IT’S long been predicted that the ending of unionist hegemony in the North and the inevitable subsequent move towards a new political dispensation would lead to an escalation of the politics of division here. That has been under way for some time, but in the past week the perfect storm of political and social upheaval brought about by Brexit has escalated the process alarmingly – and dangerously.
Had the inflammatory language and raised temperature inside unionism come off the back of a legitimate grievance, then that would be bad enough. But the outrageous remarks of Kate Hoey that have put professional nationalists in the spotlight came on the back of a ‘report’ on the Protocol by the comically self-important ‘Unionist Voice Political Studies’.
The report is an embarrassing mish-mash of familiar Brexiter talking points mixed in with tiresome personal attacks that would be laughed off it was peer-reviewed by the editors of the Beano. Baroness Hoey wrote the foreword in which she turned her attention to what she perceives to be an over-representation of nationalists in the professional classes of law, academia and the media.
There is some succour to be taken from the fact that once upon a time such regressive and bitter sloganeering would barely have raised an eyebrow, but the former Labour MP for Vauxhall has been rightly and widely called out for her depressing remarks, taking to the pages of the nationalist Irish News in a futile attempt to repair some of the damage done by the Baroness’s outburst.
Our columnist Professor Mike Tomlinson scrutinises the Good Friday Agreement for the words "principle of consent" and comes up short - but the absence of evidence won't dampen unionism's latest culture war conflagration. https://t.co/DUZ1KXoru2 @MikeTQUB— Andersonstown News (@ATownNews) January 11, 2022
She was not, however, called out by a wide swathe of unionism. On the contrary, the report – including the Hoey foreword – was warmly endorsed by DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and the Belfast News Letter.
The fact of the matter is that the vast bulk of the damage caused to the union in recent months and years has not been caused by an ‘elite nationalist network’ of lawyers, academics and journalists toiling in the shadows to end partition, it has been caused by unionism itself.
One political defeat has followed another, one embarrassing failure of leadership has not had to wait long for the next. Needless to say, that unwelcome reality does not have many buyers in the pro-union marketplace of ideas, but there is clearly a very strong demand for the bogus contention that the North is hanging on to the UK by its fingertips not because of unionist ineptitude and its willingness to appoint incompetent and backward-looking leaders, but by a shadowy cabal of nationalists using the weapons of the law, education and the media to do down unionists at every turn. It’s nothing new; those devoid of ideas and vision, those unwilling to take the initiative and lead, have been trying to persuade the public that somebody else is to blame for their failure for as long as politics has existed.
The days of keeping the head down here are over. Nationalists in the professions are no doubt bemused and perhaps even a little concerned about recent developments, but they will not be cowed and they will stay at the front of the bus. The old days are gone.