Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

‘Anti-colonial’ Alliance Euro candidate decries “very artificial” Northern Ireland

The Alliance Party (APNI) is Northern Ireland’s answer to the Liberal Democrats (much more so than the Northern Irish Liberal Democrats). Originally founded as the party for non-sectarian unionism, they’re now the border-neutral party and, much as the SDP once were, the party for nice people. Or, to be more accurate still, nice unionists.

Despite being genuinely cross-communal in their intentions, until now the APNI have very much been taking unionist votes. They gained an MP in 2010 by unseating DUP leader Peter Robinson in rock-solidly pro-union East Belfast.

In that light, the statements by their European candidate Anna Lo could be seen as a play for soft-nationalist votes. Speaking to the Irish News (the nationalist of the province’s three papers), she claimed to support a ‘united Ireland’ on principle – albeit not expecting to see it in her lifetime – and described the partition of Ireland as ‘artificial’.

Sadly the Irish News is behind a paywall so I can’t link to her remarks, but opinion seems split as to the fallout. Some think it could work to the Alliance’s advantage by eating into the vote of the moderate nationalist SDLP. Others think it’s likely to damage the prospects of other Alliance candidates, not only in the local elections but also the attempt to hold East Belfast in 2015, a task already complicated by the flag protests. Lo herself seems either to be standing her ground or back-pedalling depending on which source you ask.

I personally think it’s a bit cowardly to decry all your critics as ‘sectarian’. There are plenty of non-sectarian reasons to take exception to the idea that it is “very artificial” for “the corner of Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom”. Whilst one might quibble over where the border should have been drawn, at its root was the need to give two communities with divergent loyalties the right to self-determination.

You can no more decry a divided Ireland as ‘artificial’ when such division reflects the desires of a substantial, geographically concentrated population than you could use geographic fiat to overrule Scottish independence, or have used “lots of people outside your part of the polity want to rule you” to prevent Irish independence. To hold one group’s right to self-determination as more valid than another’s – which Lo does with her artificiality comment, notwithstanding her quite proper belief in reunification by consent – looks a lot like nationalism to me.

Labour MSP claims Ukraine proves case for European army… sorry, ‘defence force’

Jenny Marra, MSP for the North East of Scotland, has claimed that events in Ukraine highlight the need to strip nations of sovereignty over national defence.

She argued that ‘defence forces’ (that ghastly new term for armies and navies) being left in the hands of nation states is ‘quite a dangerous place to be’ – and cited Putin’s recent revanchist manoeuvres in Crimea to back up her point. The notion that national armies are a menace is further demonstrated, she argued, by the First World War, the centenary of which is the subject of much current debate.

Perhaps predictably this tied into a broader position on the European Union which involved ‘dismissing’ an In/Out referendum and defending the concentration of power in Brussels: “Anyone who has been watching the coverage following the media’s reflections on the precipitation towards World War One a hundred years ago would see the folly of nation states.”

That’s certainly one way of looking at it, although I think that the atrophying of European military budgets after the fall of the USSR, overseen by a new generation Marra-minded, post-military ‘European’ politicians, has probably played its part in emboldening Putin and his renascent Russian Empire. Of course, those same people would be in charge of an EU ‘defence force’, which would almost certainly under-funded, ill-equipped and rarely if ever sent anywhere without blue helmets on. Which probably suits Ms Marra – not to mention Mssrs Putin, Assad et al – quite nicely.

Progressive Unionist leader justifies his terrorist past

Pity the poor, lonely left-wing unionists of Northern Ireland. They don’t have a lot of options. The local Labour Party, which had to threaten the national party with legal action before they were even allowed to join, recently branded Ed Miliband a ‘colonial oppressor’ over his refusal to put his prospectus before Ulster voters. Meanwhile their only domestic option, the Progressive Unionist Party, is deeply enmeshed with loyalist paramilitarism.

This unfortunate fact was highlighted this week when PUP leader Billy Hutchinson refused to apologise for the murder of two Catholic men on their way to work in 1974.

The normal response possible or confirmed terrorists-turned-politicians is either to deny having a terrorist past or make the sort of convoluted non-apology (of the “I’m sorry you’re upset” variety) that the likes of Gerry Adams are famous for.

Hutchinson instead decided, in an interview with a newspaper journalist, to claim that his contribution to the loyalist counter-terror effort is justified by the fact that “we’re not in a united Ireland”. He “regrets every death in this society”, of course, as every other murderer claims to do.

Having lost their only Assembly seat in 2011, the PUP will probably be trying to tap into the working-class loyalist anger unleashed by the flags protests. One can only hope that justifying old terrorism is not the way to win them over.