Tag Archives: Loyalism

The Tory-DUP Pact

DUP billboard

Oops! That’s another promise broken!

After last night’s election losses that saw Theresa May’s Tory Party denied an overall majority in the Commons, it was perhaps inevitable that they would turn to the Democratic Unionist Party to prop them up. A reminder: this is not a coalition; it is an arrangement between the party of government and another party.  There is no joint programme as there would be between two parties entering a coalition. It is a formal agreement between a smaller party and the larger party to support government policies on an issue by issue basis. The Lib Dems could have chosen this option but decided to opt for government instead. Perhaps fearing a future wipeout by the Ulster Unionist Party, who are the natural allies of the Tories, the DUP picked the least worse option.  By the way, there are no UUP MPs in the Commons, so the only Unionist Party that May could turn to was the DUP, who, along with Independent Unionist, Sylvia Hermon, have supported the Tories in the Commons since 2015.

So what do we know about the DUP?  

The DUP is a socially conservative political party in Northern Ireland. It was founded by Dr Ian Paisley and Desmond Boal in 1971 from the remains of the Protestant Unionist Party. It was, until recently, in a power-sharing government with their mortal enemies, Sinn Féin. During its time in government, the DUP has opposed equal marriage and abortion, and are climate change deniers. This will make a few socially liberal Tories feel rather uncomfortable. If you think the Tories are stuck in the 19th century, the DUP lives in the 17th century.

What else?

As I wrote in this article from 2015, the party has links to Loyalist paramilitaries like the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando. At times, the DUP has been referred to as “political wing of the UDA”.

Why does any of this matter?

Throughout the General Election campaign, the Tories and their allies in the media accused Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and, to a lesser extent, Diane Abbott of being “IRA/terrorist sympathizers”. Their reasons for doing this were tenuous: Corbyn spoke to representatives of Sinn Féin, and not the IRA, in order to facilitate a peaceful end to the so-called ‘Troubles’. The Tories thought that by linking Corbyn et al to the IRA, they could claim he was “soft on terrorism” and put an end to his momentum. Now the Tories are in a working relationship with the DUP, whose links to Loyalist paramilitaries – terrorists, if you will – are well known. The Tories find themselves in a deliciously hypocritical position after spending much of the campaign smearing Corbyn for his “appeasement of Britain’s enemies”. The Tories can now be cast as ‘terrorist sympathizers’.

So what happens now?

We wait and see. Nowhere Towers doesn’t think the government will last 12 months. As for May herself, The Cat has heard there are moves afoot to remove her. Tory think-tank, the Bow Group, has called for leadership elections.  Watch this space.

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The SNP, Scottish Labour, Loyalism and Scotophobia

Striking fear in the hearts of Unionists

There are some folk, mainly Labour types, who have a visceral hatred of the Scottish National Party. I have heard all kinds of characterizations of the SNP and all of them are wrong. “Well, the SNP are a nationalist party and nationalism is bad” is one such complaint but is all nationalism bad? Isn’t there such a thing as left-wing nationalism? Then there were the many liberation movements in the former colonies. Weren’t they nationalist and left-wing? I’ve also heard people characterize the SNP as “Nazis” (melodramatic) or  as the “Scottish version of UKIP” (absurd). Hysterical, hyperbolic and delusional. But whoever claimed Unionists were rational? They will do anything to cling onto the leaky boat that is the Union.

The SNP was formed in 1934 through a merger of two parties: the larger centre-left National Party of Scotland and the smaller centre-right Scottish Party. The latter was really little more than a discussion group and was a breakaway group from the Unionist Party, the ideological cousins of the Conservative Party. Furthermore, the Scottish Party was not a nationalist party; it advocated Home Rule. The former was the older of the two formations and contained, among others, Hugh MacDiarmid, who was later expelled for being a communist. Ironically MacDiarmid would be expelled from the CPGB for holding nationalist views.

Initially, the SNP wasn’t always nationalist and advocated Home Rule in its early years. This changed in the 1970s after the successes of Winnie Ewing in 1967 and Margo MacDonald in the Glasgow Govan by-election in 1973. The Govan seat would later be won by her future husband, Jim Sillars, in 1988. Disgusted by the lack of progress towards devolution, Sillars left the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1976 and formed a breakaway Scottish Labour Party. This party, along with the 79 Group formulated a left-wing vision for the SNP. The 79 Group, which included a young Alex Salmond, Roseanna Cunningham and Margo MacDonald, attempted to pull the SNP further to the left. They were expelled by the SNP, though they would return in the late 1980s and their platform would be adopted as a political position first, by Gordon Wilson, the SNP leader and then, when Salmond won the leadership contest in 1990.

Currently the SNP is described as “social democratic”. They are to the left of Labour on many issues. This does not mean they are a socialist party. Far from it. However, they are genuinely progressive and offer the possibility of smashing the Westminster sham democracy once and for all. I am not an SNP supporter but I can see the attraction in voting for them and I can also see how an SNP majority in Scotland could lead to a change in the way the United Kingdom is governed. I am no supporter of the union and I believe that it has run its course. The countries of the UK need a new constitutional settlement and a different voting system. If the SNP are successful, then this is more likely to come about.

I have to laugh at those unionists who complain about Scottish and even Welsh nationalism, but unionism and its Northern Irish cousins,  Ulster Unionism and Loyalism, are actually forms of nationalism. There is no self-reflexivity on the unionist side. None whatsoever.

What struck me as odd is how Labour shared a platform with the Orange Order (and the Tories) during the Scottish Independence Referendum. Orangemen, Loyalists and Unionists are a backward-looking, nostalgic bunch who are forever trapped in their flawed rendering of history. It’s a version of history full of mawkish sentimentality and constant flag (or fleg) waving. And it stinks.

Some critics of the SNP may complain that the party has a distant history of anti-Catholicism, but that is nothing compared to the sectarian bigotry of the Orange Order. Yet, Scottish Labour was happy to jump into bed with the Orangemen and Loyalists.

Remember this scene after the “Better Together’ campaign won? This is what your union looks like.

Gerry Braiden, writing in The Herald wrote:

THE Orange Order’s anti-independence campaigning has support from within the Labour Party, a leading Northern Ireland politician has claimed.

 The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said one Scots Labour MP told him he was grateful to “see the Lodge on the street” in the weeks and months running up to the September 18 poll .

Just days before tens of thousands of Orange Order members take to Edinburgh’s streets opposing Scottish independence, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland’s most senior official, Dr David Hume, has claimed it would be “failing in its democratic duty” if it did not stage a Referendum rally.

I was probably about 10 years old when I saw the local Orange Order march through Liverpool City Centre. I asked my mother who these people were. “They’re the Orangemen”, she replied . “What’s an Orangeman, mum”? She had no answer. “Is grandad an Orangeman”? “No” my mum shot back. But I found the triumphalist spectacle rather threatening. Men in bowler hats and orange sashes marching as bold as brass along a main thoroughfare didn’t sit well with me. Many years later, I discovered what they were. I also learnt about Loyalism and how closely connected Loyalist paramilitaries were to both the state security services and the far-right. Britain First, for example, was founded by Loyalist and former Calvinist preacher, Jim Dowson, and uses Loyalist motifs.

In Scotland, the Orange Order was closely associated with the Scottish Unionist Party (now called Scottish Conservatives), but its influence has waned in recent years because of the Tories’ diminution of seats north of the border. More Orangemen are likely to be members of the Scottish Labour Party these days, Peter Geoghegan writes:

According to the current Grand Master, Henry Dunbar, the Order even encouraged members to vote SNP in the 2011 Holyrood elections in protest over a Glasgow City Council policy to reduce parades. The SNP won a number of Labour strongholds in Glasgow in its landslide victory, though it’s not clear what, if anything, the ‘Orange vote’ contributed to that.

But the relationship was short-lived.

The Order’s putative flirtation with the nationalists didn’t last long. Before May’s local elections, the Labour group leader in Glasgow, Gordon Matheson, appeared at an Orange Lodge hustings, apparently telling members that the council’s parading policy was ‘flawed’. The Orange Torch praised Matheson for his attacks on the SNP – ‘the kind of bullish talk we need to hear more of from unionist politicians’ – and claimed that Labour held control of the council thanks to the help of ‘thousands of Orangemen and their families’.

There are still people who will persist with the accusation that the SNP is fundamentally anti-Catholic. That accusation is feeble and the SNP’s critics will do anything to smear them.

The success of the SNP has brought with it a concomitant rise in anti-Scottishness.  Mind you, this anti-Scottishness is nothing new and has been around ever since the Middle Ages. Indeed, the stereotypical image (constructed by the English) of the Scots and other the Celtic peoples of these islands has been unremittingly negative. Ironically, no such stereotypes of the English exist. The Scots, however, are depicted variously as drunks, junkies and tramps, who are a drain on the UK economy. Ray Winstone, appearing on Have I Got News For You, infamously claimed:

“To be fair the Scottish economy has its strengths – its chief exports being oil, whisky, tartan and tramps.”

Kelvin Mackenzie, himself of Scottish descent, appears to hate his own genes.

Scotland believes not in entrepreneurialism like London and the south east… Scots enjoy spending [money] but they don’t enjoy creating it, which is the opposite to down south.

The myths and tropes keep piling up.

Only yesterday, while I was watching the BBC News Channel, a woman in a vox pop interview expressed her ill-founded fears that Scotland would “run the country”. Her level of ignorance and paranoia was staggering. Thus we find that the hatred felt by some English people isn’t confined to the SNP and extends to Scotland itself. The recent independence referendum has brought all of this hatred and bile to the surface and much of it is stirred up by the media and by English politicians. The Tories’ recent poster of Alex Salmond with Ed Miliband in his pocket was designed specifically to play on people’s ignorance.

The union came into being with the Acts of Union (1707 and 1800) and yoked Scotland and Ireland to England for the purpose of creating an empire. The ‘partnership’, as the Union is often called these days, is supposedly an equal one. But that’s not how many people in Scotland and Ireland see it. Even in Northern Ireland, there is a general feeling that Westminster doesn’t understand the Six Counties. In spite of protests to the contrary, England has dominated the Union politically, economically and militarily. It imposed direct rule in Northern Ireland and denied the right of the Scots to organize their own affairs, while Wales is practically ignored.

The union is finished and any attempt to hang on for dear life to, what is in effect, a corpse is only delaying the inevitable.

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The Belfast flag riots

Courtesy UK MSN News

Courtesy UK MSN News

Call me a cynic but I never thought the Good Friday Agreement was worth a warm bucket of spit.  For years I would tell anyone who would listen that the entire process was superficial and that the real issues had not been dealt with but had, instead, been swept aside so that Blair could claim his spurious place in history as the man who brought “peace” to Northern Ireland. His address to the cameras at Stormont perfectly summed up his superficiality…and his conceit.

“A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders. I really do.”

Blair never seemed interested in the long-running sectarian tensions that have characterized Northern Ireland’s political landscape for the best part of 50 years. Once the ink was dry on the document, power-sharing at Stormont and the renaming of the Royal Ulster Constabulary seemed to be the only items on the agenda. In fact, an inordinate amount of time was spent trying to find a neutral-sounding name for the much-hated (by Republicans at least) RUC. In the end they settled on the Police Service of Northern Ireland – a real mouthful.

And the sectarianism? It was allowed to fester.

What strikes me most about Loyalists is their overweening sense of entitlement. The slightest move towards any kind of change is met by violence from them. Indeed, we can trace this back to the Ulster Covenant in 1912 and the formation of the original Ulster Volunteers (UVF) by Edward Carson (it is his statue that stands on the approach to Stormont) and his pal, James Craig, who bought guns from Imperial Germany (that’s something Loyalists don’t like to talk about). The same people who joined the UVF would later find themselves fighting the Germans in WWI. Loyalists see no irony or contradiction there.

The Ulster Volunteers were the first Loyalist paramilitary group to be organized in the North and it could be argued that Carson and Craig had ruthlessly exploited Protestant fears of Home Rule for their own ends. It is ironic, at any rate, that the Home Rule movement was led and orchestrated by Protestants like Isaac Butt and later Charles Stewart Parnell. Loyalists conveniently ignore that.

Loyalists will tell you that their “culture” is bound up with the Union flag and that the flying of the flag over Belfast City Hall is a matter of life or death to them. But if their culture hinges on a piece of cloth, then that isn’t much of a culture. Beyond the flag, all they have are pipe and drum bands and Orangeism. Curiously enough, Carson was no admirer of Orangeism and famously described the Orange Order’s speeches as “the unrolling of a mummy. All old bones and rotten rags”. Carson was born in Dublin, by the way.

If you think the arguments of the Loyalists sound eerily similar to those of the far right on the so-called British mainland, then you would be right. Loyalists and the British far-right have long enjoyed close ties. In fact, the EDL have made contact with the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). They have in common, the traits of thuggishness, victimhood, obsessive paranoia and a blind hatred of anything that vaguely resembles compromise. The fact that the Union Flag isn’t flown 365 days a year over town halls in England, Wales and Scotland cuts no ice with these people. They want their “fleg” (sic) to fly over Belfast City Hall all year round.

This article claims that the BNP are using the “protests” as a recruiting sergeant.

The BNP, led by MEP Nick Griffin, has yet to crack the political hustings in Northern Ireland despite at one time setting up a base in Dundonald, east Belfast to promote its political views and raise election funds.

Now loyalist sources said the BNP are trying to muscle in on Northern Ireland’s political scene in an effort to recruit new candidates and new voters.

And sources said they believed that Nick Griffin will come to Belfast in the New Year to seek the views of loyalists in supporting his party.

“The BNP are sitting in England looking at the political unrest in Northern Ireland and thinking to themselves this is our opportunity to get in there and establish a firm base,” said a loyalist source.

With this kind of ignorance dominating Loyalist discourse, it’s hard to see how anyone can get them to see sense. The sad truth is that the Protestant working class is ill-served by Loyalism and those who lead the various Loyalist gangs. They would do well to abandon the dead-end of Loyalism and seek rapprochement with their Catholic working class neighbours to form a society based on more than flags and the poisonous rhetoric of tattooed hard men.

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