Jun 19

Union Jack Chat with Paul Watterson

These are some excerpts from five interviews that Pearl of Tyburn has worked on over the past few months for “Union Jack Chat”. She hopes to demonstrate the broad spread of Unionism and diversity of its adherents, bringing to life the human side of the movement by talking to activists, sympathisers, and ordinary British citizens of every stripe who believe that the unity of the kingdom should be preserved.

Excerpt from Interview with Paul Watterson, Media Deputy of Open Unionism, released on the 19th of February, 2014

Pearl of Tyburn:  You say that your affinity with Unionism is more-or-less based on pragmatism. However, quite a few of your articles, particularly your famous “Liberty and Union” adaptation, reveal a very emotionally connective element. Do you believe that there is a balance between the head and heart in Unionism that should be met?

Paul Watterson:  Most people feel an emotional connection with their nation. That’s patriotism, and as distinct from nationalism, perfectly morally acceptable. I am no different. However I don’t see any inherent superiority in, for example, British literature or music as opposed to that which is enjoyed in Germany, South Africa, or Brazil.

Unionism needs the continuance of the Union that will not result from purely an emotional argument. Our opponents (certainly in Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent in Scotland) rely almost completely on an emotional, “heart” argument at their foundation. But a large minority, or even a small majority, in both countries is not attached one way or the other regarding the constitutional future of their nation. They need a more objective argument to vote for the continuance of the Union.

The rest of the interview may be read here. If you are a unionist and would like to contribute towards UJC, please get in touch and we shall forward your details.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Jun 09

Union Jack Chat with Henry Hill!

These are some excerpts from five interviews that Pearl of Tyburn has worked on over the past few months for “Union Jack Chat”. She hopes to demonstrate the broad spread of Unionism and diversity of its adherents, bringing to life the human side of the movement by talking to activists, sympathisers, and ordinary British citizens of every stripe who believe that the unity of the kingdom should be preserved

Excerpt from Interview with Henry Hill, Editor of Open Unionism, released on the 18th of February, 2014

Pearl of Tyburn:  A lot of people might think that being British-Irish is something of an uncomfortable paradox considering the troubled past and that, if anything, you would be driven away from unionism because of it. What would you say to them in response?

Henry Hill:  I don’t see why being raised a dual national would make me anti-unionist. I am aware of the ‘Plastic Paddie’ stereotype, whereby people with tenuous direct links to Ireland adopt a deeply Irish, often wearisomely Nationalist persona. But my upbringing was British – I was raised in Britain as a Briton, and never had my Irish heritage rubbed in my face. I suppose that growing up familiar with the multi-faceted and nuanced nature of Britain made fitting an Irish identity into that a lot easier than growing up with a solidly Irish identity and trying to fit the United Kingdom into that.

The rest of the interview may be read here. If you are a unionist and would like to contribute towards UJC, please get in touch and we shall forward your details.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 28

Dr Colin Reid: NI21 – Where now?

Dr Colin Reid is a Lecturer in History at Northumbria University in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. He is the author of a number of works on Irish history. He tweets at @colin_w_reid

Dr Colin ReidThe election of Johnny McCarthy in Lisburn over the weekend represented the sole bright spot in a week of utter catastrophe for NI21. Most party members were left bemused and angry at the nature of the re-designation from ‘unionist’ to ‘other’ some 36 hours before polling opened for the Europe and local elections; that rash decision has now become little more than an academic subject, given the very public meltdown that was to follow.

The social media consensus seems to be that in approaching this election, NI21 were a movement of lions lead by donkeys. The relationship between Basil McCrea and John McCallister has assumed a Blair-Brown appearance, which seems impossible to heal. McCallister’s description of the NI21 executive as ‘dysfunctional’ last week merely give rhetorical gloss to what most observers were thinking: any political party that takes a decision to formally alter where it sits in Stormont on a whim can only be defective.

Of course, the re-designation debacle was merely the first hint of wider turmoil with NI21. The sense of heartbreak by the grassroots of the party at what transpired last week is palpable. It was always going to be difficult for a new party to break the existing moulds of Northern Irish voting behaviour, so I wasn’t expecting NI21 to poll particularly strongly this year even in the best of circumstances; but electioneering at local level offered an opportunity for the party base to cut its teeth and articulate what ‘fresh politics’ actually meant in concrete terms on the doorstep. In essence, this election was to be an important learning curve for NI21, not a coming of age.

This has been overshadowed by the murky cloud that hangs over the party leadership. The optimism that the party’s inception generated was destroyed last week; I’d be surprised if even a fraction of NI21’s forty-seven local council candidates attempted to stand again in the future. The lessons of the election cannot be adequately teased out from the self-wounding chaos that the party leadership wreaked on the eve of the poll.

There is, however, a small but committed base of party members who will attempt to reanimate the NI21 corpse. While this will seem foolhardy to most observers, the party remains a laudable, if a probably untenable, enterprise. There is a genuine sense of ownership of the NI21 idea amongst the small body of activists; but given the fractured and discredited leadership of the party, the brand has become toxic. This is something that NI21 members should consider: the party has become a laughing stock, and it will be difficult to remove the black stain of division and scandal. There is, in essence, no future for NI21; but there is perhaps a future for the ethos of NI21 which can be harnessed.

Northern Ireland needs post-conflict political parties to challenge the unionist-nationalist electoral carve up, which represents a continuance of the Troubles by other means. New political parties, however, need clear rationales, and over the past few months, long before last week’s fiasco, I was not entirely convinced that NI21 had a clear sense of purpose. ‘Fresh politics’ and ‘aspire to better’ are uplifting soundbites, but little more than that if not underpinned by a clear vision. The party can point to the nurturing of a Northern Irish identity, but this doesn’t provide enough political or intellectual depth to policy issues. ‘Feeling’ Northern Irish is not a good enough reason to cast a vote for any political party.

A problem in NI21’s evolution seems to lie in the fact that it became a movement of style over substance. The ‘coming soon’ page that was long in place on the policy page of the NI21 website became a source of parody; but it also belied a serious problem that there was a shortage of practical ideas within the party. Serious ideas articulated by John McCallister concerning reform of the designation system and the need for parliamentary opposition in Stormont became less important to a party more concerned with chasing an active social media presence and maintaining a slick progressive profile. A comment made by Basil McCrea on the European campaign on BBC Northern Ireland’s Nolan Show last week about the impending election spoke volumes: ‘we have by general agreement the best poster campaign’.

While the allegations hanging over Basil McCrea, the resignation of Tina McKenzie and the vocal criticism of the party’s executive by John McCallister have all but destroyed the NI21 experiment, there is still space for a ‘radical centre’ party in Northern Ireland that sits outside the executive in opposition, that has meaningful policies underpinning positive rhetoric and champions civic forms of political expression. While they have taken a major hit in the past week, the members of NI21 should not lose sight of this bigger picture, and the inevitably long-term nature of such a project.

It is difficult to counter arguments that NI21 was a vanity project, but this doesn’t undermine the dedication of its grassroots. They should regroup, reflect on the past year and think seriously about where they want to go and what they want to achieve beyond the slogans. They will need a rebranding to shed the negative baggage of the past week. But most of all, they need leadership that offers real political substance, with more emphasis on practical change than snazzy but empty media campaigns. Only then can the NI21 idea begin to flower.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 23

Book Review: ‘An Saise Glas’ by Dr John Coulter

The reviewer is the former editor of ‘A Pint of Unionist Lite’ and deputy editor of Open Unionism.

Dr John Coulter is an author and journalist from a Unionist background who presently writes for the Irish Daily Star, The Tribune magazine, the website Pensive Quill and indeed, occasionally for Open Unionism. Although styling himself as an “unrepentant radical right-wing Unionist”, he has just published a new e-book on a non-violent, pro-Christian Irish Republican ideology. ‘An Saise Glas (The Green Sash): The Road to National Republicanism’. Dr Coulter has thus written this ideology as an outsider looking in, in the hope of creating on a way forward for Irish Republicanism.

He divides his analysis basically into nine parts: the need for a new Republican philosophy; Republicanism and Christianity; its connection with the PUL community; the international stage; the Celtic Tiger; the armed struggle; the social agenda and the role of culture. He urges a new approach to Republicanism, one which would be justifiably described as Christian Democratic elsewhere in Europe, that is to say a political philosophy based on a right-wing social and economic agendsa which is deeply routed in traditional Christianity (although not traditional Roman Catholicism).

Of course there are certain other facets to Irish Republicanism which are not seen elsewhere in Europe; namely an unhealthy attachment to the “armed struggle” and an uneasy (to put it mildly) relationshipwith protestants, unionists and loyalists.Coulter in these two matters suggests that Republicanism in order to progress needs to leave its violent, anti-British, anti-Unionist attitudes behind. Intriguingly he also argues that the Republic should leave the European Union and return to the Commonwealth.

Coulter has identified a gap in the Irish Republican/Nationalist market that could be filled; both Sinn Feinand the SDLP proclaim themselves to be socialist and socially progressive. Now, in reality very often that scratch both parties and you’ll find a commitment to such things as women’s reproductive rights is less than what is described on the left-wing label. Northern Ireland remains a conservative society where Christian norms define the guidelines and attitudes of many and perhaps even a majority of the population. Many middle-class Catholics believe in, for example, educational selection and the free-market. Many regard Sinn Fein’s glorification of the IRA’s bloody past and their continuing sectarianism with great distaste.

I am not sure so many would like to leave the European Union; Northern Ireland if not the United Kingdom as a whole benefits from Brussels’ handouts. Also, I think Dr Coulter greatly over-estimates the importance of the Commonwealth in the bigger picture. However, overall, National Republicanism does have electoral potential.

An Saise Glas is an interesting and provocative read. I would have a minor quibble that ocassionally beliefs and facts are repeated too often in consecutive chapters. Also, the book works more as a set of good standalone articles rather than as a cohesive whole.

However, it is definitely worth a read and I would have no problem, recommending it to students of Northern Irish politics.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 21

Lucius Winslow: Labour will have trouble ruling England

Lucius WinslowIn the rarely-spoken-about September referendum, Scotland will vote to stay in the first rank of nations. I have said this on this site before and – notwithstanding the occasional gut-wrenching wobble – maintain that as a conviction. However one way or another, the next couple of Parliaments will most likely see a significant change in the constitutional architectural of central-regional government in the United Kingdom.

If (when) the Scots vote to stay in the UK they will almost certainly be in line for another hefty chunk of powers devolved from Westminster. This has been heavily hinted by the powers that be, and the London-based government, of whatever stripe, would be mad to burnish a sense of grievance and betrayal by not doing so in the aftermath of a Unionist victory.

This concession in turn will further skew the imbalance between a devolved Scotland and a centralised England. That matters critically, because of the significant policy differences that are growing up between the Labour Party and the Conservatives.

Some of these differences are already of consequence without further devolutionary reform. For the purposes of this post I shall limited myself to one area of policy by way of example: education. Now the Labour Party’s views on education are very far removed from the policies of the Tories – hence why I picked it. Labour are hostile to free schools, deeply ambivalent about the academies programme, and inclined against parental choice, all things in which the Conservatives are strongly in favour.

Scotland’s education issues are devolved, so Conservatives have severely limited influence on this. At present Labour has no influence on centrally imposed English education. As a result Conservative policy in the last four years has shaped English education, but not Scottish education.

So far of course you will possibly be mumbling ‘West Lothian Question: same old, same old’, anticipating (correctly) the recurring problem of Celtic MPs voting on English-only issues. But this is not the problem of old, because there has been a paradigm shift in regards to English-only domestic policy – Tory radicalism has forced Labour’s hand.

Furthermore, West Lothian is no longer simply a theoretical/constitutional question, as it was during the Blair years when the government’s majority was so large as to render it irrelevant.

By all estimates the next general election is going to be close. Assuming Labour win (which I happen to think unlikely, based on the current factual matrix) they will most probably only be able to muster a small majority, and it will undoubtedly be dependent upon Welsh and Scottish MPs. In the present Parliament some 67 MPs from those home nations are Labour members, so any Miliband Ministry is almost certainly going to be dependent upon their ilk to rule England.

And even if this doesn’t happen immediately, even if 2015 goes to the blue team, there shall come a point when Labour are once again in power nationally. And it will probably be dependent upon the support of the 60 or so Welsh-Scottish MPs. Would the people, and more importantly the non-Labour political establishment, of England tolerate radical counter-reform of English policy based on such a support base? Highly unlikely.

Unlike in previous periods, the issue is not about high principle, but about Tony Blair’s fangled ‘schoolsnhospitals’, so it has the possibility to engender actual traction, both within the Westminster village and across the South. And with that comes the risk of a messy constitutional reform, done sloppily and in a hurry.

The only feasible alternative is some sort of half-way house of calm reform for English devolution. Unfortunately nobody knows how it could work, because devolution was fundamentally a stupid idea to begin with, ill thought-through and ill-managed.

Elections make some form of crisis or reform probable, increasing to certain over time. The Conservatives and Labour are easily the only two national political parties, but their bases are now geographically situated across the devolutionary split. And the constitutional structures will no longer be able to withstand the strain of a Labour government imposing strong policies on England without an English majority. So some change is coming, probably messy.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

 

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 12

The Progressive Unionist Party and Civic Unionism

 Dr Aaron Edwards is a historian and writer. He has worked closely with progressive loyalists for over 15 years on their internal conflict transformation initiatives and covered these events and processes as a journalist with The Other View magazine. He is author or editor of several books and numerous articles on Northern Irish politics. He is editor (with Stephen Bloomer) of Transforming the Peace Process in Northern Ireland: From Terrorism to Democratic Politics (Irish Academic Press, 2008). Follow him on Twitter @DrAaronEdwards

Stephen Bloomer is a PhD student at the University of Ulster currently studying ‘the role of sport in peacebuilding in Northern Ireland’. He has been researching loyalism since 2000 when he undertook research into the response of the voluntary and community sector to the Shankill feud. He was later the project co-ordinator of The Other View magazine before becoming involved in the first UVF conflict transformation initiative, the East Antrim Conflict Transformation Forum. Over the years he has written and published work on loyalism with Aaron Edwards. Follow him on Twitter @koplegend

Recent analysis of Northern Ireland politics has shirked discussion of the merits of civic unionism in addressing the problems that still remain in this deeply divided part of the United Kingdom. Much of this analysis has concentrated its gaze instead on the ethnic discord that continues to hold back the ‘normalisation of politics’ here and, perhaps unavoidably, plays up the street violence that has periodically been visited on the most deprived parts of the Province. As we approach the local elections on 22 May it is worth considering the claims of the Progressive Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (PUP), in particular, which maintains that it has placed a more civic brand of unionism at the heart of its political project. This is especially important for two reasons – first, that it sits uncomfortably alongside street disorder prompted by loyalist perceptions that a ‘cultural war’ is being waged by republicans and, second, because of the continuing corrosion of community safety by Protestant paramilitaries.

At his party’s annual conference in October 2013 PUP leader Billy Hutchinson used his keynote speech to take the temperature of the current state of the political and peace processes. Here he outlined his vision for what he called ‘a confident, outward-facing unionism’, which seemed to be making the case for a civic unionist alternative to that offered by the other parties in Northern Ireland. In an upbeat address he talked of how the PUP needed to tackle economic inequality and social injustice by resorting to their shared principles of ‘inclusivity and equal citizenship’, something historians of the party know has been at the heart of the PUP’s political programme since it was founded in the late 1970s. Mr Hutchinson continued:

‘I stand here today not as one unionist in a million but as a unionist amongst 62 million other unionists. We are members of a vibrant community of unionists. We are part of a much wider group of citizens who belong to the great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is a proud nation that once served as the workshop to the world, which advanced medical and scientific discovery, and that became a beacon of democracy during some of the darkest times of our history’.

In a bid to move on from the destabilising flag protests that broke with such severity on the streets of Northern Ireland after a Sinn Fein motion was passed to limit the number of days the Union Flag could fly aloft Belfast City Hall, the PUP’s Deputy Leader Dr John Kyle also challenged unionists to channel their energies into political activism. Dr Kyle suggested ways he felt the PUP might profitably challenge sectarianism that has for so long fed more ethnic interpretations of unionism:

‘Sectarianism is looking after yourself and if we act only in narrow self-interest then morally we’re bankrupt. Sectarianism is corrosive and damaging to our communities and we don’t need it. We’re a party that’s dedicated to an anti-sectarian, equitable, pluralist society’.

In our view, the PUP faces three major challenges that it must overcome in order to accomplish the lofty civic unionist goals it appears to have set itself.

First, it must openly challenge – not court – the tribalism of the lowest common denominator. It is obvious to everyone – except loyalists – that they have ‘won’ the political battle over Northern Ireland’s constitutional future. The PUP may have cleverly exploited the flags protests to bolster its ranks but the flags issue should not come to define the party. If they truly believe in ‘putting country before party’ they must realise that it is their duty to position their political project at the heart of UK politics. The easiest way for the PUP to do this is to reaffirm that civic unionism lies at the heart of their programme for action. Doing this would enable their activists to share common cause with like-minded progressive parties like the British Labour Party, with its well-worn commitment to social justice.

By articulating its own civic unionist vision the PUP could act as a dynamic praetorian guard for progressive working class politics, rather than a purely ethnically Protestant political vehicle. The turn to Paisleyite sloganeering may have succeeded in attracting previously unaligned loyalists but as David Ervine was fond of saying – pace George Orwell – ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. By wrapping itself in the national flag without articulating a civic brand of unionism risks making the PUP indistinguishable from its political rivals in the UUP and DUP.

As a practical example of how the PUP might move towards a civic and inclusive brand of unionism one has to look no further than its own ranks. The emergence of a range of new voices – much in evidence on the ground and in the world of social media – points to the existence of a vibrant group of female activists who have stepped up to the mark and articulated a refreshing brand of unionism tempered by a practical understanding of feminist thought.

This is important in two ways. First, it confounds the tired, clichéd stereotype that sees the PUP as a foil for unbridled paramilitarism – as we have repeatedly argued over the years (providing considerable evidence to support our analysis it has to be said) the PUP is more than just a negative appendage to an outlawed terrorist group. Second, the feminist element within the PUP has shown itself capable of challenging the patriarchal nature of the Stormont Assembly. For socially progressive people everywhere it must be recognised that this is a major step forward for unionism, especially since the PUP is the only unionist party to support the cause of equal marriage. Moreover, the emergence of a feminist voice within the PUP has the potential to win votes through its support for a pro-choice position on abortion, equal marriage, gay rights, and even the right of women to breastfeed in public.

To reiterate our point here: Flag-waving does not bring inward investment into the most disadvantaged areas of Northern Ireland, nor does it endear loyalists to other citizens elsewhere in the United Kingdom despite the protestations of the lunatic fringe to the contrary. The flag may be a potent symbol of national identity but its unfurling does not by itself guarantee the maintenance of the union – that is something that only comes through active citizenship and embracing the outward trappings of liberal democracy.

For those who believe in the positive and transformative potential of civic unionism – anchored as it is to firm foundations in the form of constitutional, political and cultural norms prevailing elsewhere in the UK – there seems little need to aggressively celebrate cultural heritage in the manner that it is currently being done. Ulster unionists should be confident that they are an integral component of the UK polity –or to put it another way: one million unionists ‘amongst 62 million other unionists’.

Second, the PUP’s self-anointed task of working day and daily with the UVF to dismantle its paramilitary structures ought to be continued with a much greater sense of urgency. ‘Bringing the paramilitaries out of the jungle’, as prominent PUP strategist Billy Mitchell once called it, is no mean feat and requires the concerted efforts of all shades of political opinion in Northern Ireland. We are on record elsewhere as having said that middle class handwringing on the issue of paramilitarism is not good enough and that a more concerted community-based response is what is required. Wishful thinking as an antidote to terrorist activity has never deterred men and women of violence to give up on their death dealing and it is unlikely to do so in the future. Thus, the only way that paramilitarism can be eradicated, according to Billy Hutchinson at least, is through ‘investment in time, cooperation and support, and recognition that the work is being done’.

While it might be prudent at this stage to call on the police to bring the full weight of the rule of law to bear on loyalist paramilitary godfathers, it must be done in partnership with the Protestant working class community. Initiatives like Action for Community Transformation (ACT) are no longer supported in their work under the PEACE programme and rely almost entirely on the goodwill of international donors and local people working in a voluntary capacity. This is not good enough. A more joined up approach from the community upwards – via statutory bodies, Community Based Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations – to high political office is necessary to ensure the eradication of the causes of terrorism are removed from society and that the ‘decommissioning of the mindsets’ takes place.

Third, and most importantly, the PUP must work on behalf of the all of the community (Protestant, Catholic, Dissenter and Others who defy or resist categorisation) and to paraphrase its mantra ‘put country before party’. That does not mean playing on hysterical notions of a ‘cultural war’ – for this ‘war’ is really politics being played out according to the logic of a society deeply divided along class, ethnic, national and religious lines – but instead exposing the real intentions behind Sinn Fein’s ‘peace strategy’, which seeks to embarrass and isolate unionism on the world stage while also neutering its close ties to the UK polity. As we have seen in recent months, this makes unionism less effective as a political bloc in Westminster, where a lot of the key decisions about Northern Ireland’s future are really arrived at. If the PUP is serious about its civic unionist ideals then it must move more quickly towards articulating what it means by a ‘confident, outward-facing unionism’. All unionists can take the initial step towards this goal by accepting that the union is ‘safe’ for as long as it rests on the democratic principle of consent.

While Sinn Fein may have cynically moved to remove symbols of British sovereignty in December 2012, it cannot remove the accepted principle (enshrined in national and international law) that Northern Ireland’s place within the union is assured for many years to come as long as the people of Northern Ireland wish it to be so. With that in mind, the PUP would be better off abandoning its flag-waving fetishism and instead focus the energies of its expanded and energetic membership on building a party that hones in on delivering for local communities. Local elections, which ought to put local issues centre-stage, is where the PUP can exploit what its former party leader David Ervine once called its innate ‘workingclassism’, confident that the buffoonery of fundamentalist derision on the national question no longer holds sway.

In light of this discussion, the local elections offer the PUP the opportunity to develop a real political consciousness amongst its members and supporters away from the distraction of resolved constitutional issues. Success on 22 May would enable it to further agitate on more important issues, like cuts to welfare entitlements, reform of the NHS, disability rights, NEETS, trade union rights – all of which are the stuff of real politics. In this respect, civic unionism can flourish if the PUP re-dedicates its efforts to eradicate not only the causes of social injustice but also the ‘corrosive and damaging’ effects of sectarianism, as much as the histrionics of ‘cultural war’. Strategically, the PUP seems to have ensured that it is ready to mount an effective electoral challenge by developing its branch structure and candidate roster beyond the Belfast urban area and into the semi-rural centres of Londonderry, Portadown, Ballymena and Coleraine. It has also established a training programme of party members focused on local activism and the maintenance of close, personal contact with the community.

To conclude, it is only when the PUP reinforces its commitment to lead the Protestant working class in a more confident, civic unionist direction – free of the shackles of loyalist terrorism and gangsterism – will it be possible for the most disadvantaged in Northern Irish society to realise their full potential as British citizens and enjoy the enormous advantages offered by civil and religious liberty, equal citizenship and opportunities for all. We believe that the PUP has embarked on a new departure and our hope is that they prove themselves capable of stepping up to the mark. Our only way of knowing if they can do this, of course, is if they are elected in sufficient numbers and given that opportunity by the electorate of Northern Ireland.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 08

The Scottish Referendum: What Happens After? A lecture by Professor Alan Trench

University of Ulster flyer

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 05

A reply to “Stronger together? Selling the Republic to Unionists”

In response to this post, one of our readers, who wishes to remain anonymous, has produced the following response

Where to begin… Loyalist graffiti fails to give us an accurate picture of the unionist psyche, in the same way that republican graffiti fails to give us an accurate picture of the nationalist psyche. In 2010 91.1 per cent of primary schools in the Republic of Ireland were run by the Catholic church – this despite the proportion of Catholics steadily falling – its lowest ever percentage was recorded in the 2011 Census, at just 84.2 per cent.

Cow-free or not, and all jokes aside, the vast majority of the population of Northern Ireland would be demonstrably worse off in a United Ireland. It is utterly futile to wish away the current (or likely future) economic realities. The public sector in Northern Ireland is huge – it’s amongst the largest for any of the UK’s 12 economic regions – but it exists. Even if the Northern Ireland public sector were to drastically reduce in size to below the UK national average – even if it were smaller than London’s – it would still proportionately form a significantly larger part of the economy than that of the Republic of Ireland. Claims about a booming Celtic Tiger-style economy are at present merely aspirational and baseless, given the probable economic realities on both sides of the border.

If in thirty years’ time we were to take the plunge into the unknown, where would the cuts come? I haven’t the foggiest, but it is frankly both dishonest and disingenuous for any proponent of a united Ireland not to give a complete response to this very valid query. The axe would have to fall somewhere; the economy would destabilise and jobs would have to go. This isn’t pessimism or ‘realism’ on my part – it’s optimism, because I’ve chosen to so far ignore the social upheaval and subsequent civic unrest that most commentators consider to be an inevitability in the aftermath of such seismic constitutional break. Through which part of the public sector do strategists for a united separatist republic believe it would be most appropriate to allow the guillotine to slice?

Some might say: “But after 20 years or so the economy might pick up…” “Might be”? Is that it? If we get the right figures and if the moonlight glitters upon Newgrange at the right angle? If everything goes your way and if the Gods smile on Erin’s green isle? Let’s remember what has been happening to Germany since 1990, and the Republic of Ireland is no economic match to West Germany. It is either naïve or deceitful to claim to know that all would be well. I find it abhorrent to want to put the people of Northern Ireland (and also the rest of Ireland) through decades of economic hardship just to half-fulfill a whimsical notion.

I’ll be blunt (if you think I haven’t been obvious thus far): I think Northern Ireland is economically, socially and politically better off within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (personally preferably with a regional assembly) – definitely in the short-to-medium term and most probably in the long-term also. Upon what to I base this belief? Economics. Hard figures. Beliefs to the contrary are just wish-thinking frrom those in our midst who favour for ethno-nationalistic separatism.

Come Hell or high water, Sinn Féin, like Fianna Fáil before them, will change its spots. Their public image will be transformed from “armalite and the ballot box” towards idyllic constitutional republicanism. This transformation didn’t start yesterday and won’t end tomorrow. It is nevertheless well underway by all accounts. This transfiguration has the potential to occur most quickly in the areas least affected by the IRA’s campaign during the “Troubles” (for reasons into which I shan’t delve at this juncture), such as many areas of the Republic. I am aware of recent opinion polls in the Republic indicating a surge in nominal support for Sinn Féin, I had, however, thought this for quite some time before.

With decreasing levels of support for separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, evidenced since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, it seems unlikely that Sinn Féin in its current guise would be able to garnish enough support in Northern Ireland so as to sizeably increase its share of seats in the Assembly (Let’s park low turn-out to one side for a moment.) In the North, both Sinn Féin and the DUP have legacy issues, which limit their support – a glass ceiling, if you will.

Thus, in the Republic, where the direct experience of and stigma against the armed campaign are less of an election-time worry for voters, Sinn Féin is free to grow. (I am obviously ignorant as to whether or not Sinn Féin’s growth can be realised in the next elections in the Republic, but my central tenet is that its legacy is less potent for Southern voters.) I retort that, on the contrary, unionists are not more likely to find themselves governed by Sinn Féin within Northern Ireland than in any United Ireland.

With regards to what shape a future 32-county separatist republic might take, none of us has a clue. One needs only ask half a dozen nationalists and one will in turn hear no fewer than two dozen answers. Would it be federalised or a unitary state? A republic? In the Commonwealth of Nations? Within the Free Travel Area? With devolution for Northern Ireland? With “devo-max” for Northern Ireland? How would current residents of Northern Ireland be dealt with in Great Britain? Citizenship(s) as per today? And fairly fundamentally, would a pro-separation vote be final and irreversible? Self-determination must continue to cut both ways.

Going on experiences from the recent past within Europe, Northern Ireland in all likelihood would simply be absorbed into the Republic. At least, that was how it happened in Germany – the East Germans were subsumed into the EU overnight. Ireland might break this precedent. It is possible that we, Northerners, might not be absorbed in the same manner, but ultimately we don’t know.

To blindly believe, in spite of the evidence, that the pro-UK population of Northern Ireland serves in any way a cohesive voting block is beyond me. To further suggest that this currently non-existent entity would continue to exist (despite not having previously existed) in a hypothetical separate all-island republic is barmy. They’re united by a few core things though, which the article addresses thus:

“Take away the whole “Simply British” thing …”

Some people really just don’t get it, do they? They simply don’t understand that Britishness in Northern Ireland is a palpable identity shared by many people of different political persuasions across the region because there is a common identity across the United Kingdom – some would even say that it extends across the British Isles. For some it is a badge of identity, for others it is a nationality. Such dismissal negates the nationality of the individual. The author of the above quote may not have wanted to say it, they may not have wanted it to come across like that, but there it has been said.

“And what would this Unionist government [of a united independent republic] be able to do?”

Sorry, what unionist government? If there was a unionist majority government in the parliament of a 32-county separatist republic, I suggest that they may wish to organise a referendum on re-joining the UK. No matter how favourable the people of the Republic of Ireland have reacted in recent times towards Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, it seems very apparent that they do not wish that she be their sovereign.

“… a huge appetite amongst the Irish for reconciliation with the British.”

I contend merely with terminology. What with people from the Republic of Ireland coming from the British Isles, they are geographically British. Therefore it sounds odd to claim that they want to forgive themselves.

Northern Ireland is currently an economic basket-case, yes. Has it always been? No. Will it always be? Probably not. The assertion that private sector investment will always remain low in Northern Ireland is seemingly without foundation. One cannot claim to know that for certain. And it ignores both the historical context (the decline in heavy industry across the British Isles in the mid-20th century and the civic unrest of the “Troubles” which destroyed the smooth switch over to the service sector) and the region’s recent economic history.

In the post-“Troubles” era, between 1998 and 2007, Northern Ireland was the fastest growing UK regional economy (out of twelve), with GDP per capita leap-frogging Wales and the northeast of England, with Belfast ranking in the UK’s top 7 NUTS-3 statistical areas for GDP per capita in 2007. Foreign direct investment grew substantially and in more recent years Belfast has become the largest banking centre in the whole of the UK, save London, and we are making progress too in certain areas such as financial services.

Am I ignorant of GDP per capita figures being significantly higher in the Republic of Ireland? No. I am also not ignorant of higher minimum wages and living costs. My point is that the Northern Ireland economy has shown that it is capable of drastic improvements in a relatively short period of time. It is therefore too narrow-minded to say that the region’s economy is to be an eternal basket-case.

“If you were locating your company in the UK, why on earth would you look outside London to a place that’s across the sea?”

The author of the above comment must be oblivious to lower start-up costs, competitive wages and a highly educated work force that Northern Ireland has in abundance. In European-wide reports, Northern Ireland comes top of the class in the whole of the British Isles for both primary and secondary education. Needless to say, the United Kingdom’s universities are amongst the world’s finest. The UK is in the EEA and English is our first language. And, despite only having the 22nd largest population on Earth, the UK’s economy is the 7th largest globally and our national currency is the fourth most traded on the planet. All in all we, here in Northern Ireland, can appear very attractive to some investors. Therefore, predictably, Northern Ireland can attract certain types of businesses very successfully – and in a modern economy there are plenty of businesses for whom the sea isn’t a problem at all.

We do not have the easy option of clinging to the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card that is the 12.5 per cent rate of corporation tax in the Republic of Ireland. It is worthy of note, however, that the Republic’s levels of business start-ups and entrepreneurship is lower than the United Kingdom’s, and very low considering the more favourable tax regime.

“Taking away the safety net provided by English taxes would allow and require Ulster Protestants to get back to what they were historically best at; private industry.”

Such stereotypes need no further analysis (although it does imply sweeping public sector cuts to take away that ‘safety net’).

“Why couldn’t this inward investment benefit Belfast as much as Dublin?”

This is currently nationalism’s most crucial error. Just because the Republic of Ireland is rich does not mean that in a united Ireland the North would become rich. It would not, at least not in the medium-term, and probably not in the long-term. (Again, based on Germany’s experience, and putting the wrath of loyalist paramilitaries to one side, and parking the fact that more Northern Irish Catholics think that the best policy for the long-term future of Northern Ireland is for it to remain in the UK than to leave the UK.) Either severe taxes on the Southern Irish would have to commence to maintain Northern Ireland’s living standards, or there would have to be severe reductions in living standards for the Northern Irish population. Or, perhaps a mixture of both?

“Wouldn’t native businesses do better if they had a lower corporation tax than their counterparts across the water?”

To use that argument in reverse, if in 40 years’ time one wanted to locate in a hypothetical united independent all-island republic with a 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate, why would you invest in Belfast? It would be just another regional Irish city. Nothing special. You might not like this, but the fact is that Belfast, as a regional capital, has a certain status. As a capital of a distinct UK and EEA region, Belfast is at the heart of a distinct economic (and political and financial) zone. If the border were to be shifted from between Belfast and Dublin to between Belfast and Glasgow we would certainly lose our influence internationally, and, with it, the associated economic clout.

“Industriousness is surely a more valuable part of Unionist culture than burning flags on the 11th.”

Again, I cannot fathom why one opines that it is appropriate to claim that “industriousness” is wired into “unionist culture” – whatever your definition of “unionist culture” is! Nor do the overwhelming majority of pro-UK people in Northern Ireland do not burn flags on the 11th night. To exaggerate a link between the two overlooks the variation of opinion amongst pro-UK people in Northern Ireland. [There's also nothing about this industriousness that could not be secured within the Union – if unionists were to ask for massive public sector cuts it seems unlikely they'd need to secede to get them. – Editor].

All recessions are indeed temporary. But at no stage in recent history has the Republic been in a suitably sustainable economic position so as to afford the associated costs of economically taking on Northern Ireland. Since 1922 a united, 32-county, ethno-nationalistic, separatist republic has not been an economically favourable option for the people of Northern Ireland. This renders any chance of such a state coming into reality as very slim in the short-to-medium term, and quite slim in the long-term.

There are now two Irelands. They both look different ways. They view themselves distinctly because they are distinct. One is a nation state. The other is part of a state of nations. Irish national identity in Northern Ireland in the most recent UK census in 2011 came in at 28 per cent – far lower than I myself had previously thought. When you subtract those who said ‘British and Irish’, it fails to just 26%. People having a dominant Irish national identity formed a majority in only 2 of Northern Ireland’s 26 district areas; Londonderry at 53 per cent and Newry at 51 per cent. I highly doubt that the aforementioned whimsical notion will carry support amongst the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland.

“The alternative is to continue living off England’s largesse and hope that they never get sick of footing the bill.”

In every sovereign state there are regions which outperform the national average in terms of productivity and tax returns. By that same definition, there are also regions which underperform to the national average. If you are suggesting that the national government of the UK would choose to sever off part of itself (Northern Ireland) for economic reasons, then logic dictates that it would first rid itself of Wales and northeast England where GDP per capita is lower. If you recommend this policy, will you be consistent and advise the Republic to relinquish sovereignty over Counties Donegal, Monaghan and Mayo? Should France abandon le Massif Central? Ought Germany to reverse re-unification? Should Italy abandon the sole of its own foot? Would you counsel the Spaniards to rid themselves of the burdens of Andalucía and Extremadura?

Of course you wouldn’t. Because at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, Irish nationalism believes there should be a separatist all-Ireland state for the sake of having a separatist all-Ireland state. Insofar as Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom is concerned, Irish separatism’s principle interest is not for the betterment of the Northern Irish people. Some of it isn’t even overly concerned with the wishes of the Northern Irish people. Come hell or high water, separatists go’na be separatists, agus sin a bhfuil fá dtaobh dó – and that’s all there is to it.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

May 05

The description British nationalist is either trivial, offensive or false

Effie Deans is a Scottish unionist and enthusiast for Russian literature. She blogs at the Lily of St Leonards

I’m not blogging much at the moment as I have other work and writing commitments, but I keep coming across Scottish nationalists describing me as a British nationalist or a Britnat or some such. I’ve tried to explain on a number of occasions why this is either trivial, offensive or false, but it’s rather hard to get the point across in 140 characters, so I though it best to write a little something which can be referred to when necessary.

I’m lucky enough to have access to the Oxford English Dictionary online and therefore will use that source. I hope Scottish nationalists do not consider the source biased, because it’s from Oxford. I too have a certain prejudice against the Dark blues, but I try my best to overcome it.

Trivial

A trivial definition of nationalist is someone who supports his nation state. The reason that this is trivial is that it applies equally to a citizen of Finland, New Zealand the USA and so on all around the world. When a word describes everyone it ceases to be descriptive and therefore drops out of common usage. We therefore do not describe Germans who want to maintain the territorial integrity of Germany as nationalists, nor do we so describe the French. This is despite the fact that some German citizens and some French citizens, no doubt, do not support the territorial integrity of their nation state.

Offensive

Nationalist can mean someone on the far right politically. Thus the BNP are accurately described as British Nationalists as are the Front National in France accurately described as French nationalists. Neither side in the Scottish independence referendum is characterised by extreme right wing ideology and it is therefore offensive to describe either side as nationalists in this sense.

False

Here the OED definition will prove useful:

“An adherent or advocate of nationalism; an advocate of national independence or self-determination. With capital initial: a member of a particular nationalist political party.”

There is nothing disrespectful about describing someone as a nationalist in this sense. It is ordinary usage and accurately describes a political ideology. But it is clearly false to claim that a supporter of the UK follows this ideology. I don’t advocate independence, I have it. I’ve heard some Scottish nationalists object that I too am a nationalist because I clearly want the UK to remain independent and therefore advocate it. But if this sense prevailed, the word “nationalist” would once more become trivial. It would amount to the same meaning as wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of your nation state rather than have it taken over. For the word “nationalist” to have any meaning at all has to be limited to those who seek political independence from the nation state in which they now reside. I do not seek this, for which reason I am not a nationalist. Therefore it is false to describe me as a British nationalist.

I don’t particularly care for flag waving and have a degree of sympathy with Samuel Johnson on that front, but when I lived in Denmark and saw little Danish flags flying from every house I would never have dreamed of describing the people flying them as Danish nationalists. I don’t care much for patriotism for it always struck me as egoistical and foolish to feel pride in something I couldn’t help, i.e. the place where I was born. I am more in favour of abolishing boundaries insofar as that is possible than in erecting new borders. It’s for that reason that I’m tending more towards support for the European project, while wishing that it were more democratic. Everyone bases their politics at least in part on their experience. I’ve spent a lot of time in Russia and saw what happened when a land that had been together more or less since the year 882 fell apart. You don’t have to feel any nostalgia for the USSR, I don’t because I know people who lived there, to feel the folly and the tragedy of it all.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Apr 28

Stronger together? Selling the Republic to Unionists

This is from one of readers in the Republic of Ireland; he works in the Irish legal profession and is a former British soldier.

For generations it seems to have been a central plank of Unionist thought that an independent, and latterly united, Ireland would represent a Doomsday scenario. A hundred years ago, newspapers were filled with dire warnings about “Rome Rule” and cartoons showing cattle grazing on an overgrown, post-apocalyptic Donegall Square. These misconceptions have never really gone away. Loyalist graffitti proclaims that it’s “Better to die on our feet than to live on our knees in a United Ireland”. Let me allay some of those fears; the days when RC Church held sway south of the border are long over, and our cities remain largely cow-free.

But what would a United Ireland actually look like? My contention is that in the future, Ulster Unionists’ interests would be best served in an all-Ireland state.

There’s no doubt what Sinn Fein and all the parties to the left of them want; a 32-County socialist Republic. But they aren’t a majority in Ireland, not even close. Sinn Fein won 14 out of 166 seats in the last General Election and that was considered a triumph. Unionists are more likely to find themselves governed by Sinn Fein within Northern Ireland than in any United Ireland.

Luke Sproule’s column of February 10th touched on a number of oft-considered points. In particular this excerpt As is often noted the Republic of Ireland can’t afford the economic basket-case that is Northern Ireland. Would their people, or indeed Chancellor Merkel, be willing to risk their slow economic recovery by taking on the huge public sector economy in the north?”

This hints at a common misconception when discussing unification; that the North would be absorbed into the Republic. For many reasons, that simply wouldn’t happen. Any new Irish state would be just that; a completely new country with a new system of governance, new symbols and a new demographic make-up. More than 1/5th of the population would be Unionists. If anyone could unite them, they’d represent the single biggest voting bloc in the country at around 20%, and that’s just to start with.

Take away the whole “Simply British” thing and the pro-farmer, socially conservative Unionist core values would find a lot of support in the Irish midlands and South. It’s really not hard to imagine a Unionist party being the dominant partners in a Government. Especially when one considers that they’d be stealing votes away from their main rivals in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and that’s before we consider the damage that Alliance would do to those parties amongst the urban Irish middle class. A further 1/5th of the population would be foreign-born (with 230,000 of them British) and their votes are definitely up for grabs. (And if you think Unionist parties gaining votes South of the border is unrealistic, I ask you; is it more unrealistic than Peter Robinson wooing nationalists up North?)

And what would this Unionist government be able to do? Well, for starters they’d get to run a country for the first time. They could set foreign and taxation policy and seek to amend the Constitution. As regards their Unionist aspirations, easing the Irish back into the Commonwealth under King William and Queen Kate would be pushing an open door. The recent State visits have shown there is a huge appetite amongst the Irish for reconciliation with the British.

Luke Sproule is right when he says that Northern Ireland is an economic basket-case. The public sector is bloated and this is primarily because private investment is so low. And it always will be. If you were locating your company in the UK, why on earth would you look outside London to a place that’s across the sea? You wouldn’t.Taking away the safety net provided by English taxes would allow and require Ulster Protestants to get back to what they were historically best at; private industry. With it’s low corporation tax and highly educated workforce the Republic has done an excellent job in this area, and even now is creating over 1,000 jobs per week. Why couldn’t this inward investment benefit Belfast as much as Dublin? Wouldn’t native businesses do better if they had a lower corporation tax than their counterparts across the water? Industriousness is surely a more valuable part of Unionist culture than burning flags on the 11th.

What I’m talking about is very much a long-term project. There are too many people alive now who’ve lost too much too recently and feel too bitter about it. There would also be a transitional phase during which the North’s economy would have to be weaned off the British public sector and the Republic just can’t afford that right now. But all recessions are temporary. Once this transitional phase is completed all of Ireland would be materially better off, with a larger population of tax-payers, a smaller public service and a Government who answers to us alone. Not to mention the fact that creating a new state gives us all a chance to un-make the mistakes of the past. It’s a blank slate.

The alternative is to continue living off England’s largesse and hope that they never get sick of footing the bill. As time goes on, Northern Ireland is becoming a more and more Nationalist place. I’m sure lots of Nationalists are happy to keep taking money from the British to build new gyms in their GAA clubs and fund their bi-lingual roadsigns. And why wouldn’t they be? There’s money flowing up from South of the border too and they get their Irish passports. But think about it in the long-term, would Ulster Unionists really be best served by being a forgotten >2% of the UK, a minority in a Nationalist region? Are they happy to continue to be failed by London governments when it comes to education and job creation, and keeping quiet about it because the only thing that matters is the Union? That sounds to me like living on your knees. Surely it’s better to play a major part in governing Britain’s closest partner, as equals and friends. To take your place on the world stage as a nation, not a province. As they say in Scotland, we’re stronger together.

OU 3 V Small

Connect with  Us:

Website: http://www.openunionism.com/
Twitter: @OpenUnionism
Email: openunionism@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oneill1912

Share on Facebook

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Older posts «

» Newer posts