if such a divergent array of ideas can still be grouped together) in South Belfast has been the failure to attract the thousands of apathetic voters sick to the stomach with these stories of orangeism deciding which donkey we are to elect this time and what way the party strategists will seek to torture mathematics in a bid to strangle out a perceived logic for victory.

    If a Conservative didn’t happen to stand in South Belfast my vote would go to McDonnell on the basis that for all his faults I do not believe he will do anymore damage to the union then Spratt. The Ulster nationalists really need to get it into their head that an increasingly large percentage of ‘their’ vote isn’t listening.

    I think the reason a Connor cannot be found in South Belfast is because all the Connor’s here wouldn’t touch politics with a barge pole. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, McCann would have been a de facto unity candidate seeing as he was from outside any previous party structure.

    But then again the DUP have never been about that sort of unity.

  7. SBUU says:

    Okay, well this joker has answered the question implied above by at least one poster: and Sainty’s answer is that, he’s not a unionist. He’s willing to smear a good half of unionist voters for being ‘Ulster nationalists’, while then smugly proclaiming that he’ll actually vote for a Nationalist (you know, the real sort, the sort that proclaims, with total sincerity, that they want to break the Union – that sort of Nationalist). So tools like this we can dismiss out of hand: they don’t want unionist unity, let alone, as he snidely puts it, ‘victory’. Heavens no, he’d actually vote for McDonnell, rather than the sort of unionist he’s at such insecure pains to proclaim his personal superiority over. Thank God the general drift of comments here from actual unionists has been a lot more sensible than the little essay in self-love the likes of our McCanniac chum here spewed up. There’s still two and a bit days to save this seat, and as one of the earlier posters more or less said, if BOTH unionist leaders sentence SB unionism to the same fate FST had to suffer, then both unionist leaders share the blame. Neither Spratt nor Bradshaw is going to win the seat – let’s find someone who will.

  8. oneill says:

    I’m with St Etienne.

    I have a lot of respect for Jeffrey Dudgeon for a number of reasons and he’s given me personally a fair bit of help in the work I’ve done investigating the machinations of the Empress of the NIHRC, Prof McWilliams.

    But his letter and views on this disturb me, not least because I think they are representative of a fairly large section of the UUP in S Belfast.

    If an agreed candidate is put up with the DUP in S. Belfast then the arrangement with the Conservatives is dead; the DUP know that and Jeffrey and those within the S Belfast branch thinking the same as him know that. An “agreed” Unionist candidate in S Belfast would mean that the UUP and the DUP have given up the fight in trying to sell the Union as a stand alone as opposed to being merely a part of a larger communal package. An agreed candidate *might* stand a better chance of winning this time but in terms of the longer-term battle for the Union, how many more undecideds is it going to bring over to the cause for the next Border Referendum?

    The logic of where Jeffrey (and others in the UUP thinking the same way) are pulling us is inexorably towards a single Unionist Party. If that’s what the majority of party are comfortable with, then fair enough, they should have the guts to put it to the whole party in democratic vote. In the meantime, if an *agreed* candidate is put up by the two parties in SB then that would be the Rubicon as far as I (and I’m guessing quite a few others) personally concerned re the UUP. I would remain a Unionist because I remain a believer in the principle of the Union but a Union that isn’t dependent every election time on circling the communal wagons against an enemy that we should instead be taking the battle to with all guns firing.

  9. St Etienne says:

    he’s not a unionist.

    How predictably lame – seeing as there will be no border poll in the next parliament how is a vote for one type of nationalist any more a vote for the union than another type? The vote-for-a-donkey-in-a-union-flag elements within the local DUP/UUP/Sandy Row district would prefer to tell us who the South Belfast unionist voters will be voting for – turning my vote (and others I should add) into a protest vote against this dull short sighted ‘vision’ of ‘unity’. That’s the choice here before you get too wrapped up in lots of nice little numerical pattern matching.

    He’s willing to smear a good half of unionist voters for being ‘Ulster nationalists’

    I’m willing to listen as to why the DUP is not Ulster nationalist in outlook. The attempted smearing of Tories as ‘themmuns from Notting Hill’ is merely the icing on the xenophobic little Ulsterman’s cake. That is not ‘taking NI forward’.

    while then smugly proclaiming that he’ll actually vote for a Nationalist (you know, the real sort, the sort that proclaims, with total sincerity, that they want to break the Union – that sort of Nationalist).

    McDonnell will do no better at that than Spratt’s dour version of ‘unionism’ in the next 4 years.

    So tools like this we can dismiss out of hand:

    Dig that hole in the sand! And watch as your inward looking circling of the wagons alienates more and more votes as the years go by. I’ll say it again – the principle failure of unionism in South Belfast is not unity with the dour ‘defenders of the faith’ but in reaching out to those disillusioned with the shackles of such policy.

    South Belfast wants real politics. Unionist ‘unity’ is a side show only unionist statto’s (read – sectarian headcounters) are interested in.

    Thank God the general drift of comments here from actual unionists has been a lot more sensible than the little essay in self-love the likes of our McCanniac chum here spewed up.

    Actual unionists – so if I declare myself to be a floating voter, your opinion is to immediately discount my views?

    Hence why those foaming at the mouth demanding a ‘unity’ candidate in South Belfast should never be listened to. They are completely incapable of listening to anyone outside what they – wrongly – see as the unionist ‘community’ or prods in shorthand.

    Unionism needs to grow. To do so it needs a more sensibly wide-ranging perspective than the merry band of flag wavers we currently have to endure attempting to beat the drum of tribalism.

  10. Framer says:

    O’Neill – There won’t be and doesn’t need to be a single unionist party, certainly not before the current crop of leaders depart. And only if DUP was shorn of more of its old-timers and dynasts by electoral decline and defection to TUV.

    What is needed is some sort of convention to select Westminster candidates given the absence of PR.

    The Conservative alliance is no panacea to unionists because of past history and present tendencies. The Tories can’t stop doing a Shaun Woodward in government and becoming a referee.

    It is in their genes. Think Ken Clarke. Think all previous Secretaries of State. Think the F.O. Think even Thatcher.

    And even if with devolution there is little to referee, the Labour Party (because of UCUNF) and Dublin will still be weaving their webs for subsequent governments.

  11. Unity Now says:

    O’Neill and St Etienne remind me of the most recalcitrant kind of Paisleyites. Why? Because they are factionalists who won’t vote for a unionist who doesn’t meet their own high standards. Paisleyism tested to destruction the idea that unionists could go on being divided without long term cost. Try to expand the voting pool by all means but not at the expense of winning seats here and now.

    As for the DUP being “Ulster nationalist”, that charge simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Its hardliners have gone off to the TUV and there is nothing in the DUP’s current platform that is aimed at any NI future outside the UK.

    The more seats nationalists win the greater their overall influence over public life. So if you really are serious about the union, why the indifference about seeing nationalists win seats? When nationalists are uniting around Sinn Fein’s agenda, why are unionists busily tearing each other to bits?

  12. St Etienne says:

    DUP nationalism –

    It’s xenophobic attitude to the Tory pact (that they have attempted to partially cover upy with censor from eg literature on the party’s website) is thinly disguised. By all means attempt to criticise it – it is after all the most powerful choice being afforded NI’s Westminster voters for generations – but to do so by a small-minded themmuns and ussuns attitude to not just a significant proportion of the community in NI but the people of the mainland too “I want an MP who answers to us – not to the Tories” can only further isolate NI unionism.

    On corporation tax – seeking parity with the Republic of Ireland and in the process destabilising one of the economic controls that moves our economy in line with the rest of the UK.

    On NI’s ‘different social values’ – wtf? What are these? Anti-abortion? Bedfellows with the ultra-reactionary forces in the south.

    The vote for McDonnell would be a protest vote against orangeism’s role in unionist politics and the belief that unionist ‘unity’ would see the end of unionist problems. It wouldn’t – it would only be the beginning. By showing the electorate that unionism sees itself as nothing more than a community – Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist – political unionism would have lost any respect I hold for it – that it is a purely political dynamic and offers something above the dreary themmuns and ussuns sectarian headcount unity advocates would like to see us resign ourselves to.

    I don’t care which nationalist hue gets in in South Belfast – it’ll make absolutely no difference as to whether NI exists for the next 4 years or not. Both are as ineffective as eachother in that regards. I’ll be voting for the only candidate with the potential to join the next government. It doesn’t get anymore unionist than that.

    And btw, tell the Order to go sort out the drugs and paramilitarism endemic to Sandy Row before they begin declaring what donkey the wider South Belfast constituency should put their vote behind.

  13. oneill says:

    Unity Now,

    “Try to expand the voting pool by all means but not at the expense of winning seats here and now. ”

    What are your ideas then for expanding the voter pool?

    “So if you really are serious about the union, why the indifference about seeing nationalists win seats?”

    It’s not indifference. I want to see nationalism hammered by weight of logical argument not communal pacts because the former is what it most fears in the long run, not losing to “unity” candidates in the short-term.

    “The more seats nationalists win the greater their overall influence over public life”

    Given that their attendance record is worse than even Lady H or the DUP to non-existant- how does that work then in our new devolved scenario? Influence comes merely from seats or from building up the widest possible platform for the future?

  14. oneill says:

    “The Conservative alliance is no panacea to unionists because of past history and present tendencies”

    We don’t know yet. The promise of a new pro-Union politics for all is worth giving a chance.

  15. Unity Now says:

    St Etienne,

    You’re ranting, which rather makes my point from earlier about the arch-liberals being a mirror image of old style factional Paisleyism.

    Did you know that the DUP was very interested in some form of Tory link-up itself prior to Empey getting the UCUNF gig? Its current campaigning stance is quite logical. It is after all in competition with UCUNF so of course it is going to highlight its political independence. Naturally it will also stress its social conservatism. But to assert that all that adds up to some form of nascent Ulster nationalism is bizarre. Instead it’s all about playing good politics, something novel to the UUP after a decade of electoral failing. You need something more substantial in order to prove your point.

    O’Neill,

    Since when has politics just been about winning arguments? Admittedly, terribly important but useless without adequate political organisation. As for expanding the voting pool, I would want to see is professional research on the whole subject. That will present a whole lot of options to be considered. But until we have that further discussion is just guesswork and a waste of time.

    What do nationalists want more than anything else? It’s common sense: they want unionism splintered and divided amongst itself, with everyone pursuing private agendas of their own. Anyone heard of divide and conquer? One nationalist elected is one too many. Although not for some commentators who couldn’t care less.

  16. St Etienne says:

    I don’t actually. Far from being ‘nascent’ nationalism it is a de facto nationalism, developed out of 40 years of perpetual ‘saving’ of Ulster from an as yet unconfronted enemy.

    What we have left is an alleged brand of ‘unionism’ so inward looking, so reactive, as to render it’s influence on the rest of NI completely void, nevermind the rest of the UK.

    I don’t want ANY part in ‘playing good politics’ if that’s all it can come up with. It is weak dour rubbish and rests perfectly comfortably on the shoulders of the type of politician that is Jim Spratt.

  17. St Etienne says:

    “One nationalist elected is one too many.”

    And what will voting DUP do to reduce that?

    Absolutely nothing. In fact quite the opposite – voting for a community party on one side can only encourage similar behaviour on the other – the flight to the extremities.

    Better to shift the political dynamic than to wallow in the sectarian mire that nationalism of whatever hue finds more comfortable.

    The differences between the two strategies are so vast as to make unionist ‘unity’ a completely hollow argument, Connor notwithstanding. FST have the opportunity to end non-representation now and if things go well I would hope for Connor to come into the Conservative fold proper further down the line.

    I should also point out that while yes a ‘commentator’, I should first be seen as a voter, and there are thousands like me of a similar disposition in South Belfast that unionism has been unable to affect for years. Unionist ‘unity’ will not succeed here. Normal politics will.

    Thursday night witnessed a riveting debate amongst the potential prime ministers. It seems from reading the press that a single televised argument can turn the election dynamic on it’s head. At last we have a chance of affecting it, even if in a limited manner thanks to several participants unwillingness to extend the power to elect a government to NI. It is this kind of politics that will see voters in South Belfast take to the polling stations again, not for some detached localised argument that has been dragging on and yet going nowhere for generations.

  18. thedissenter says:

    Politics is not about being right, it is about shaping ideas that appeal to the widest possible base – perferably built on a set of principles or values, better both. Bob McCartney was right, but became marginalised on a narrow argument: a challenge that Jim Allister faces too. Both the DUP and UUP before, promoted principle, promised tactically and failed the trust test. If Unionists are to build electoral success then there is a need for a bigger idea. There is too much thinking about tactics of today and not enough thinking about the future.

    And it would be best if people on this site had a point they could make that without personal attacks. Civility would be a start to improved relationships across unionism.

  19. Ballynafeigh says:

    I should like to return to the actual subject.

    Some people in SB learned post-2005 that anyone hoping to unseat McDonnell would need to be someone who would be acceptable to both the DUP and the UUP. It does not seem to have been so obvious to people elsewhere. As part of its Tory pact, the UUP tied itself to having a candidate in every constituency, something that was always going to make sorting out SB much more difficult. It’s now not just a matter between the UUP and DUP, but the Tories also need to be squared. I suspect the unique circumstances of SB don’t much register in CCHQ in London.

    As for the DUP, whilst some senior figures are behaving altruistically over SB, there is a suspicion that there is a degree of window-dressing, that the DUP thinks Spratt will win oin his own, and that others are happier playing the issue against the UUP than about sorting out a deal. Weir’s letter in the Tele at this delicate moment is either totally inept or an attempt to scotch any agreement by putting UU backs up.

    The irony is that both unionist parties are closer to each other than for years. Both are committed to devolution under the Belfast Agreement. Yet this closeness only seems to have intensified the in-fighting.

    Perhaps those with authority to sort this out should ask what they want Alasdair to be feeling at 4pm tomorrow? 2 unionists in the field and he is laughing. A single unionist and he is facing defeat. Do they not see this? Why should voters expect them to deliver on any policy issue when they can’t deliver something like this?

    As Martin Smyth said some years ago, why keep dividing when nationalism is uniting?

  20. Framer says:

    No single canddiate little hope (see below) just when the Tories might do a deal to get even one more seat. At 4pm we will learn if a last minute arrangement has been made. If not voters will have to decide which way to jump to retrieve South Belfast

    EURO VOTE TALLY 2009 FOR SOUTH BELFAST COMPARED TO 2005 WESTMINSTER GENERAL ELECTION

    UNIONIST PARTIES

    DUP 15.6% (was 28.4%)
    UUP 14.7% (was 22.7%)
    TUV 9.1%

    = 39.4% Unionists down 11.7% overall (51.1% at 2005 election)

    NATIONALIST PARTIES

    SDLP 27.5% (was 32.3%) Down 4.8%
    SF 14.6% (was 9%) Up 5.6%

    = 42.1% Nationalists only up 0.8% (41.3% at 2005 election)

    CENTRE LEFT PARTIES.

    Alliance 11.6%
    Green 6.9%

    = 18.5% Up 10.9% (7.6% at 2005 Westminster election)

    Basically the Alliance Party/Greens (with PR) seem to have taken or borrowed 10% of the unionist vote but their onward transfers in Euro 2009 went 44% to unionists. Sinn Fein got back 5% of its vote (from 9% in 2005) which will return to McDonnell.

  21. st etienne says:

    Neutral Alliance, Greens and in a manner the SDLP will continue to eat into former (and potential) unionist votes in South Belfast with the demographics it has unless the unionist message becomes relevant (ie enters the 21st century).

    No one else can retake our footprint on the national agenda.

    “I suspect the unique circumstances of SB don’t much register in CCHQ in London.”

    I would remind you that the MP we will elect will be sitting in London too. Ironic that you choose to make this point on geographic location. But entirely in keeping with the Ulster nationalist agenda of those who are afraid of opening up to real politics and prefer the unshifting political entrenchments we need to escape from.

    South Belfast does not have unique a circumstance. McDonnell is not a revolutionary anymore than Jim Spratt is. Both share the same insular method of thought that concludes what is good for the UK is not good for NI.

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