19 February 2007

Why the Peace Process needs to be resolved before the General Election

David Cameron took a little trip over to Northern Ireland today, to endorse the Conservatives' candidates in the Assembly Elections. The Tories are alone among the mainstream UK parties in fielding candidates in Northern Ireland. However, their success rate isn't good (mainly as their natural ground is already occupied by the UUP): in 2005, Conservatives received 0.4% of the total vote there. It makes Scotland look True Blue! And with comments like this, then perhaps you can see why. He did point out that Tory MLAs (as if there'll be any!) will designate themselves Unionist. Seeing as they're from the Conservative and Unionist Party, this makes sense.

However, he goes on to say:

"One of the reasons we are standing is to say to people in Northern Ireland politics doesn't have to be like this."

"It should be about the quality of your school, the quality of your hospitals, the choice you get in public services, supporting the rule of law, backing the free enterprise system.

If that's the case then firstly, they might want to stop being the Conservative AND UNIONIST Party. And as well as that, he's just effectively told people to vote for the Alliance Party, who designate themselves as 'Other'.

But Scottish Tories should consider this: given that he has just weighted free enterprise above the Union, has he just backed those Conservatives in Scotland who are want more powers (or even all remaining ones) being transferred to Edinburgh, in order to focus on things like a low-tax, low-spend Scottish government? Could this even be a message to the UK Conservative Party, to the effect of, 'Forget Scotland, we'll only be able to implement a Tory manifesto if England goes it alone'? Annabel Goldie might want to phone Cameron and ask him about that.


Jeff Peel said...

The "Unionist" in "Conservative and Unionist Party" has nothing to do with Unionist in a Northern Ireland context. It relates in fact to the Scottish Unionists. Indeed in many parts of Scotland candidates still use the old C&U title. The Ulster Unionist Party is not aligned with the Conservative Party and does not take the Conservative whip. Therefore your suggestion that the Conservative Party and UUP are one and the same is incorrect. It is also wrong that elected representatives to the Assembly should have to designate themselves as Unionist or Nationalist. The 'border issue' is resolved. We should move on. There is a very real chance that Conservatives will be elected on March 7 in the NI Assembly elections. The Party has been growing in popular support and has traditional strength in the North Down and Strangford constituencies.

Will said...

I never suggested that the Conservatives and the UUP are one and the same: rather, I argued that the ground that the Conservatives would occupy is largely held already by the UUP. And surely the 'and Unionist' has more to do with the Liberal Unionists, who joined the Conservatives after leaving the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule? I'm not denying that the title stuck for longer in Scotland, but Stuart Bell's article on the UK Tory website makes clear that the term relates to the row over Ireland.

Obviously, a decision taken a century ago needn't influence policy today, but the fact that Cameron has announced that Conservative MLAs would take up the 'Unionist' tag as opposed to pursuing the 'Other' option as the APNI seems hard to square with the need to move on.

It strikes me that 'Unionist' and 'Nationalist' are euphemisms for the two communities of Northern Ireland, and the designation is simply a reflection of which of those an MLA considers himself/herself to represent. By saying that Conservative MLAs would declare themselves to be Unionist will turn off any members of the Nationalist community. By saying that the designation is needless, you might raise eyebrows among the Unionist population, and but by not designating yourselves as 'Other', as the APNI have done, and the NIWC did, then people who agree that it's time to move on from the border issue would still perhaps want to look elsewhere.

It still seems like an odd route to go down, and I can't help but wonder how it will play in Scotland.