Thursday, May 12, 2005


A Unionist Citizens Inquiry

The setbacks of the last week seem to have left the UUP in a state of disarray. The current leadership has been discredited in the eyes of the electorate, yet the party is unable to come up with a clear alternative vision for its future. There seems to be a general lack of new ideas.

I would propose that the UUP make an effort to remedy this by setting up a Unionist Forum, along the lines of the Opsahl Commission or the New Ireland Forum. Such a body would consist of a number of commissioners drawn from a range of backgrounds with the task of seeking out new ideas for the future of Northern Ireland.

To this end the Unionist Forum would invite written submissions from all interested members of the public, whether unionist or otherwise. The Forum could then hold public hearings where the most interesting ideas could be teased out in questioning and debate and would produce a report together with a permanent record of the submissions it received.

Such a Forum would help redress the view that the UUP are distant and detached from the people. By looking to our own citizens for ideas it would give the thinking people of Northern ireland (and further afield) an input into the political process.

I went to the Linenhall Library a few years ago and read some of the contributions made to the Opsahl Commission. I was very favourably impressed by the creative thinking of the contributors. I am sure that many of them have never been members of a political party nor had many of them been asked for their views before, yet the level of insight would put many professional politicians to shame.

Northern Ireland politics is sadly lacking in "think tanks" of the sort that exist in other countries. Perhaps this can be remedied by using everyone as a think tank.

Welcome to the blogosphere David! Don't get too addicted!
Thanks Ciaran!
David, I had a little think about your previous thoughts and I came up with a couple of think tanks, in the general sense, that at least relate to NI. First and foremost is Democratic Dialogue, based in Belfast. They've done lots of interesting things and have a stack of reports on their site.

Then, there's the cross-border Irish Association for Cultural, Economic and Social Relations. The Irish Association was established in 1938 and does some good work. In fact, I'm just out of a seminar the ran on youth participation in politics.

Finally, that I can think of offhand, there's the Republic's TASC, which is committed to progressive social change across Ireland.

Of course, these are all pretty progressive organisations, although it's important to say that DD is a more objective research outfit. Perhaps the problem with defining a new Unionism is firstly that it need not be defined: it is already defined, but solely by the relationship with the rest of the UK.

Second, Unionism is generally rather conservative and conservatives are usually hostile to theory and to intellectual engagement. After all, their primary interest is in the maintenance of the status quo, coupled with guarantees of individual freedom and an attachment to the sentiments of community. Whether these perspectives are worthy or not, they don't leave much space for think tanks.
Just a short comment. I have discussed the think tank issue with some people in unionist politics, they think that it is largely lack of funds that prevents there being a unionist think tank.

The Conservative Party and the US Republican Party both make use of a large number of think tanks. Conservatives are not hostile to intellectual engagement, they are merely hostile to the sort of rationalistic ideology that seems to predominate in English literature departments at universities and some of the more extreme left wing parties.
Good luck with the blog!
My impression is that over the last 5 years, the UUP have grown more and more aloof from the electorate and when I look at the leadership canditates,well, they are not very inspiring.

I'm not sure why a forum,where people could contribute views, need be expensive and if the party is serious about existing in any meaningful form in the future it must examine why the electorate has drifted away.
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