Open Unionism


A forum to discuss new ideas and perspectives on Unionism…

An open letter to Owen Paterson: Where now for the *UK* Conservative Party?

Three weeks ago, myself and another pro-Union blogger contacted Owen Paterson’s office. To date, we have had no reply from Mr. Paterson or his staff to our email and we are sending it this morning in the form of an open letter in hope of some kind of response:

Dear Mr. Paterson,

We are writing to you concerning the position of the Conservative Party vis-à-vis its activity in Northern Ireland. As Conservative and Unionist bloggers we have been firm supporters of Mr. Cameron’s policy of political engagement in the province, and we hope to be able to continue to facilitate in our small way the efforts of the party there. In recent weeks there has been some confusion about the future of the party in Northern Ireland, and if you were able to clarify that position for us, we would then be able to pass it to our readership.

Kind Regards,

Dilettante, oneill

In interests of transparency: Dilettante is a full member of the Conservative party; whilst I have been a member of both the Friends of the Conservatives and the UUP previously, I no longer have any official connection with either party.

Our real, “off-line names” have been used in the communication to Owen Paterson.

Why did we write it?

As enthusiastic supporters of the original premise behind the Conservative and UUP link-up three years ago, we had been bemused at the turn of events pre-Christmas when the backroom deal between officials of the two parties effectively isolated Northern Ireland once again from the mainstream of United Kingdom politics.

At the time the Conservative leadership gave no public explanation for this retreat; it was also unclear as to whether they saw any future for the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland or indeed for the concept of a genuinely UK-wide pro-Union party.

They shouldn’t be that difficult questions to address but they are ones Owen Paterson and others remain reluctant, well over a month later, to publicly answer.

And with the news of an *arrangement* being reached between the DUP and UUP in North and West Belfast, can we now also assume that the UK Conservative party is an integral part of what is obviously an ongoing “Unionist Unity” project?

Cross-posted at:  Dilettante, Slugger OToole, Unionist Lite


Filed under: Conservatives, unionist unity?, ,

Unity by inches…

The above is Sammy Wilson on The Sunday Politics programme.

This is the UUP’s interim response to the budget.

The parties are bitterly at war, right? But no. The UUP and DUP have come to an understanding in North Belfast. (Sam McBride’s round up is extremely insightful.)

There can be no unity centrally, but disparate constituency deals will occur independently. It’s messy, it’s unity by inches.

Is the North Belfast deal a positive development? Will there be others to follow?

Filed under: unionist unity?, ,

DUP PPB: a pitch to centrist unionists everywhere…

A very good PPB. This one was all about message – ie. it wasn’t vanity broadcasting to show off the Assembly Group or candidates. It kept away from focusing inwards… this PPB says we’re focused on what’s happened / happening in Northern Ireland.

Also, Robinson faced questions about his leadership on Hearts and Minds: has this past year left you a weakened man? He was thoughtful in his answer to Noel Thompson, but this PPB also supplies a portion of that response too as it’s led solely by Robinson.

I feel that this PPB is showing where Unionism is going generally. The script could have been penned by a UUP guy – and I’m quite sure all the UUP voters who saw this last night will be very contented with what they saw. But it now means that  the DUP and UUP and breaking one of the fundamental laws of physics ie. – that two objects cannot occupy the same. Someone is going to have to yield.

This was a PPB for centrist unionists everywhere, as opposed to the usual DUP flag-waving. There is a maturity and sophistication about the message and the production which means the bar is now set very high for the UUP’s package next week.


Filed under: DUP, PPB / PEB, unionist unity?

Map first, then the route?

Both Chekov and Arthur Aughey have been ruminating lately on the future role of progressive / civic / liberal / UK / new / non-cultural* Unionism post the collapse of the Conservative-UUP project and the election of Tom Elliott as the latter party’s leader.

I deliberately included all the various descriptions because I think it illustrates one of the fundamental initial problems with trying to deal with the topic: whilst there may be overlapping between the categories, beliefs and policies may not always be common or shared between the different groups and individuals, e.g. it would seem that my thoughts on the economy (and probably following on from that attitude towards the Conservatives) would vary widely from others who might describe themselves as Progressives. Civic Unionists would not necessarily adopt the same social liberal positions as I would on such subjects as women’s reproduction rights.

Continuing on from that observation, I think before we can consider how the various brands of Unionism listed can now advance their arguments (or indeed whether there is any point in them even attempting to do so) a set of basic targets needs to be agreed upon.

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Filed under: civic unionism, liberals, unionist unity?, ,

This makes me despair…

This is the problem with Unionist parties.

Mike Nesbitt said this in his Union 2021 article:

As a broadcast journalist, interviewing Ian Paisley and the other unionist leaders of the 1980s, I felt they were missing a trick. Had I been Paisley or Jim Molyneaux, I would have driven down to the Office of An Taoiseach, and offered Charlie Haughey a United Ireland there and then, on the simple condition the Republic match NI’s budgets for Health, Schools, Roads, and the rest. Would Haughey not have insisted on offering an armed Garda escort back to the border with a lifetime ban on a return visit? The Republican could not afford us then, any more than they can today.

It’s a simple, straightforward point – republicans can’t put their money where their mouths are. A united Ireland, whilst a legitimate political aspiration, is not a real world objective. It cannot happen. A perfectly reasonable thing for a unionist to say you’d think.

Well, no. The DUP issued the following statement in the name of Sydney Anderson:

Upper Bann DUP MLA Sydney Anderson has described as ‘truly shocking’ comments from potential UUP Deputy Leader Mike Nesbitt that he would have offered a united Ireland subject to the proper financial arrangements being made for it.  In his Union 2021 article of 24th September, Mike Nesbitt, who is being touted as a potential UUP Deputy Leader, stated:

“I would have driven down to the Office of An Taoiseach and offered Charlie Haughey a united Ireland there and then, on the simple condition the Republic match Northern Ireland’s budgets for health, schools, roads and the rest.”

Sydney Anderson said:

“This is a truly shocking statement coming from such a prominent UUP strategist. Mike Nesbitt has said he would have offered our Province over to Charlie Haughey. Mike Nesbitt would have been making his offer to a man who was removed from government in the Irish Republic after being implicated in the arming of the Provisional IRA.

For such a prominent UUP member to claim in explicit terms that he would have offered Northern Ireland up to the Republic of Ireland if the finances had been right is a truly shocking disclosure.

Mr. Nesbitt’s disgraceful remarks belie a commitment to the Union that seems to extend nowhere beyond money.

We need to hear just where Tom Elliott stands on this. Will he be appointing a deputy who whilst flashy on TV admits he would have signed our country over to the Irish state? It is becoming painfully apparent that Mr. Nesbitt’s newly-discovered commitment to Unionism is tenuous.”

Despite some stiff competition, this is one of the dumbest, most irrelevant, unnecessary and pathetic press statement I’ve ever seen from any unionist party. Why aren’t press officers being asked to do something better than peddle this garbage? Why are the most senior people in unionism (MLAs) happy to put their names to this tosh?

The blame culture has to stop. Anyone who reads statements like Sydney Anderson’s (ie. the media) will conclude that unionism’s political elite has a) nothing better to do and b) nothing relevant to say. Who benefits from a statement like that?

In his blog Mike calls for a meeting with Sydney. The clever thing for Sydney to do is accept the invitation and find something constructive to do.

The options are clear – do a smart thing or do a stupid thing? What will he do?

Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, UUP, ,

Union 2021: ‘Unity could help deliver a positive vision for unionism’

DUP MLA Arlene Foster has contributed to The News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 11

A positive unionism open to all would demonstrate the narrowness and restrictiveness of Irish nationalism…

WHEN I began my political involvement in unionism there was a debate raging within it.

The debate was characterised by the term ‘New Unionism’. What we have seen since then has been the outworking of that debate.

For someone who was deeply involved in the discussions around ‘New Unionism’ it became apparent to me there was a division within those who used the term.

Some simply wished to find a term to hide their intellectual poverty and desire to cut a deal at any costs with nationalism. Others wanted it to mean a Unionism better at all that it did including negotiations.

I was never among the former group, the defeatists but I always wanted a better, more strategic, confident and professional unionism.
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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, ,

Union 2021: We need unionist civility, not unity

David Morgan has contributed to the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This latest article appeared in the News Letter on September 01

Republicans are attempting to strip Northern Ireland of its Britishness. But unionists should make clever compromises, says David Morgan

INITIALLY the border posts were made of wood and many thought it would not last.

But 2021 will be the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland. By 2021 we will not be in a united Ireland. However, with our governmental system of semi-detached fiefdoms, republicans will continue to try to dilute the Britishness of everything they can.

Examples are the sectarian allocation of farm grants or the promotion of the A5 dual carriageway on a fairly lightly used road to create cross-border transport. Far better would be improving roads such as Ballymena to Coleraine, London-derry to Belfast; let alone extending our rail network. That of course leaves aside the debacle of education.

Devolution can work for Northern Ireland: integration is unlikely to be an option in the near future considering Scottish and Welsh devolution. Unionists must strive to make the Union in 2021 an inclusive place welcoming all: unionists, nationalists and the new Northern Irish.

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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?,

Union 2021: ‘Unionist leaders must pick right fights’

Candidate for the UUP leadership election, Basil McCrea, has written a piece for the News Letter as part of the News Letter’s Union 2021 series of articles. This article appeared in the News Letter on August 24

‘Unionist leaders must pick right fights’

Unionist unity would be a strategic mistake, argues BASIL McCREA

GIVEN the determination of the majority of our people to protect the inherent and accruing benefits of maintaining the Union, I am absolutely confident that the relationship will be intact in 2021.

I am equally certain that there will be changes in the structure of that relationship.

It will see the province playing a much more assertive and self confident role in the dynamic of the wider United Kingdom.

The last 40 years of political paralysis has removed the necessity to adapt or to think for ourselves. A culture of dependency and insecurity has developed which is hugely damaging.

As Northern Ireland comes back from the despair of the past we have the opportunity to set in place a more positive approach to tackling our own problems.

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Filed under: Union 2021, unionist unity?, UUP, UUP leadership election, ,

‘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?, ,

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?,

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