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Unionist Unity or Normal Politics?

At the end of last week, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Robert Saulters called for “unionist unity” during a speech at the re-opening of Lavin Orange Hall. As we noted at the time, Mr Saulters believes that there should be one big unionist party “modern enough to allow people with conflicting opinions to work together”.

UCUNF Lagan Valley election candidate Daphne Trimble has replied through her blog. I thought it would be useful to reproduce her response to the Saulters speech below. In Mrs Trimble’s opinion, anyone who listens to calls from the DUP on unity “is making a mistake”…

By Daphne Trimble

Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters has called for unionist unity, ‘one big unionist party which represents all the views I hear.’ This theme ran through the recent election campaign. I heard it on the doorstep; it is called for by the DUP; it is mentioned in internal UUP meetings; and it is one of the areas to be discussed in Sir Reg’s review.

It clearly means different things to different people.

For the person on the doorstep, the alternative phrasing is ‘Why can’t yez all get together?’ I have a high regard for the people I met who told me this, but as far as I can tell, they all have one thing in common; they are good people who want to get on with their own lives knowing that the country will be governed properly, and that the only input required of them is to vote every now and then. They prefer not to be involved politically, and some have a folk memory of a peaceful pre troubles past where Unionism was one monolithic party.

For the DUP the call comes because of political opportunism; they were anxious that their performance in the election would be affected by sleaze, expenses, relationships with developers and personal relationships and scandals. They wanted to counter our offer to the electorate to bring Northern Ireland into the mainstream of British politics, not because they are opposed to the idea, but because it was not them doing it, and because they wanted to remain top dogs. They saw it as an opportunity to damage the UUP, and to destabilize our growing relationship with the Conservative Party. They were worried about the new type of unionism we are offering; a unionism which plays a full part in British politics.

Within the UUP there remain a number of members who were not wholehearted about the UUP/Conservative link, and they use the mantra of Unionist unity to continue this fight. Equally there are some members who are rightly upset at our loss of seats in Westminster, and take the view that our Conservative link did not work. They are wrong, and I will return to this theme another time.

Who would unite with whom? And why? Against whom?

We had a united Unionist candidate in Fermanagh, and it didn’t work – the unionist vote went down.

Would all strands of unionism come together in one big party? Jim Allister’s TUV rump, PUP, the monolithic authoritarian Paisley driven DUP and the highly democratic UUP ? The only issue that unites these disparate parties is the border issue; and that was settled comprehensively in 1998. There remain significant differences between the parties in ‘normal’ politics.

And what would it achieve? In Fermanagh not only did the combined unionist vote go down; the nationalist vote coalesced in the direction of Sinn Fein. We would end up with two large blocks of votes, unionist and nationalist, perpetuating the politics of the past, and ensuring that the border remains a live issue, even though the constitutional settlement of 1998 with the consent principle settles the issue once and for all.

For us to have healthy politics it is essential to have normal political choices within unionism. Equally within nationalism there must remain choice. We should not be driving the nationalist community into the arms of an abstentionist party.

One of the key aims of our Conservative link is to move Northern Ireland away from the narrowly based politics of the past, to bring us into the mainstream of British politics, so we can all play a full role in the state. The SDLP have a loose link with the Labour Party; Alliance has a loose arrangement with the LibDems. The seeds are sown for normal politics to evolve in Northern Ireland.

Yet the DUP and its allies seem determined to prevent this happening. Their calls for unionist unity are getting more strident; they have infected some in our own party; they have enlisted the Orange Order (and we remember how the order took the principled decision to sever the link with our own party to ensure it stopped being associated with one party alone).

The DUP brand of Unionism is to hold out the begging bowl, to grab all it can for ‘our wee Norn Iron’. They are making common cause with the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. As the lead party in the Executive they have made common cause with Sinn Fein in made a mess of governing. Anyone who listens to their calls is making a mistake.

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Filed under: general election, unionist unity?, UUP, , , ,

4 Responses

  1. fair_deal says:

    Part conspiracy theory and part caricature to justify a pre-defined position rather than a reflection on the idea of opportunities and risks of Unionist Unity.

    It possibly also shows why UCUNF was doomed at the UUP – it wasn’t a meeting of minds rather it was simply some looking for a more sophisticated way to be anti-dup.

  2. Ulster Loyalist says:

    Well a good bit of propaganda, whiel i agree that unity is a load of balls (Daphne expressed it better) i don’t see the constant need to give digs to the DUP

  3. Orangeman says:

    Well, I remember David Trimble arguing in Glengall Street over 20 years ago for a united unionist party post-Paisley. I also remember him on top of Glengall Street giving a practical example of pan-unionist co-operation when Charlie the Gun-Runner came to town.

    As for electoral pacts, I don’t recall him as leader in 1997 calling on the DUP to field candidates in FST and West Tyrone. He was perfectly happy with understandings with the DUP so long as the UUP benefited.

    Connor’s candidature was a result of grassroots unionist pressure and losing FST by 4 votes is better than losing it by 4000 votes. (I think he would have won without the Tory whip link.) But if Daphne’s contention is that the unionist vote is not maximised in the event of an electoral pact, why then did the combined unionist vote fall by much more in South Belfast even when a Trimbleite UUP candidate was in the field?

    I can see why the Trimble Family might be bitter but it’s time for the rest of us to move on. As usual, Fair Deal is callling it right.

  4. Seymour Major says:

    There was nothing wrong with UUP supporters wanting to get back votes lost to the DUP. However, I was of the impression that the UUP leadership only took the parts of the UCUNF project that suited them. The ethos of moving towards “issue” based politics instead of “identity” based politics seems to have become de-prioritised.
    It was bad enough having to put up with the prevarication over unionist uniity and doing deals over seats. How could your average unionist voter reach a view that the UUP had moved on and offered something different? The miracle is that UCUNF managed to hold on to 100,000 votes despite all the mixed messages.

    There are still a very substantial number of Ulster Unionists who would never join an organisation which is dominated by the Paisleyites. I hope that the UUP leadership try to unify the party with the DUP because it will result in large numbers joining the Conservatives. Thats exactly why there is no chance of it happening.

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