Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First the map, then the route?

Both Chekov and Arthur Aughey have been ruminating lately on the future role of progressive/civic/liberal/UK/New/non-cultural (delete where or if appropriate!) Unionism post the collapse of the Conservative/UUP project and the election of Tom Elliott as the latter party's leader.

I deliberately included all the various descriptions because I think it illustrates one of the fundamental initial problems with trying to deal with the topic: whilst there may be overlapping between the categories, beliefs and policies may not always be common or shared between the different groups and individuals, e.g. it would seem that my thoughts on the economy (and probably following on from that attitude towards the Conservatives) would vary widely from others who might describe themselves as Progressives. Civic Unionists would not necessarily adopt the same social liberal positions as I would on such subjects as women's reproduction rights.

Continuing on from that observation, I think before we can consider how the various brands of Unionism listed can now advance their arguments (or indeed whether there is any point in them even attempting to do so) a set of basic targets needs to be agreed upon.

These would my personal ones:

1. Northern Ireland's social responsibilities and rights becoming closer to those existing and enjoyed in the rest of the United Kingdom.

2. Reducing the importance of communalism in Unionist politics.

3. Positivism

4. Nationwide political UK issues becoming part of the mainstream in Northern Ireland.

5. Eventually the removal of the constitutional issue and (by logical extension) the Northern Irish Unionist parties from the equation.

Some of those we are closer to achieving than others, some may be impossible to reach in the short-term, some others similar-thinking Unionists might believe shouldn't be included at all. How we could objectively measure success or failure in each case also wouldn't be an easy task.

But without first having some sort of benchmarks to guide us, I think there is a real danger that we constantly end up chasing our tails. Once targets are agreed, whether they are achievable can be assessed and if they are, only then is it worthwhile looking at possible ways (be they new parties, working withing existing frameworks, focus groups etc) forward.

What do others think?

(Cross-posted at Open Unionism)

7 comments:

Chekov said...

There's a couple of distinct divides even amongst liberal / new / progressive / whatever unionism. One is fairly obvious and splits along so-called left / right lines, although you or I might question the legitimacy of those definitions in current UK politics.

The other is between pan-UK unionists and Ulster particularists. Look at McCrea, who with reluctance I backed to become UUP leader. He couldn't have been more dismissive about Westminster, before the general elections.

Partly that was wounded pride - but he's fairly consistently overplayed the importance of Stormont and denigrated our national parliament.

You'll see similar trends with some of the quasi Alliance people in the UUP. The emphasis isn't on the Union as a guarantor of rights and equality. It's almost an attitude that we should tiptoe around our constitutional status.

Civic unionism may be a concept popularised by Norman Porter, but never in a million years would I accept his definition.

UCUNF - at least in its conception - corresponded with the style of pan-UK unionism I want to see. And that's the type of unionism which is advanced by the type of programme you describe.

The question is whether that form of unionism can be usefully advanced by an alliance with people of a different stripe. I'm not saying that it can't. But I'm less optimistic now that the Conservative / UUP connection looks like a dead duck.

Progressive Unionist said...

I think that under devolution there should be a balanced appreciation of the importance of Stormont vis a vis Westminster. Most decisions of local relevance get made in Stormont, and this is the point of devolution.

On O'Neill's points:


1. Northern Ireland's social responsibilities and rights becoming closer to those existing and enjoyed in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Agreed. Including the extension of the Abortion Act.


2. Reducing the importance of communalism in Unionist politics.

Couldn't agree more. But we can't just wish it away, as some of the authors of ucunf wanted - it has to be worked for - a shared society needs to be built painstakingly, stone by stone, step by step, before we can move on to left right politics.


3. Positivism

Yup.

4. Nationwide political UK issues becoming part of the mainstream in Northern Ireland.

Yup, the sooner the better. What happens across the UK as a whole affects everyone in Northern Ireland.

5. Eventually the removal of the constitutional issue and (by logical extension) the Northern Irish Unionist parties from the equation.

In principle yes, but this may be a pipe dream if you mean it in the sense of "let's lay the constitutional dispute to rest. I think there'll always be an argument over nationalism/unionism in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland (and increasingly England) - and it's up to Unionism to put up the best and most rational and reasonable (and anti-sectarian) case we can that we are all better off and Stronger Together within the Union.

Dilettante said...

I suppose there's also the divide between unionists who pro-actively embrace devolution and integrationists like myself.

O'Neill said...

My hunch would be, like Chekov, that there are 2 distinct faultlines amongst the, for want of a better description, non-culturalist Unionists.

First, the pro-devolution/closer integrationists and secondly between the Keynesians and those who'd agree with present govt economic policy and favour a more libertarian approach to how we operate our economy here.

That, in effect, would only leave two of the targets I mentioned being common ones; the reduction of communalism (which I agree must be step by step, but to achieve anything worthwhile also it must be a consistent and unrelenting process) and Positivism.

One of the problems at the minute is that expectations greatly outweigh the reality; coordinated measures on small areas (eg criticising the likes of Mcnarry when he relies on unthinking sectarianism as he did yesterday) may reap greater and longerlasting rewards than the scattergun approach?

Anonymous said...

I am afraid the national question will not be resolved (without integration) this side of the second Easter Rising centenary.

Name me an ethnic conflict that was resolved short of expulsions and partition?

As to the UUP - it will remain the butt of nastiness from liberals, within and without the party, and all media commentators because it is largely conservative and used to be dominant. Neither can progressives approve it because it is essentially the Conservative and Orange Party no matter how moderate and unsectarian.

It does however have a very large membership and under PR (and AV) will continue to do respectably in elections.

Devolution used to be about spending other people's money. It is now about spending less of it.

O'Neill said...

"Name me an ethnic conflict that was resolved short of expulsions and partition?"

That little gem was kind of slipped in there...the rest of the comment I wouldn't necessarily agree with but I also couldn't necessarily disprove.

If all that we can hope for is expulsions and/or partition then we might as well pack in now.

Anonymous said...

It is just a reality that ethnic disputes can only be got round by being in something bigger than the dispute e.g. the UK. That suppresses it but it continues none the less.

Otherwise the ethnic warriors fight it out and one side predominates.

So they are by definition impossible to resolve except by intermarriage or as I said expulsions - think of the Krajina in Croatia and Kosovo.