Conal McDevitt has blogged Arthur Aughey's speech to the McCluskey Summer School. It contains a detailed dissection of 'liberal/progressive Unionism'. He points out that an attractive idea does not mean success:
"...it remains rhetorically powerful if not practically convincing."
He points out that an underpinning notion of liberal Unionism is:
"There is an assumption at the heart of liberal unionism and it is the possibility that ‘middle Ulster’ can find common ground with ‘middle Ireland’ (within Northern Ireland and between North and South). That common ground can be found insofar as Unionists and Nationalists think rationally and put material interests before sectarian ones."
However, that assumption has structural problems nothing to do with the merits of Nationalism and Unionism. He highlights that while people talk moderation they continue to think tribal.
"Those surveys tend to present Northern Ireland opinion in its Sunday best but I think this one is most revealing. The question is: A political gain for one religious tradition in Northern Ireland usually results in a loss of ground for the other? – 53% agreed and 15% were too polite to say! However, with all allowance for positive response syndrome, it looks like about three-quarters of the Northern Ireland electorate believe this is a truism of politics."
The resultant risk is it proves:
"...unpersuasive for nationalists and missing the point for unionists."
However, the strongest criticism is liberal Unionism's ability to ascribe a system of thinking to nationalists that they don't have:
"...liberal Unionism, then, seems to misrecognise nationalist opinion (rather, idealise it according to its own requirements) it can often fail to understand the anxieties and concerns of unionists."
Its misrecognition (critique here and response here) is not necessarily restricted to nationalist opinion. Despite the pessimistic dissection of liberal unionism's flaws and inability to achieve he places his hope on the optimism displayed in the Union 2021 series:
"...when you consider the contributions to the Newsletter’s Union 2021 series it is striking that (with a few exceptions) contemporary Unionism – in its diversity – is reasonably optimistic about its future, possibly most consistently for a generation. If this is true, then the future is not without its promise. For liberal Unionism requires optimism in order to flourish."
He is predictably harsh on the DUP:
"...having its clothing stolen by the DUP...The DUP and Sinn Fein have both made the most of that fable politically but want – and prosper – by the ‘two communities’ keeping their distance."
However, the DUP is the dominant party and with that comes certain responsibilties. Necessity may require him to revise that opinion if he desires an sustained effort to build Unionism. The alternative party is the UUP which has not been fit for purpose for some time with questions if it is capable of being so.