Tonight’s Spotlight programme on BBC1 Northern Ireland presented an excellent analysis of the state of “unionism”. The programme seemed to reach the conclusion that the Unionist brand was dying. In short unionist unity is hardly worth the effort when no-one – least of all the DUP and UUP – seem to know what unionism means any more. The electorate is none the wiser either.
This is, of course, true. Although I’d go further and suggest that Irish nationalism is also – increasingly – irrelevant as a means of describing ideology and policy.
The new politics that the electorate seems to yearn is one that focuses on improving this place. And that’s where the political battle-ground should take place – convincing voters of the merits of a right-of-centre or left-of-centre policy agenda.
(Oh and let’s not fixate on the interminable issue of Irish or British union – because most people couldn’t care less any longer. Frankly we’re bored with it).
Needless to say, I’d like to see the emergence of a right-of-centre political dynamic. But, for it to succeed, it’s clear that it will need to define itself in the following ways:
- It will need to have a strong, articulate and non-sectarian voice
- It will need to show a commitment to a secular political future
- It will require a strong (and worldly) leader
- It will focus on re-defining Northern Ireland as a confident and outward looking place
- It will help define a future built on hard work and a reduced role for the public sector
- It will establish this place as a great place to live
- It will give a voice to those who have been disenfranchised by the politics of Orange and Green
- It will define itself as a meritocratic movement – committed to social mobility
- It will not allow narrow-minded parochial interests to stifle its ambition to make Northern Ireland a player on the global stage
If it achieves all of these things then it will be worth supporting. And, needless to say, no political party that calls itself Unionist could achieve any of these things.