By Jamie Bryson
In recent days, flowing from the Unionist Voice Policy Studies (‘UVPS’) report (Download HERE) which in part addressed the elite nationalist network which dominates the professional class- particularly law and media, there has been significant public debate.
It is important to be alert to the complete distortion of Baroness Hoey’s comments in her foreword. She said nothing about religion whatsoever, quite the opposite. This issue has precisely zero to do with Catholicism, or Protestantism for that matter, but has everything to do with political identity, and the politicisation of professional vocations.
In equal terms, while many commentators have focused on the issue of deprivation and educational underachievement, this- important as it is- still has nothing to do with the that which is at issue in this debate.
The actual issue is the weaponisation of the professional class by those of a pre-dominately nationalist political persuasion. I call this an elite nationalist network of influence. I am bemused at the outrage of nationalists who suggest no such network exists, they literally created a ‘civic nationalist’ movement to try and use the professional status of its members to credential nationalist political ideas.
This was not some clandestine movement. They published multiple letters in a national newspaper with the signatories not identified as merely individuals, but rather by their professional status. They therefore self-identified as nationalist academics, lawyers, journalists etc.
This elite network- very active on social media- believe they stand as gatekeepers of academia, law and media, and guardians of the Belfast Agreement. This network has been able to operate without challenge for so long that they have in fact become embedded.
It works like this; there is a network of nationalist activists who have entered professional vocations, and who then use their professional standing as a means of credentialling political, legal, academic, or public policy positions or persons advantageous to nationalism, and conversely discrediting those which would be advantageous to unionists.
This is the elite network of nationalist activists. It isn’t some formally constituted group with a grand plan, rather it is an informal network of like-minded persons who become engrained within a process of groupthink, largely due to the world of twitter which- due to a very orchestrated movement of nationalist social media activists (recruited by Sinn Fein in around 2017/18)- approvingly endorses ‘helpful’ voices.
It is noticeable of course that the network actively seeks out, and try to credential, unionists whom they see as preferrable, usually because they are naïve or open to capitulation of the key nationalist demand of the moment.
In academia, it is nationalist surrogates who are the go-to gatekeepers. Their approval is necessary for credentialing of any reports, papers or theories. The issue with this is obvious; any positions not ‘approved’ by these pro nationalist gatekeepers are therefore ostracised as unacceptable. Following publication of the recent Unionist Voice Policy Studies report, self-appointed elite academics not only withheld approval, but actively sought to demonise the contents.
The same, until recently, in relation to the law. Nationalism’s political objectives- converted into (often spurious) legal arguments- are instantly credentialled, by virtue of the endorsement of fellow nationalist elite network activists. They are then used as legal authority to underpin political arguments. This was never more obvious than the entirely erroneous legal arguments conjured up- and credentialled by nationalist activist lawyers and academics- in relation to the Belfast Agreement and Brexit. That these arguments would be laughed out of any actual case is irrelevant, the purpose was to deploy them not in the actual legal area, but to act as intellectual capital for the political arena.
And finally, sections (but not all) of the media ensure it is the material credentialled by nationalist gatekeepers which is given most prominence in mainstream public discourse. I should say there any many journalists, some of our very best, who are from a nationalist background and are extremely fair to the unionist community. Nevertheless (and this is legitimate, but should be recognised overtly) the nationalist political preferences shape output, language and commentary, sometimes in very subtle but significant ways.
It is by this process that nationalism largely seeks to control the key organs of society, and to ensure the intellectual capital which flows up the pipe to decision makers (in the judiciary, politics or public service) is filtered through credentialled nationalist gatekeepers.
By controlling which views are credentialled as ‘acceptable’, nationalist elites can effectively control the prevailing public narrative. If you control the public narrative and are a gatekeeper ensuring which intellectual capital is deemed credible, then you can exert powerful influence over the direction of society.
The ferocious reaction to Baroness Hoey’s excellent foreword, and the other contents of the report, demonstrates that there is plainly merit in the points. The fire and fury, and the swinging into action of the elite nationalist network to demonise the perfectly legitimate views and shut down any debate has been amusing to watch. The motivation is obvious, to keep the subject taboo and thus permit the subtle influences and informal networks to continue unhindered.
We had the poorly written intervention by Belfast NUJ (or, more accurately, a small cabal therein) in the name of some unknown individual, who presumably at some stage had some involvement in journalism (or, maybe not). I need not rehearse again the colourful history of Belfast NUJ’s controlling cabal and their sectarian tantrums over my 2015 membership application to the Union.
Their statement bordered on idiocy, and in fact helpfully illuminated the very type of network which is the subject of the ongoing debate. They managed to take a comment in relation to political identity (nationalism), and transpose it into religion. No one ever mentioned religion, yet half their ‘statement’ was devoted to talking about religion. Given the inaccuracy, it is pretty obvious some fringe member of the Union has authored the statement, rather than any of the actual credible journalists who were more likely busy doing actual journalism.
In equal terms, we had what can only be described as vitriolic bile by Susan McKay published in the Irish Times. It is notable that the vile anti-unionist diatribes by the likes of Ms McKay, and the weekly sectarian rant of Brian Feeney, are not subject to criticism or a contrived ‘twitter storm’. Quite the reverse, such anti-unionist hate is endorsed- primarily, would you believe, by the elite nationalist network.
The fire and fury whipped up and fuelled by the likes of Susan McKay and other nationalist surrogates, is not blind fury. It is calculated and has a purpose. For the past decade especially, nationalism has been successful at shaping public debate via two primary means; (i) the use of their elite network to have those of professional standing credential and promote that which is favourable to nationalism, and conversely demonise that which is favourable to unionism; (ii) the saturation of social media by nationalist ‘online activists’ (Sinn Fein literally published an advertisement seeking such ‘activists’, or as others would simply call them- trolls) who (often with multiple troll accounts) distort the world of social media, ensuring promotion of that favourable to nationalists , and orchestrating demonisation, pile ons and bullying of those unfavourable to nationalists.
However, they have a problem which is demonstrated by the dramatic intensification of the campaign against Baroness Hoey. They have failed to force either Baroness Hoey, or myself, to back down and meekly retract or seek to ‘clarify’. In short, the deployment of all their tools of control and influence has been unable to shut down their opponents on this issue, and this as a consequence, has been unable to kill the debate.
That, above all, is their real concern. There will now be many more unionists (especially those in the professional class) and loyalists who have been afraid to speak out for fear of being subject to a frenzied public ‘two minutes hate’, who will realise that the emperor has no clothes. That, in fact, when you simply refuse to cede to the bullying, the pile ons and the deployment of the elite nationalist network you see that like all bullies, they in fact are weak. And so, they lose their perceived power.
The unionist strategy to rebalance the professional class, and to equally use professional status and access to advance unionism, is entirely legitimate. It is striking that nationalists feel it entirely legitimate to use the strategy of using professional status to advance political objectives, but any unionist retaliation to develop similar networks and do the same is an outrage.
It is a matter of fact that the professional class and vocations have been politicised. If there was a clear defining moment, it was the ‘civic nationalist’ letter to the Irish Prime Minister.
Nationalists started this; they politicised the professional class with their ‘civic nationalist’ structure, and therefore it is of course necessary for unionists to create an equally influential structure and network to provide a home for pro-Union ideas and beliefs within the professional class.
It is equally crucial to create a conveyor belt of unionist activists entering the professional class and- copying nationalism’s approach- to deploy their professional status to advance unionist ideas and objectives.
We are where we are. The culture war is on, and it’s time for unionism to enter the fray- whether the nationalist elite network like it, or not. It will be necessary to power through the contrived fire and fury, and the attempts to demonise unionists seeking to rebalance the professional class. So be it.