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Neil Wilson: Towards a better definition of Unionism

Neil_wilson Neil Wilson is the Chairman of Merseyside Conservative Future and grew up in County Down. He argues that the UUP/Conservative pact offers a credible future for Unionism.

The DUP are often keen to claim that they are ‘delivering for Ulster’ but their recent, often vehement, opposition to the recent electoral pact between the Conservatives and the UUP has given their game away.

A charge often levelled at the DUP is that of ‘little Ulsterism’. This is hardly surprising from a party whose former leader told a journalist to ‘get back to England’ when he didn’t like his line of questioning, yet manages to adorn all their literature with the Union Flag as if it is merely a symbol to be seen in a Northern Ireland context.

The worst example of little Ulsterism came in June last year when they decided to back Labour over 42 day detention, helping to prop up a government which has, for the last twelve years, been guilty of the worst type of constitutional vandalism and an erosion of liberties which the vast majority of British people find abhorrent.

People from Northern Ireland play a massive role in British society. Vast numbers of Northern Ireland’s youngsters now attend universities in England and Scotland. It is impossible to switch on any of the major news channels without hearing an Ulster accent. Soldiers from Northern Ireland excel in the ranks of the military, serving their country wherever they are required.

Northern Ireland punches above its weight in all aspects of British life. Seldom has a population of 1.75 million achieved so much, yet the lack of real representation at Westminster ensures that Northern Ireland’s voice goes unheard and that it remains at the edge of the Union, with its elected representatives content to negotiate payouts and concessions, rather than form opinions.

In his speech to the UUP conference, David Cameron told us he wants to “cement Northern Ireland’s position as a peaceful, prosperous and confident part of the United Kingdom”. DUP activists would surely argue that this is an aim all Unionists share, but why then, in the DUP’s view, is Northern Ireland not good enough to have the same input as the English, Scottish and Welsh to an all-British party of the Union?

The DUP’s vision of politics is dominated by contrasting images of hard and soft Unionism, backstabbing Englishmen and Catholics who are viewed purely through a religious prism. It’s horrendously rhetorical and counterproductive. It creates a party identification model based for the most part on religion and eschews the idea that people from different backgrounds can share common goals. Essentially, it is isolationist and far removed from the Unionism envisaged by Lord Carson on several counts. Eventually, the reliance on age-old issues that is the DUP’s particular brand of Unionism, will fail.

Many Unionists complain that other British people fail to understand them. Indeed, conversations with politically astute English friends about Northern Irish politics offers an insight into how little the place is thought about, let alone understood. Unionism cannot be supported, if it is not understood and to be understood, it must have a presence at the heart of British politics. This is something the DUP have gone out of their way to avoid and an area where they will consistently fail to deliver. On the other hand, we Conservatives and Unionists see this as crucial.

The Conservative-UUP pact offers Northern Ireland two things. Firstly, the genuine chance of achieving the political representation it is due and secondly, of creating Unionism, based not on religion but by employing the best arguments we have – that the combined strength of the United Kingdom is far greater than the sum of all our parts.


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