My late parents and grandparents were members of the UUP. I joined the North Antrim Young Unionists in 1977 as a teenager. If last year’s Assembly poll made grim reading, then the council election outcome was the political equivalent of a slasher horror movie script.
This has been a year of runners-up for me. Arsenal runners-up to Manchester City in the English Premiership; Rangers runners-up to Celtic in the Scottish Premiership, and Linfield runners-up to Larne in the Irish Premiership.
But the most bitter medicine was watching the results of the council elections with the UUP by far runners-up to the DUP in terms of seats. While the DUP held its ground even though the party ran fewer candidates than in 2019, the pro-Union family is once again playing second fiddle politically to the Provisional IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein.
In footballing terms, Sinn Fein ‘played a blinder’ in the council poll, delivering a double whammy to Unionism. Last year, Sinn Fein became the largest party at Stormont. Now, Sinn Fein has the largest number of councillors across Northern Ireland’s 11 councils.
Unionism can take cold comfort from the fact the moderate nationalist SDLP also took a massive hit in the council elections. Alliance’s surge may have spluttered since the Assembly showdown, but the Pan Nationalist Front of the republican movement and Alliance, and even the SDLP, was the big winner.
Sinn Fein has laid an effective foundation for the next Dail General Election in the 26 Counties. If the Northern Ireland council surge was replicated in Leinster House elections, then Sinn Fein will have a majority government in Dublin.
But enough of how the republican movement cleverly choreographed the recent Coronation of King Charles III to convince large sections of the electorally lucrative Catholic middle class in Northern Ireland to turn out in their thousands to ‘Votail Sinn Fein.’
The real question for me is not how to combat the rapid rise of Sinn Fein who scored its best electoral victory since the 1918 Westminster General Election when the movement won around 70 of the 105 Commons seats when Ireland was entirely an integral part of the British Empire.
My key question is - where now Unionism, and specifically, where now for the UUP? What is certain is that a realignment is needed before the next Westminster General Election, expected in 2024.
Strangford UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, a former party leader, has suggested the realignment could be two Unionist parties - one liberal and the other traditional. Ironically, it was Nesbitt during his time as leader suggested the disastrous ‘Vote Mike, Get Colum’ policy aimed at encouraging Unionists to give their other preference to the SDLP! That was as politically sensible for the UUP as an ash tray on a motorbike!
Others have suggested a merger between the UUP and DUP. Others also want to see a single Unionist Party to represent all shades of pro-Union thinking. Realistically, could we Unionists ever see a day when the UUP, DUP, TUV, PUP and Independent Unionists all come together under one banner simply called The Unionist Party?
But who would lead such a united, merged Unionist movement? Do we have too many chiefs with big political egos for such a concept to work? Is there too much distrust between DUP Paisleyites and life-long UUP diehards for the merger to work?
Maybe Unionists of my vintage point to the original Unionist Party which ruled the Stormont Parliament until it was prorogued in 1972?
Then, there was one single Unionist Party with a series of pressure groups. The Right wing had the Ulster Monday Club; socialists had the Unionist Labour group; west of the River Bann had the West Ulster Unionist Council; there was also the Young Unionists for the youth, and the Ulster Unionist Women’s group. Even the Orange Order had delegates on the ruling Ulster Unionist Council.
Sounded good on paper, until a certain Rev Ian Paisley was able to use his Protestant Unionist movement and fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster to clearly point out that the then Unionist Party had no voice for the loyalist working class or evangelical Christians.
The latest Nesbitt solution of a two-party realignment sounds more like a rebranding of the Sunningdale era of the 1970s when liberal Unionists were part of the so-called called Pro-Assembly Unionists, and everyone else was part of the so-called ‘Treble UC’, also known as the United Ulster Unionist Coalition (UUUC).
The Pro-Assembly Unionists went on to form the now defunct liberal Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, once fronted by former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner.
The UUUC represented four Unionist parties - UUP, DUP, Vanguard Unionists, and United Ulster Unionist Party - who carved up Northern Ireland’s constituencies between them, sweeping up all before them in 1974 with the exception of SDLP founder Gerry Fitt’s (later Lord Fitt) West Belfast bolthole.
In reality, the so-called liberal progressive agenda has run its course. Ideologically, it needs to be dumped. What is now needed is a new Unionist Coalition of the Right constitutionally with a clear agenda to campaign for Australian-style mandatory voting.
A major plank in Sinn Fein becoming top dog at both Stormont and across the 11 Northern Ireland councils is that the republican movement got its vote out. In many pro-Union council areas, the turnouts dipped below 50 per cent. Irish Unity could become a reality by default!
In many Australian elections, voter turnout usually always exceeds 90 per cent. Perhaps the pro-Union parties should take a leaf out of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s when there was a massive campaign to get African-Americans to get registered to vote, and come out to vote.
Until mandatory voting becomes an electoral reality in the long-term, in the short-term the Unionist parties need to focus on persuading the ‘stay at home’ pro-Union community to not just get on the electoral register, but also to come to the polling stations to vote!
Unionism’s biggest problem is not the DUP’s Stormont boycott or even mixed messages - its voter apathy. Unionist leaders can mouth off about Unionist unity until the cows come home; in reality, the Unionist parties need to embark on a massive mobilisation campaign in the pro-Union campaign. It’s also a campaign which the Christian Churches in Northern Ireland also need to support.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.
Sure fire way to kill political unionism by Dr coulter here.ReplyDelete
It took a lot of negative commentary on Twitter.Delete
Not surprised. Even for one of his brainfarts this is several order of magnitudes greater in both smell and taste.Delete
Mandatory voting is the most anti-democratic of measures. If it is ever introduced there should be an option 'none of the above.'Delete
Works fine here in Oz but we don't have the tribal bollocks as back there.Delete
PLUS WE GET FINED FOR NOT VOTING!
Mandatory voting in NI would be a gallows walk for Unionism, and John completely misses the chance for Unionism to grow up. With a siege mentality in this hand, and a Bible in this hand, would anyone here object if mandatory voting in NI came to pass?
All that would happen is turning voter apathy into voter hostility and it's sayonara Unionism. Mind you Political Unionism never misses a chance to fuck itself up if given a chance.
Being fined for voting makes it even more anti democratic. The outcome is a false one in any event. We can get a more honest read a political culture in which people are not required to vote or else. Is there a 'none of the above' option in Oz?ReplyDelete