In this - our centenary year - Northern Ireland faces some big decisions on what kind of place we want to be going forward. Two of the 'big players' on the pro-union side of politics are now going through leadership elections ahead of what could be a very testing Stormont election next year. I think the very fact that is happening at this time tells a tale, and it isn't a very good one. But what does the next 100 years look like to these parties and their potential new leader? What will they do to secure a better life for all of us going forward? And do they admit they, their party and colleagues must change and adapt to a much different Northern Ireland in 2021?
As I see it, we have reached a major point. Not just because of such a huge milestone in the creation of Northern Ireland, but because people here have changed, Northern Ireland has changed. The appetite is there to hear much more on the subject of the future, the prospects and opportunities for those living here and those who want to stay and raise a family. Old arguments and rows within unionism gets eyes rolling or people turning away more than anything now. It is certainly far from the rallying call it used to be within politics and society in general. A much more modern and forward thinking Northern Ireland is emerging, a place that is crying out for prosperity and opportunity for all, where everyone is treated equally no matter who or what they are. Making these objectives a political priority and delivering on them would be the single greatest advertisement for Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom for the next 100 years.
Don't get me wrong, I think the idea of a 'United Ireland' is miles off, even if some want to absurdly force the argument ahead of everything else. I question how these people can have the nerve to discuss the subject when they can point to very little in terms of their achievements for the people of Northern Ireland, even within their own communities. However, that isn't to say the rest of us need to just drift along and not address the many issues there are within Northern Ireland for so many. No, it is vital those of a pro-union persuasion start engaging with as many as possible around Northern Ireland, and indeed the rest of the UK. Why? Well, simply it has not happened enough. Consequently far too many see unionism through the prism of an outsider, and that isn't too flattering lots of times. It is seen by many as backwards, negative and not offering many positive visions for the future.
You only need to sit and think about it - or discuss it with others - and most come to the conclusion our pro-union politicians appear to continually be in defence and 'hold on' mode. Look at any negotiations or talks that take place, those representing unionism seem to always go in trying to hold on to things, never really making any demands or visions for now or the future. On the other hand nationalist generally go into these things very much on the offensive, making demands for change and not sitting in defence mode holding on to things. Actually wanting things, changes and forward thinking - even if we ourselves disagree with the actual substance or their ideas - can come across as quite attractive to many, especially younger sections of our society. Why can our unionist politicians not articulate what they want from the future, how they see Northern Ireland changing and adapting to the years ahead? Fearing the future and just facing down the idea that Northern Ireland is changing is a nonsense, denying reality and not one bit attractive.
The idea of the future of Northern Ireland and what our unionist representatives actually offer people is nearly as vague as it is non-existent. It's all buzz words with no meaning or idea as to how we get there. Come election time what do we get? "Jobs are good", "fund our health service", "I support our troops". These are just some of the things said and put on leaflets that obviously are nice words, but nothing much comes after it. How will they deliver more jobs? How will they ensure Northern Ireland contributes more to the tax pot to fund our health service more? What will they do for veterans in Northern Ireland and the issues that many have? Much too often the substance doesn't arrive and instead retreating to type arrives, scaring the electorate, making them worry about change and largely putting so many off altogether. A large issue in Northern Ireland is that we have not been a net contributor within the UK for decades. Too many unionist politicians have shown they don't care much about that, but why? To win friends and allies in the rest of the UK it might be a good start by at least showing you want to make Northern Ireland much more attractive and successful and contributing a bit more to our union instead of giving the image of always having hands out expectantly to prop up our wee place. That is just one example of course, but a Northern Ireland contributing more to the UK is a successful one that will not only win approval from many living here - as it will bring more successful business, jobs and all the positives that brings - but also allies around the UK and further.
I want to just finish by addressing a very serious and important matter, that of our election system in Northern Ireland. We have a system of voting which is very positive, meaning people can list their preferences in a positive way. Those they want getting their number 1 vote, with others getting a 2, 3, 4 etc afterwards in order of who they would want to win if their favourite doesn't. This means the electorate overall end up getting who they want most with no worries about risking the seat going to someone they don't want. Yet somehow our politicians here - especially on the unionist side - turn it into a huge negative. Instead of encouraging people to use the system in the positive way it is intended, it's astonishing to witness so many mislead the electorate and damage said system. Cutting each other to bits over the constitution, warning people that "a vote for 'a' will result in q" and a general poisonous attitude puts lots off using the system as it is intended and puts some off voting altogether. The cynic in me feels this is deliberate, for if people are told the massive positives about the system we use and how the transfers work it will be a risk to those who keep their votes through the false warnings and negatives they incorrectly publicise to the electorate. Having more voices and choices gets more people out voting, add that to the system allowing voters to put at the top who they want most and then list the rest in how they would like the seat allocated if their favourite isn't elected. Isn't that great? Yet so many ruin it all by simply telling untruths and misleading people. So yes, it is long past the time the truth - and only the truth - is communicated about our voting system. Our country, it's future and that of the union will be much better off for it.