‘Unionists must realise the outlook is abysmal’ says young UUP member and former Tory student chair

This is a piece from young UUP member Rowan Wise, a former Tory Party member:

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 7:00 am

Two years ago, at the beginning of July 2019, I attended one of the Conservative Party’s leadership election debate events held here in the province at the Culloden Hotel.

At the time I was a member of the Conservative Party and Chair of the party’s Queen’s University Society. It struck me how vacuous the points made by Mr Johnson were, and also how uninspiring was the conversation offered by Mr Hunt.

From that moment on it became increasingly clear to me that the Conservative and Unionist Party is no longer either Conservative or Unionist; indeed it was this realisation that eventually led to my joining the Ulster Unionist Party in the hope of finding a political home.

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Rowan Wise

Today it is difficult to countenance the profound and destructive realities which have beset the Union in the intervening two years. As I predicated back in 2019, when discussing the matter with my then-Conservative Party colleagues, Brexit would prove that when faced with a clear choice between defending the province’s rightful place within the United Kingdom or siding with the European Union and it’s Irish Republican allies, the mainland government surrendered and handed Northern Ireland’s economy over to the EU.

This seemed so glaringly obvious to me at the time that I could barely believe it when the overwhelming majority of the Northern Ireland Conservatives would not listen. Indeed they characterised my arguments as outdated, tellingly choosing to employ the tiresome rhetoric of the progressive movement which, paradoxically, the Conservatives claim to oppose.

None of this should shock or surprise us as Ulster Unionists. We know all about the treachery of mainland politicians, especially since Blair. Yet now we are in an especially dangerous time, placed at the confluence of political forces that threaten to destroy the United Kingdom.

These factors are not novel, they have been in the works for over20 years. Now wedged between the realities of the Brexit sea border, voter apathy among Unionists, the popularity of the Alliance Party, predictions of SF becoming the biggest single party following the May assembly elections, nationalism on the rise across the UK. and the absence of any substantive policy by the Conservative government to help defend the Union, the outlook can only be described as abysmal.

A personal hero of mine, a real Conservative and Unionist leader, once said – in the immediate aftermath of a murderous PIRA attack – “ the fact that we are gathered here now – shocked, but composed and determined – is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.”

Margaret Thatcher spoke to the essence of Unionism, which is to say our democratic resolve. This weekend we Ulster Unionists also gather amid disturbing circumstances; less obviously deadly but nonetheless equally destructive.

We would do well to recall Mrs Thatcher’s indomitable spirit and her unflinching commitment not just to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but to the United Kingdom, to Great Britain.

Those who decide to follow the path of least resistance, buying in to sound-bite politics and placing trust in either the cushy fake comfort of devolution or a mainland government so clearly uninterested in our plight, will hold their Unionism cheap in future years when the appalling nature of those forces which we so justly oppose seize our home: the province.

There is no path back from the cliff edge towards which we are blindly marching, we can only hope to change course. Let us reach out to our fellow Unionists, whatever their views on social issues happen to be.

Whether or not we agree about levels of public spending, devolution, the contentious issues of abortion and same-sex marriage if we do not help each other out there will be grave consequences following May next year.

In order to satisfy the ‘narcissism of minor differences’ we will have, albeit inadvertently, assisted in the final barrier being removed to SF’s takeover of the province’s political and legal institutions. In short, we will have facilitated our own downfall.

This does not have to be the case. We have the ability to reach out to our fellow Britons in the DUP and the TUV. Even if electoral pacts are unpalatable, is it too much to ask an Ulster Unionist voter to transfer down the ticket to only the other Unionist candidates? Is such a simple step so injurious to our image when ranged against the very real possibility of a SF takeover?

I ask decision makers gathered at the UUP conference this weekend to seriously consider these points and that, in May, they recommend Ulster Unionist voters transfer down the ticket to only our fellow Unionist candidates: that is what voting ‘for the Union’ means.

>> Rowan Wise (23) is a third-year politics student at Queen’s University Belfast. He spent 18 months as chairman of its Conservative Society, but for the last year has been a UUP member. His piece comes ahead of the party’s conference this weekend.

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