We'll pick up votes from Unionists angry at pact, predicts Naomi Long
Disgruntled unionist voters angry over party pacts are intending to vote for Alliance in East Belfast, according to Naomi Long.
The outgoing MP said people who would not be "natural" Alliance supporters resented being told which branch of unionism they were being allowed to vote for.
And the Alliance deputy leader insisted the contest in the cockpit constituency was no longer about the flags controversy at City Hall.
"That is not the live issue on the doorsteps," she told the party's election campaign launch event, in east Belfast yesterday. "The live issue is who is going to represent us best at Westminster - it is not about the flag this time.
"Others may wish it were - it would make it a much easier campaign for some people if they could just wrap themselves in the flag and that was all that mattered - but I think the electorate are more sophisticated than that."
Ms Long, who seized the seat from First Minister Peter Robinson in a shock victory five years ago, said unionists were palpably angry that unionist parties had combined to reduce their choice as voters.
But she admitted she is facing a tough challenge from agreed unionist candidate, Gavin Robinson of the DUP, the former Lord Mayor.
Ms Long added: "The reality is, I think, that most people in the constituency would like the opportunity to register their vote for the party they feel best represents them - not to have that decision taken out of their hands.
"We are giving people in east Belfast that option and what we are finding on the doorsteps is actually there are a lot of people who may not be natural Alliance party voters but will be turning and voting for Alliance."
According to a Belfast Telegraph LucidTalk poll, carried out before the unionist electoral pact was announced, Gavin Robinson is ahead of Ms Long in the battle for votes in east Belfast.
The Alliance woman says she is closing the gap on her DUP rival and says she is confident.