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Robin Swann: This is not the time to retreat to the trenches... unionism must reach out

By Robin Swann

On Saturday I was honoured and humbled to be ratified as the 16th leader of the Ulster Unionist Party - the only local party of modern and confident unionism, and the only party that has ever represented the form of positive unionism that I readily identify with.

I am immensely proud to come from Northern Ireland. I am proud of the people who call this place home, and I am proud of the contribution they make in all walks of life at home and abroad.

I am also proud to call myself British. Together, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales are far stronger than we would ever be alone. No matter where you go in the world, Britishness stands for freedom, democracy and personal liberty.

Given those priceless values, we should be champions for the Union. That's what I want to be and that's what I want the Ulster Unionist Party to be - champions of the Union and for the Union. Unionists should be making the Union attractive to everybody in Northern Ireland.

Unionism in general had a poor election, but that doesn't mean it should retreat to the trenches to engage in a self-defeating numbers game.

I'll also repeat the point I made on Saturday. To those who seek a single unionist party, I ask them to consider carefully the consequences of such an outcome. A single unionist party would limit choice, stifle debate and quickly result in the depletion of unionist votes at the ballot box. That is the exact opposite of what we should be trying to achieve.

We must resist the continual pressures that would see Assembly elections descend into a sectarian headcount, because that does not serve the people of Northern Ireland, nor will it serve it our children or grandchildren. We should be widening our net and reaching out. Unionism has nothing to fear but a lot to gain.

My wife Jenny and I have a daughter of six and a son of four, and I want their experience of growing up in Northern Ireland to be very different from mine.

I want them to grow up in a Northern Ireland at peace with itself, a Northern Ireland for all its people, a Northern Ireland which has a particular emphasis on the development of our children, which respects its elders and looks after the vulnerable.

It's about promoting a positive unionism, a confident unionism and an embracing unionism that threatens no-one.

That also means being respectful and inclusive. A strong, confident and prosperous United Kingdom, of which we are integral, is the best outcome for us all.

We are part of the world's sixth largest economy, which provides free health care for our citizens at the point of delivery, the NHS, a strong welfare state to protect the vulnerable, a global power which provides strong security and defence at both home and abroad, high quality education for our children, freedom of expression and, above all, a commitment to democracy, equality and the rule of law.

Others may talk it down, but these are values and benefits which we should cherish and hold dear, regardless of class, creed or identity.

We should be aiming to build a society that is comfortable in its relationships with its neighbours and all of its citizens. That's my goal and that's what I will be aiming to do as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

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