I ACTUALLY don’t like being described as a ‘moderate’ unionist, or a ‘liberal’ unionist, or even a ‘pluralist’ unionist.
I don’t like it because the descriptions carry the whiff of the pejorative about them – the hint that I’m not really a full-blooded, thoroughbred, big-U unionist.
Indeed, in some circles ‘moderate’ is mostly used as a catch-all term for ‘pushover’ unionists, the people supposedly responsible for the fact that Sinn Fein is in government (and there was me thinking it was the 178,224 republican voters who were responsible for that, along with the DUP and UUP who signed up to sitting in the Executive with them!).
As it happens I am not ‘moderate’ when it comes to the Union. I am passionate about my citizenship of the United Kingdom. I believe in the geographical/constitutional/political integrity of the Union. I haven’t heard a convincing argument for changing my citizenship and I certainly haven’t been bombed or bullied out of my beliefs.
I am very comfortable in my unionist skin. So comfortable, in fact, that I don’t need constant reminders in the form of flags and symbols. I have no difficulty with the fact that the Union Flag only flies on designated days: and I have no difficulty precisely because I remain a unionist and UK citizen every single day, of every single week, of every single month of every single year.
My passport, currency, beliefs and government are an everyday reminder that I live in the United Kingdom.
I do not live in the daily fear that my citizenship will be snatched from me and I’m certainly not going to be manipulated into thinking otherwise by either Sinn Fein propaganda or the self-serving, self-promoting antics of those behind the flags protests.
If my daughters choose to marry Roman Catholics I couldn’t care less: all that matters is that they love and are loved in return.
If the house next door is bought by Roman Catholics I couldn’t care less: unless, of course, they regularly party late into the night!
I have no hang-ups about the Orange Order or Protestantism – I just don’t want either to have undue influence in my everyday life. I’d rather not have former IRA terrorists in government (or loyalist terrorists, for that matter), but I’d rather have them there than still waging a terrorist campaign.
I’m not surprised that Sinn Fein ploughs on with the reconciliation project, border poll campaigns and constant chatter about the inevitability of Irish unification.
It’s what I would do in their shoes – because it’s all they can do after finding themselves trapped in Stormont and stuck in Northern Ireland. But I am surprised that the DUP/UUP/TUV/UPF et al fall for their propaganda guff and jump obligingly through every hoop that Sinn Fein sets in front of them.
The Union is safe: absolutely 100 per cent safe. But you wouldn’t know that when you listen to the born-again mantras of mainstream unionism – which spends most of its time trying to convince itself that disaster lurks around every corner. The UUP/DUP made a dog’s dinner of handling the flags issue in City Hall (just as they did in August with the joint letter about the Parades Commission) and the UPF is making a bigger mess.
They have compounded the stupidity by circling the wagons and shutting out anyone who isn’t wearing red, white and blue underwear. In the 101st year after the signing of the Covenant unionist parties still behave as if their whole world could come crashing down at any moment.
My unionism is a simpler, purer, less complicated thing. I don’t care what your background, faith, gender, profession, sexual preference etc, is: for if you believe in the Union then that’s good enough for me. If you can be reached out to and possibly persuaded to support the Union, that’s good enough for me. If you believe in the Union, but aren’t comfortable with existing ‘unionist’ parties, then there should be a vehicle and voices prepared to meet your needs and encourage you to the polling booth.
I don’t believe that non-voters are disinterested in politics: I believe that they are dissatisfied with the electoral choices available to them.
If you believe that the Union is secure and that pro-Union parties should be concentrating on the socio/economic needs of Northern Ireland rather than perpetual headcounts, then it’s not surprising that so many of you are staying at home. If you believe that unionism should be confident enough not to fall into every trap set for it, then again, it’s no surprise you’re staying at home. If you want a unionism that isn’t permanently paranoid and afraid to step out of its comfort zone, then you’re hardly going to be voting again anytime soon.
There is a gap in the market which needs to be filled: and it’s made up of those thousands who want a more dynamic, modern, unafraid form of pro-unionism and the thousands more who will be drifting from a UUP which has, to all intents and purposes, thrown in its lot with the DUP.
It’s a gap that can’t be filled by Alliance. They have been around for 40 years and have failed to tap into that market: hardly surprising, when they aspire to nothing higher than plonking themselves between the two existing sectarian power blocs. And let’s not forget the 21 per cent of small-u, soft-u unionists who are happy enough to be identified as ‘Northern Irish’.
I’m a unionist because I believe in the values, benefits, culture and inter-nationality that underpin the United Kingdom. It’s not a unionism of in-your-face symbols or regular bouts of triumphalism.
But it is a unionism of understated confidence and a desire to bring good government rather than permanent stalemate. It is a unionism which requires something more convincing than a ‘vote for us to keep them’uns out’.
It is a unionism which wants to expand by confidence, consolidation and conversion and not by a unionist/loyalist/loyal orders forum – which, I suspect, would actually decrease the pro-Union vote.
If all of this makes me a ‘moderate’ in the eyes of some, then so be it. I prefer to describe it as the quiet, confident, unambiguous core of someone who believes that the pro-Union case is worth making and making much better than we have been doing so far.
And – although whisper it for now – I suspect that there are an awful lot of people out there with similar views. So, can someone try and reach them, please?
l Follow Alex every day on Twitter: @AlexKane221b