Left Debate

Does Unionism Have a Left Foot?


PUP local government candidate Stewart Finn (Victoria Ward, East Belfast) outlines the democratic social­ist concepts which underpin the policies of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP)

Not all Unionists are conserva­tive – why are the parties? The Progressive Unionist Party emerged from decades of under- and mis-representation of the Unionist Working Class by those traditional Unionist Parties. These parties claim to represent the Unionist/Loyalist working class, but their policies work in direct opposition to this claim.

The Progressive Unionist Party is a labour-orientated party, com­mitted to achieving a new Northern Ireland, free from the mismanaged and stale politics of the past. The PUP is committed to develop an anti sectarian and pluralist Northern Ireland. The PUP offers a progressive, alternative approach for Northern Ireland’s future and is a left of centre Unionist party with a social conscience – we break the mould!

But what is Progressive Union­ism? Perhaps the best definition comes from the late PUP activist and thinker Billy Mitchell as de­scribed by Dr Aaron Edwards.

“Billy Mitchell once wrote that he couldn’t imagine a better way to describe what progressive loyalism was all about than a group of peo­ple coming together in a commu­nity comprised of responsible men and women who are: (a) working without fear; (b) who are working in comradeship; (c) who are work­ing for common ends; (d) who are working to develop their full stature and realise their full potential; (e) who are working to ensure that every citizen has adequate time, scope and opportunity for pleasure and social enjoyment. This was the ethical framework underpinning Billy’s idea of a truly democratic socialist society and it is a perhaps an ideal that genuine democrats can find some empathy with.”

Many people cannot or refuse to see past the PUP as somehow an extension of the UVF but we are much more (and not even that). The Progressive Unionist Party evolved from those members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando who wished to explore a political and peaceful future for Northern Ireland. The Progressive Unionist Party has an historical link to the UVF/RHC constituency and continues to influ­ence, where possible, Loyalists who are prepared to progress along the path towards a normal society. Our present and future is about agitating for change and creating policies which better serve the people of Northern Ireland, policies which address disadvantage, tackle pov­erty, create a more equitable educa­tion system and provide equality of opportunity for all.

All PUP policies and positions are based on five core principles which we believe reflect the prin­ciples of democratic socialism.

Empowerment:- Party policy must empower ordinary people in their endeavours to reach their full potential as human beings.

Participative Democracy:- With­in the party every member has the right to contribute to the formula­tion of policy and seek election to offices. Outside of the party the PUP must assist community and voluntary groups to identify their needs and to achieve them through the political process. Policy must be based on the real identified needs of local communities.

Community Ownership:- Com­munities and individuals own their own needs and consequently they must own the process of meeting those needs and the benefits gained through participation in the process. The PUP is a servant of the people – we neither own the needs, the pro­cess nor any beneficial outcomes – we are facilitators and advocates for change.

Equality and Social Justice:- Equality will mean the removal of both privilege and deprivations so that access is truly open to all. Democratic socialism calls not just for equality of opportunity, but also for equality of outcomes. Equality is the fuel that drives people into democratic relationships and will be the power behind a thriving anti-sectarian process of participative democracy.

Mutuality:- Mutuality is about working together to preserve the things that we cherish in common and to achieve the things that we desire in common.

Progressive Unionism is about recognising the mistakes of the past, highlighting the problems of the present and working co-oper­atively and pragmatically to find progressive solutions.

We in the PUP will carry on the legacy of those who have gone before us – Billy Mitchell, Billy Mc­Caughey, David Ervine and count­less others – upholding their strong social conscience and moral fibre which underpins the social and po­litical philosophy of our vision for a peaceful and inclusive Northern Ireland for everyone.

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