Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

Can ‘middle Ulster’ find common ground with ‘middle Ireland’

Hat-tip to OConall Street & Ultonia for reproducing Arthur Aughey’s contribution to the McCluskey Summer School. Here he addresses the future of Liberal / Progressive Unionism…

Speech by Arthur Aughey

One of my old tutors, the political philosopher Bob Berki, used to argue that every political movement worth its salt needed both insight and vision.

What is the insight of liberal/progressive Unionism? It is that the Union has no security unless Catholics too can feel secure in Northern Ireland and unless there is goodwill between North and South.

What is the visionof liberal/progressive Unionism? It is that the United Kingdom remains the best arrangement for at once reconciling and transcending the enmities of the narrow ground of Ulster politics. Formerly the civilisational aspect of this was central, the idea of participation in the providential mission of the United Kingdom. Today the instrumental aspect is often cited – that Northern Ireland’s material welfare is best served by membership of the United Kingdom.

Of course, insight and vision are often coherent and consistent only within an ideological tradition. They can be sincerely subscribed to even when reality is resistant to their appeal to benevolence. In short, it remains rhetorically powerful if not practically convincing.

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Filed under: academic, Shared future

‘Unity’ candidate comes out against ‘unionist unity’

Interesting perspective on Unionist ‘unity’ from Norman Baxter as part of The News Letter’s Union 2021 series.

Norman, who had been touted as a potential unity candidate at the recent general election, said that heeding the calls for unionist unity could be the latest mistake made by unionist leaders since Northern Ireland’s creation.

He went on to say:

Pleas for unionist unity emerge and evaporate; almost in tandem with the rise and fall of the electoral fortunes of unionist political parties. This is political code for ‘we have no real policies so it is time to relapse into the constitutional quagmire’.

The principle is based on the premise that he who shouts the loudest for unity will garner additional votes. The Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminster result is proof that this electoral strategy is extinct.

During my engagement with the leaders of all the parties (including the current secretary of state), I found it impossible to reconcile the competing narrow self interest of each party.

Political posturing and bartering to achieve an acceptable ‘unity’ candidate, crystallised in the anointing of a candidate constrained in a political straight jacket; with no policy platform.

‘Unity’ candidates chosen through the ‘lowest common denominator’ theory will not enhance unionism.

The pro Union electorate are no longer tribal.

This is extremely damning. Undoubtedly Norman Baxter would identify the same policy vacuum and relapse occurring right now in relation to debate over a Sinn Fein First Minister.

His view is well-presented and considered – but is he right?

Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, ,

Events: Carson’s legacy

Here’s an event of note from this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Edward Carson and his burial in St. Anne’s Cathedral. His statue still stands in front of the Stormont Parliament and his name still resonates through Unionist and Loyalist folklore. Both main Unionist parties lay claim to his mantle. This session will examine the legacy of Carson for today’s Northern Ireland as well as aspects of his remarkable career.

Venue :Elmwood Hall
Times : 25 Oct 2010 6:30PM – 25 Oct 2010 8:03PM

Follow this link to book places…

Filed under: events, ,

Week in politics…

Here’s some links from the week in politics:

  • THE UUP may strike a deal with the DUP if the government does not change the rules on choosing the first minister, the party’s chief whip has said (The News Letter). Cobain explained that ‘… if the Conservatives do not deliver changes to the St Andrews Act his party would be justified in choosing Peter Robinson’s party over that of David Cameron.’
  • Responding to Fred Cobain’s article, Ian Parsley says on his blog:’In short, recent pronouncements from senior Ulster Unionists have all been about technicalities, not values; about politicians’ quality of life, not the public’s.’ (Ian Parsley’s blog)

  • THE DUP has said that there should be ‘unionist unity’ even if the original Belfast Agreement rules on selecting the first minister are re-instated (The News Letter). Diane Dodds said: “Whilst Tom Elliott and Fred Cobain may base their unity decisions on Sinn Fein’s potential to be the first minister, I don’t take such a narrow view.”

  • UUP leadership contender Tom Elliott has rejected calls for a single unionist party (from UTV). ‘Launching his leadership bid in Antrim, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly MLA instead called for better unionist cooperation, if respect is shown for the UUP.’
  • The UUP leadership candidates represent such different strands of unionism it’s hard to see how they can create a party attractive to the electorate, argues Alex Kane (The Belfast Telegraph). ‘From what I have seen and heard so far I’m not convinced that either McCrea or Elliott actually appreciates the scale of the task they could face from September 22.’
  • Nicholas Whyte has put together an excellent comparative analysis on the UUP leadership contest – essential reading.
  • Just hours before the Historical Enquiries Team revealed it is to probe the unsolved murder of nine people in the 1972 Claudy bombing, a delegation from the Ulster Unionist Party has met with Northern Ireland’s Commission for Victims and Survivors as part of an ongoing set of meetings on issues pertaining to the past (from 4ni).
  • SENIOR UNIONIST politicians have insisted the Catholic Church still has serious questions to answer over the Claudy bombing (from The Irish Times). Gregory Campbell said: “The report on the Claudy bomb is now concluded, but like the victims of atrocities such as Enniskillen, Omagh, Kingsmill, Darkley, Teebane and others, they are left with a bitter taste that the lives of their loved ones were secondary to those who died in the Bogside in January 1972.”
  • AN Ulster Unionist councillor, who was injured in the Claudy bombing, says the release of the report serves only to reveal “how much more investigation the atrocity requires” (from The News Letter). Mary Hamilton said: “I would appeal to those within our own Assembly, the NIO, the Catholic Church, the British Government and the now PSNI to come forward with any information. These families deserve the truth.”
  • Michelle Bostock replaces Michael McGimpsey (from UTV) and Fred Rodgers replaces Fred Cobain (from BBC) on Belfast City Council .

NB. If there are any links / stories which you think would be of interest, do email them in and I’ll post them up.

PS. Interesting message from the DUP in the ‘unity’ links. Looks to me like the DUP are nimbly making their ‘unity’ appear broad and pluralist, while branding the UUP’s ‘unity’ as narrow and sectarian. How will the UUP (and Tom Elliott’s campaign) respond? In my opinion, the DUP has managed to appear big and generous throughout the ‘unity’ debate. The UUP on the other hand seem to have fallen into the trap of largely selling ‘unity’ on an anti-nationalist (sectarian) platform. The DUP’s strategy is clear – but what strategy has the UUP been following?

Filed under: week in politics, , ,

UUP leadership election…

Tom Elliott has launched his bid for the leadership of the UUP. Here’s an article he wrote for the News Letter this week, plus links to his webpage and to Mike Nesbitt’s blog (who seems to be the media operator behind Tom’s campaign). I’ve asked for a copy of his launch speech and I’ll post that up here asap.

Basil McCrea has also launched his leadership bid. Here’s the BBC report (with video) on his launch, the News Letter’s splash on his candidacy and another piece from the News Letter taking views from his supporters. Is he planning a media set piece? If he does a press conference, I’ll post speeches etc.

How should each candidate position themselves? What does the UUP need in from its next leader? Here’s the Belfast Telegraph’s take.

I’ve asked supporters of both Elliott and McCrea to submit short posts as to why they think their man deserves the top job. I’ll post those up asap.

As a concluding comment, both campaigns are now underway but I am finding it difficult to get my hands on content (launch materials / text / pics / video / audio). As far as I can see, Basil hasn’t tweeted in 41 days or updated his personal webpage in 10 months.  The news section on Tom’s website hasn’t caught up with the fact that Tom is a leadership contender. On the other hand, both Basil and Tom are making good use of Facebook.

It’s early days – but as soon as other stuff appears I’ll signpost it here.

PS. There was talk of a ‘third man‘. But after a bit of checking up today, I suspect the ‘third man’ is in fact the ‘invisible man’. Nothing substantial uncovered as yet, though I’ll post up if anyone materialises.

PPS. Apologies to Tom. As Fair Deal rightly points out in the comments section, Tom is of course constrained by OCA rules over what he can put on his website. Apologies.

Filed under: UUP, , ,

Union 2021: ‘Province must aim to be a beacon’

Another blogger associated with Open Unionism has contributed to the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This latest article by Lee Reynolds appeared in the News Letter on August 24

‘Province must aim to be a beacon’

Northern Ireland should not merely crawl across the centenary line in 2021…

By Lee Reynolds

1) What do you think Northern Ireland’s Union with Great Britain will look like in 2021?

It will look like whatever unionism puts its mind to and spends the next decade working for. It would be complacent to expect a better future to fall into unionism’s lap regardless of how good the economics or other factors look. If unionism is lazy it could be surprised how dissatisfactory a Northern Ireland of 2021 could look.

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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?,

Union 2021: ‘Nurture youthful leaders’

Two bloggers at Open Unionism recently contributed to the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. The second was written by Geoff McGimpsey and appeared in the News Letter on August 21

‘Nurture youthful leaders’

Unionism needs to radically focus on youth, targeting those who have just received A-level results, as unionist frontline representatives of 2021

By Geoff McGimpsey

Unionism can reasonably assert that it’s got a lot to be proud of. Northern Ireland’s constitutional status has been dealt with; Northern Ireland is a more inclusive and stable society; power sharing is bringing power closer to communities and individuals; and all sections of society support the rule of law.

Unionism has played a central role in effecting political change that makes this a better, more productive and rewarding society to be part of. Yes, the system is still imperfect but it’s working more perfectly than it ever did.

What do unionists have to fear? Is a United Ireland detectable on the horizon? Not to my eye. Should Unionists fear the notion of Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister? Emphatically not.

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Filed under: Union 2021

Union 2021: ‘Get economics right and NI will work politically’

Two bloggers at Open Unionism recently contributed to the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. The first was written by Owen Polley and appeared in the News Letter on August 02

‘Get economics right and NI will work politically’

The fact that the Union is safe is not enough. If unionists can make Northern Ireland work economically, it will work politically

By Owen Polley

No contributor to Union 2021 so far, with Jim Allister the conspicuous exception, believes that Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom is under immediate threat.

I agree with the majority view. Our constitutional status is safe.

The important question is not whether we will be part of the UK in 2021 (we will). Instead, we should consider how we can start to participate fully in the UK at a political level and broaden acceptance of our British status, locally and nationally.

These goals are within the grasp of unionists in Northern Ireland like never before. The key to their realisation is outward-looking politics, plugged into the UK mainstream.

The biggest threat to their achievement is a possible retreat to the trenches of identity politics, under the guise of “unionist unity”.

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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, ,

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