Too often those politicians who describe themselves as ‘unionist’ seem to have very peculiar ideas about what being a unionist is.
To some being unionist clearly means supporting ‘our community’, negotiating the best deal for our side, ensuring our community has the most MLA’s, that we have the most MPs etc.
Ensuring unionist unity and deriding those who would form an alliance with nationalists or would vote outside their own community is the norm; those who would disagree are not worthy of the name unionist.
Do we agree?
Presumably any politician who describes themselves as unionist wants to keep Northern Ireland safe, stable and happy within the UK, so what tactics are most likely to achieve this?
Remember that if Northern Ireland ever leaves the UK and joins a united Ireland it will not be the MLAs or MPs who make this decision for us, this can only happen if the population of Northern Ireland decide they want a divorce from the UK.
I use the word ‘divorce’ deliberately because the comparison is helpful.
Why does my wife want to remain with me, rather than divorce me and hook up with the man down the road? What could I do to encourage her to stay, what mistakes might make her want to go?
If she knows that her economic welfare will be better looked after by staying with me, this might help, but if I continuously take decisions based on my self-interest, ignoring her preferences this might drive her away.
I could try to behave as though I was the boss in this relationship, I could pretend that I own the entire house, but as she seems to believe we are equals, it might be safer to make important decisions through discussion and persuasion.
Unionists and nationalists are living in something of an ‘arranged marriage’. We didn’t choose this relationship, it was arranged before we were born and it isn’t perfect, but we, who want to remain as part of the UK, have to work at this relationship.
We need to earn the trust of our partners; we need to learn to persuade rather than dictate; we need to resist the urge to brag to our mates about how we are the ones in charge.
When we are challenged about our mistakes we may be tempted to save face by making public jokes at our partner’s expense, but remember that this might just encourage them to leave.
This analogy isn’t perfect, but we want to keep this arranged marriage between unionist and nationalist together, then trying to reasserting our dominance over a disgruntled partner is probably the worst of strategies.
Unionism needs a serious rethink before we make a mistake that forces an unnecessary divorce.
Arnold Carton, Belfast BT6