Thursday, February 09, 2006


Thursday Thoughts: Are Unionists British?

Are unionists British? My Top Ten Tuesday post here on the English led to a very interesting post on this blog, Great Britain, not little England.

The site, run by 'MatGB', has a union jack emblazoned on the front page where the Welsh flag with the red dragon replaces the St Patrick's cross and Mat states that he is 'British, not UKish' and he gives his views on the North:

"For those paying attention, yes, the logo at the top combines three flags. Two crosses and a Dragon. No St Patrick to be seen. And yes, that is deliberate. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I'm British, not UKish. While I instintively distrust the likes of McGuinness and Adams, I'm not that keen on Paisley and his ilk either, both sides were out of order throughout the conflict. British Govt regularly touts the 'self determination' mantra. Anyone ask us? Keep 1707, that one made us Great. Get rid of 1800, we were never really United, were we?Now is not the time, no idea when it will be, but I just don't care about 6 counties and the protestanct ascendancy. Never have. Not just because I'm an atheist. Orange landed at Brixham, doesn't mean I like the Orangemen much..."

I was interested in hearing Mat's perspective on those in the north of Ireland who considered themselves British. He replied:

"Essentially, I'm not actually bothered. We (well, I) no longer want them, and consider them no more British than you; part of the British Isles, but that's it, Britain is this side of the water.

"If they want to be British, then they can come here, alternately they can accept whatever settlement we offer them, which I suspect will likely be some sort of dual sovereignty/autonomy within the EU, an improvement, in some way, of the Andorra model.

"At a basic level, 200 years of bloodshed for pretty much no net gain, and that's only counting post Union. While I'm aware that Cromwell wasn't half as bad as some Irish histories say, pretty awful is still a pretty good description of his policies."

This view has been reflected in polls on the subject, for example this poll in The Guardian which showed 41% of Britons in favour of a United Ireland. This poll was conducted in 2001 at a time when David Trimble was leader of unionism, not Paisley, and when the IRA were still committed to their armed campaign. I think it's fair to say that a new poll would offer a higher percentage in favour of a United Ireland.

As I said in the comments section of Mat's site, it's almost as if unionists have to prove their Britishness to themselves. It seems clear that to the British people from Britain, unionists are an alien breed and are regarded as foreign.

One can only speculate about the future of unionism but it seems that its future looks bleak unless it can open itself up to cultural diversity. This is difficult for unionism however as it has traditionally depended on its exclusiveness to prosper.

Irishness is thriving nowadays. Dublin has become a multicultural city and soon Ireland will follow suit. Ireland will see an evolution in its national identity. We will have Polish-Irish, Chinese-Irish, Nigerian-Irish and a whole host of other cultures all flying under the banner of the Irish Republic.

In Britain, Britishness has managed to bring together people of various backgrounds but in Ireland, Britishness has remained an exclusive identity rather than an inclusive one. Many unionists for example have renounced their Irishness. Therefore, while Britishness has evolved fairly successfully in England, Scotland and Wales, Britishness in the north of Ireland has remained insular and narrow. The UUP and the DUP have failed to make any effort towards those in the North who feel Irish. Instead, these people have looked towards the south and seen a thriving state bringing together various peoples.

Unionists have seen this happen in Britain and have failed to match it. Now that it is happening in the Irish Republic, one wonders what will become of unionism? Will it respond positively to the changes, or negatively?

It seems that unionism has been passed by. As much as many unionists are loathe to admit it, the Irish Republic is a successful country with a diverse range of people. Anglo-Irish relations have never been better. We have moved on - but unionism has not.

It's a curious role reversal when you look at it from a historical perspective. The Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland in the 18th century, through movements like the Patriots, sought an Irish parliament so they could govern their own affairs free of British influence. They even saw themselves as the inheritors of Gaelic antiquity. Nowadays though, the Protestant Asendancy in Ireland are resisting a parliament to govern their own affairs and many greet any Gaelic or Irish cultural aspects with open hostility.

It doesn't look like progress to me at all.

Unionism, bereft of Irishness, now seems to be bereft of direction and bereft of key support from their 'fellow' Britons.

It would appear to me that the unionists need devolution up and running more than anyone.

They cannot continue to put up with this political stagnation when they are deep in the midst of serious cultural stagnation.


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