Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

‘The 2010 Group’: does NI really want a mini-UCUNF?

Image reproduced from Scriptshadow

A strange and unfortunate event occurred during the past week. It calls itself ’The 2010 group’, met ‘in secret’, and immediately let Mr Mallie of the press corps in on the ‘secret’.

Let it be said again – the UUP is the only show in town for the liberal core of unionism. Mr Mallie’s likely source is a well-known vendor of poison and piffle, but his politics is somewhat closer to my own than I am altogether comfortable with. As a result the author has a decent idea of who was present, what they discussed, and in what direction they wish to go. They are wrong.

Mr Elliott may not have been their choice of leader, but he is the leader that the party chose by a rather large margin, unswayed by any complaints of geographic bias. The period of drift and inaction since that evening has been notable and unfortunate, but comparatively short for a political leader. To summarise, give the guy a break, let him bed down, and let’s see what he does. Were we to find ourselves in the same position come Christmas, then start plotting, but perhaps allow some grown-ups in on the ‘secret’.

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Filed under: UUP, , , ,

UUP and its liberal core are dependent on each other…

WB Maginess looks into the recent resignations from the Ulster Unionist Party…

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By WB Maginess

It can be quite rare that a matter goads this author into penning opinion for public consumption, but the departure from the UUP of Ringland and Bradshaw in quick succession has provoked both cause and motivation.

The liberal core of the UUP has been established as a notable going concern for more than 60 years, and it’s continued inability to secure the leadership of the party since the fall of O’Neill has been noted, particularly in recent years, indeed weeks.

So Ringland and Bradshaw were full participant members of this liberal core. That is indisputable. They took their chance, and were pushed forward, in both cases at the recommendation of Sir Reg rather than their associations, to be in the front ine of what Alex Kane has noted was the most liberal line up of UUP candidates in history. This proud “liberalista” was pleased with that turn of events, and was never convinced that their failure was in the most part down to the individuals (notwithstanding that amongst the best-performing candidates vis 2005 and indeed 2007 were older school border Unionists Messrs Kennedy, Hussey and to an extent Mrs Overend. Manwaring is the exception that proves the rule).

So what has caused the sudden exodus of these two liberals? Is it a sign of worsening relations between the UUP leadership and the party’s liberal core? Probably not. Tom Elliott is politically too centred on the west, that is no doubt true, but it is also true that Basil McCrea singularly failed to attract the votes of a sufficient majority of the liberal wing to make his defeat respectable.

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Filed under: liberals, UUP, ,

United unionism is a myth…

In response to recent posts on the subject of unionist unity, WB Maginess suggests that such realignment is based on nothing more than the shadow of ethnic unionism and it will not achieve anything like the success its proponents are advocating. There is undeniable electoral proof, he says, that united unionism equals less than the sum of its parts – furthermore history teaches us that united Unionism is a myth…

By WB Maginess

Some argue that the failure of all three Unionist parties at this election to have a positive outcome (as well as the substantial drop in the unionist vote) is a powerful argument that Unionists have rejected the multi-party model. For some, what is needed to reinvigorate Unionism is a single monolithic party.

There are a number of reasons why this is simply wrong.

Unionism has spent the past six months engaging in a peripheral courtship dance in South Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The unity talks in Fermanagh came up with an agreed and agreeable candidate, who was by all accounts a candidate who ticked all the boxes required, including cross community credentials. Rodney Connor lost. Not only that, but two thousand fewer unionists voted for Rodney Connor than had voted for Foster and Elliott combined in 2005. The two unionist parties spent 6 months achieving for the Unionist people what they thought they wanted, and this resulted in greater apathy, and no change in the representation in Parliament of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

The dance in South Belfast did not succeed, with the DUP claiming the moral high ground and talking up their ability to unite Unionism. The result was that both parties lost a combined 11% of vote share, their combined vote fell short of the SDLP, whose vote increased by more than the Sinn Fein vote, and the Alliance vote doubled. Unionist voters deserted the Unionist parties in South Belfast, and to think the cause of this was a lack of unity would be bunkum. The facts show that Unionists stayed at home, or switched to the Alliance and SDLP.

So here we have undeniable electoral proof that united unionism equals less than the sum of its parts. I would never vote for a monolithic Unionist entity, and clearly I am by no means alone. However, leaving contemporary arguments aside, history teaches us that united Unionism is a myth.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Analysis: UUP choice for justice minister…

Newspaper reports suggest that the UUP  are poised to back Alban Maginness as Justice Minister. Slugger O’Toole has already pointed to an apparent anomaly in this. So what are the UUP trying to achieve? In the post below W B Maginess considers why the move might be clever politics…

By W B Maginess

Rumours abound that the UUP are going to back Alban Maginness for Justice Minister.  This deserves some analysis.

The principle that d’Hondt should be used to appoint Ministers is one that the UUP have stuck to throughout the debate around devolution.  The SDLP seem to have thought this meant that they would get first refusal at Justice because they have 11th pick in d’Hondt, but of course this is flawed.

Were justice in the mix in 2007, it is inconceivable that Environment or Regional Development would have been selected ahead of Justice.  As a result were d’Hondt to be used to appoint this Minister, all Ministers would need to cease to hold office and the entire thing run again.  The DUP’s argument was that this left it open to Sinn Fein, but of course that is totally disingenuous.  If Sinn Fein and the DUP had a pact not to take the post, then they wouldn’t.  Their aim in not running d’Hondt was to keep the UUP and SDLP out.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Is Robinson’s axe bearing down on the wrong bureaucracy?

Peter Robinson’s speech targeting the ‘political bureaucracy’ this morning was message crafted with publicity in mind. While it achieved this, we must be clear that the public policy ramifications are opaque at best.

The speech followed Gordon Brown’s lead in admitting that cuts are coming in public finances. The DUP have stubbornly refused to admit the trouble that the Northern Ireland budget is in for more than a year – but with the national debate moving on beyond 1970’s rhetoric, Robinson has also, correctly, moved his argument on. Whilst he sought to save face by rejecting SDLP and UUP papers on the public finances as “economically illiterate”, this was clearly a change in tack.

Northern Ireland’s “political bureaucracy” is a burden which we cannot afford to carry going forward, and should be the first port of call for the cuts agenda was the adapted old message in the speech. The BBC evening news carried this as the headline, and took several positive interviews from the business community, who told us that the peace agreement structures should be dispensed with.

The UUP have not engaged with this debate well, however for good and understandable reasons. Whilst the Nationalist parties oppose such overtures on the basis of Belfast Agreement safeguards, the UUP cannot so easily stand on such ground. They are also caught in the headlights of their own message of fiscal responsibility and small government. In reality, Robinson’s blunt phrase “political bureaucracy” has two elements.

Firstly, the Executive is without doubt very large. Eleven departments with 14 Ministers for our population is extremely cumbersome. In seeking to find function for such a number of departments, policy responsibility is split in a way that can at times seem rather arbitrary, and can slow the process of government through lack of engagement between departments with close to overlapping responsibility. The number was subject to much more negotiation during the Belfast Agreement talks than may seem reasonable, but from a Nationalist perspective a large number guarantees a strong voice in the consociational Executive Committee.

On the matter of cost, UUP Leader Sir Reg Empey has correctly pointed out that it matters little how many times the number of civil servants is divided for as long as you keep the same number. Simply reducing the number of departments in pursuit of economy is little more than tinkering around the edges.

The second element is the Assembly, which on the face of it also seems large when one considers that it has more members than the Senates of the United States, Australia and Canadian. It is here however that it appears that the argument becomes subtly sinister.

The number of Assembly members was devised, it is generally accepted, to ensure that both Gary McMichael and David Ervine were elected and that the loyalist paramilitaries had their representatives. In the event, only Ervine was successful. However the method of election, the single transferable vote of 6 members per constituency, was also adopted with minority representation of a broader kind in mind. It was to ensure that a Nationalist was returned in Lisburn, and a Unionist guaranteed in Londonderry. It arguably also ensured the survival of the Alliance Party.

What we are left with is a mathematical balance that guarantees a strong opposition to the lead parties in each ‘tribe’. Whilst this was probably not a concern for the powers that be at Whitehall in 1998, today it proves a useful counterbalance.

Arguing that Northern Ireland needs a 108 member Assembly for reasons of strong parliamentary democracy is not an argument that would be popular with the public, or one that is helped by the overall quality of representation.

However what is undeniably true is that a 72-member Assembly would decimate the UUP and SDLP, possibly to the point of destruction. The fact that doing so would fill a mere £5 million of the black hole in public finances that the UUP estimate to be £1.7 billion and the SDLP £2 billion, is one that is never publicised and as a result the debate is hideously ill informed. It also does not throw a flattering light on the First Minister’s intentions.

The UUP and SDLP will not bring forward this argument, they couldn’t. Post ‘Expenses-gate’ and with Stephen Nolan constantly and deliberately feeding the at times unfair public perception of Stormont, such an argument would be madness.

However the saving grace for the future of choice between Assembly coalitions will oddly be Jim Allister. A large assembly means a large Unionist bench, and a large Unionist bench divided three ways is very much in the interests of Sinn Fein. They will not countenance a reduction in the number of MLAs, certainly not before they have had their turn in the First Minister’s chair.

The real target for cuts should not be political opposition in Parliament Buildings, it should be the bloated and decadent excesses on the rest of the Stormont Estate. Numbers of Civil Servants is excessive, and strangling the private sector. That however, is another sacred cow which no political party can afford to slay in public.

Filed under: Assembly reform, finances

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