Adding his voice to the debate on unionist unity, East Belfast TUV candidate David Vance says people have been turned off by negative politics and are looking for a dynamic form of leadership that focuses on providing better outcomes and more stable government. A united unionist vision has a role to play here and there is an urgency to bring this about before the next set of elections…
By David Vance
In the wake of the General Election results perhaps it is timely to ask the simple question; Is Unionism working? I think any objective commentator will have to conclude that the answer to that is a resounding “Ulster says No!” We have fewer people than ever now turning out who can be bothered enough to vote Unionist, we have fewer Unionist MPs than ever and we face the grim prospect of the largest Party in the Assembly elections next year being Republican, not Unionist. Amidst this chaos and discord rises the understandable cry for Unionist unity – but is this a political panacea or a constitutional chimera?
Twelve years on from the Belfast Agreement, I believe that a section of Unionism has become essentially “post-Unionist.” These people are rather less interested in the durability of their British identity and are more concerned about what works for them here in Northern Ireland. Seduced by the Stormont Assembly they are relatively disinterested in traditional unionist values and even recoil from that which is branded Conservative. A Sovietised economy and memories of historical betrayals make even brand Cameron seem toxic. UCUNF was perhaps a noble aspiration but it foundered because it misunderstood the mood of Unionist voters. TUV encountered similar problems in terms of message delivery and electoral response. A significant section of Unionism has been conditioned to accept that what we have is the best available and we just need to get on with it. Their Unionism broadly extends as far as the size of the block grant, the rest is detail.
The DUP perfectly encapsulate their ambitions and I believe this is why the DUP has become so ascendant in local tribal unionist politics. By morphing into an NI version of the SNP, Ulster Nationalism appears to hold a greater attraction for many of those who do vote. Essentially administrators of the block grant, the DUP variant of Unionism postures as wanting ”more” from the Exchequer, indicating a preparedness to even enter into an anti-English pact with the other fringe Nationalist Parties. However as well as administrating the block grant, the DUP also works as a co-partner with Sinn Fein/IRA, a party overtly dedicated to the destruction of the Union. So Unionism is now entrusted to a Party which is Ulster Nationalist in outlook and which is quite content to work with Irish Republicans committed to the destruction of the Union.
The real political challenge lies with those who value Unionism but in a broad British context. These are the people who need to unite in some way and offer a big vision alternative in contrast to small minded Ulster Nationalism. If they try to unite with the Ulster Nationalists, they will of course be devoured.
The challenge lies in constructing attractive policies around a solid narrative that can energise unionist voters into seeing that the best future lies within the United Kingdom. It needs to be a pluralist unionism, leaving rancid sectarianism in the past. It needs to be an appealing Unionism that people can see being relevant to their daily lives. I am certain people are turned off by negative politics and are looking for a dynamic form of leadership that focuses on providing better outcomes for our people and more stable government. A united unionist vision has a role to play here and there is an urgency to bring this about before the next set of elections.
Perhaps the critical issue is whether Unionism chooses to look outwards over the next 12 months or instead prefers to navel gaze. Will short-termism trump strategy? Unionism cannot go back in time. What is done is done. However those with common interests can now choose to set aside petty rivalry and engage in a positive debate where the objective is a united unionist vision for a better Northern Ireland within this United Kingdom. Have we the courage to embrace this?