Friday, 29 June 2007

Defining modern unionism. (i) - UK Unionism

Michael Shilliday started the linked discussion over on the Young Unionist blog. Michael quotes the Union Group's document "21st Century Unionism" and it got me thinking about the nature of those who call themselves unionists. My reservations about the Group's document are outlined already as comments on Michael's post, but, over a number of posts, I wish to address some of the dilemmas and challenges unionism within Northern Ireland faces in modern politics, as well as outlining what a belief in the importance of the Union means to me.

United Kingdom Unionism (stripping aside the party political connotations) at its broadest, is a belief in the maintenance of the United Kingdom as a sovereign state. As O'Neill highlighted on the YU blog, it was at this extremely fundamental starting point that the Union Group document went awry. There can be a variety of opinions within unionism, as to how the United Kingdom might be governed, but the bedrock is a belief in the state's integrity and in the ultimate sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. As such unionism is not party political and is concerned with the single-most important debate in constitutional politics in the UK.

The consitutional fabric of the United Kingdom has undergone some of the most seismic changes in the 300 years of its existence, since 1997. The debate about the Union, its necessity or lack of it, and the nature of its evolution is in many ways the over-riding issue of the day. Unionists in Northern Ireland must involve themselves in this mainstream debate with fellow unionists in the UK, not focus myopically on local events.

I believe that maintaining the Union is the best political arrangement for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I believe that the United Kingdom provides the institutions and constitutional framework which ensure a modern, secular, multi-national, multi-cultural and economically successful state and while I believe there may be room for improvement, I cherish those institutions.

Most unionists have accepted a degree of devolved government to the constituent parts of the UK, but my general belief is that diminution of the central powers of the Westminster Parliament should not continue any further. The pluralism and freedom copper-fastened by that Parliament will also risk diminution, if its sovereignty is needlessly undermined. Devolution should bring decision making closer to the people, without diminishing the whole.

The Union is the engine which provides all four nations within it, as well as the countless cultures and minorities which we comprise, success - economically and culturally, and a disproportionate influence in the affairs of Europe and the world. Put simply, we are far stronger together than any of us would be apart. Economically Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have benefitted tremendously from a financial subvention from central government, but in return we have contributed our pool of talent, our resources and diversity to the successful running of that government and its institutions.

These are bonds the Union Group and other Northern Irish unionists should be strengthening, focusing on and discussing, rather than fixating on the separateness or particularism of our province. We must engage fully with the United Kingdom mainstream.

To paraphrase David Trimble "we are for a big United Kingdom, not a little Ulster". And it is to Ulster Unionism specifically which I will turn in my next post on this topic. I'll give you a clue! I don't regard all those who consider themselves unionists in Northern Ireland to be deserving of such a description!

67 comments:

Jack said...

Just to throw a spanner into the works of your definition: I see myself as a UK Unionist, yet I do not hold "a belief in the maintenance of the United Kingdom as a sovereign state".

Essentially I believe sovereignty is a redundant concept: it is restricted by international law, it is restricted (in the UK at least) by European Union law - both of which can have superiority over our own.

I am satisfied with this state of affairs. Fundamentally, I am an anti-nationalist: I oppose insular British nationalism just as much as I oppose Scottish nationalism in own part of the United Kingdom. I recognise that there will always be a UK government within any future structure: it is a natural level of government. But essentially it should be a layer, not an all encompassing 'sovereign' body - not that it ever truly has been to my mind.

Anyway, a quick two (Euro) cents. Regards etc.

Chekov said...

Cheers Jack. An interesting take on things.

Scottish Unionist said...

Jack

Your "anti-nationalism" idea is quite similar to my own thinking.

Sovereignty, to me, is little more than the authority to legislate. As such it's distributed - in the Scottish context, for example, between Holyrood, Westminster and the EU Legislatures.

This creates a "wheels within wheels" scenario which encourages co-operation (one of unionism's key strengths) and runs counter to nationalistic notions that "we" (however defined) must govern "ourselves".

However, it is the case that "ultimate" sovereignty, obviously within the limits of international law, must reside somewhere, and I think we would agree that it should be Westminster, which is free to revoke the Scotland Act or to leave the EU.

Wardog said...

"Your "anti-nationalism" idea is quite similar to my own thinking."


well well well

Wardog said...

"I recognise that there will always be a UK government within any future structure: it is a natural level of government."

"This creates a "wheels within wheels" scenario which encourages co-operation (one of unionism's key strengths) and runs counter to nationalistic notions that "we" (however defined) must govern "ourselves".

"I think we would agree that it should be Westminster"




Do unionists use crystals to guide their thoughts?

What a load of ill-reasoned, hokem rubbish. tell me AM2, do you get a shiver in your knee that tells you that westminister is the 'natural' level of government.

Jeesh

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