Jude Collins

Friday, 25 January 2013

Basil McCrea and telling the truth

I like Basil McCrea. There’s something about his boyish chubby face and flop of fringe that reminds me of a bit player from Greyfriars School ( which Billy Bunter attended, and if you don’t know who Billy Bunter is, just trust me, OK?). He looks and sounds like a man who enjoys talking to people,  and he has shown himself open to engagement with political opponents in a no-big-deal way. (Actually when it’s put like that, it seems odd that he should stand out as different. But then we live in an odd place.)
Anyway, Basil is on the Unionist Naughty Step at the moment,  and it looks like he’ll spend more time there after his recent interview with a Lisburn local radio station.  In it he says some very interesting things. Here’s one, on the flags protest:

You first of all have to get people off the streets. And then you have to go through a long process of telling people the truth. You do have to explain to people that compromise is necessary. It is not a dirty word. It is the way you go forward in any democracy, trying to work out what is the best for the most people. 

I like some of the above paragraph a lot, especially the bit about ‘telling people the truth’.  If unionist leaders were to tell their constituents the truth, they’d remind them that Belfast City Hall has standing-room-only, it’s so packed with unionist memorials, paintings and statues. And they’d remind them that the city is saturated in streets, buildings and bridges, all of which loudly shout out “We’re unionist!”

Except that Belfast is no longer unionist. The city has more non-unionists than unionists.  If you reflect on that fact for a moment, you’ll quickly spot the bit of Basil’s paragraph that doesn’t work for me. He’s right to talk about the need for compromise, but psst, Basil. Flying the Union flag 17 times a year is not “what is best for the most people”. 
Try it from a Martian’s point of view. He gets out of his space-ship and is told that two more-or-less equal groups each has its own flag, how will they resolve this impasse fairly?  The Martian, assuming his brain hasn’t fried on entry to Earth, would almost certainly reply (in Martian) “Fly both flags or none”.  That actually would be a balanced compromise. But even when all 17 flag-flying occasions will feature the Union flag and none the Irish tricolour, all unionist hell breaks loose. So yes, Basil, there certainly is room for some more truth-telling.

Unfortunately, Basil’s position within his party is shaky, which tells you something about his party and about unionism in general. On Monday, even though still strictly speaking an Ulster Unionist, he voted against his own party. Clearly the Ulster Unionist Party is in a mess - rapid shuffling of leaders, mutterings against the present leader, people quitting the party. The DUP, in contrast, is much more cohesive, but it faces an appalling vista:  that its leader might be defeated not once but twice by an Alliance candidate. If that happens, the knives will be out and used. Then there’s the PUP,  intent on reviving its fortunes on the back of the flag protestors.  And after that there are all those unionists who are fuming with the laughing stock that’s been made of unionism by the fleg people.  In short, unionism is fracturing in the face of change, with more change, like it or lump it, on the way.   And the moral is? As Basil says, tell people the truth. And tell them it before it’s too late.



  1. Both flags or none? The GFA settled the constitutional position of NI; part of the UK. There is no joint sovereignty, the tricolour has no place in any official building in Belfast. Whatever way you want to dress it up, the is no equality between the flag of a foreign state and that of the UK. As wrong as the continued street protests are its articles like this with such fallacies that give them fuel

    1. Whilst technically correct about the constitutional position,your post doesn't seem to give any recognition to the reality of a divided society. Choosing to put your head in the sand with talk of a 'foreign state' will only perpetuate the problems.

  2. The GFA only 'settled the constitutional position of NI as part of the UK' FOR THE TIME BEING. It wasn't a settlement between victor & defeated, stating the final score, but an agreement that the contest would continue by constitutional/peaceful/legal means.

    It explicitly stated that Westminster would legislate for Irish unity/British withdrawal if the circumstances for that were brought about lawfully, whereas the hitherto orange state exiled nationalists in permanent opposition (as it was gerrymandered into existence to do).

  3. Further to my comment at 01:30, the PUP justify their flag protest/recruitment drive/funding application/electoral campaign by complaining that SF are conducting a cultural conflict against Britishness.

    But that's exactly what the GFA legitimizes, the achievement of a unitary irish state by legal means.

    Slow learners, indeed.

    1. It's only a problem if your leaders sold the GFA as the defeat of Republicanism and continued to feed you a diet of shit and publicly gloat about Republicans administering British Rule etc

      ...as opposed to telling the troops the truth and preparing them for the inevitable political challenges ahead - maybe the said leaders thought it would all be down the line and they would be long gone and could blame the fallout on their successors?

    2. Anon
      Surely it has always been legitimate to strive for a 'unitary Irish state' by legal means.
      As the SDLP have done throughout the troubles. Albeit rather ineffectually.

    3. No, the Gov of Ireland Act stated Westminster's ad infinitum ownership of these six counties, and the GFA got rid of that, committed Westminster to leave in the event of a vote for unity, and recognised the irish, non-british, identity.

    4. Yes but at no time was any party prevented from legitimately campaigning for a United Ireland by legal means.

    5. Likewise one could say there was democracy in the Maiden city between partition & 1969: technically correct, but in reality nonsense given a gerrymandered rigged system.

    6. Anon
      i assume you are the same anon who commented at 13:50 on the 26th.
      I understand what you say about Derry, but what I am questioning is the notion that before 1998 there was no legitimate recognition for the pursuit of a United Ireland. That seems to suggest a justification of the armed struggle prior to the GFA.
      But I may be misunderstanding you, and if so my apologies.

    7. Yes, I'm saying that before the peace process there wasn't 'legitimate recognition for the pursuit of a United Ireland' but I don't think that, of itself, justified armed struggle.

      For one thing, by the GFA, 29 years into the Troubles, it was clear that armed struggle could not succeed.

      This raises an interesting tangent: at what point did armed struggle cease to be justified? I respect the view of Kevin Myers that nationalist violence in both 1916 & '69 was wrong. Likewise the view of Adams that 1916 & '69 were justified. Both men are consistent. What bugs me is the inconsistency of the southern establishment which would portray Michael Collins on a Boys Own adventure & Bobby Sands as a criminal.

    8. Anon
      Perhaps we are just differing on the meaning of legitimate.
      I am saying there was nothing in law to prevent any group campaigning for a United Ireland. I am not saying that the system was not weighted in favour of the status quo, as it clearly was, but the opportunity to strive by peaceful means was there and to me the option of armed struggle should have been rejected.
      There were other (less bloody) paths to the top of the mountain.

    9. Fair enough, but I'd still be interested in your opinion on when armed struggle became illegitimate. As I say, I respect all views on that from Myers to Adams.

      I think that armed struggle was arguably more justified in 1969 than 1916.

      In 1916 nationalists had over 100 MPs at Westminster, Home Rule was on the statute book, &, on social issues, the people were not appreciably worse off than in the rest of the UK.

      In 1969 irish national freedom was blocked by a gerrymandered junta set up to permanently block it. A junta which discriminated against them on social issues & used murderous force against their peaceful requests for civil rights.

      In any case, I can't accept the position of Michael McDowell that Bobby Sands was a criminal whereas the Tan War IRA were freedom fighters. Give me the consistency of Myers over that hypocrisy!

      By the way, in this weather, I envy your position in Campo de Fiori.

    10. Anon
      To be honest I am undecided about 1916-sad to admit it but there you go.
      I do believe that the 'struggle' was not justified in 1969 or 1972. 0r 1985.
      I can understand spontaneous reaction to oppressive actions, but a premeditated sustained campaign of violence,more often than not against ones own countrymen was not justified.
      It falls on those who believe it was just, proportionate and had a reasonable expectation of success, to explain how.
      Now back to my plinth. It is a bit hot up here though!

  4. "The GFA settled the constitutional position of NI; part of the UK. There is no joint sovereignty, the tricolour has no place in any official building in Belfast."

    The GFA establishes that there is a constituency of people loyal to the Irish State within Northern Ireland and gives them a veto on all legislation.

    It is the loyalty to the Irish State that is the basis for designation - not just some communal characteristic like Xhosa or Zulu.

    So it's appropriate that this part of the Northern Irish constitution which is recognised in law is also recognised in local flags and emblems.

    Perhaps if more Irish Parties would get on and start organising here this would be more clear to people.