The seemingly endless, ongoing debate about the possibilities of a Unionist pact is, in fact, a microcosm of the bigger struggle within N.Irish Unionism between its cultural and civic wings. I am, as I’m sure all of you have realised by now, firmly and proudly in the Civic camp. The following piece, hopefully, helps explains why; for reasons that’ll soon become apparent, I did consider titling it "FC Unionism- Steau Bucharest ’86 or Ajax ‘72-74?", but there’s only enough room in Northern Irish Unionist punditry for one Dr John Coulter...
What is the United Kingdom?
As the adjective implies it’s a collection of different parts brought together in one whole; those different parts at the macro level comprising of nations, countries, regions, call them what you will; at the micro level national identities, religious beliefs and cultures.
A Unionist, at the very minimum, believes in that political or administrative Union.
That political and administrative Union, however, is so much the stronger when that second level of disparate pieces are not only accommodated, but also made to feel welcomed into the British whole. Put simply, no matter how often attempts are made to constrain it by definition, the strength of Britishness is that it is most definitely not a "one-size fits all" structure dependent on your ethnicity, what house of worship you attend or even your political beliefs. A Unionism which is prepared to accommodate and encourage that diversity of Britishness is a Unionism which will be in a much stronger position ultimately to achieve its target which is not only the continuance, but also the positive flourishing of the United Kingdom
The various nationalisms present within the four parts of the UK cannot, by their very definition, offer that same potential variety and wideness of identities sheltering under the umbrella of one political philosophy and also nation that Unionism promises. "Potential" and "promises" unfortunately are the key words when you look how its Northern Irish branch have approached the preaching of the message of the Union- it has perversely decided to adopt almost the completely opposite message.
Communal or cultural Unionism, preaching a restrictive form of Britishness, at best can only be the equivalent to the eleven man defence hoping to win on penalties at the end of extra time and to make matters worse, there are no chances of fresh legs from substitutes because The Management have made it quite clear that no "dilution" to the original line-up is to be permitted. The glaring problem with those tactics is that by employing them, NI Unionism is playing to its opponent’s strengths and the chances of Irish Nationalism sneaking a winner within the 90 minutes are increasing at the game wears on.
Civic Unionism, the Unionism looking to move beyond the cultural and communal, by contrast is an attack-based, Total Football (to stretch the metaphor almost to tearing point) philosophy aiming to realise its potential over the entire pitch and with no problems whatsoever with multiple substitutions- it has the self-confidence and knowledge that it is the better team and that the game can and should be won, fair and square, in the ninety minutes.
Can it still be defeated?
As Popper has told us, nothing was/is pre-ordained in our history/future, but in the unlikely event it is defeated, then it would with the knowledge that, unlike with its cultural counterpart, the very best possible fight had been taken to the opposition. But that's moving back to the defensive and negative again- the positive message of Civic Unionism is that a properly promoted Union is about as close as you can ever get to an invincible opponent for any of the nationalisms present in the United Kingdom today.
Owen Polley in today's Belfast Telegraph has a related piece on the importance of the Conservatives and Unionists running a candidate in every Westminster constituency next year