Unionists should consent to talks
Three Unionist MPs have now come out publicly against the UUP
sitting at the talks table with Sinn Féin. The three - Ross,
Smyth and Thompson - are part of an old guard who are finding it
increasingly difficult to come to terms with a changing world.
But their views are not unrepresentative. There is an air of
crisis within Unionism as the talks approach and not only the old
guard are getting cold feet.
Unionists are clinging to two issues as the tide of change sweeps
on. The first - decommissioning - has long ago been recognised by
everyone else as a very dead, very red herring. It was a stalling
device which has outlived its usefulness. It can no longer hold
The other issue is consent or, more accurately, the unionist
veto. Under the glare of logical argument it too is being seen as
a block to progress. Unionists and loyalists are defining consent
as simply the exercise of Unionism's numerical majority. It is a
sterile definition by which they aim to retain the status quo. In
other words, a veto.
It is how the Unionists have always defined their position - by
reference to their numbers. Indeed, that was the basis for
drawing up the state's boundaries in the first place.
Meanwhile, as Unionists cling to their veto, others are coming to
see the issue of consent in the way in which republicans define
it; as a fluid concept in talks. Of course a negotiated
settlement needs consent. No lasting agreement can emerge without
it. But consent is not exclusively a Unionist perogative. Their
mindset must begin to recognise that there are other people on
this island. They must enter talks in a spirit of trying to
persuade people of their position, of winning people's consent
instead of standing firm against change.
Above all, as Unionists discuss their approach to talks, they
should recognise the inevitability of face-to-face talks with
Sinn Féin. They cannot say no for ever. They should say yes now.