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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: February, 2015|
British Party Debate— Unionists Left Out!
British Party Debate
Unionists Left Out!
The British in Northern Ireland want to take part in the British Election in Britain, and the British in Britain don't know what to make of it.
The Northern Ireland British agreed to be excluded from British political life in return for being 'connected' with the British state in other ways. They made that agreement as the "supreme sacrifice" for the British Empire, in 1921, to help it in its manoeuvring against the elected Republican Government of Ireland at the time. Now, three generations later, they are feeling left out in the cold.
Their exclusion from British political life has become an issue in British politics—a very minor one—because the Prime Minister refused to take part in a television debate with the leader of the Opposition, and with his Coalition partner, along with the leader of the UK Independence Party—unless the leader of the Green Party also took part. The Greens have just one seat in Westminster. The television authorities regarded the Greens as a protest movement, rather than a component of the party system by which the state is governed. The Tory ultimatum was taken to be a refusal to debate policy in the run-up to the May General Election.
The reason Prime Minister David Cameron refused to take part in a Leaders' Debate without the Green Party was that he didn't want a television debate at all. The economy was beginning to move in a way that will benefit the Government and he wanted to let it have its political effect without the distraction of a high profile debate with the Labour leader in which he was likely to put his foot in it. More to the point, however, is that he would have to confront UKIP's Nigel Farage, a very acute debater. His critique of British adventures in the Middle East, baiting of the Russian Bear, and above all the large-scale immigration which EU membership makes inevitable is a very powerful one—one which resonates with the Tory electorate and which Cameron cannot answer.
But the ploy of insisting that the Greens be part of the debate, in order to kill the debate, didn't work. The BBC agreed to have the Greens. And that led to other parties, that were proper political parties, demanding that they should be part of the debate too—the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists.
There were sound political reasons for the original BBC decision to have only the two governing parties, the Opposition and UKIP. It can hardly be denied that UKIP, though not seeking a mandate to govern, is likely to be a strong influence in determining how government will be conducted. (The relationship with the EU is a serious matter on which the three major parties do not want to commit themselves.)
The Scottish and Welsh Parties do not seek a mandate to govern the state, but they have policies relevant to the state which concern the state at least as much a the relationship of the state with the EU: They want to leave the British state and set up independent states in Scotland and Wales—and it is reasonable that they should be facilitated in putting their case directly to an English audience.
When the Scots and Welsh were included in the debate, the DUP wanted in. It said it was the fourth largest Party in the state. And it's true—but politically irrelevant.
Nigel Dodds was brought on Andrew Neill's Politics programme on BBC to put the DUP case. It was an interesting confrontation. Neill knew in his bones that the DUP demand was absurd but couldn't quite put his finger on the reason why. Every objection he raised was easily knocked down by Dodds, and he gave up.
The revisionists have recently been berating the Irish in the South for forgetting things they should remember—but in fact the Irish never did forget that they were duped into supplying cannonfodder for Britain's Great War, while well-informed British political commentators have genuinely forgotten why Westminster set up Northern Ireland, and what it is.
The Tory, Labour and Liberal Parties want to govern the British state. The Scots and Welsh Parties want to leave it. But the Ulster Unionists do not want either to govern it or leave it. So what do they want? They want to belong to it. But they do belong to it! So what do they want? They want what they've got. And none of the British Parties is trying to deprive them of what they've got—a semi-detached connection with Britain in which it enjoys all the services of the British state while being disengaged from its politics.
Thirty years ago we made a great effort to persuade the British in Northern Ireland to enter the politics of the British state—from which they withdrew in 1886. We established that they did not want to be part of the political system of the British state. Their choice was to engage in communal conflict with the large and growing minority Nationalist community outside he British political system. It was a foolish choice, but it was their choice.
We notice that many of those who actively opposed our efforts to bring the Six Counties within the democratic politics of the British state are now beginning to whinge about exclusion—eg, Liam Clarke of the Official Republican Sunday World of those days, who is now an important person on the Belfast Telegraph.
Well, they made their bed so they can lie in it. Or, as Molière put it, Vous l'avez voulu, George Dandin. What they've got is what they asked for.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP also said they wanted to take part in the Debate. It seems unlikely that the SDLP would have anything intelligible to say to the English electorate. But Sinn Fein clearly has a right to take part on the same grounds as the SNP—it wants to leave.
Unionists Left Out!. Editorial on British Party Debate
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