As a gay woman I’ve been lucky enough to have a broad range of inspirational females to befriend. Recently there has been furious debate about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. I have friends on both sides of the debate. As I consider myself to be a generally liberal feminist (in the literal sense not ideological) who respects the right of transgender folk as well as the concerns of much more well versed feminists, I thought I could dip my toe into the mine field that it is.
Now another serious inspiration in my life is my elderly mother. I was her “change of life” baby, first diagnosed as the menopause. So I was a real pleasant surprise. I am surrounded by men in the form of my three brothers, so my mother and I have a strong bond and speak about everything. She was the first person I came out to.
Gender is something she, and I presume many well meaning people, struggle to understand. Unintentional misgendering and accidental use of long outdated language, is something she finds difficult to grasp. Trying to recite the gay alphabet to my mother only confuses the situation further, however she like myself believes everyone should have the right to live however they want to and identify however they wish without fear of persecution or abuse. She is pretty conservative about sex but liberal about sexuality. Her brother emigrated to Hawaii to avoid the persecution of gay men in the middle of the 20th century.
I wanted to state that before I continue with this piece. I am going to deliberately try to avoid gender studies type language that could cause confusion to folk like my wee Mum, such as heteronormative, homosexual, transsexual, or complex abbreviations etc. I will be using the term transgender which is someone who identifies as the opposite sex. If you don’t know what gay and lesbian is in 2018 my 77 year old Ma says you’ve to google it!
So the first thing i wanted to find out was what does the Gender Recognition Act mean to someone who’s life it would actually impact? So I asked my friend who I know is transgender and has been a woman as long as I have known her. She is middle aged and has been living as a woman since the 1990’s. Due to medical reasons, my friend will never be able to medically transition.
The changes to the Gender Recognition Act would allow my friend to avoid situations like she recently experienced as a witness in court. The opposing counsel purposely questioned her lifestyle and mockingly asked how to refer to her. Luckily for my friend she is well versed and confident. She simply stated to be referred to by her name, and the pronouns she and her. A simple request that some younger more inexperienced transgender people might have stumbled with, intimidated by the wood and leather of the courthouse, rattled and under pressure from the cloaked barristers with official titles.
This is why my friend also supports the changes to the age limits of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. When she was young, being gay was still criminal so suppressed thoughts of her gender were nowhere near surfacing. She is thrilled by the potential life changing new policies for the youth of the transgender community. Things that were only deeply buried dreams for her as a teenager could be a reality for these young women. However she raises concerns with the proposals for 16 and 17 year old’s requiring parental consent as not all parents are supportive of an offspring’s transition.
I wanted to look at the consultation process and examine the proposed changes. The now closed consultation can be viewed here
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a transgender person to change their legally recognised gender. This consultation seeks views on whether and how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 should be amended in relation to the law in Scotland .
It covers establishing new arrangements for dealing with applications for legal gender recognition, the minimum age at which applications for gender recognition could be made and related matters.
Why The Consulting?
In the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Scottish Government committed to ‘review and reform gender recognition law so it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex’.
The Government has decided that because people with intersex variations face issues that are distinct from those experienced by transgender people, we should consult separately on each set of issues. We will publish a consultation later this year seeking views about how we should address the issues experienced by intersex people/people with variations of sex characteristics.
Consultation is an essential part of the policy-making process. We will use the views expressed in response to this consultation to help inform the Government’s decisions about further action.
The consultation goes on to ask about different changes to the act that will affect transgender people over the age of 16. It states:
“ The Scottish Government considers that people aged 16 or older should be able to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender using the proposed self declaration process.
4.05. There is clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised. For example, the Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from LGBT Youth Scotland to this effect. In the Republic of Ireland, 8 people aged 16 and 17 have received a GRC31 after obtaining a court order permitting them to apply under their self-declaration system. The court in the Republic of Ireland is required to consider evidence about the young person’s transition to their acquired gender. “
Since we are already encouraging young people to get involved in politics, age limits lowered to 16 to be able to vote, I don’t see what the problem could possibly be about them being able to take direction of their own lives. I came out as gay when I was 16. However it wouldn’t be fair to present these points of view without also listening to the counter arguments.
So I spoke to my friend who is a radical feminist, she is also middle aged and well versed in the issues and topics that are often lobbed under the title of gender critical. My friend has referenced radical feminist theory since I have known her, she is often a source of inspirational articles for me. I asked her, what concerns she had about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
“I’m a lesbian woman who is also a mother who fears for the generations of girls (and boys) coming after me. Will they even have a choice in life to choose to love their own sexual preference? Not if transgenderism becomes the only explanation for boys wanting to play with dolls (nurture behaviour) or girls wanting to play football (competitive behaviour).”
My friend is also concerned about the tone of the debate around gender critical opponents, by raising any issues there is often shouts of “transphobia”. When questioning the levels of medical supervision over transitioning genders, there is a fine line between invasive stereotyping and genuine concern.
For example a lot of young gay people will resist their emotions to begin with, I know when I was 16 I first said that I was bi-sexual, as though it was somehow easier to deal with than just being a gay woman. My friend pointed out that if the new gender revolution happened when she was younger, she could have been victim of peer pressure to conform to a male persona. This is the argument for a lot of women who in the lesbian community who could be described as butch.
Another concern for many lesbians is this new notion of a “Cotton Ceiling”. Like the glass ceiling, some transgender folk believe that there is a barrier to them with regards to dating. Since gender and sexuality is individual from one another, some transgender women who identify as lesbians feel they should not be excluded as potential partners based on the level of their transition. This is something I feel everybody should take notice of.
A fundamental part of feminism is bodily autonomy. No one should feel pressured into having sex with anybody.
I feel at this point in this long read, it’s important to highlight the condition known as Autogynephillia, “which is defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as female.” It is suggested as much as 3% of men in western countries may experience this condition. This is a new field of study and complexities and association to transgenderism is not fully understood. It is however a fundamental component to many radical feminist points of debate.
I feel I should also address some other more scientific stuff here too. Such as Gender and what it actually means in 2018. Well there are two biological sexes, male and female. There is also intersex babies born who are often assigned a gender at birth. There is an argument that gender is on a sliding scale, some male born babies can behave with female characteristics and vice versa, and some folk don’t identify as any gender at all. These people are known as non-binary or androgynous.The scale on which an individual sits is often referred to as the gender spectrum.
It is said that people who identify as transgender suffer from gender dysphoria, “a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity” and this requires review at a Gender Identity Clinic to be officially diagnosed. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness however it can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings.
According to a recent Stonewall survey, “eight out of ten transgender young folk have self harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.” When we are talking about changing the lives of transgender folk, young transgender people have the most to gain. This same survey showed that nearly one in ten have received death threats at school. We need to change the environment for every young person, being transgender shouldn’t be an issue that stirs such hatred.
So to put it into context for someone like my wee mother, I created a hypothetical scenario. My elderly mum likes to only go swimming if it is an all ladies night. This is due to many reasons, none of which is sexist nor transphobic. I asked how she would feel if a transgender woman wanted to partake in her swimming session. Her response sums up the whole entire subject for me;
“If a woman wants to discreetly change into her swimsuit then it doesn’t matter what is in her pants, but if someone wants to gratuitously take advantage of that situation to get some sort of cheap thrill then it still doesn’t matter what is in their pants. He or she would be papped oot the club.”
To me, this is it, in these sorts of heated debates, particularly on sensitive subjects we have to come to a common sense approach.
“Extremism isn’t something that should be mistaken for rational thought with passion.”
Most of the current debate has been about the extremes; sexual assault in toilets, infringement on women’s spaces, etc. The debate doesn’t seem to involve the wee lassie who’s been out as trans since 14 and is just wanting a certificate to get a job in the public sector or something.
Changes to the gender recognition act could make life so much easier for so many transgender folk. Equally some of the changes have raised legitimate concern to some women.
To shout “TERF” (transgender exclusionary radical feminist) to someone raising a valid point isn’t very inclusive, however to deny anybody the simple and basic human right of self identity is exclusionary. This fine line of language and debate is difficult, but to make Scotland a better and fairer, more inclusive place, we have to have these uncomfortable conversations.
We have to be tolerant of each other. We have to stop being so reactionary and conclusive in our judgements. After all Gender is fluid isn’t it? Why can’t the debate around it be too?
Like many on the left I was optimistic when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party. I was happy to see him fend off the centrist Labour MPs such as Liz Kendall and latterly Owen Smith to be the leader of the opposition in Westminster. I was hopeful that the UK had a leader of the Labour Party that believed in the scrapping of our Trident nuclear weapons and ending Austerity.
I find myself wanting to cheer him on but get disappointed when I hear him acknowledge the ‘will of the British people’ in the 52/48 EU referendum to end freedom of movement. I got even more disappointed when Jeremy Corbyn stood on a manifesto, in June 2017, which supported the renewal Trident nuclear weapons; outvoted by his own party to do so. I lost all faith when he addressed the Scottish Labour Party conference this week and delivered a speech which blurred an issue of poorly paid agency workers with migrants coming to this country.
This has pandered to the controlling of mass immigration narrative which has been made to be a major factor for the working condition woes in the UK which is completely unfounded. Poor pay and working conditions are stagnated and driven down in the UK labour market because the National Living Wage (NLW) is low, precarious work is unregulated and jobs are being deskilled because of automation and centralisation of power structures.
Agency workers in areas such as manufacturing and hospitality sectors in the UK have historically been accepted and normalised. In fact, organisations such as Amazon and Ryanair still use agencies to staff their business. Different organisations use agency staff to different extents.Amazon has both their own employers and agency staff working in the back office and on the warehouse floor alongside each other. This allows them to quickly increase their workforce to the business needs and when workload demand increases. Ryanair has a slightly different approach, where their cabin crew and customer service staff are from agencies and their pilots are employed by Ryanair. This is known as marketisation where different specific areas of an organisation can be tendered out to an agency or in some cases third party companies; this is common with cleaners or maintenance for example.
These types of working arrangements can cause huge problems for employment relations and attempting to collectively mobilise staff to strike, or collectively bargain, as employees all work for different organisations or agencies and have unique terms and conditions of work. This fragmentation of the workforce dilutes any power the collective employees may have had to strike and means that, where trade unions are even acknowledged within the organisation, the strike will only impact on a small section of the business and have limited impact on the organisation’s ability to function and produce profit. It is important to acknowledge this is not accidental and organisations have adopted marketisation for this reason to ensure the employer holds the power and prevents, as much as possible, strike action taking place and it allows them to tender out parochial, specialised or in some organisations low skilled job roles.
I believe this is the issue that Mr Corbyn wants to address in relation to his speech at the Scottish Labour Party conference but what he did, which may be unintentional or possibly not, is talked about this issue in relation to cheap agency workers migrating to this country from abroad. I was shocked to see these words come out of his mouth and sounded like dog whistle politics of mass immigration driving down the wages and quality of work in the UK. He has previously stated that with the EU referendum result he would want to see the end of free movement of people because of ‘genuine concern over immigration by the electorate’ but, as a socialist leader, he should be standing up and arguing the case for free movement. Moreover, he should be specifically highlighting areas of the country which need immigration to continue to function such as here in Scotland. We have a declining population numbers overall and an ageing population, we have an urgent need to attract immigrants. By closing the door to the single market we stop the free flow of people from the EU and speeches like this could make us seem unwelcoming. The underpaid agency worker issue could be policed with the legal framework we already have; regardless to where that worker has come from.
It has been known, since the debate of introducing the National Minimum Wage (NMW), that the offer of meals, refreshments and accommodation from an employer can be offset from an employee’s wages. This means that if an employer is paid the ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) they can have accommodation and cost of meals taken from their pay packet resulting in the employer having to part with less money to the employee. This type of working arrangement can be occupied by anyone not just workers from abroad. These types of adverts exist on Gumtree every summer for remote hotels in the north of Scotland and such like. The fact is agency workers are already protected under UK employment law to receive at least the NMW under the UK Governments Rights for Agency Workers. I do believe that a threshold should be put in place to ensure agency workers are not paying over the cost price for in-work accommodation and meals. A comprehensive framework is needed to ensure that employees are receiving company perks at production cost incurred to the business and the employer is not pocketing additional profit by exploiting agency workers in this manner.
The desirability of agency workers, from my extensive research in the hospitality sector, has reduced in the last ten years due to the adoption of zero hour contracts (ZHC). The use of these contracts, which contributes massively to in-work poverty and degradation of the power held by the employee in the UK, gives the employer similar flexibility benefits they traditionally had with agency staff. The use of these types of contracts rose by 300% in 2015-16 and is most common in service sector work. The ZHC is also more attractive as they do not have to pay agency fees. Agency fees can be particularly expensive and could cost the employer double the hourly rate than it would be to have their own employee but it did give the employer to stability of staff ‘on tap’ but this can now be achieved through ZHC’s. The use of ZHC’s as a method of employment tends not to suit skilled manual labour or specialised jobs which may amount to agency workers in these fields; for both indigenous and migrant workers.
The European Union is looking to change laws and regulations to migrant temporary agent workers which may not match ‘our’ values. There have been multiple treaties and policies that the UK has either managed to not sign up to or negotiate progressive changes at the ratification stage. Jeremy Corbyn talks of these potential EU developments in employment policy, which we won’t be part of as we’re leaving the EU if he gets his way, but neglects to reassure the audience what domestic levers could be used. I found the speech to be clouded and he was confusing incredibly important issues with migrant labour when it really didn’t need to be; as it’s an issue across the entire UK workforce.
It is clear that if Jeremy Corbyn genuinely wanted to help with this issue he could have dealt with it without referring to migrant agency workers. I don’t feel it was appropriate or relevant to do so, especially with all the misinformation and falsely created tension around immigration. I do feel it was opportunistic and yet he chose to make that speech in one area of the UK where we are crying out for migrant workers to come and join our workforce in Scotland. If Corbyn really had an understanding of what Scotland needs he would back Scotland having all immigration and workers’ rights devolved to Holyrood. This way we could see the end exploitative precarious working conditions and set an immigration policy that reflects our values and our needs for the future.
I am part of a political group that agrees to disagree on pretty much all of the razors of political analysis that cause splits, tantrums and forked tongued statements. Ungagged is a website and political podcast that has pretty much every left view somewhere in its archive, said by people ranging from Trotskyists, Tankies, Blairites, Anarchists, Greens, Nationalists – all from the left spectrum of politics.
We respect the fact that others going to sometimes say, organise or promote an aspect of left politics we don’t agree with on the podcast, or written on the website. And the fact that quite a few of us are from different parts of the world with different experiences, or different parts of Britain and Ireland, with different experiences, or different parts of Scotland with different experiences, informs us, rather than divides us.
My political background is as complex as anyone’s, but to summarise it, I was brought up in Northern Ireland in a protestant/unionist community and found myself at odds with that community. I read literature and had experiences in Northern Ireland that convinced me the UK was not conducive to equality – in any way or aspect – and when i moved to Scotland I became involved with left and pro-independence politics. I was a member of the SSP EC in the late 2000’s; co-opted again during indyref, and elected again onto the EC, twice. I left the SSP in late 2015.
I don’t see independence as a tactic. I don’t see independence as being about my identity. I don’t see independence as an income stream. I see independence as a way to break a state that at present is reinventing its imperialist past as somehow glorious – a state that is “dripping with blood from head to foot.” A state that is a key block, still even in its weakened state, in the curtain wall of capitalism. A wall that hems in the poor and working class, while the rich and corporate world can fly free, borne on wings built with our bones, fueled by our blood and fed to obesity while we starve.
There is an attitude in the Yes movement at present of, “disagreement is not healthy,” or “don’t challenge people – we are all on the same side.” I loathe that. That is nonsense, and designed to shut down debate, just as those on the left who prevaricate and hide the analysis they share within their particular cult shut down debate.
In order to come to agreement as to what sort of Scotland we are fighting for, we have to disagree, hone our arguments etc. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And both those who tell us to shoosh for Indy, and those who hide their true analysis and hide behind their moderately successful tactic of the past independence referendum are, mistakenly in my opinion, really doing their best to stop education through engagement. They are building walls to a synthesis of feet on the streets, together, during the next campaign.
“Shoosh for indy,” seems to be the order of the day, not “unite the diversity,” though many of those telling us to wheest cry, “why is the movement not as accepting of difference as it was between 2011-14?” and, “Why cant we all just raise a flag of truce and deliver a saltire to each door?”
I strongly disagree with some people who want independence, or those who at this juncture feel it is “a good tactic.” I strongly agree with some others.
Some I disagree with, I would trust with my life. Some who seem to “agree with me,” I really trust no more than crocodiles resting just below the water.
And this attitude is coming from all sides. If you criticise the ultra nationalists careering around social media, expect to be trolled. Raise points about people making money (rather than raising funds for expenses) from independence, and you are a traitor. And criticise some of the left “analysis” and you are accused of all sorts. Let’s not, however class all of those we disagree with in the same category. For example, I have recently seen criticism of Darren McGarvey after his interview with Owen Jones. I don’t entirely agree with Darren, but I totally respect the guy (I honestly went from a position were I didn’t rate him, to once having met him, perhaps “getting him,” to now feeling, as a teacher concerned with ACES, the guy is pretty cool). He is absolutely honest in what he is saying… Which is where I get annoyed by some other folk who write about or speak about, independence or social change or socialism -their hiding behind words and “analysis,” as if those words and analysis are objective and self evident. Hiding behind analysis as “objective,” is deceiving (and in some cases this is exactly what the writers and speakers intend). All analysis is subjective. Darren never pretends his writing or words are anything other than his opinion or experience.
The pretence at objectivity from left individuals and small organisations is breathtaking. And the pretence that what some of them are doing is for the common good is just damned depressing. The narcissism of some just makes me want to run as far away from some of the left in the independence movement, but Scotland an the independence media being so small, they seem to be everywhere.
The great thing about the Yes movement between 2011 and 2014 is that it was allowed to shift and expand and then it took on a life outside the original Yes Scotland “diversity plan.” After September ‘14, there were statements and manifestos drawn up in our name, without our input; read out in halls and we were all expected to cheer.
I am a democratic radical socialist. And I am not part of a cadre or vanguard or group with vested interests in how the campaign takes shape and is run. I have always, within the movement and when I was in a political party, spoke my mind and called out dishonesty and worse.
I, like many, have views about what should happen post indyref. And I, like many, have views on how we should as campaigners and activists, be represented in the press, and on political bodies growing up within the movement. And at the moment there are far too many self appointed spokespeople for me. Few of whom speak for a movement of butterflies, and a majority of whom seem to want to stick the butterflies in boxes and tell them to shoosh for unity etc. while they tell us what to think.
To argue, to disagree and to call out tactics and vanguards and manels and pyramid schemes seems to cause great ire.
As another national election occurs, with it comes another frustrating choice for the electorate. The choice between an increasingly incompetent establishment, or ‘radical’ alternatives like the anti-vax Luigi Di Maio or anti-immigrant Northern League. Perhaps most worryingly is the kingmaker appearing to still be corrupt 81 year old Berlusconi, who seems to be supporting Salvini’s Northern League.
This follows a worrying trend throughout the western world recently where the choice is between the status quo; which has brought on a prolonged period of austerity and deprivation for the poorest in society by cosying up to big business and the bankers who brought on a recession, or the far-right, which gains credence by blaming all societies ills on immigration, and promoting themselves as radical change and anti-establishment, despite their ties to big business and a media moving further to the right to bolster declining sales.
In France many were asked to hold their nose to vote for Macron to prevent the ascension of Marine Le Pen. The choice between Cartoonish Trump and Hilary Clinton should have been straight forward but her ties to previous administrations and big business made Trump seem more appealing to a population where most had yet to see any positive change in their declining living standards over the past decade.
Bernie Sanders appealed as a real alternative, much like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, but only in the right-wing papers of Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail would their agenda be seen as radical or dangerous. At most they offer a social democratic alternative that would seem perfectly normal and decent in most civilised nations as seen in Scandinavia.
Corbyn and Sanders both have good intentions and rightly highlight the inequality that is seeping through society in most western nations at present. Yet their solutions very rarely extend beyond Bennite thinking which is almost 40 years old, and hardly reflects the current issues and decisions that need to be addressed to improve nations. Little is offered in way of solutions to the oncoming 4th revolution or how to deal with an aging population, climate change or moving forward an economy into the 21st century.
The biggest question that the Italian election again promotes is what has happened to the left in all of this? Why is it that while the right and far right have been able to take on the mantra of radical and anti-establishment, those on the left have gone quiet?
It seems to me that those on the left are always 3 steps behind. They oppose the election of Trump, they oppose fascist governments, they oppose those who attack multi-culturalism and diversity. All of this is correct and proper, but in this opposition, they have found themselves perpetually reacting to an agenda rather than setting one.
It seems far easier to dismiss a supporter of Trump or UKIP or the Northern League as mere racists or fascist rather than understand their votes and views are based on fear for their own future and their families. These fears have been exploited mainly because there are no other real alternatives given than the right wing.
My view of the left, in my own experiences and from looking to other nations is that the left are so unprepared for government that it no longer attempts to produce the intellectual thinking that allow it to create radical alternatives. It is so obsessed with reuniting the left that it allows the smallest of groups in the far left to dictate unworkable policy. That it is still so obsessed with a revolution over 100 years ago which ultimately failed in creating a better society, that it still splinters into factions of totalitarian despot and another who if he had the chance would have done the same.
A real alternative is needed for people unhappy at the current system, desperate for change, clinging on to reasons based on immigration and race that in their own minds probably doesn’t add up, but no one else seems willing to give them an alternative.
Something needs to be done, or else governments in all nations will be plagued with authoritarian right wing agendas, while all the left will be able to do is vote for the lesser of two evils.
The two major parties in contemporary Northern Ireland politics are the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. The DUP are now running England, and Sinn Féin are the main Opposition party in the Republic of Ireland.
Neither are in government in Northern Ireland.
In terms of introduction to the bizarre world of politics in the North, the four dozen words above would probably suffice on their own.
Casual observers of Northern Ireland politics would quite possibly come away with the belief that the DUP’s bitterest enemies in the game are Sinn Féin, and Sinn Féin’s nemeses in politics are the DUP.
But they couldn’t be further from the truth. The great game in the North isn’t to try and convert Unionists into Nationalists or Republicans, or vice-versa, but to dominate one’s own community.
Thus, the hated rival of the DUP is the “weak and cowardly” Ulster Unionist Party, whilst Sinn Féin retain their most withering contempt for the Social Democratic and Labour Party (“west-Brits”, or the “Stoop Down Low party”).
The UUP – for generations the establishment, and government, in Northern Ireland -is now dead and buried. When Northern politics was a straight Nationalist/Unionist fight, Northern Unionists rallied to its flag – it was led by (relatively and by the standards of the place and day) liberal gentry and governed northern Ireland in a patrician – and openly sectarian – fashion. Its MPs took the Conservative whip at Westminster. Its relationship to the Tory party wasn’t entirely unlike the relationship Ruth Davidson envisages for her MPs. In the latter days of its influence in the early part of this century, it liberalised enough to elect a Catholic member of the Northern assembly, and severed its official links with the fascist Orange Order.
Crucially, the UUP backed every move towards a more peaceful and collegiate Northern Ireland. When the Northern Ireland parliament was abolished in the 1970s, it supported the Sunningdale Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly. In the 1990s, it supported the Belfast Agreement and the establishment of the new Northern Ireland assembly (you may notice that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive that Northern Ireland politics tends to be somewhat repetitive).
Understanding the history of the UUP (and, let’s be frank, the entire party is now history) is crucial to understanding the emergence of the DUP. In 2010, the UUP and the Conservatives fought on a joint – and unsuccessul – ticket in the North, the catchily-monikered Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (Scottish readers may note a pang of recognition here). In 2011, the Conservative leadership proposed a merger of the Conservatives and UUP. The two parties have deep and longstanding links – links that run longer than Northern Ireland, in fact, has existed.
It is these links which has led to Theresa May’s crucial, and catastrophic, misunderstanding of the DUP.
The result of peace and powersharing in Northern Ireland was the entrenchment of the UUP as the moderate Unionist party, forever retaining a place in the heart of a grateful Unionist population.
No – wait. The other thing. They were unceremoniously dumped in favour of a party which would “stand up to Themmuns”
The DUP was formed during the Northern troubles, by Ian Paisley. Dr Paisley was not a politician who could thrive in any other part of Europe. A rabble-rousing religious extremist, he was far closer in terms of his Biblical fundamentalism to Islamic State than he was to mainstream Protestant teaching.
Paisley saw his job as opposing the Unionist government’s “wets”, representing the Protestant working class and conditioning them to see their fellow workers in the Catholic communities as their enemy, instead of the landowning, patrician Unionist leadership.
As late as 1981, Dr Paisley sought to create an Afrikaner Weerstanbeweging-style Loyalist militia to fight with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, British army, and British militias in northern Ireland against the Irish Republican Army. At one notorious rally, thousands of Loyalists gathered in front of the international media brandishing their firearm permits.
At every step of the way to peace in the North, Dr Paisley and his DUP – and it was his DUP undoubtedly, with no opposition to his leadership – opposed it. They opposed Sunningdale. They opposed Margaret Thatcher’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Charles Haughey. They physically occupied the northern Ireland assembly, halting its deliberations, and the same month occupied an entire town in northern Ireland with a 4000-strong armed militia. The militia invaded the Republic of Ireland and fought pitched battles with An Garda Síochána, the Irish police force. Loyalist spies in a Northern Ireland armaments firm attempted to swap missile blueprints for arms from Apartheid South Africa as Nelson Mandela lay in prison.
In the 1990s, they called for ethnic cleansing in Northern Ireland, with the Catholic population to be expelled or interned to create a wholly Protestant Northern Ireland.
Almost inevitably, they opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that led to the permanent and irrevocable establishment of peace and powersharing for as long as northern Ireland remained. Although they participated in the Northern election, they came third and – in a surprise development – refused to participate in the powersharing Executive.
Even in 2001, they were a bit-part political player in grown-up politics. At that year’s election, the UUP won five times as many seats as them.
But just two years later, the DUP was the biggest party in Northern Ireland, winning thirty seats to the UUP’s 27. At the 2005 UK election, the realignment of northern Unionist politics completed, with the DUP winning nine Unionist seats to the UUP’s solitary effort – David Trimble, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Unionist leader lost his seat to David Simpson, a DUP man who believes dinosaurs are a hoax sent by God to test our faith.
The ratchet continued. 2007, the DUP won twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP. 2010, the UUP were wiped out at Westminster (between 2015 and 2017, they had two seats before being wiped out again last week). In 2011, the DUP again took twice the number of Assembly seats as the UUP, and in 2015, completed their hat-trick. In the 2017 snap Assembly election, they lost ten seats, but finished on almost three times as many seats as the UUP.
The Democratic Unionist Party of 2017 is the undisputed master of the Unionist community in northern Ireland. They are the Protestant/Unionist community’s chosen representatives to face Britain and the world – just as the UUP were for so many generations.
But they are not a normal political party in the British sense of things.
While the UUP were effectively the northern Ireland wing of the Conservative party, with perhaps a soupcon of entrenched anti-Catholicism, the DUP are no such thing.
The DUP regard the Conservatives as dangerous, socially-radical dilletantes who are bringing the wrath of God down on the people of the United Kingdom with their wackily modern ideas like womens’ rights (that they have a woman leader neither obviates nor mitigates this fact in the way that having black friends does not constitute an immunity to being racist).
The DUP stand for ideas which, in Britain, ceased to exist as an effective political force in the 18th century, and are, in fact, closer to those of fundamentalist Islam than reformed Christianity, far less modern democratic politics.
They believe that women are inferior beings to men; teach that women should dress modestly; and demand that women not enjoy the little luxuries in life such as access to medical care. Abortion is prohibited in Northern Ireland, with several women awaiting trial in the Magistrates’ Court accused of “procuring an abortion”.
The DUP does not believe in gay rights. Iris Robinson has condemned gay people as being “[viler] than child abusers”, and believes in gay cure. (The rather aptly-named Mrs Robinson resigned from her position as an MLA, MP and councillor after being caught engaging in an enjoyable interlude with a 19-year-old to whom she had illegally funnelled public money). While there is a majority in the Northern assembly in favour of equal marriage, the DUP has repeatedly abused the Petition Of Concern mechanism designed as a veto to ensure neither community can damage the civil rights of the other to veto equal marriage legislation.
It appointed – as Northern environment minister – Sammy Wilson, who does not believe in climate change. Oh, or evolution. He believes that the Gaelic Athletic Association is the “sporting wing of the IRA”, and that breastfeeding in public is “voyeuristic”. As environment minister, he banned climate change advertisements from appearing on television in the North. Mr Wilson is MP for East Antrim.
You may remember David Simpson, who took David Trimble’s seat. Mr Simpson is a member of the Orange Order, which prohibits Catholics from joining. He does not believe in evolution, but does believe that God can heal the sick, rather than medicine. He is MP for Upper Bann.
The party has appointed as Northern culture minister one Gregory Campbell. Mr Campbell has called homosexuality “an evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”, and has denounced the television cartoon The Simpsons as an IRA front. He has also denounced the singer Dido as an IRA supporter. He put forward a motion in the House of Commons denouncing the car manufacturer Kia after it called one of its cars “Provo”, Italian for “test”. Mr Campbell is against the use of the Irish language, and for state executions. He is MP for East Derry.
Emma Little-Pengelly and Gavin Robinson are probably the most inoffensive of the DUP’s MPs. Made junior minister in the North just a month after being elected, Pengelly has managed not to disgrace herself. The daughter of convicted Loyalist terrorist Noel Little, she is MP for South Belfast. Gavin Robinson (no relation) is MP for East Belfast.
Jim Shannon, a member of the Orange Order, was once voted “least sexiest MP”, and is a former member of the UDR. In 2015, he claimed the highest expenses of any MP. He is MP for Iris Robinson’s old Strangford constituency.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is an Orangeman who, before entering politics, worked for the infamous racist MP Enoch Powell. A former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, Sir Jeffrey believes that Catholics are traitors who owe their allegiance to the Pope, rather than their country. He is MP for the Lagan Valley.
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nigel Dodds has served as finance minister in the Northern executive. A friend of Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist leader John Bingham, Mr Dodds waked Bingham at his funeral. Almost inevitably, Mr Dodds is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Flag Group. Mr Dodds wants to ban other EU nationals from claiming social security payments in the United Kingdom. He is MP for North Belfast.
Paul Girvan has called for scrap metal dealers to be armed with firearms to “protect themselves from gypsies”, and has supported burning the Irish national flag atop Loyalist bonfires during the summer Loyalist marching season. He is MP for South Antrim.
Ian Paisley is “pretty repulsed by gay [sic] and lesbianism”, and has called for Irish republicans to be “shot on sight”. The son of the late Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, Mr Paisley is MP for North Antrim (you must remind me never to go to Co. Antrim).
So, you’ve met the ten people who are now governing the United Kingom. A fairly motley crew of terrorists, psychopaths, fascists and bigots.
Theresa May has chosen to save her political skin by bringing these people into government. People who don’t believe in dinosaurs. People who would rather see a woman bleed to death rather than “defy God’s will” than provide her with medical care. Anti-Irish bigots; homophobic bigots; racist bigots. Sometimes all in the one person.
Mrs May is a scared, sick old woman. She is making the mistake of thinking that Northern Ireland’s Unionists are the gentleman Unionists of her youth. They are not. And the worst thing of all is this: how can a Northern Ireland minister who owes his position to the continued support of the DUP ever be seen as an honest broker between the North’s two polarised communities?
By bringing the DUP into government, Mrs May does not just plunge politics into reaction and bigotry, nor does she risk the Northern peace process – she risks alienating the government in Dublin, just one of 27 governments which can veto her Brexit deal.
Mrs May should put country before party, and forego an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.