Unionist unity is the lazy option

AS a proud member of the Ulster Unionist Party I have viewed the recent siren calls for Unionist Unity with increasing concern.

The greatest threat to the Union currently is not the rise of Sinn Fein but the fact that so many traditional Unionist voters are turned off by the current state of local politics and the behaviour of some of our politicians that they have given up voting all together. This ‘Punch and Judy’ politics played out for the benefit of the cameras serves no one well.

Thanks in large part to the UUP the Good Friday Agreement settled the issue of the Union. For Northern Ireland this can only change through a democratic plurality and that campaign will be fought on ideas rather than in the streets.

The greatest threat to the Union is the constitutional framework throughout the whole of the UK. The legacy of New Labour’s piecemeal and tokenism approach to constitutional reform means that we now reap the fruits of their failure to see the bigger picture. Herein lies a key difference in emphasis between the DUP and the UUP. Peter Robinson’s brand of Ulster Nationalism means that he often sides with his partners in the other devolved administrations, without consideration of the knock on effects this has for us all. The UUP approach has been, and remains, that a strong United Kingdom leads to a strong Northern Ireland.

It wasn’t Unionist unity that brought peace to Northern Ireland. Without the brave decisions and the bold steps taken by the UUP, the DUP would still be sitting on the sidelines holding up progress as they had done for years. Without a continuation of that bold thinking Northern Ireland will once again stagnate and fail to seize the opportunities for prosperity that exist. The DUP/SF led Executive slows down decision-making, lacks innovation, and rewards intransigence.

Further the failed Rodney Connor experiment in Fermanagh and South Tyrone showed ‘Unionist Unity’ does not go down well with voters and only seeks to limit the voters choice while in reality he polled more than 1,500 fewer votes than the DUP and UUP combined at the previous Westminster election so let’s not pretend that Unity is some magic solution to the declining vote. Inevitably, a ‘Unity ‘candidate is counterproductive because it excites the nationalist voting base rather the unionist base.

All the talk about unity is based on the simple fact that people want to maintain the, settled, issue of the Union whereas we should be discussing how best to create and keep jobs, improve education for all, and to safeguard our future by taking brave and pro-active steps.

Put simply ‘Unionist Unity’ descends politics into a sectarian headcount and is the lazy alternative, dreamt up by politicians devoid of ideas who have reached the end of the road. We need two Unionist parties, preferably one in power and one in opposition to provide some system of checks and balances.

If by unity you mean, as the DUP do, the destruction of one party and its consumption by another then this is a non-starter.

However, if you support the development of a dynamic and forward thinking Northern Ireland through a unity of a purpose and ambition then this is what the UUP offers. So we should celebrate the opportunities for ‘cooperative unity’ on certain issues, without losing the healthy effect on democracy that a diverse approach offers.

The net result of Unity would be a weaker Unionism and a stronger Alliance party who are neutral when it comes to the Union.

Neil McNickle

Lagan Valley