Monday, June 26, 2023

Crossroads


The statement above, made to the press by Tom Elliot MLA in the aftermath of the council elections, illustrates the dearth of understanding among some unionist politicians. His beliefs will be shared by most in the Democratic Unionist Party and Traditional Unionist Party and some in Ulster Unionism. No doubt were all unionist parties and Loyal Orders to gather to reflect on the way forward for unionism they would double down on the sentiment. An echo chamber magnifying the sentiment threatens to sideline and isolate unionism in the short-term and end the union much quicker than Republicans can ever dream of.
Thankfully there remain unionists who recognise the shear futility of that approach.  It is a betrayal of public office to side line the challenges which the general population face, it is also the complete antithesis of what being part of the United Kingdom should represent.
The idea that politicians should treat as "side issues" collapsing public services, poverty, deprivation, poor health, bad housing and all the other challenges we face now and in the future is not what holding elected office is about.
To suggest that concern about having enough food for your children, or getting through to a GP surgery, or heating your home is a "side issue" shows an amazing disconnect from the lives of the people unionism seeks to represent. That disconnect works both ways as the inability of political unionism to turn out their voters shows.
The Union will not be protected by setting aside the issues affecting our citizens, it will only survive by showing that those issues are best resolved within the Union. That requires a political change at the heart of unionism, an end to the dogma of opposition to any change, an end to the insular view held by many that ignores the world around them. Only by making Northern Ireland work within the Union can we counter the fantasy future presented by Republicans.
Thankfully there remains within Ulster Unionism a core belief in delivering a better society as the way to protect the Union. That belief must not be diluted by being drawn to short-term comfort under Paisley's umbrella, or sitting in Jeffrey's tent. The fight that needs to be fought is not simply about the flying of the flag but about the values the flag represents. In that those who don't put the needs of our people first will be on the opposing side, meeting the needs of our people is the best defence we have for the Union.
Ulster Unionism has come some way in articulating the concept of a "Union of people", in light of recent comments we should go further, what is needed is a "Union for people" deliver that and we deliver a better life and a better future for all.



The Union

 

The word union is a strange word, Google "union definition" and you get "the action of joining together or the fact of being joined together, especially in a political context". It's a noun and many people choose to interpret that as meaning it describes a defined state of existence that should be understood by everyone, no further action or interpretation is needed. Yet every union is subject to tensions and stresses especially where that union exists "in a political context".

As Brexit has shown the maintenance of a union requires continuous engagement and negotiation with all the parties to a voluntary union to ensure that the basis of the union still exists. For unionism in a UK sense this remains an important factor which ulster unionism (small "u") struggles to understand. While the determination on whether the people of Northern Ireland choose to remain within the UK is for them alone, the actions required to improve what the union has to offer its citizens is a matter for all its citizens.

A future referendum on Northern Ireland's position will offer 2 choices, to join with the rest of Ireland or maintain the Union. While it is clear that those advocating for a United Ireland will have made significant efforts to define the social, economic, cultural and political realities of that choice those advocating for a maintenance of the Union face multiple challenges.

There is a medical term called "cognitive dissonance", frequently described as "the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. (https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cognitive-dissonance-2795012). Unionism struggles with a form of political cognitive dissonance, on the one hand ulster unionism demands equal citizenship with everyone else in the nation, on the other hand, once equal citizenship is given on a particular issue ulster unionism flies into almost apoplectic rage at the thought of being treated as equals. We have spent our political lives ignoring this rather large elephant in the room, come a border poll this elephant will be paraded through every issue being debated, ignoring it is not an option.

Of course, the narrowness of ulster unionist thoughts on the union subtly ignores the fact that ulster unionism represents about 1.5% of the UK population. It takes a particular arrogance to suggest that ulster unionism should be the section of society to define the union moving forward. Whatever the vision of the union of the future, the union that is presented as the alternative to a united Ireland, it is not for ulster unionism alone to define. Neither is it a vison to be determined by unionism joining with a few right-wing national actors seeking a new cause celebre to rally people to the flag.

Whatever the union of the future looks like it must reflect the aspirations of all its citizens, including, but not exclusively, ulster unionism. A national discussion, a conversation, must transcend party politics, it must include a space to listen not just to the powerful but the powerless. The union must be more than a flag, or loyalty to the Crown, it must define the rights of citizens, the responsibilities allocated to Governments and the benefits accruing to all.

Even without the possibility of a border poll it is an exercise worth having, not just for ulster unionism, for the UK as a whole. We, the UK, have drifted along, pushed and pulled by world events and our own choices, to arrive at a point where an honest conversation about who we are and what we want to achieve for future generations would help create the foundations upon which our future society will be built. For ulster unionism, making the case for such a conversation, not only helps define our future locally but strengthens the nation as a whole.

 

Monday, June 12, 2023

Unionist Unity will end the Union

By 2030 Northern Ireland will face an existential threat to its continued position in the United Kingdom, if by that stage the threat has not already been realised.  

A border poll is coming, based on demographics alone, the fact that it will come represents a total failure, so far, on the part of unionism to understand politics or the world around us.

We could have focused, and still can if committed to the challenges, on creating a society which improved the quality of life of all our citizens to the point where a "New Ireland" could not improve on what people's experiences were. We could have provided no incentive to those whose future constitutional outlook has yet to be decided to look southwards.

Instead the response from many in unionism is to find a bigger flag, no doubt pondering that when it is finally lowered to the sound of "Abide with me" their honour will have been satisfied. Those individuals demanding unionisms loyalty and unity to their political philosophy and "strength" in Westminster and Stormont will demand the same loyalty as they take their seats in the Dail.

It doesn't have to be the only option, the union can be salvaged, but a choice has to be made, the DUP's union of bigger flags and unionist fealty to the archaic, or a unionism committed to the future, modern unionism facing the challenges ahead, not shirking responsibility. 

Save the DUP or the Union, it can't be both.

NIW challenges

Following concerns raised by social housing providers about conditions being applied to planning applications on behalf of NIW preventing de...