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Cameron is standing up for the Union

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Chekov (Three Thousand Versts): Lord Smith makes a handful of curious points pertaining to realignment of the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties, currently being effected by David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey.  The Liberal Democrat peer appears confused as to the nature of the Conservative and Unionist force which the two parties intend to create and inconsistent in his criticisms of Cameron’s unionism.   

Reconstituting links between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists will not, as Lord Smith contends, further polarise politics in Northern Ireland, still less aggravate increased dissident paramilitarism.  If anything the alliance will exercise a moderating influence on unionist politics, shaping a secular, inclusive movement, propounding the values of the Union.  The new force will not be about exclusion, or representing one community, it will be about making a case for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom which appeals to everyone in the province.   

The Belfast Agreement, and subsequent tinkering at St Andrews, settled Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.  That is the context in which David Cameron wishes to roll out national UK politics, for the benefit of voters here.  He has no intention of altering the safeguards which the agreement created, or diminishing the British government’s commitment to respect Irish nationalists’ legitimate aspirations.  Insofar as dissident republican paramilitary groups are in any respect sensitive to Northern Ireland’s internal political dynamic, reorganisation of two functionally unionist parties will not register on their radar.

Lord Smith argues that the UUP constitutes only a small rump of Northern Irish unionism and that neither party stands to benefit significantly from forging a link.  He believes that David Cameron making a pro-unionist argument from an Ulster Unionist platform represents ‘dangerous posturing’.  He might be correct that the UUP are a minority party within unionism, but the party shares the moderate conservative and unionist sensibilities of its larger brother.  It forms an ideal vehicle by which Cameron’s unionist vision can be put before Northern Ireland’s electorate.  The appeal of offering voters a real say in national politics, of affording them the same political rights and entitlements which those sharing their citizenship enjoy in Great Britain, should not be underestimated.   

The Liberal Democrat party was the only putatively unionist group which failed to welcome the recent Calman Commission interim report on Scots’ devolution.  Liberal Democrats in Scotland have developed the cosiest of relationships with the nationalist SNP.  It is ironic therefore that Lord Smith accuses David Cameron of spreading his unionism thinly.   

It seems to me that David Cameron is a party leader who is determined to argue the case for Union.  Indeed he is the only party leader determined to argue the case for a United Kingdom, in all its constituent parts.  His determination is not born of opportunism or cynicism; rather it is testament to Cameron’s bravery and his commitment to the Union. 


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