William Johnstone challenges the notion of a unionist monolith that looked after the interests of all unionists. William Johnstone is a Ballymoney unionist with an interest in history and politics.
A common theme for Nationalist / Republican writers and commentators has been to describe the old Stormont parliament of the last century as a period of Unionist Domination. The perception is of a cohesive Unionist family determined not to have a papish about the place.
Looking from the outside in, I suppose I can see why some might think it. As a member of the Unionist community, I can also readily refute it.
The Stormont era was a time of Middle Class domination. The ruling elite were largely Unionist because that is the politics that suited them. What of the Protestant working class? Were they of a higher stratum from their Roman Catholic counterparts? Absolutely not. In the eyes of the Unionist establishment, the working class were untouchables, regardless of where they worshipped on a Sunday.
Based on accounts from primary sources from my own family and older members of my own community, I have to conclude that the notion of a monolithic Unionist family was a myth.
How, why and when?
The success of Unionism in the early history of the state depended on unity. Any hints of a split or difference of opinion was swiftly dealt with. Even before partition, when the Orange Order split, the mainly Presbyterian "Independents" were threatened with eviction, job loss and ostracism which led to the disappearance of many independent lodges before the war. The age old Anglican / Presbyterian tensions that resulted in the Rebellion of 1798 had erupted again and although the landowner class did not react violently, they reacted all the same.
How did it happen? Well, the landowners were normally also the only candidates for election. They owned the working class folk's homes, jobs and their only means of existence. This ultimately means, they owned their votes. Fear, oppression and intimidation kept them in power and that power kept the working class in subjection.
Why did this continue to happen? 1798 showed that the protected ruling class were ruthless when it came to dissenters in their own community. They could afford to be ruthless - a largely uneducated and good people came to rely on the wisdom and insight of their masters. Any attempt to resist the will of the landowners was met with a non violent yet terrifying response that could mean starvation, homelessness and death for dissenters. The Protestant working class were given a place and kept in it.
So when did all this end? The 1960s brought change throughout the Western world. For Protestant voters, an alternative came along in the form of the DUP. Suddenly election candidates were not landowners - they were ordinary folk, friends and neighbours, people like the voters themselves. They lived among the people, understood the real issues and got their votes.
Today there is a void in working class politics. The DUP no longer live among the people, no longer understand the real issues and court the business sector and the landowners. In 2015, things are different. People have an education, can think for themselves and might, one day, break into politics on behalf of themselves.
But this part is conjecture. The reality is that ruling Unionism was as harsh on working class Unionists as it was on working class Nationalists. Harsher, if one considers that they treated"their own" so shoddy.