Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, UUP MLA David McNarry puts forward his view of what united unionism could look like. He suggests that there need not be a single, homogenous party but instead two separate parties united by “shared values, shared aspirations and shared policies“. [I thought this piece would add to the debate ongoing here, so have reproduced the article in full below.]
By David McNarry MLA
To construct an argument against unionist unity by suggesting that ‘a UUP-DUP electoral pact would drive moderate pro-union voters into the arms of the Alliance Party’ is a highly dubious contention. To cite Naomi Long’s victory in East Belfast as evidence of this is equally suspect.
If this were the case, why did the Naomi Long factor not materialise anywhere else in the province?
Had Naomi Long stood elsewhere other than against Peter Robinson, in the very particular circumstances in which he found himself, would she have been victorious? Somehow I do not think so.
How was the Naomi Long factor in East Belfast so potent if it failed to materialise anywhere else for the Alliance Party?
Will Naomi Long hold the seat for the next 31 years, as Peter Robinson did? Again, I do not think so.
I did hear Naomi Long say after the result that she was not a unionist. So just who was driven into the arms of the Alliance Party in East Belfast?
While offering Naomi sincere congratulations on her success, I would emphasise that her victory was highly localised and that no general inference can be drawn from it. To argue that electoral pacts between unionists are a non-starter is once again a very dubious contention – given the near-success of just such a pact in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
What is required, though, goes far beyond mere pacts and involves a far deeper and more comprehensive unity based on shared values, shared aspirations and shared policies.
The unity between unionists which I have in mind is one capable of embracing all unionists who accept democratic power-sharing as the mainstay of a devolved institution at Stormont. There is nothing sectarian about it, otherwise it would not stand a chance of winning over people.
Furthermore, I emphasise that I do not belong to a sectarian party. For 105 years, since unionism was founded, its aims and objectives have been resolutely and specifically political, remaining constant and unchanged in Ulster unionism.
It is, therefore, both incorrect and defamatory to try to label and characterise those who want wider unionist unity as ‘sectarian’. This sectarian slur is the resort of people who have run out of arguments against the very persuasive case of those who believe that unionist unity between the Ulster Unionists and Democratic Unionists will consolidate the union.
Unionist unity has to be good all round for unionism, making it an all-inclusive political bulwark for the modern left, right and centre unionists, who are all part of the rich expression of unionist thinking in the 21st century. Their unity must be based on an openness and truthfulness between all these groups and on a clear and shared agreement of what is meant by unity in all their discussions. No unionist leader could sell the closing down of their respective parties to bring about a merger, or has unity the slightest chance of emerging through either party losing its own particular identity. But they can – and should – find common ground to operate institutionally as one united block. The fact that unity will be difficult to achieve makes its success more worthwhile.
A workable coalition of most unionists at Stormont is a massive prize which, I believe, will be welcomed across the entire pro-Union family. Those who don’t join will be isolated, but respected.
It should be done during the lifetime of this Assembly for a number of pressing reasons.
Unity will stabilise and strengthen the political mandate of unionism, bolstering Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.
A settled, confident unionism will give a new dimension and expression to our British cultural identity in a new national atmosphere where the Prime Minister has promised not to be neutral on the Union.
By operating together the two main unionist parties could deliver 50 Assembly seats to make it the largest political grouping.