Union 2021 just keeps delivering the goods. Not in the sense that it has advanced political debate by any significant measure, but rather that it’s a fascinating exploration of the Unionist psyche. Last week James Dingley had his say:
What unionism needs is some serious thought and analysis of our problems and how to lay them to rest permanently; it needs to develop some broader perspectives and comparative work with other European countries who have had similar ethno-religious divisions.
It needs to consider how to make Ulster an attractive place for its best people to stay in and how to attract the best newcomers to settle here, it has to foster direct relations with the other regions of the UK with similar ‘post-industrial’ problems.
So far, so good. But he then follows it up with the most jaw-droppingly naïve statement of the entire series:
Finally it needs to be able to stand up and say quite clearly why Ulster is not Irish
As they say on Mythbusters, “there’s your problem!” Such a blithe dismissal of one of the fundamental pillars of the current settlement beggars belief. Are there many more people out there who still recoil at any suggestion of Irishness? What hope of extending support for Unionism if the national identity of nearly half of the population is to be discarded? Is he seriously suggesting that Unionist politicians try to evangelise everyone away from Irishness? If there is going to be any creation of a Northern Ireland identity it can only be an inclusive one containing the best of both traditions. That will mean accepting that NI most certainly is Irish, in addition to whatever other things it may be. Any attempt at exclusion will undo decades of painstaking progress and kill for another generation any chance of a permanent settlement.
Unionism needs ideas because we should not have a former terrorist as first minister, or even deputy.
No, we should not. So the question Unionist politicians need to ask themselves is: “what’s so badly wrong with us, that so many people would rather vote for a former IRA commander than for us?” I’m still waiting for an honest answer to that question, and I’m not expecting one from Dingley any time soon.