The Newsletter's "Union 2021" series continues to run, with Ian Paisley today giving some unexpected answers to the five questions posed.
Overall, I think "Union 2021" is proving a worthwhile exercise which has proven, contrary to the usual propagated stereotype, Northern Irish Unionism is a pretty diverse beast and, contrary to the usual propagated stereotype, is also a pretty optimistic one concerning how it sees its immediate future.
With "diverse" and "optimistic" being this blog's middle names(!), it's probably high time that I too had a personal shot at answering those five questions:
- What do you think the Union with Great Britain will look like in 2021?
I think large sections of the would-be electorate will be no longer interested in the constitutional niceties of our situation or the cultural and communal frameworks which have traditionally surrounded it. Barring a massive, at the present moment, unimaginable game-changer, I believe our Union with the rest of the UK will still be in place but it will not be a Union which would be recognisable to our forefathers. A large section of the electorate's allegiance (if that isn't too strong a word) to the state will not be determined by their religious or "communal" background, but by much more transitory, flexible and provisional factors . It will be culturally and politically a much looser Union, UK-wide. We are (I fear) heading towards a federal solution to our present constitutional nightmare with more powers for NI and Wales, an almost independent Scottish parliament and some form of devolved assembly for England.
- What would you like it to look like?
Much easier to answer!
I would like Northern Ireland to be wholly integrated into wider UK politics, society and culture with all the benefits and drawbacks that entails. One of those benefits/drawbacks would be the demise of the Unionist parties.
Politicians from NI (and Scotland and Wales) would be no longer following an "exceptionalist" agenda but one where the prosperous future of the nation as a whole was paramount. A Union, once again, of interlinking peoples, cultures and interests.
The present sectarian joke of an administration at Stormont would be an unpleasant memory.
The constitutional vandalism that is asymmetrical devolution would be tidied up with our nation's parliament, once again, assuming its rightful position at the centre of a, once again, United Kingdom.
Finally, I would like to see the Republic enjoying a much closer political relationship with the United Kingdom as a whole and the knee-jerk antipathy towards it on the part of some Unionists to have disappeared
- Is unionist unity essential for the achievement of your vision?
My vision isn't going to materialise.
But paradoxically, after all I've written in that section, I think a uniting of those strands of Unionism which personality and ego, not policy and belief, are presently dividing will benefit the long-term health of the Union
- If so, what does that mean?
As Paisley indicated , one pro-Union party would limit greatly the choice available to the electorate. That, however, is already the situation in many cases- what separates the views and beliefs of a McNarry, a Kennedy or even an Elliott from those held by the bulk of the DUP? Voters in NI constituencies (at an Assembly or local council level anyway) are presently too often left with a choice of the DUP or the DUP's B team. An alternative Unionism to that presently on offer needs the space and freedom to develop and that isn't going to happen within the present party structures and with the present partys' leadership. The right/Orange wing of the UUP deciding to work more closely (or even unite) with the DUP should give the required impetus to others in the party and further afield to independently assess seriously their own future and strategy.
- Could you accept a Sinn Fein First Minister?
I "accepted" the Paisley/McGuinness double act and after that monstrosity anything else is almost an anti-climax. What difference would it make to have a McGuinness/Robinson (or Dodds) double act?
It's not the organ-grinders or their monkeys I have the problem with- it's the organ itself.