Nesbitt admits Unionism about “Protestant cultural expression”, not constitution

Not content with admitting the DUP was right about the Agreement all along (as Alex Kane notes here), Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt also finally acknowledged what the rest of us have long known – “Unionism” is not about supporting and promoting the “Union” with Great Britain, but about supporting and promoting “British [actually: Ulster Protestant] cultural expression”. Suddenly it all kind of makes sense…

Speaking to his own AGM on Saturday, Nesbitt was clear: people were telling him that they didn’t care if the Union was safe if they were not allowed to “express their British identity”.

I must say, I personally have become increasingly frustrated at my inability to express my “British identity” in contemporary Northern Ireland. My vehicle registration plate, uniquely distinct from the rest of the UK, is a bad start; then there is the point that soon my gay friends, uniquely in the UK, will not be allowed to get married; then of course there is the outrage that proper libel laws passing through the rest of the UK will not apply in NI; one minor victory for my “British identity” was the recent decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union Flag in line with guidance from the Royal College of Arms and the traditional British norm, but that was a rare moment of contentment. Here, of course, is the thing: in each and every one of these cases, Unionists support NI being distinct from the British norm. Unionists continue to assault my British identity – you know, the real British identity of pluralism and tolerance – in favour of their ethno-religious, parochial Ulster-Protestant nationalism.

Of course, when Nesbitt says people are coming to him about “expressing British cultural identity”, that is not what he means. What he means is parades, demonstrations, flag-waving – i.e. methods of expressing cultural identity utterly alien to most British people, and often frankly intimidatory to most fellow citizens of Northern Ireland. Unionism has nothing to do with supporting the merits of the modern UK – it generally opposes that modernity; it has to do with sectarian cultural expression. Nesbitt should now just go the whole hog and admit it – and stop using the word “British” when he means “Little-Ulster Protestant”.


26 thoughts on “Nesbitt admits Unionism about “Protestant cultural expression”, not constitution

  1. Hitting nails on the head here Ian. I am a fervent advocate of devolution, but not if it’s to recreate a politico-religious cultural war.

    How timely this is on the back of William Crawley’s excellent exposition of Ulster Presbyterian in “An Independent People”. It’s as though Nesbitt has chosen to go back to the future of having Northern Ireland married to Protestantism.

    Of course contemporary Unionism — reflected in either the DUP or UUP — isn’t about supporting the Union in favour of modern British society and its cultural diversity reflected by its rich history, but is instead used in defence of the establishment of a state separate from the rebellion of disloyal subject (with the resultant perversion of little Ulstermen acting “more British than the British”).

    I do appreciate the history. But the apparent inability for 21st century Unionism to articulate and work for a shared Ulster evokes despair.

  2. Jaysus Allan, are you still there??? I thought they deported you years ago!

  3. The Listener says:

    Yes, our problem is that we have two political blocks, Irish Nationalism, which is a Northern Irish version, and not really in tune with those in the Republic, and as you say, on the other side Protestant Ulsterism. Both with hornslocked as if in an unmoving rugby scrum! Others are excluded wilst many thinking people just do not vote, hope for th best and perhaps, if bothered despair. Unfortunately the followers of either side in the proverbial scrum are from the least adantaged in society whose understandable frustrations blow up from time to time, whilst the comfortable and inactive think of golf, sailing, and sport, or just a comparitively conmfortable existence.

    • harryaswell says:

      The “REAL” problems are still sectarianism, bigotry, and tribalism. Until such times as these go away we are forever stuck in a time loop. The facts are being diminished by the likes of Ian who insists upon putting words and meanings into other people’s mouths to suit his agenda, resulting in distortion and nonsense. One of the main reasons for our struggleing democracy NOT working as it should is, of, course, people NOT voting for many and spurious reasons. Everyone who can vote should indeed vote! If you refuse to vote, then you cannot realistically be seen as having any right at all to complain! The main numbers of people refusing to vote are indeed Unionists. I would suggest that after the Alliance debacle over flags that may well change! I sincerely hope so! The Republican Movement and Sinn Fein are expert at getting their flock out to vote, we all should follow suit!

  4. Dude says:

    You could further unwrap this statement “British [actually: Ulster Protestant] cultural expression” and argue it isn’t about a theological stance either. Ulster is actually part of an all-Ireland provincial geographical division of the whole island. What is it really about? its about being part of a group or in others words a tribe. The identity of the tribe has been formed through assimilating a myriad of cultural, religious, national, social, sporting and other ill-defined symbolic markers. Under scrutiny the labels are contradictory and notional, yet they are used as entrance criteria and reinforce an individual’s membership of said group. As does the fear of the rival tribe. The result for some is an inability to empathise with other people who are seen as different. These are man made differences used to establish power, which is why every election, be it westminster, stormont, or local council. Comes down to one issue. Uk or All-Ireland. My tribe or the other tribe.

    Generally speaking of course.

    • harryaswell says:

      LOL! Exactly so. But surely, this applies to all politics and all countries? Tribalism is perfectly normal and the cause of much trouble. Look at the British riots last year? How is Northern Ireland any better or any worse than all of that? All the cozy discussions and sanctimonious opinions in the world are not going to alter a thing. Basically, you are correct. Either a United Ireland or a United Kindom. Personally, I see no reasons whatever to alter the status quo.

      • Dude says:

        Tribalism has blighted human existence for all of time. Remember Rwanda, 1 million people slaughtered in 3 months with machetes in 1994. We have evolved to a point were we can empathise with other people from other viewpoints and look for ways to share and experience other cultures so everyone can feel a part of humanity without resorting tribalistic tendencies. Yet still we segregate education and little twats with loudspeakers are seen as leaders? People like Nesbit have such power because of the tribal nature of politics. In England and the USA, there are polarised political views but there are also many swing voters. Not so much here, by and large people vote according to the tradition they are BORN into. That is tribal. Wait until everyone discovers we share the same tectonic plate.

      • harryaswell says:

        NOT an excellent piece IMV. Full of self opinions backed by more self opinions.

        “Yet still we segregate education and little twats with loudspeakers are seen as leaders? People like Nesbit have such power because of the tribal nature of politics. In England and the USA, there are polarised political views but there are also many swing voters. Not so much here, by and large people vote according to the tradition they are BORN into. That is tribal. Wait until everyone discovers we share the same tectonic plate.”

        There you go Dude! Education segregation is a religious thing, nothing to do with tribes. Twats with loud speakers are usually professional activists bullying the easily intimidated. Very little tribal about that either. Regarding peoples voting habits, why, yes, I agree that is very often the case. It is most unlikely that that will change anyway soon, and especially so when a prominent Tribe keeps on attacking another prominent Tribe to try to force their unwelcome opinions and asperations upon them! – As for the Tectonic Plate? Why, even more tribes lurk in anticipation on all the other plates! Quelle horreur!

        Northern Ireland is one of the best places to live, anywhere. Many, many advantages over most of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Sadly, we could not survive on our own. It is vital we hitch a lift, and with so many Brits who are Northern Irish, where better than the UK. The Republic of Ireland, (of which I am very fond, by the way), is not in any position to compete. Hence the Assembly, and hence we have to put up with being governed by un-reconstructed terrorists. And mainly, hence the badly fudged and flawed Good Friday Agreement.

    • Dude says:

      Harry unless you have been in a coma for the last 30 years you will know that religion and tribality (another new word) go hand in hand. Again religion rarely changes from the particular one the majority are born into. There is very little theological evaluation. The little twat I’m thinking of is not at all professional. Last point, about self opinion, it’s a blog not the Times you’re reading. Your last paragraph is good though until the end.

      • This used to be the Alliance Party’s fundamental problem – the bizarre failure to recognise that religion and national identity *do* go hand-in-hand in NI, reinforced of course by the divided education system.

        Get William Crawley’s “An Independent People” on iPlayer and you will soon see why this is.

        There *are* two main sides in NI (a fact the Alliance Party is beginning to accept, even if not comfortably), as well as increasing numbers of people who, for various reasons, don’t really identify with them. The challenge is for the two “sides” both to recognise that: a) neither is going to “win”; and b) neither has a unique claim on this territory.

        The 1998 Agreement was imperfect, but it was quite clear about that – whereas in England, Scotland and Wales you are assumed “British” and in the Republic you are assumed “Irish”, in Northern Ireland no such assumption may be made. You can be perfectly loyal to Northern Ireland without being Irish *and* you can be perfectly loyal to Northern Ireland without being British.

        What Nesbitt is doing is following the crowd who haven’t grasped this basic tenet of the 1998 Agreement.

      • harryaswell says:

        LOL! How very condescending of you! The religion problem exists over all the UK, not just Northern Ireland. The difference is that the rest of the UK does not have activists from another country trying to force a unification. In fact, Scotland is trying to break away. It won’t succeed, judging from the comments one sees. There is a religious bite in that too. As for my last paragraph, well, we were rightly “bounced” into the agreement were we not? Whole sections of the community didn’t get a chance. Why else do we have Dissident IRA’s, and also the re-appearance of PIRA arms which should have been de-commissioned? It is no good hiding one’s head in the sand over such matters. Peace at any price really never works. We will have to re-negotiate with the Dissident Republicans any time soon, you wait and see.

      • Dude says:

        ‘The religion problem exists over all the UK, not just Northern Ireland.’ Harry I’m struggling to see your argument here. I was responding to how you felt religion and tribality were not connected. You come back with its a problem all over the UK. Can you demonstrate how this is the case? Are Conservatives voting according to political ideology bound to the religious tradition they are born into?

        Ian suggests that people are struggling to understand the basics of the GFA, I would go further than this and say many are struggling to demonstrate basic comprehensive of democracy. GFA was approved by voters, if they didn’t read it that’s their tough luck. If they read and couldn’t understand it well then that’s a real tragic sob story.

        Oh and Scotland aren’t trying to break away, they as a country are deciding whether or not to become independent. No one in ten years time will care if a group of people say they didn’t really understand what that meant at the time. The decision will be made and life will go on.

  5. Clare says:

    Excellent piece Ian.
    It’s a while since I saw so much written sense in politics here.
    Well done

    • You’re very – probably too – kind! Much appreciated.

      • harryaswell says:

        LOL! She is indeed much too kind! However, far be it for me to upset cozy Alliance chats on your Alliance biased Blog site!

      • Dude says:

        Ack now Harry an Alliance bias is hardly a crime. They are one of the few voices that represent the moderates who are sick of all the tribal nonsense.

      • I don’t represent the Alliance Party on this blog, and have even attacked it on it.

        Nevertheless, in “About” I declare that I am a party member – essentially for the reasons “Dude” states!

        But really I have no interest in party politics, but rather in good government – good government for all.

      • harryaswell says:

        “Ack now Harry an Alliance bias is hardly a crime. They are one of the few voices that represent the moderates who are sick of all the tribal nonsense.”

        You missed my point Dude! Alliance is becoming a tribe as well! Moderate Liberals! Dear me! What is becoming of us all! – As I said, you cannot get rid of this tribal nonsense, it is part of the weave!

      • Dude says:

        The Alliance is becoming a tribe? No it isn’t. Although some in this country would try to tribalise (new word) them as a second enemy as we’ve seen with the attacks against the Alliance party because of fleg related issues. There are two tribes in this country. A tribe is something you are born into. No one is born an alliance voter! In fact if there was another non-sectarian party many alliance voters may vote for them instead depending on policies etc. and not restricted by their stance on the retaining the union or all-ireland.

  6. Dude says:

    And yes…excellent piece Ian.

  7. Clare says:

    I thought you were closing the blog down Ian. You don’t want to miss all this fun do you?
    Harry you do write some nonsense seriously.
    You try to appear anti-tribal and anti-sectarian and it does not wash.
    Might be best sticking to the funny handshakes and bony nights!

  8. harryaswell says:

    Well that’s alright then……………..! Take a look in a mirror. Oh, and it’s “buffoon”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: