The future of Loyalism 

Below is a piece written for the Long Kesh Inside out website as part of their ‘what does it mean to be a loyalist series’. 

Loyalism means many different things to many different people. It is a term that has been used by the middle classes to create an underclass within Unionism, but this is not the narrative of loyalism that I subscribe to. I am proud to call myself loyalist. 

In my mind loyalism springs from the well of Biblical Protestantism. This is not a view that all would agree with, there are some who feel that loyalism is better detached from Protestantism, which some believe shackles the political development of the working class loyalist people due to a reliance on traditional Christian principles, principles that those who make this argument claim are outdated and which stand in the way of progression. I do not subscribe to this viewpoint. I believe it is wrong and I believe that once you attempt to effectively take God out of the ‘For God and Ulster’, then you are abandoning our true history and heritage.  I believe that the majority of those who signed the covenant would have been conservative minded persons, I believe this because they signed a covenant which sought to place trust in God and which drew heavily upon the Bible. The very motto of the Ulster Volunteers from its formation was, and remains, For God and Ulster. I have written extensively about my views on this particular issue previously on Long Kesh Inside Out. The piece ‘For God and Ulster- Traditional loyalism in modern society’ expands my views on this specific point much wider than I intend to in this short essay. 

The challenge facing loyalism today is how to build a cohesive movement from the ground up. In previous times the political success of loyalism has been an upside down pyramid with no community base to sustain the electoral success. The main challenge is to firstly build a strong base of community and civic activism and then to dovetail this into a political movement that can bring meaningful and sustained electoral success. For this to succeed loyalism must find a way  for those with conservative views, such as mine, to co-exist alongside those persons who feel loyalism is better served by progressive left wing politics. I have no doubt that those on the left within loyalism care deeply about loyalism and believe their view is the correct one; however I strongly disagree and believe that Biblical Protestantism and Loyalism are entwined and for that reason I believe that socialism and left wing politics is against the founding principles of Ulster Loyalism. The danger for loyalism is that we turn inwards on ourselves and fracture along the lines of left-right politics. The new political dispensation has caused loyalism to have to clearly define itself to be able to play any meaningful role in the political process, as of yet I believe loyalism has been unable to do this and as a result we have many different narratives and views of what loyalism actually is. No one can deny that it is a mixed bag. 

All genuine loyalists, regardless of their political views, will want to empower and grow our communities, so the potential is there to create a strong base of civic activism, how this can then dovetail into a cohesive political movement is the challenge which loyalism faces. It is not an easy challenge and nor is it one that will be easily overcome. Before we even get to addressing the area of political policies on the left or the right, there is the issue of those who are pro agreement and those who are anti agreement. I am unashamedly anti agreement, this does not mean I am anti peace, it means I am anti peace at any price. I believe the Belfast, St Andrews and Hillsborough agreements have led the Unionist people down a blind alley. My views on this won’t change and I am sure those who are pro agreement won’t change their mind either, so how do we find an arena for these differing viewpoints to co-exist and furthermore where those who hold these different viewpoints can work positively together for the betterment of the PUL community? 

In the principles of loyalism the author recounts six core principles of conflict transformation as was drawn up by the Combined Loyalist Military Command. Number three on the list states “we defend the right of anyone or group to seek constitutional change by democratic, legitimate and peaceful means” and number four states “We recognise and respect the rights and aspirations of all who abide by the law regardless of religious, cultural, national or political inclinations”. The aforementioned principles make clear that loyalism defends the right of every person to lawfully express their political viewpoint without fear of coercion. This must apply internally within loyalism as well as externally within the wider political framework. Every person should have the right to express their view of what loyalism is and furthermore to articulate their vision of how loyalism develops and remains politically relevant. 

The questions I was asked to address within this piece have no right or wrong answer. You could ask ten different people and you will get ten different views. I have written extensively on my view of what loyalism is and what it means to be a loyalist, so rather than simply rehash old writings and views I have sought to address myself more to the challenges facing loyalism. I believe the challenges can be met and can be overcome but to do so loyalism must move forward as a cohesive movement consisting of those willing, it is fruitless and pointless to try and drag loyalism in one political direction or the other by attempting to force those who disagree to proceed whilst kicking and screaming. This will lead only to a fatal fracturing of loyalism.  You cannot reach inside a man and change his mind or turn his heart and nor should any man be expected to reach inside himself and sell his own soul at the coercion of others.

Jamie Bryson


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