In the comments section, St Etienne offered some interesting conclusions on the election during which he drew the following assumption: ‘the unionist electorate wants a united unionist party’.
I wonder about this assumption. Could a single unionist party in fact be a strategic mistake? I think there is danger in accepting a United Unionist Party (UUP?) as new orthodoxy without some rigorous debate.
Below is based on an email I sent to some friends yesterday. It’s a brief summary which I haven’t the time to tidy up (so the language is more definitive than it should be in some places). But this presents an alternative view – that a united unionist party is a strategic mistake.
[For balance, a well-considered – and no doubt better articulated piece – will be posted up shortly which makes the case for uniting unionism.]
1. The DUP only moved after a progressive dynamic force broke new ground. If the UUP is rolled up into the DUP, there is no progressive force left within unionism. A single party will be like slamming the brakes on.
2. Can UUP folks who advocated an anti-sectarian / ‘normal politics’ advocate a single united unionist party? We invite nationalists to reciprocate. Two sectarian power blocs will emerge and society will steadily become more divided. It’s exactly the kind of politics the UUP said it is opposed to.
3. It’s in unionist interests that the SDLP remains. Its primary objectives are not to create a united Ireland at all costs. If we advocate power bloc politics, then we invite nationalism to be channelled by SF towards the primary goal of uniting ireland. A united unionist party is counterproductive in the long term.
4. How can a big party incorporating hardcore DUP & TUV elements really make a coherent case for shared future etc? Progressive unionism will end life as a outlier to the DUP core. We leave APNI (stated non-unionists) as sole advocates for inclusive politics.
5. There are two creeds within Unionism – that most unionists think unity is good in theory; that most unionists cannot tolerate unity in practice. The past tells us that unionists do not unite well. It is extremely likely a United unionist party will split (as its forebears have done). Why do we think a big party is some kind of El Dorado, an end destination where our dreams are answered?
6. Where will the Orange Order position themselves within this united party? I suspect the OO will become more influential than UUP folks in a new party.
7. A big, slow moving unionist-only party will not attract thousands of new / young voters. They are turned off by the single identity politics. What are we offering next generation voters and activists? Would they really want to see a united unionist party?
8. Leading on from this – what is the longevity of a United Unionist Party? Does unity not largely appeal to more senior voters? Is unionism now preparing to make itself attractive to a voter that simply will no longer be with us in 10 to 15 years?