Jude Collins

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Unionism today: in the driving seat or careening downhill?

Tom Elliott, UUP Leader

We had our last book-club meeting of the season last night  (Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and very good it was too) and after we got to discussing politics. All those present, I’d feel safe in saying, were nationalists, but not everybody in the room saw things, post-election, the same.  At least one person was convinced that unionism was in a confident, up-swing mood  - if you were a DUP unionist, that is, unlike the endangered species, the lesser-spotted UUP. The  physical force threat to the state of Northern Ireland which flourished for some thirty years has quit the field.  The forces of law and order now have the backing not just of unionists but nationalists and republicans as well. And nationalists/republicans have pledged to accept the status quo here until such time as a majority – maybe even a majority of unionists – decide they want to change it. Which will be when hell freezes over.

As I say, that was one view. The other was that unionism here is  in  a state of bewilderment and it’s getting worse.  On the inside, it’s being hollowed out. The state that was deep Orange in colour has gone an upsetting tinge of neutral. In  gerrymander, in housing, in jobs, in government, the old certainties have been wiped near-clean. On the outside, there’s a deep suspicion that the Tories are going to start cutting the annual subvention to a point where the benefits of links with Westminster will be harder to spot than a copy of  Á la recherche du temps perdu  with Tom Elliott's name on it. And when you go to Westminster as an MP, it feels awful  the way everyone clears the House of Commons chamber the minute a debate on your beloved wee region is mentioned. It gets so you  begin to ask yourself: inside and out,  bone-marrow to skin, what is the point? Until one day you realise there is  an alternative and you sit down with the Shinners and others to plan a new Ireland.

Two views of the present and future.  Take, as Hughie Green used to say, your pick. 

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