OPINION: The role of Unionism’s progressive flank- By William Ennis
IT WAS something that first occurred to me as I read Sinnerton’s David Ervine: Uncharted Waters and was then confirmed when I read The Principles of Loyalism, by William Mitchell. Something which made me the unionist I am. A realisation that not only did my socio-economic politics lie to the left-of-centre, but that my unionism was all the stronger for it. My advocation of our United Kingdom, and my faith in Northern Ireland’s role within it rests upon several over-riding principles. The idea that our country is an historic mix of multiple peoples, countless cultures, and the freedom to be the person you are. A political Union which has the potential to be at least as bright as that of any other in the democratic world. In the context of the Unionist family, I became a progressive.
Citizenship for the British subject is not about national identity or cultural exclusiveness. It is about sharing a political identity that transcends religion, culture, language and ethnicity. In short, it is about living in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic pluralist society… (From The Principles of Loyalism, by William Mitchell, 2002)
The Progressive flank of Unionism, the adherents of which are to be found across many political parties, institutions, and movements, is vital to the health of Unionism and so must be respected, and never dismissed.
There must be balance within the debates of unionism. This means a fair hearing from both conservative and progressive voices. We must be willing to listen to the unionist who wishes to challenge our point of view. And the reason is quite straight-forward, because it will make Unionism robust. swell its political activism. Identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and indeed threats. How can a room full of conservative unionists really be that confident in any decision taken, or conclusion arrived at if there were no progressive unionists present to test their arguments? And likewise, any decision taken by a group comprised entirely of progressives would itself be dangerously unchecked, and therefore lacking in quality. Guaranteed freedom for a unionist to speak plainly even when venturing beyond traditional (or perhaps perceived) unionist discourse will provide above all else many more active unionists.
As a Loyalist who believes firmly that Northern Ireland’s legislative assembly should have passed equal marriage rights for same-sex couples a long time ago I argue that we Unionists must take our place within the pro-equality movement. A role unionism’s progressives must fully assume. One of the reasons for this is that we must improve this collection of debates by highlighting the hypocrisy of others and scuppering their misrepresentation of the PUL community. To make Northern Ireland a place where equality prevails we must progressively combat the planted perception that to be a unionist is to be opposed to progress, or opposed to public services, or opposed to the health service, or opposed to combating homelessness, or opposed to fairness. To make clear and optical the true breadth of unionism is to broaden the appeal of the union itself. A fuller unionism will challenge the falsehoods levelled against it on all fronts.
It is unionism’s progressive flank that will persuade those who have exited the unionist family to return, and bring others with them.
For the first time, many people outside, and some inside, the ‘unionist family’ are surprised to find themselves listening willingly and giving careful consideration to unionist arguments. (From David Ervine: Uncharted Waters, by Henry Sinnerton, 2002)
A fuller unionist political family incorporating, respecting and embracing a large and undeniable progressive flank will regenerate for tomorrow’s electorate. Will produce political avenues and manifestos which will by no means pull punches on why the union is a great thing, but will, through its new, much broader harvesting of ideas politicise with unprecedented confidence.
When unionists have different ideas it’s not division, it’s diversity. It is not a weakness but potentially unionism’s greatest strength. It’s one thing to dwell on what the union is, but let’s dare to dream of what it can be.
In the spirit of this very subject matter. I’d like to thank the Unionist Voice for the opportunity to contribute.