Monday 17 May 2010

Unionist unity proves unionism is hypocritical

The setbacks that unionism suffered in the recent Westminster elections (e.g. the failure of all three unionist party leaders to win a seat, and the continued decline in the unionist share of the vote) have given rise to increasingly open calls for ‘unionist unity’. Such calls are hardly new, of course – the Hatfield House talks that cost the UUP/Tory non-merger its Castle-Catholic members, and the Rodney Connor embarrassment, were recent attempts to forge some sort of ‘unionist front'.

The May 6 Massacre, however, has given rise to calls for unity even from the TUV – a sure sign of worry on the orange side of Northern Ireland’s divided political landscape.

Surely unionism considers Northern Ireland to be ‘part of the UK’, and thus subject to the ebb and flow of UK politics? Why should any party in Northern Ireland feel the need to call itself ‘unionist’? Surely a ‘British’ person in Northern Ireland would vote for his or her preferred political creed, and thus play a part in the political life of their country? Are ‘British’ people in Northern Ireland not socialists, liberals, greens or fascists just as in Britain? Do these creeds not oppose – even detest – each other?

The very fact that unionism exists is proof that Northern Ireland is not ‘British’. If unionists think that the UK is the best future for Northern Ireland, then there must be an ideological reason for this – either because it offers a superior social welfare system (but it doesn’t) or because it offers a better framework for entrepreneurship (but it doesn’t), or for some other objective reason. The complete absence of any ideological foundation for unionism – other than anti-Irish bigotry – is what allows unionists of all classes, ages and socio-economic backgrounds to come together.

If unionists were consistent to their ‘British’ beliefs there would be, at least, a ‘Unionist Social Democratic’ party, and a ‘Unionist Christian Democratic’ party. In fact, there is none of the first, and three of the second! But in truth, if unionists were consistent there would be no ‘unionist’ in the title of any of their parties – there would be parties based on economics, environmentalism or class. However, there aren’t. And the call for ‘unionist unity’ shows that unionists are actually thinking in the opposite direction!

A ‘unionist unity’ party can only be a counter-party to non-unionism (or anti-unionism). It cannot be an answer to socialism, capitalism, pollution or rural deprivation. Its only purpose is to thwart the desires of those who aspire to an Irish national identity – and yet the only time when such an identity could actually threaten the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is in a border poll. So the existence of unionism in normal, everyday politics is a nonsense – worse, it represents a narrow negative reactionary attitude, the precise antithesis of the ‘Britishness’ that unionism claims to belong to.

And while unionist parties (in the plural) are antithetical to ‘Britishness’, a single unified unionist party simply proves beyond any doubt that unionists are motivated only by negativity. Trades unionists, greens, middle-class property-owners, company directors, farmers and all the rest have no natural political commonality – if they combine in one single ‘unionist’ party – in the absence of any imminent border poll – they are simply proving the religious basis of unionism.

And, of course, as unionists would claim, religion is not what makes them unionists. How, then, can they explain the broad-based, but almost exclusively Protestant, nature of their proposed unionist unity project?

Any unionist who calls for, or supports, ‘unionist unity’ is no civic unionist, but rather a tribal, probably sectarian, unionist. Yet so many are flocking to the banner of unity …

Unionism can only become ‘British’ by losing its obsession with ‘the union’ – and by, for all extents and purposes, short of a border poll, ceasing to call themselves ‘unionist’. The continued fetish with the British flag, with attaching the adjective ‘unionist’ to anything that isn’t Teflon-coated, and the denial of valid political divisions, all prove time and time again that ‘unionism’ is merely a form of ethno-religious nationalism. As such it is limited to the adherents of a shrinking tribe, and will be overtaken by ‘the other’ tribe, the one that is growing faster and already has more adherents amongst the young.

Unionism can unite to its heart’s content – but as long as it remains a tribal-religious movement it is vulnerable to demographic (and not just democratic) defeat. ‘Unity’ simply hastens the day of its ultimate defeat.


New times, New approach said...

A well thought through analysis. But has it not been always thus from the onset of partition.
It is almost to their credit that they have had the slight imagination to over time diversify into the current three strands of unionism. The DUP's right wing 'saved' lunatics with their 17th century based perceptions of protestant gods and catholic 'antichrists'. With the UUP, what's left of the old land owning unionism who would have only wished to vote alongside their working class protestant counterparts, certainly not associate with them and, most pitiful of all, the TUV with their dreams of a return to proper 'democracy', discrimination and jerrymandering.
They are all living on borrowed time, no matter how they might reshuffle the unionist deck. They're just moving deck-chairs on the Titanic.
The very best that could happen now is that they might elect a leader able to stick a white flag on the end of his bayonet and come out with his hands up. Don't worry, we won't shoot you. You are Irish after all!

Ciarán said...

Whilst I agree with the above comment that they are living on borrowed time, unionist unity without republican unity would serve to greatly slow down the already slow progress towards a united Ireland.

Inevitable progress, but slow progress; slow progress I don't think anyone would appreciate being any slower.

Whilst nationalism would suffer the same accusations of hypocrisy, and rightly so, for "uniting"; it is true that the differences between SF and the SDLP on many/most issues are miniscule. Yes, SDLP aren't abstentionists, but at the end of the day both parties could form a much more natural coalition than say... the British Lib Dems and Tories.

In my opinion, nationalism should prepare to unite in case unionism ever does pull it off, but until then can continue enjoying the current state of affairs.

New times, New approach said...

Ciarán - I can't agree when you say that 'the differences between SF and the SDLP on many/most issues are miniscule'. How many SDLP members engaged for 40 odd years in a savage all-out war against British occupation of a part of Ulster or starved themselves to death or bombed innocent civilians in both Ulster and in Britain?
SF and the IRA were conjoined and not separate organisations that coincidentally shared the same objectives.
The SDLP however have always been like the old ineffective, essentially collaborationist, Irish Nationalist party with their modest dreams of 'Home Rule' to be achieved at the discretion of mother England.
Listen to Margaret Ritchie and then listen to Gerry Adams and reconsider what they have in common. They might as well be from different countries. A lot of the time they are even speaking in different languages!

Ivan said...

The SDLP and SF may gradually edge togther particularly as the latter has abandoned paramilitarism.

New times, New approach said...

Ivan - Perhaps it is more likely that the SDLP will waste away, just like the Nationalist party did.
That process began some years ago and will gather pace as SF puts on an increasingly peaceful face and becomes more palatable to the middle class catholics and even a few protestants who can envision an alternative to being a 'western brit' forever sucking at the 'hind tit'.

hoboroad said...

Ulster Unionist Councillor and slighted UCUNF candidate Adrian Watson has provided his considered and measured views of our new Secretary of State:

"I had the misfortune of meeting Owen Paterson and I've no faith in him whatsoever. This is the man who told me, with no hint of irony, that he was eminently qualified to have an opinion on Northern Ireland politics becuase he'd read 22 books on the subject. Armed with that, he made it clear when it comes to life here he reckons he knows what's best for us."

hoboroad said...

Doctor Nouriel Roubini has told RTE Radio:

Some highlights, he is more optimistic about Ireland because

1. The fiscal adjustment has been done in more credible way, sooner than in Greece, Spain & Portugal
2. Ireland is more flexible, dynamic, entreprenuerial and has suffered less of a loss of competitiveness than the other PIIGS
3. There is light at the end of the tunnel for Ireland

He thinks it’s not going to be easy, but relative to other members of the Eurozone Ireland could end up doing better over time. He thinks that some countries may leave the Eurozone, reading between the lines, probably not Ireland.

Ciarán said...

@New times, New approach

I meant apart from all that, their domestic policies are pretty similar. Certainly closer than most of the unionist parties.

Whether SDLP withers away, forms a pact with or outright merges with SF - I don't really care - they just need to cease being a vote splitter asap so long as the sole reason they currently exist is because of bad blood.

Bad blood is not politics and not a reason to split the nationalist vote in this day and age.