I intend to start reviewing most of them on here and today I’m starting with two that prove that "dissidence" (in its truest definition) need not be a swearword.
First up is "Unionism Decayed 1997-2007" by David Vance, a book described by its author as “lifting the lid on the catastrophic failure of political Unionism over the past decade”. Vance is, of course, the man behind the Tangled Web blog, which I guess most people reading will have paid a visit to at one time or other- suffice to say for a number of reasons, it’s not really my cup of tea, hence the lack of linking on "My Friends of the Union"- although I don’t think that’s affected his readership figures overly! This book, however, reveals a controlled depth of thinking which is not often apparent from his posts on his blog and is a compelling look at what he would probably term as a "traditional" (small T) Unionist opinion of the "Peace Process" and the present political situation Northern Ireland finds itself in.
No one really escapes from the Vance onslaught; the UUP, the DUP, Vichy (!)Unionism generally, the protestant church leaders, the loyalist paramilitaries, the British government have all contributed, in his opinion, to the weakening of the Unionist "community"’s links with the rest of the United Kingdom. The major style weakness, I felt, is that each chapter (devoted to one of the major players listed above), although they work well in isolation, do not link together adequately enough to build a bigger inter-connected picture. Nonetheless, the writing itself is of a high standard (indeed, of a much higher standard than 95% of those self-appointed journalists who write on Northern Irish political issues)- it is also one of those few political books that you can’t put down once you’ve started reading it.
But...and it’s a big but, the overall feeling I had having finished the book was a gnawing sense of intellectual dissatisfaction- yes, he is largely right in many of his assertions, or at least makes good, strong, logical arguments for them; nevertheless, no solutions are forthcoming on how Unionism as a political philosophy (as distinct from "community") could now be pushed forward and very little recognition (apart from a few paragraphs in what appears to be a rushed final chapter) is made of the dangers posed to our nation by the 3 simmering forms of nationalisms present in England, Scotland and Wales. Two relevant quotes come to mind here, the first from Alexsander Kwasniewski, President of Poland 1995-2005:
"irresponsible criticism - the eagerness to expose and publicise a problem, unmatched by the willingness to propose feasible solutions - is perhaps the most common form of dishonesty in politics."
Granted most of Mr Vance’s opinions in this book can’t be classed as "irresponsible criticism", closer to objective fact, but it would have been much more intellectually honest of him to also state whether we do have feasible solutions for the problems and weaknesses he has outlined. And as Unionists we, and particularly those like Vance which have the intellectual ability to push our argument forward to the undecideds and neutrals, should always bear in mind the words at the top of my blog, spoken originally by the murdered Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ylva Anna Maria Lindh:
"Resignation is our biggest enemy"
So, in a one-line summary; "Unionism Decayed" a decent read but a bit more postivity really wouldn’t have gone amiss.