Nationalism, Unionism, and a lack of Pragmatism

I would consider myself a unionist, if other unionists didn’t make it so fucking hard.

Mike Nesbitt said, somewhat bravely, that he would be transferring to the SDLP, his fellow opposition party, in the 2017(a) Assembly Election. Thus bucking the typical, ‘transfer to other unionist’ instruction that has become an ever-present feature of tribal election literature. (And of course, on the nationalist side)

Bravo Mike, bravo.

This is the first act I’ve seen from Northern Irish political-unionist leader that has ever made me stop and think, “maybe… just maybe, there’s hope for them…”

Of course, it’s full of nuance – in Nesbitt’s voting constituency, East Belfast, Andy Allen (UUP) isn’t exactly odds on to be re-elected, and even if he is, by the time he gets passed, the SDLP’s Séamas de Faoite will have been eliminated hours earlier, it’s an irrelevancy. But it’s the symbolism. The UUP voters that do listen to Mike or think like he does, will likely than transfer back inside the unionist club. (Although again, it’s not unlikely that Andy Allen won’t get re-elected, and if he does it will almost certainly be as the last candidate over the line.)

The Northern Ireland Executive will be headed by a unionist party, and a nationalist party. Mike has made the pragmatic decision that he would rather that the nationalist party was the SDLP – and why the hell not. I have no doubt that the DUP would much rather that the largest nationalist party was the SDLP as well.

Pragmatism: the quality of dealing with a problem in a sensible way that suits the conditions that really exist, rather than following fixed theories, ideas, or rules.

Personally, I rank pragmatism almost above all other qualities. There are those that see Mike Nesbitt’s actions as self serving… electioneering. For those people, I ask you to look at the response he has received. I’ve not heard many (any?) within his own party echo his stance. I’ve heard widespread derision. And why? Because he dared to state things as they are, and act accordingly.

Yes, there are differences between UUP and SDLP, of course there are. There are differences between every political party – but Northern Ireland needs an Executive and that Executive will include a nationalist party and a unionist party, (unfortunately), and that may as well be two parties who can stomach being in the same room together.

DUP MLAs have been quick to jump on this as a stick to beat the UUP with.

But this raises a couple of issues.

The DUP, and indeed seemingly the wider unionist political movement, would rather shoot themselves in the foot and leave themselves working with Sinn Fein, a party they regard with significantly less respect than they do the SDLP. But HOW DARE MIKE ACKNOWLEDGE A SOLUTION TO THIS.

Northern Ireland’s current political process is 18, but in some ways, it’s nowhere near that. It’s immature, it’s angst-ridden, it’s Kevin from Kevin & Perry, screaming out of frustration for not getting its own way.

Members of the DUP have, since Opposition came to pass, if not for a long time before, criticised the UUP, told people that they weren’t the party to govern, that they weren’t fit to, and all that other stuff that comes with party politicking…. but then they tell their voters to transfer to them? Is this then not a case of the DUP selling a dud to the electorate? “If we can’t get one of our people in, vote for these other people who we don’t believe are good enough to govern… because they’re the same tribe as us.”

The border is not going to be decided in the 2017(a) Assembly Election. It is not going to be decided in a council election, it’s not going to be decided by a Westminster election or even a European Election (remember them?). It’s not on the table. 90 nationalist MLAs can be returned in this election, and the border is as secure as ever.

Voting for an MLA based on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland won’t help health department waiting lists in June. It won’t help the province’s homeless, or its kids in education, it won’t help defend against austerity or protect our environment. On that, I ask an open question… why do our tribal parties, our nationalist and unionist parties produce a manifesto? What is it for? Would it not be better just to save the printing costs and put a few more flags on the election leaflets?

Mike Nesbitt may have had the first recorded moment of unionist clarity in my lifetime, and his reward will be derision. It’s worth remarking that he is the longest standing leader of one of the big five political parties in Northern Ireland… this isn’t a small move on his behalf. And it will cost him. But it shouldn’t, not if Northern Ireland is mature enough to accept the reality of the situation.

Which it isn’t.

On the other hand, there are parties who have been showing for years that you don’t need to subscribe to tribalism.

Alliance, Green Party, even People before Profit – all espouse voting on issues of real consequence that are affected by an Assembly Election. The others would just have you believe that the border could change on the swing of your vote. And I’m sad for those of you who fall for it… No, I retract that. I’m not sad for you. I’m angry – you’re holding the rest of us back.

Could you, as a nationalist/unionist [delete as appropriate] ever vote for someone from the opposite constitutional persuasion, who defines themselves as a nationalist/unionist [delete as appropriate] if they presented a fully costed, funded, and agreed to policy that included:
– Housing for everyone that needed it.
– A 20% increase in health budgets year on year, and the hiring of 5,000 new doctors.
– Class sizes reduced to 20 children per, and construction of 100 new schools.
And NO other party showed a viable way to do the above, and your vote would in no way affect the constitutional status of Northern Ireland? Could you vote for them?
If not, you should probably just go ahead and accept that you’re sectarian.

Because you’re either sectarian, or stupid.

This place WILL NOT WORK if we continue to work apart. The division has achieved nothing. I applaud thinking outside of the box.

Although, to quote the late, great Terry Pratchett,

“I’d be much more encouraging of thinking outside the box if there was evidence of any thinking having gone on inside it”

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