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Does the Union still require Unionist parties?

Dermot Nesbitt, the former UUP Environment Minister and present commissioner at the Equality Commission, had a wide-ranging interview with the News Letter yesterday, touching on such diverse subjects as Human Rights, the flying of the Union flag over the City Hall and Sammy Wilson’s performance at Finance.

The most thought-provoking section for me though was this:

But he is clear that unionism needs to radically re-think itself for the 21st century.

He says that unionist parties need to “get rid of the word unionist because the Union is secure”.

“They need to make their parties places where others can come and join but not feel they’re joining a unionist party.

“But by joining they’d actually be joining mainstream unionism and at the same time we’d embracing national politics and making ourselves part of the Union.”

One of the lessons of this year’s General Election (and prior to that the DUP’s performance at the last Euro Elections) is that many of those who may have voted for pro-Union parties before out of fear no longer are prepared to do so. The fear was that a United Ireland was forever lurking round the corner, waiting to pounce the second that Unionism dropped its guard- we trusted Unionist politicians to be forever vigilant for signs of betrayal from Westminster and/or skullduggery from Dublin; our job as footsoldiers (or should that be cannon fodder?) was to perform our duty at the polling station. It was all so very simple really.

The “bad news”, in terms of increasing or even maintaining the total pro-Union vote next year is that the Union is safe at this moment in time and for as far ahead into the future as it is possible to see. Which isn’t really that bad a piece of news for a Unionist,  is it? Being aware of this, a substantial part of the electorate are confident enough in the fact to start moving beyond the communal comfort-zone and either vote outside the Unionist bloc or not to vote at all.

With the Union being secure, what now  is or should be the raison d’etre of the DUP, UUP, TUV?

Protecting and promoting the rights of “our” community?

But doesn’t that then make them primarily Protestant (with a subsidiary and very much secondary dash of irrelevant Unionism added) parties?

If I am presently asking myself why I (very much a conviction Unionist, but also an atheist who is a social liberal) should vote for such parties at next year’s elections, then why on earth will others less fervent in their Unionism or even (whisper it gently) not of “your” community consider giving the UUP, DUP, TUV their second or third preference next year, never mind their Number 1?

And will the Union really suffer if I and they don’t?

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Filed under: Union 2021,

3 Responses

  1. Dilettante says:

    Right. So the electorate have been getting it for a while, elements of the grassroots are starting to get it – how long before the leadership starts coming round to this point of view? Most of the integrationists have gone.

  2. Seymour Major says:

    I have now been arguing for some time that the role of defending/ nurturing the union falls to the Main UK political parties, not the regional unionist parties.

    Nesbitt also recognises that the Unionist brand is toxic. Again, this is something that I have been arguing for a considerable amount of time.

    It is refreshing to see somebody from the UUP to hold these points of view and speak out about them.

    These questions are also important to the Main UK parties. It is important that at Parliamentary level, Northern Irish People have the opportunity to elect a party which can form a government – i.e. equal citizenship.

    The solution which fits Northern Ireland is that political parties form alliances with a main UK party but to do that, they have to become like them in the sense of adopting their ideology for Government.

    At the moment, the two main unionist parties are supposedly parties of the centre right (presently, the DUP is making a better fist of being a centre-right party than the UUP). For one of them to be fit for being in alliance with the Conservative Party, it would need to get rid of the Protestant element of its politics.

    I can not see both the DUP and UUP surviving in the long term. They are too similar. The first NI Centre-Right party which is fit for an alliance with the Conservatives is the most likely to survive in the longer term.

  3. Aiden says:

    I agree with Seymour Major: the future of the centre-ground of NI politics is with the UK Tories – and I say that as a young professional Catholic from a nationalist background.

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