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Dec 07

Belfast Flag Dispute: A look back on recent developments

‘Saint Etienne’ is a long-term reader and sometime contributor to Open Unionism.

Disclaimer: Hindsight is 20/20.

Insofar as I support action over no-action, I don’t have an issue with the DUP’s agenda and it’s recent campaign and ensuing trouble. Flag politics are evidently important to a large section of unionist voters; whether or not another large section of unionist voters dislike that fact is irrelevant; the DUP are trying to get elected in East and presumably South Belfast. It comes, it goes.

What is more pertinent after the fact is that it should now be clear to all that the DUP cannot hope to speak for all of unionism – Robinson’s recent claims were as laughable as Adams hailing protestant votes at the last election. Any future increase in the DUP vote is dependent on getting people who would call themselves DUP supporters out voting regularly. That is a limited demographic.

It’s clear then that the post-GFA cannibalising of the UUP vote (in the absence of a strong pro-union alternative such as the Conservatives) was a strategic mistake for unionism as a whole. A brave and dynamic UUP would have supported the Alliance on this issue and robbed them of the (former?) unionist votes they will reap at the next election.

“I believe there is now a heavy responsibility on Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt to provide an alternative kind of leadership which would divert people away from the kind of trouble,” said Alliance leader David Ford to BBC News.

Alliance played their hand in creating this outcome whether they liked it or not, and I suspect while obviously they will say they are not happy with the trouble they will be happy with it’s aftermath and likely increase in support within unionist areas. Ultimately, they are also content to be used almost exclusively as a proxy for nationalist agendas to foment unrest with what is rightly or wrongly termed the unionist community.

Going on Alliance rhetoric, for their part they seem content to self-define themselves as ‘middle of the road’ while duplicitously targeting an exclusively unionist demographic. The number of Alliance councillors in flag-waving East Belfast? Four. The number in growing-up-with gunmen South Armagh? Nil.

Are we seriously being asked to believe the root of sectarianism lies exclusively within the unionist community? Going by their public speaking the Alliance would appear to believe so.

It’s either that, or the reality is that Alliance’s particular vision of a shared future is falling on deaf ears within the nationalist community. Either way, having pointed this out to several Alliance personalities, they don’t want to address that uncomfortable fact any time soon.

Why isn’t the UUP addressing this? Or the Conservatives for that matter? It should be obvious by now Alliance voters are their target demographic. The UUP reaction (because it always is just a reaction) could have been scripted by a DUP junior, such was it’s predictability. ‘Anti-british’ this and that holds no water for ┬áthose voters it loses to the Alliance. Those who do feel strongly will likely back the party that campaigned most vociferously in it’s favour – the DUP.

Perhaps the best course of action for the UUP on Belfast City Council – just three members now – on Monday night would have been to refuse to be drawn into what was afterall a foregone conclusion and an agenda set up by an extremely naive/deliberately mischievous Alliance and instead abstained from the process.

That way, they could at least have distanced themselves from the whole circus, and that I am sure would be attractive to those disaffected unionist voters who are tired of their country being made the butt of jokes, whether driven by agenda or stupidity.

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2 comments

1 ping

  1. Andrew McKinley

    Nevermind the Union flag, it would be great not to see ‘shared future’ everyday. As far as I can tell nobody is really sure what it means but doesn’t it sound good? Well, no.

  2. St Etienne

    And because this trundles on…

    Alliance have been busying themselves simultaneously attacking the unionist leadership for not providing said leadership and the loyalist working class for attacking democracy.

    While they certainly have a point regarding #1, there is more than an element of people in glass houses about it (no tasteless pun intended btw). Aren’t Alliance meant to provide an alternative?

    If their idea of that was to bring about this scenario, without thinking that perhaps what goes on in Newry, the prisons and indeed the recent murder, can all be interlinked by loyalism at large – then what would leadership look like exactly Alliance style? How exactly would Alliance bring those who are out on the streets back into the political fold? This isn’t just about a flag anymore.

    The aforementioned 3 UUP members on the city council have reacted this time to someone in their own party speaking out along the lines of what many non-protesting unionists are already thinking. I guess when you’ve no control over the city you’ll make sure you’ll assert control over your party. Especially when adopting the default position of shirking from real leadership.

    From my small window on social media it seems the DUP have been busy thinking about Christmas pudding or whatever else doesn’t involve facing up to the aftermath of stoking things up. What they have got to realise is that when your rhetoric doesn’t change from 1912, neither does the result.

    100 years ago we had a crisis and it was resolved with the method of the time. Issues in 2012 call for a different tact. Less grandstanding, less nods to history, a look to the bigger picture would do wonders for both the DUP and wider society in NI. The question is, do the DUP have the social coverage to even realise it?

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