Friday, October 23, 2009

The Argument against Unionist Electoral pacts

As a belated reply to Andrew Charles’ piece at Open Unionism last week and in anticipation of possible internal debate tomorrow at the UUP conference, here are my ten arguments against UUP-DUP pacts at this present-time:

1. They are undemocratic

The electorate is entitled to expect the widest possible choice of candidates and political views to choose from. In a democracy it should be the voter, not the parties, who decides on whom is returned to parliament.

2. They are not “British”

Despite the threat of the SNP and the BNP to the integrity of the United Kingdom on the mainland, the three main parties there have continued to offer individual candidates at election time. Why should those who believe in the continuance of the Union here be seeking to show how much Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the United Kingdom?

3. They do not guarantee success

If the pro-Union parties offer a single candidate, what then is the guarantee that the nationalist parties won’t do the same or, as is more likely, their usual voters will plump for the candidate most able to beat the Unionist (i.e. SDLP in S Belfast, Sinn Fein in Fermanagh and S Tyrone.)

4. They will signal the end of the Conservative and UUP agreement

Owen Paterson confirmed on no less than three occasions over the last fortnight that there would be a Conservative-approved candidate of some description contesting each seat in Northern Ireland. If South Belfast still then gets the OK from the UUP’s leadership to go unilateral will there then be an agreed DUP/UUP and also a Conservative candidate contesting the next Westminster election? Combined with the fact that creating a joint “communal” candidate defeats the declared purpose behind the agreement reached between Reg Empey and David Cameron, the agreement will be dead before it’s been given a chance to prove itself

5. They make no recognition of the fact that the DUP and UUP are two separate parties

Unless the true purpose behind the talk of pacts is eventually for there to be a sole Unionist party in Northern Ireland, then, whatever is decided for the next election, the DUP and UUP will remain two individual and separate parties. When their policies and priorities diverge how then would a “joint” MP represent both parties’ interests at Westminster?

6. They appeal to the lowest communal denominator

Vote Unionist in order to “smash themmuns"- will that be the pre-election slogan?

7. They are short-termist

The Union to survive needs to pull in a greater total pro-Union vote than the various parties manage at the minute. Whilst a “joint” candidate may ensure 2 more seats are “captured” at this election, by its very communalist nature such a pact will attract very few new votes to the Unionist cause.

8. They are defeatist

Both seats can be won for Unionism with or without a pact. Winning either or both seats without a pact would deliver a much powerful longer-term blow to Irish nationalism

9. They provide too narrow a definition of Unionism

What should Unionism stand for? Selling the benefits of the Union to the widest possible audience or merely preventing two Irish nationalists from winning the right to sit for two United Kingdom constituencies in a United Kingdom parliament?

10. They hide the fundamental structural weaknesses of N.Irish Unionism

Again, a short-term victory could prove to be a Pyrrhic one as it will distract attention from the issues that need to be addressed by the UUP, DUP and TUV- e.g. the top-heavy party structures, the lack of critical and creative thinking and the inability to motivate potential pro-Union voters.

In times when our position within the United Kingdom really has been under threat, pro-Union folk in Northern Ireland have always, irrespective of party or community background, united to fight for our democratic rights. Our position within the United Kingdom is presently not under threat; we should be taking advantage of this truth and also the fact that Irish nationalism is, at this moment, not only incapable of moving beyond the sectarian comfort-zone, but also completely intellectually bankrupt. We should be using this window of opportunity to widen, not narrow the battleground.

Cross-posted at Open Unionism; please comment there.

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