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?