I am opposed to the creation of a new liberal unionist party.
Apart from having liberal views on social issues, how else would a new liberal unionist party differ from the main unionist parties? Would a liberal unionist party support an Irish language act? Most unionists – even ‘liberal unionists’ – do not support an Irish Language Act. That is why the main unionist parties oppose it.
Each time a liberal unionist party is raised as a panacea to unionism’s perceived lack of liberal representation, I shudder. Does this mean that unionism has to be ashamed of itself?
I am often labelled a ‘liberal unionist’ because I am considered liberal on social issues. Outside of these issues, I am as conservative as any other unionist of the main unionist parties on issues relating to national sovereignty, culture and history.
I believe what is really meant by a liberal unionist party is one that is avowedly secular. This has merit as your average unionist – even churchgoers – are relatively secular and tolerant of how someone wants to live their life provided it does not interfere with theirs. I do not think the ideology of a liberal unionist party has ever been properly thought out either – this is why NI21 failed as it could not define it nor formulate policy to build on it.
Would a liberal unionist party be centre-left, believing the state should play a more active role in our lives to achieve equality of outcome such as in promoting quotas to tackle underrepresentation of certain groups in society? Considering most unionists oppose 50:50 recruitment for the PSNI, I could not imagine many unionists liking such a policy as most unionists believe individuals should have the same opportunity to succeed but not the same outcome. It would seem fundamentally unfair for someone to be elevated because of what they are (their characteristics) rather than who they are (their character). Promotion of individuals should be based on merit, hard work and commitment relating to the job.
How would a liberal unionist party handle the cultural issues in Northern Ireland? Would they vote with unionists or would they vote with Alliance in favouring neutrality as a compromise? Again, I see no reason why unionism should have to dilute its cultural expression as a reflection of our proud history. It would be like saying to me as a gay man that I am not allowed to march in a Pride parade or wave a rainbow flag – many would consider that outrageous.
These reasons explain why the main unionist parties are conservative – this is because most of the unionist electorate is conservative. But the main unionist parties have a liberal core that awakens in their pragmatism, just like their electorate, recognising the necessity for change. The main unionist parties will address these challenges in their own ways.
Michael Palmer, Ards & North Down UUP, Newtownards