Unionist politics must be broad church – or it risks union itself

Green Party leader Clare Bailey with UUP leader Robin Swann. The Greens have seen a surge in support, whilst the UUP's power has ebbed away
Green Party leader Clare Bailey with UUP leader Robin Swann. The Greens have seen a surge in support, whilst the UUP's power has ebbed away
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Richard Cairns makes a valid point.

TUV man: unionism is lacking a centre ground, weakening it, Letters, May 29

As a result, those from perceived unionist backgrounds have opted for Alliance, the perceived centre ground.

Once upon a time, there was an organisation that represented all shades of unionism. That organisation was the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC); what was, in reality, the UUP.

It was once described as a ‘broad church’ – the idea that it represented all shades of Protestantism, united by the desire of its members to maintain the Union.

Nonetheless, gone are the days of mass party membership. Political parties are arguably unrepresentative of the people they are supposed to represent and herein lies the problem. Established political parties are less appealing to younger voters, hence the surge in support for once non-dominant parties like the Greens, People Before Profit and Alliance.

Alliance could be described as the party for the ‘middle-class’, established by a once new, emerging, economically upward-looking group.

One UUP member remarked to me after the local government election that the UUP vote was literally ‘dying’. That may be the case, but it once was attractive to the younger voter who did not feel at home with the DUP where most Unionist shifted their support to post-1998.

Political unionism is clearly not appealing to this voter base.

That younger voter has instead opted for Alliance, as they see something in Naomi Long that they can identify with.

The 2017 NI Life and Times Survey found that 47% of Catholics saw themselves as ‘neither’ Unionist or Nationalist, compared with 31%of Protestants and a massive 62% of ‘No religion’. Between a quarter and a just under a third of people aged 18-44 years in this survey identified as having ‘No religion’.

That younger age profile, having grown up in a very much more globalised society, without daily news bulletins of bombs and murders, has prospered, and represents a generation that does not think like its elders.

Political unionism, of all shades, needs to promote that once broad church, offering a political home to those who feel disaffected or disillusioned with politics. If it doesn’t, the Union cannot be taken for granted – just look at Scotland and the referendum result in 2014.

Dr Andrew Charles, Belfast BT9