One of the more enjoyable aspects of last week was watching the mental gymnastics of Arlene Foster and other representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party as they toured the domestic and international news rooms, condemning the post-transition deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union as a threat to the constitutional status of “Northern Ireland” while simultaneously claiming it as a “gateway of opportunity” for the region. In reality, the DUP has used the turbulence of the last four years to inadvertently shit all over the UK constitutional bed and is now trying to deny any responsibility for the bed-shitting while at the same time claiming that the addition of shit actually enhances the overall performance of the bed.
Of course all sorts of excuses are being trotted out by DUP apologists in the Irish and British press to explain away the obfuscation of the last few days and we still hear the tired old tale that the hardline pro-union party did not intend for all this to happen when it opted to support Brexit back in 2016. That Foster and company are the real victims here. Which is its own form of bullshit. Some of us remember that the Fermanagh politician joined Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists because of her opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and that a far more plausible explanation is that she and her colleagues saw the anti-EU referendum as an opportunity to undermine the regional and international peace accords of 1998. To put teeth on the toothless border between the UK rump colony in the north-east of the island and the rest of the country.
Simply put, the DUP gambled everything on the return of a hard border via Britain’s withdrawal from Europe and lost. Instead the Conservative Party government in London saw the unionist minority in Ireland as nothing more than a useful pawn in its own high-stakes game of diplomatic chess and a piece it was content to sacrifice in order to secure a stalemate of sorts with its opponents. Which of course is how the Good Friday Agreement came about in the first place. And the Anglo-Irish Agreement before that. And the Sunningdale Agreement before that. And the Anglo-Irish Treaty before that. And… Well, you get the picture, even if most unionist leaders don’t.
The new focus by Arlene Foster on the promised mechanism in the EU-UK withdrawal agreement theoretically giving the cross-community assembly at Stormont the power to remove the Six Counties from the arrangement in four years time clearly indicates her own thinking on the unionist way forward (while contradicting her own “gateway” spin). As do renewed calls by the DUP and its journalistic allies for a pro-union electoral pact to ensure an anti-EU voting majority in Stormont. Hopefully that particular nightmare scenario will fail to materialise and instead the only vote we will witness will be one demanding a reunification referendum in the north from the UK authorities. Giving the history of successive British governments over the last century acquiescing to that demand seems more likely than not.
“Simply put, the DUP gambled everything on the return of a hard border via Britain’s withdrawal from Europe and lost.”
I think that’s true, and even assuming the apologists were right that the DUP didn’t expect it to happen that would be as bad or worse an indictment that a party could make such a strategic error in the context of such a serious decision.
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How will the DUP react to Scottish Independence?
By demanding that the Borders and parts of the Lowlands are partitioned from the rest of Scotland and retained in the UK if previous statements and balloon floating by unionist politicians are anything to go by! 😳
Would the partitioned area retain Scottish Law?
There’s the question. Personally, I can’t see unionist leaders in Scotland or the UK authorities getting away with it. Or even wanting to. It’s just a step too far, and the grim history of the “Northern Ireland” would be warning enough for those who might dream of a United Kingdom of England, Wales, Southern Scotland and Northern Ireland.
However I would expect some less thoughtful Ulster unionists to push the proposition if Scotland voted independent.
Plus, we now have some disillusioned online unionist activists now suggesting an independent Scotland in “union” with an independent Northern Ireland. Anything but the Taigs! 😳
Where do you see these arguments for a Dalriada union, ASF?
In various unionist fora and in online chat by unionist commentators. It is a complete non-starter. Up there with the bridge to Scotland. But it is part of that partly-artificial Ulster-Scots folk identity thing. Ulster and Scotland in unity if the alternative is Ulster and the other three green fields in unity.
You hear variations of it in (very) silly talk of a Southern Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland union by worried partitionists. As if that would make things better from their point of view.
It seems likely to me that somebody else here summed up the situation. For a long time the Tories relied heavily on the DUP to get the coalitions they sought. Their determination to hold onto NI was for many less about an Imperialist desire to control the area than about a reliable and predictable sets of seats they could always use to up their chances of being in power. It was all very convenient that as long as a few predictable bones were thrown to the DUP, they could get the rest of what they wanted.
What’s changed? They might have concluded that pleasing the Brexiteers in much of historically Labour dominated Northern England, is a bigger prize than Ulster Unionists. That for them the chance to realign many parts of Northern England is just such an opportunity, that they are willing to kick the DUP to the curb and say “We don’t really need you anymore.”
They may also see the English voters they would prefer. Northern Ireland is so unique within the UK, and not exactly a hotbed of “swing voters”, if you follow. It could be that some of the antics of the DUP meant relying on them was a devil’s bargain they never loved. That English Brexiteers despite the absurdity of some may be seen as better optics for the Tory party. Especially the ones from formerly Labour areas in the North.
In short, this could almost entirely be down electoral strategy.
It could also mean that by having those Northern English voters they could be hoping for a return for the Tory Party of the 1960’s and 1970’s that Margaret Thatcher largely decimated. The image of a Harold MacMillan sort of PM could be attractive to some people who feel at a loss in today’s Labour, Tory, and Liberal Democratic Parties-even if it depends on a element of “rose colored glasses” for the time period. Northern English voters who previously leaned Labour could look like a plausible strategy to get that Tory Party back. Whether it would work or be quite what they expected is another question, but I could see that plan being very, very appealing to some people who don’t like their current options.