Nesbitt sells out the UUP

Perhaps my last post was too subtle!

Here are three facts:

  • flags, cultural identity and parades are not the main issues for anyone in Northern Ireland right now (and politicians should stop pretending they are);
  • Unionists will solve nothing on those issues by talking only to each other (rather than others);
  • things will get a lot worse for Unionists if they continue to make “demands” rather than seek compromise (as they are a minority).

A lot of people take objection to these facts. That does not make them cease to be facts!

To be clear, many Unionists still believe that violent, disruptive and illegal protests are a reasonable response to a democratic vote. If they continue down that route, things will only get a lot worse for them. Deals which were available to them will be taken off the table. Deals which become available will come at a much higher price. This can be the case, because Unionists are a minority.

To be clear also, I personally did tick “British” and “Protestant” in the census. If Unionists cannot appeal to ostensibly pro-Union people like me, and instead go around trying to dictate what is “acceptable” and such like, things will get a lot worse. I keep using that phrase, because it is what will happen if they continue on their current course.

For that reason, I declared the Unionist Forum “dangerous”. It hints that a better deal may be available to Unionists on flags and parades. It isn’t (unless you take flying the Union Flag on designated days everywhere in return for, say, Irish language road signs as a “better deal”). It suggests that Unionists can solve these problems just by talking to each other. They can’t (they lack the majority required to dictate such things). Worst of all, as was the point of the blog yesterday, there was not a single mention of the real issues facing inner-city “Loyalist” areas – lack of education opportunities, much poorer health outcomes, and so on.

Unionists have to grasp this: if they keep to a zero-sum game, things will get a lot worse for them (there’s that phrase again). Demographics, sympathies of the professional class and so on are increasingly against them.

Of course, the biggest fool in all of this is Mike Nesbitt. He has allowed the DUP’s divisions to go unchallenged; and then allowed the DUP to circle the “Unionist Forum” around itself. Far from sleepwalking into Unionist Unity, he is charging towards it eyes wide open – frankly, one man’s “cooperation” is another man’s “unity”.

There is another route for Unionists: a Shared Future. That other route focuses not on better outcomes for Unionists, but for Northern Ireland as a whole. That other route focuses on removing the fear from inner-city “Loyalist” communities by developing a recognition that many of their problems are shared and widening the pool of expertise available to solve them. That other route involves empowering inner-city communities (regardless of communal identity) to identify the real issues correctly and tackle them using ideas from across society.

Unionists must embrace a Shared Future to make Northern Ireland a better place. That way, things will get a lot better for Unionists – and for everyone else.


12 thoughts on “Nesbitt sells out the UUP

  1. nationaliberal1972 says:

    Whilst we have a strong cross community interlocking mechanisms at Stormont courtesy of the GFA, there are many statituary bodies of governence in NI that don’t such as councils

    I believe that no governing body should add/append/amend any symbol of real/ perceived cultural identity without cross community support

    Had this been the system in Belfast City Council, we would not have witnessed what we did these past few weeks

    If we had this system in place, it would force consensus. What we witnessed was not democracy but majoritarianism.

    And we all know what happens then

  2. Grainne Walsh says:

    Thanks for all your blogs. Always thought provoking. Have a lovely Christmas.

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. In Dublin there is a good lesson on division and the shared past, and that is in Harcourt Street, a shared neighborhood and division. One building is home to ‘Conradh na Gaelige’, the Gaelic League, the very building the Easter Rising was said to be planned and an organization founded by Douglas Hyde and first President of Ireland, and only a couple of footsteps down the road is the birthplace of Edward Carson the leader of Ulster Unionism.

    They were both Church of Ireland Protestants, probably raised in the same school, went to the same university, both professionals, both public sector workers so to speak and both highly intelligent speakers and even up to the point that they both belonged to the same Historical Society. A Historical Society of other two liberals from opposite ends in Wolfe Tone and Edmund Burke.

    There was an age difference of course, but the only key difference between these people is that one felt alienated by Britain dominated by English identity at the expense of ‘his Ireland’ and the other by an Ireland dominated by Home Rule that would undermine the prosperity and modernity ‘his Ireland’ had achieved in the world through the British Empire.

    Two people, you could say at the very foundations of the Northern Irish constitutional question.They grew up in a shared environment, same schools, same parish, same university but both were still worlds apart. Human diversity and individualism at its finest.

    People who are now also time apart from many they inspire, Britain has no empire now and some would argue that Ireland is not a Free State. We all know that there will always be chaos, the liberalism that comes with free will, but the chaos does sometimes bring together the unlikeliest of unities.

    A chaos that has radically changed the British-Irish relationship, the interfaith relationships and even the interface relationships throughout the modern age and have brought them together with no abandon of the interconnecting ideas of culture and prosperity in the face of global chaos. That has moved out from the so called “post-agrarian” demand for land alone to the networks international commerce, the need for societies, immersion, connections and co-operations, as well as the humility to share and be shared with. I believe the game theorists call it perfect information for a better strategy.

  4. The Listener says:

    The fundamental problem is a Northern Ireland with a divided community, which below a certain educational societal level has little in common. Those who profess leadership, and should know better play to the lowest common denominator because it is easy so to do.

    The mention of faith, Roman Catholic and Protestant, an overarching term for those who are not in communion with Rome, is entirely a false premoise concerning our division. Faith concerns an individuals theological path to God.

    The only reason it should ever be discussed in political terms is the social division it causes through separate education of our children, which in turn provides at the lower end of educatonal attainment the masses who riot over flags and emblems, and whose political thoughts are about “us” and “them”.

    Those who are blessed with a good education and who mix socially, and who have the wealth to do so, should be involved in politics and should press their politicians to work together for the betterment of Northern Ireland. If this were so, many in the Social Democratic and Labour Party would cease rubbing up the Unionists of the UUP the wrong way, and seeking common ground over real politics. There is a common social economic basis between many in the UUP and the SDLP, and Alliance. They should pull together.

    A fusion of decency might attract some from other parties. It might initially give advantage to the more extreme. Therein lies the challenge because intelligent politics will only be ever sold to the populace when those who really wish to make a difference go out knocking doors and discuss the situation and their agreed way forward, with the real political majority in our community, the apathetic.

    Kevin Breslin, discusses Douglas Hyde and Edward Carson. These men were thinkers. Their dreams were reasonable. They were civilised in their leadership, at that time in history.

    Returning to the perceived political centre the challenge is for those parties to go forth and sell a “shared future”. If they do not, they will be derided by future historians.

  5. paul says:

    what an arrogant thread statement ian your attacks get worse and its typical of the alliance mentality.if you think trying to make political capital with this kind of stuff you are badly mistaken the alliance party are rattled and i for one like many folk wel come the fact that you will be exposed for what you are…on other issues as well ie nothern irelands position alliance havnt got a policy and thats a joke

  6. harryaswell says:

    The problem within NI is NOT religion, it is class and education. Right down the line! It is also Tribal of course. Anyone who knows the Republic and it’s people know this to be true. They, after all, have still not got over their Civil War, and many families remain divided by that. So, do not keep sneering at the people of NI, we are all of Celtic decent and are therefore illogical, warlike and react from the heart. Tribal? You compare a Roman Catholic from the North with a Roman Catholic from the South. Two very different animals. Nothing to do with religion, it is tribal differences, and Protestants have the same difference. Those Protestants/Loyalists rioting today are exactly the same difference as the Roman Catholic/Nationalists/Republicans who also riot when it suits. The causes are indeed class and education. Until we get that right we will always have these problems. All the self rightious bigotry we get from Ian and his friends will not make a hoot of difference and only go to show exactly how badly astray Alliance are from reality and being in touch with the people. Alliance may think that they are non-sectarian, which they may be, but they are most certainly a middle class and somewhat snobby party who look for the easy way out, even if that includes breaking the Union. One does have to remember that IJP used to belong to the UUP and left under a cloud. Not surprising. It is so easy to snipe and criticise others when one has no power onself apart from a Blogg, which i find more and more to be a huge troll with no actual foundation of sensible reportage and ideas. Alliance will reap the harvest of their mistaken attitudes in any elections from Council upwards from now on. No Politician can afford to insult and degrade the Working Class and take them as fools, no matter how grand they think they are. We talk about majorities here? The Working Class are the “true” majority, and I reckon that provided both sides co-operate they can be a formidable political force indeed. From IJP’s snide sneering at the unfortunate Nesbitt, I gather that he, IJP, must have got short shrift as an idiot. Nesibitt doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and rightly so!

  7. There is tribalism in all politics, and in both Britian and Ireland political parties have emerged from conflict, from the English Civil War, the Irish Civil War and the Troubles. There were of course economic reasons for all three not just social.

    Northern Ireland doesn’t really have an upper class, certainly not in comparison with the Republic, never mind Britian. “Our” richest man here was Sean Quinn who had brought much needed jobs on both sides of the border, but he has now lost that massive fortune through unsubstantial loans. I really don’t know who the richest man in Northern Ireland is now. It has a middle class and a working class and a degree of mobility upwards and downwards between the two.

    Economically you could draw parallels between the loss of industry in Derry-Londonderry and East Belfast, the loss of industry, work, people’s sense of purpose in life, indeed the partnership between Robinson and McGuinness may be based on this. There is more money being plugged into East Belfast by InvestNI both Foyle and West Belfast seem to have done a lot more per pound. Is there a better sense of ‘socialism’ here to make the money spread further.

    Looking at the MPs who do show up, (sorry ex-site engineer Pat Doherty, though his signing of early days motions is welcome), the only one I see with any connection to the heavy industries from here is ex civil engineer Naomi Long, I genuinely believed that she and Dawn Purvis saw eye to eye on that issue. Long had come from a modest East Belfast background, gained her qualification, became an engineer and literally helped to build bridges between people.

    Long, a woman who could identify more with the hands on, practical industries Purvis said the absence of which had led to the underachievement among young males in East Belfast. These industries after all had been awarded to Belfast due to Ulster’s support for the British war effort and they play an important part of the British industrial identity to an extent. Naomi Long to me is much more of a symbol of that British identity than a flag flying over City Hall is. If she were to lose her seat just for the sake of a flag, it would be a tragic reflection of how much that vision and identity have been lost, it would ask a question of where the allegiances of loyalists really lie?

    Would the flag bring industry here?

    Wouldn’t practical people who can see the potential in others do so?

    There are working class people getting better jobs than many spoon fed middle class people boomerangs and unemployed graduates can’t obtain because it takes Skills AND Wills to get a job. You have to be willing to take risks, make sacrifices, meet people you don’t usually do. If your skills are weak your will must be stronger.

    I myself nearly got a job in Sandy Row, I wasn’t good enough to get it though. It was a cross border project between a business there and a university in the Republic. These are the networks that bring money into communities.

    Similarly I could see why Dawn Purvis was the only one outside of Sinn Féin to fully back Ruane’s educational reforms. Dawn Purvis’s own educational background, going outside a system she felt needed to be reformed to aid social mobility, she saw eye to eye with Ruane on that. Education is a matter of welfare, it gives people the tools to compete in the world, people shouldn’t have to compete just to get one. I see Purvis as a prime example of those in East Belfast fighting the good fight and seeing the economic challenge head on, who used libraries were schools had failed.

    But to sum up, in my opinion the working class have nothing to fear from a shared future, sharing is socialism after all, and the middle class shouldn’t isolate themselves from the working class, as they could easily end up where they are in this recession and when that happens they’ll need all the friends they can get.

  8. On the wills, I merely mean there are many in the working classes with a better sense of emancipation, work ethic and personal responsibility and get jobs ahead of skilled rivals in the middle classes for that reason. It’s not to say that it’s always true but I think companies are looking at candidates with a greater commitment to a job and making something from a job than one who sees it as a means to something else.

  9. James Campbell says:


    You suffer from “omniaitis” – the belief that if everyone discussed everything then everything would turn out right. Very APNI.

    Why do you think it has to be bad that Unionism of various shades sits down to define what it means to be a Unionist? If the sit-down were to resolve (and I don’t think it will) what it is that defines Unionist culture; and were to go on to identify a common, sensible approach to other persuasions, wouldn’t that be better than rioting; wouldn’t it be better than the complacent defence of the status quo as outlined in the natlib response above? (“I believe that no governing body should add/append/amend any symbol of real/ perceived cultural identity without cross community support”).

    As a non-Unionist, I would like to know what Unionism regards as it’s special culture. Does it glory in riots? Does it take pride in the tradition of Nixon murder squads? Does it involve desecration of churches? I don’t think it does in any of these cases; but then I haven’t heard any politician spell out exactly what the culture entails – just as I don’t know what the agenda for the sit-down is.

    In my view the emergence of conciliation between Unionist politicians might be a welcome acknowledgement (at long last you might say) that something has changed and some other things must change. If a determination to improve the educational fortunes of the Protestant working class were to be one of the things they have in common, that alone would justify the talking.

    • I’m not quite sure how you draw any of those conclusions.

      On the contrary, I believe too many people sit around too many tables doing too much talking in Northern Ireland – with far too few people actually doing anything.

      For that reason, I don’t understand the rest of your post. Who on earth cares “what it means to be Unionist”? If people haven’t worked that out after 400 years, it can’t be much of a movement.

      Then, of course, you admit yourself the whole thing is bound to fail. Here is the real reason: motivation. The DUP has no need to unify Unionism by talking about it and doing deals – it is doing so anyway simply by gradually doing away with the UUP. Obviously, this is the next step.

      If you don’t believe me on that point, watch for another significant UUP-to-DUP defection early in the New Year. Why on earth would the UUP be talking to its main rival, a party which has consistently been taking its people for 10 years?!

      And here is the further problem: by its own admission, this Forum is about flags and parades. It is not about educational underachievement or health inequalities – why? Motivation, again. Unionists have built up this notion in some inner-city communities that Protestants are doing worse than Catholics – it suits their “national myth” to suggest that. The problem is, it’s not actually true!

      As a non-Unionist, I have some interest in your questions. But I have a much more pressing interest in actually tackling educational underachievement, and so on. That is not what this Forum is about. Therefore, it is a complete waste of valuable time – time which should be spent on the real issues not the symbolic ones; on building broad consensus not sectional; and on action not words.

  10. James Campbell says:


    I don’t doubt for a moment that you know the people involved in ways I can never do. So your pessimism is based on what you know of their inability to face real issues. My point is that flags, cultural identity and parades are used variously and inconsistently as tokens of Unionism and are of themselves reflections rather than real substantive issues. My hope (probably a forlorn one) would be for dialog between these two major parts of political Unionism that would at least identify the core of what they want to preserve or enhance.

    To anyone living in England (at least to the few who care) it seems that “flegs” has been an excuse for riot rather than a cause of riot. Unionism itself becomes identified with thuggish behaviour when the political leaders seek to justify rioting. The problem seems to be that one faction seeks to outbid the other in protesting “Unionist Culture”; yet I don’t know what the essentials of that Culture are. It is very difficult to negotiate in abstracts. “Flegs” was a substantive issue that could have been settled by presenting the compromise as a defeat of SF extremism. Instead we had party leaders (a misnomer surely) egging on the thugs who want things as they used to be; and pointing them towards the APNI as the enabler of change. Bullies are like that.

    So the difference between you and me is that you expect political brutalism; I hope (with no expectation) that by talking through and identifying the dross, the political class will come to understand that there are more important things to solve. It would need statesmanship and that is in short supply.

    Put it another way – if they waste their time trying to bury their differences, is it any worse than wasting their time in bitter division. It isn’t as if anyone else is putting much of substance on the table.

    And a Happy New Year.

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