Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What is Truly Needed!

Interesting article by Alan McFarland in September's Fortnight magazine (written just prior to Tom Elliott's election as UUP leader).
You can see the full doc on this link, or by downloading it from the box.net widget at Open Unionism.
Briefly, in assessing the state of the UUP and its future positioning Alan makes the following points (I've paraphrased):
  1. The UUP is like an alcoholic in need of treatment – there is a need to admit there is a problem. The UUP remains in denial that it has fallen out of favour with the electorate (as demonstrated by the UCUNF fiasco).
  2. The DUP is now the traditional UUP, at one level it makes sense for the UUP and the DUP to join together. That would recreate the UUP of 50 years ago, and a very powerful unionist entity that would be more than a match for a single large nationalist party – Sinn Féin.
  3. However, such polarisation could be politically unhealthy and remove choice from the electorate.
  4. The other alternative is for the UUP to resume its trail-blazing role on behalf of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
  5. The UUP needs a new vision of where it wants to be in 10 years and a strategy that will take it there.
  6. The party has an ageing membership; it needs to build up a new team of activists in each constituency.
  7. The Party must engage with business, voluntary organisations and community groups throughout each constituency.
  8. The Party needs to find bright, young, intelligent, charismatic candidates – half of which should be women.
  9. The UUP leader will need to decide between joining in common cause with the DUP or seeking a new mission for the Party.
  10. The answers to the UUP’s problems cannot be implemented before May 2011.
The crux of this article - and the future for the UUP - lies in the second and third bullet points.
But to my mind, the leap that Alan makes between Bulletpoint 2 and Bulletpoint 3 contains something of the fatal problem afflicting the UUP.
In Bulletpoint 2, Alan correctly asserts that the DUP is now a traditional UUP. The St Andrews Agreement is a GFA for slow learners (with apologies to Seamus Mallon). The DUP have indeed signed up to what Durkan liked to call the architecture of the GFA.
The DUP is now capable of filling the space traditionally occupied (since 1921) by the Ulster Unionists ie. it is the establishment party / the mouthpiece of mainstream Unionism.
Bulletpoint 2 is a real world, practical requirement for a strong DUP.
Bulletpoint 3 is the defence for the UUP – and it is an abstract concept.
Abstract concepts are usually considered axiomatic by UUP strategists but that largely is the source of their delusional decision-making.
Real people are largely interested in Bulletpoint 2. Comparatively, Unionists couldn’t really give a damn about Bulletpoint 3.
Will unionist voters dilute the single, settled voice of mainstream unionism (as agreed at various elections) while Sinn Fein continues to gain ground? Or do they disperse their power and authority so as to defend supposed philosophical benefits of healthy choice?
In practical terms, the benefit of choice in Unionist politics is unproven. Greater choice has often simply generated more strident enmity. Alan assumes that ‘choice’ is always healthy. I wonder if he’s right?
For example, I think he’s wrong to suppose that the presence of multifarious Unionist parties is the only true (healthy) form which ‘choice’ can take.
There was an explosion of choice (micro-parties) in 1998, and the electorate has slowly but surely rationalised this variety down to two main choices. And very soon it may simply return one Unionist Party. Alan is saying that Northern Ireland will have an unhealthy democracy at that point.
He needs to be careful that a lame, sick and poorly performing UUP doesn’t hasten towards its doom implying the first 50 years of Northern Ireland’s life was deeply unhealthy and antithetical to the noble concept of democracy.
If the UUP is going to exist it must go back to the simple stuff. The UUP must redefine healthy democracy as one which claims the presence of numerous ideas. The UUP must produce ideas.
Until now, the party has seemed more interested in blocking and frustrating. But opposition for its own sake is wrong. The UUP must go further and if it cannot produce initiatives in a certain area then it must support strong ideas wherever they emerge. For example, the UUP must respond positively to excellent statements like this.
The UUP has not been able to produce a grand idea / great narrative in quite some time. The result of all this has been the emergence of sort of zombified party sloping around aimlessly without any greater purpose in life than to find the comfort of the grave.
Alan is right to say that the UUP will not be able to find a complete answer to its problems before May next year. But it must start to produce ideas and challenge people. If it does not, then the Unionist electorate will continue to do what it has always done –that is, find certainty and comfort in a single, large, monolithic Unionist party. But let’s not blame them for it – after all, we’ve been there before.
Abstract notions of choice (in Alan’s healthy democracy) only gain credence when realistic, practical, sensible, constructive ideas start emerging from the UUP. If choice is removed from the Unionist electorate, then the UUP will only have themselves to blame.
Geoff McGimpsey


  1. I met last night with UUP supporters in New York - all significant Northern Irish business people who are making a massive contribution to the world and know how much the owe and can offer to Northern Ireland.

    I didn't have to travel to USA to find experienced, enterprising and determined individuals offering to help. The new UUP is not paddling in the same old pool and is harnessing the massive resource at our disposal - reactivating and reengaging.

    I think when the Assembly Candidate list is complete you will find it is refreshingly different. People with the experience and a track record of delivery necessary to rise to the challenges of today. Clearly the old guard with old ideas appropriate to different times is not what Northern Ireland needs to lead us forward and deliver a world-class 'boutique economy' held in the same regard as Taiwan, Israel, Singapore…

    Whilst I am here helping to launch the Titanic Port book, are you, like me, not tired of harking back to past days of glory. Northern Ireland can and will be a shining and positive role model again.

    I have put together an impressive Advisory Board including leading business and community figures, respected professionals, serial entrepreneurs, etc. People from Digital Infrastructure, Social-Economy, Creative industry, ICT, Environmental experts, Investment Banking, Venture Capital, Clinical Director, Leisure & Tourism leaders, Tax, Education, Human resources, FDI, Infrastructure, Social Housing, Electricity generation supply and distribution.

    Our developing and credible proposals deal with economy, education and empowerment - I know a cliché / soundbite - but with respect this isn't the place for detail. The proposals have been framed having listened to people. They are from a caring, compassionate, fiscally conservative, resourceful and determined group….the people of Northern Ireland.

    We could focus our energies on the lack of credibility of proposals or individuals. We are not.

    Look forward to telling you more on my return from the USA where I have been representing confident unionism and promoting a Northern ireland for ALL.

  2. "I think when the Assembly Candidate list is complete you will find it is refreshingly different. People with the experience and a track record of delivery necessary to rise to the challenges of today. Clearly the old guard with old ideas appropriate to different times is not what Northern Ireland needs to lead us forward"

    I agree with you there. Your statement about the fresh candidates is particularly evident in the Upper-Bann selection. George Savage was deselected in favor of two, "up and coming candidates" in the form of Jo-Anne and Colin.

    I don't know what way the result fell last night, but I'm aware of the considerable margin McCusker romped home at the first meeting.

    It's very much a transitional stage for the party, but I do agree with McFarland's point about our direction for the next ten years.