There is a problem with how unionism is perceived. In some cases, it is generated from within and in other cases it is manufactured to harm unionism and leave it scrambling to recover balance.
It is clear that negative, angry unionism has taken to the stage with added vigour in the last number of years. It is vocal and uses social media to denigrate any unionist that dares to speak out in an inclusive, positive manner.
This negative, inward looking, navel gazing unionism promoting the ‘super prod’ idea as a strategic vision for the future, neither protects or promotes our position within the United Kingdom. It is nothing more than individual self-promotion resulting in societal self-harm and lasting damage to the Union.
This negativity shows weakness not strength, isolationism not inclusion. It is the absolute opposite of unionism and in many ways promotes Ulster Nationalism.
The Union is not just about Northern Ireland, it is about a much wider entity which includes Great Britain and together we make up the fifth largest economy on the planet.
The ties that bind are of blood, culture, economy and history. The Union provides opportunities and a platform for people born and raised in Northern Ireland to make their mark in a whole range of fields and professions. The cities of Scotland, England and Wales have provided homes and workplaces for so many of our people. There is hardly anyone in Northern Ireland or the Republic – unionist, nationalist or other – who doesn’t know someone or have a family member who has gone to study or work in Britain to seek new opportunities.
Our task locally is to build a Northern Ireland to which they not only want to return, but that can provide them with opportunities to build lives here of equal quality to those they can find in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds and London.
It very obvious to me that there are many people out there who see Northern Ireland as their home and they are happy with remaining here if we can make this place work. Yet, for some of them voting for a unionist party means voting for the negative, angry, ‘wrap yourself in a flag’ unionism which they do not want as their vision for the future. Therefore, they stay at home and join the two thirds of non-voters who are unionists in their mind-set but not necessarily in their cultural outlook, or lend their vote to other political parties in the hope that at some stage unionism will wake up and promote a vision with which that they can feel comfortable. They are looking for a vision that is positive and forward looking that put family and prosperity at the heart of any decision and they lend their vote to other parties.
Those that manufacture negative unionism from the outside kick the fence knowing that they will draw out the negative from their political opponents. They use their bias, both conscious and unconscious, to goad their adversaries into making that fundamental mistake. They use legacy, COVID, the centenary to slap ‘themuns’ down knowing that the blocking of a Centenary stone, the planting of a rose, the lighting up of a building or the promotion of Britishness will be a poke in the eye for many. But here is the sad thing.
Unionism isn’t negative and angry; it’s just portrayed that way by a noisy minority, but now there is an opportunity, an opportunity unionism’s opponents fear more than anything else, which can be delivered if the silent unionist majority asserts its presence and finds its voice. This opportunity is no magic bullet, no hidden alchemic solution, not even a new idea, but it is fundamental to success. That opportunity is the promotion of confident unionism because confidence promotes strength. That confidence must be joined by positivity linked to an idea that, wellbeing and prosperity are at the centre of all we do.
Who wants to wake each morning to hear that negative, angry message promoting the next big crises with a sense of relish? Most want to wake up with news of a vibrant economy, jobs that give them a sense of purpose and a feeling of fulfilment as they contribute to an economy that delivers for all the people who share this place.
Our young people want to see a positive future full of opportunity to give them a genuine reason to stay in Northern Ireland and contribute to a vibrant society. Parents want to see their children grow and prosper, have that opportunity with a chance to have children of their own. So what do we do – here is the sell.
We must begin the process of building trust with non-voters and forgotten unionists, the uninspired and the progressives regardless of religion, sexual orientation or cultural background. We must give them confidence to coalesce around a confident, positive and progressive unionist message promoted by the Ulster Unionist Party that acknowledges it has made mistakes in the past but is determined to make the future brighter for Northern Ireland.
Unionism has an image problem, but only if we allow that image to be that problem.
Where is the inclusiveness? Where is the vision that can bring us a united Northern Ireland? What path can Unionists share with Nationalists to bring this about? Why is this not even mentioned?
Where is the recognition that (apart from the NHS and the Queen, who sadly will not be here for much longer) there are no longer any deep bonds that the people of NI share with the people of GB? Long gone is any sense of camaraderie or trust.
Where is the honesty that we require to face up to the reality that the Union is now more honoured in the breach than in the observance – or, as Billy Hutchinson’s ‘brief’ has put it, more in the symbol than in the substance?
The job of Unionism is to tell pro Union voters how they will co-exist in peace and prosperity on this island for the next 100 years. That will require striking a deal with Sinn Fein. The only question is what will be the deal? Now that we know the Establishment will be happy to see us go, the only thing that they will be thinking about is the price.
They have a new economy to build, a seat to maintain on the UN Security Council, a battle to fight for the environment, a population to downsize, and a ship to steady. It would be surprising if they then were to help those who do not fend for themselves.
This is a good read, and a good argument. A few thinly veiled digs at the empty vessel(s) who are currently inciting violence and writing statements for the PUP.
Truth is that the Protocol is Unionism’s greatest opportunity to cement the continuation of NI in the long term. A path to economic stability and maybe even a degree of independence from Whitehall handouts.
The current reaction from those that call themselves ‘grassroots loyalism’ etc. etc. is perfect for Nationalism and/or Republicanism.
As I wrote on the other Doug-related thread on this site, I like Mr Beattie a great deal, and a more positive, optimistic unionism is a good thing in theory… but Doug should be as much concerned about avoiding a schism in his party as ticking virtue-signal boxes.
The recent resignation of UUP councillor Harold McKee, in addition to the very public discontent in the West Tyrone constituency over Ian Marshall being parachuted in as UUP Assembly candidate over the heads of the local constituency association, are, I fear, but the opening salvos in a coming split between the conservative grassroots majority in the UUP and Doug’s new ‘woke warriors’ wing of the party.
When Doug says that conservative UUP members have “nothing to fear from me”, there’s two words that immediately spring to mind… ‘spider’ and ‘fly’.
If Doug keeps on going the way he’s going, he’ll discover in short order why the UUP has had so many leaders in such a relative short span of time… and by that time, the party will be all but done, alas…
I’ll say one more time if Doug is reading this… tread lightly, tread very lightly.