Francis Hutcheson Should Be A Guide To Any Unionist Conversation

Johnny Andrews

10 January 2022

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Arnold Carton is correct in stating Unionism’s failure to have any conversation with itself, but the same could also be said of Nationalism. To put it crudely both sides (including Southern Nationalists) have simply found it enough to bang their respective religious drums (or organs) and play on (real or imaginary) fears of the other. They thus ignore any practical policies realistically likely to appeal to the ‘other’ and include them ‘in’ to whichever camp. However, for Unionists it is their Union so they do need to have a ‘conversation’ about what the Union is, its benefits and advantages, how they should appeal to people from a Nationalist background, why Unionism currently looks in such disarray and decline and how it can be reversed.

The problem is that few Unionists even seem to recognise the need for any ‘conversation’ let alone how to engage in one. However, Mr Carton is correct in his four needs for a stable country, i.e. recognised borders, agreed narrative, accepted system of government and defined languages, the trouble lies in creating them and this is exactly where one needs the conversation. Currently, many of our policies run counter to any of the four needs, this requires urgent attention. This would apply as much in a fantasy ‘united Ireland’ and the Republic were to take over Northern Ireland (which is one reason why it doesn’t want to, its entire national script would have to be rewritten)

May I suggest the best starting point for any ‘conversation’ should begin with the work of Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746, born Saintfield, Co Down) the ‘Father of the Scottish Enlightenment’ whose moral philosophy inspired the American and French Revolutions, the United Irishmen of 1798 and formed the basis for liberal Unionism’s campaign against Home Rule. Despite being a Presbyterian minister he promoted liberal democracy and civic society advocating a strict separation of Church and State, religion and politics. The aim was to build tolerance and calculable shared interests that can be shown to benefit the greatest number. Keeping religion out of politics and public life, both de facto and de jure, enables one to do this and has become the basis for all modern liberal democracy. Currently, and over the last 200 years, everyone in Ireland seems determined to do the exact opposite which is why both Ireland and the British Isles are now politically divided.

It’s time for some more progressive thinking and injecting a bit of intellectual debate into our politics to begin the long overdue conversation.

This was originally published in the Belfast News Letter 6th January 2022

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