'I earned my stripes but Emma is just a blow-in... I might join the TUV and contest her seat'
DUP councillor Ruth Patterson has revealed that she may stand against her party in next year's Assembly elections.
She is considering resigning from the DUP and running as either an independent or TUV candidate in South Belfast.
That would see her go head-to-head in a fascinating contest with DUP junior minister Emma Pengelly, a former special advisor to Peter Robinson who was co-opted into the Stormont seat two months ago.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Patterson disclosed that she did not share her party's stance on gay rights and said that if a gay family member wanted to get married in church, she would attend the ceremony.
"I am far more liberal on social and moral issues than people think," she stated.
The outspoken politician launched a stinging attack on the DUP leadership for snubbing her by selecting Ms Pengelly to replace retired MLA Jimmy Spratt.
Ms Patterson revealed that the UUP, TUV, and UKIP had all approached her to join, but she was only interested in Jim Allister's party. "I haven't made a decision, but I'm seriously thinking about it," she said.
"I've given almost two decades of my life to the DUP in South Belfast. I built up the vote locally and I've worked so hard, not for £92,000 a year like Emma, but for £800 a month from the council."
The DUP councillor said the issue was "political not personal" and "an important principle" was at stake.
"Emma is young, academic and nice-looking, but that doesn't give her the right to a seat she hasn't earned," she said.
"I'm a great believer in earning your stripes. Politics shouldn't be about membership of a golden circle. You have to be a foot soldier first, to have knocked doors and worked for constituents. Emma hasn't done that."
As Jimmy Spratt's running-mate in the last Assembly elections, Ms Patterson polled 3,800 first preference votes, making her the highest polling candidate in Northern Ireland not elected to Stormont.
She said she had been the "natural choice" to replace Mr Spratt but added: "The leadership had so little respect for me that they didn't even me phone me to say they were picking Emma. A party colleague told me by text. I shed a tear with my daughter when I heard.
"I've since met Peter Robinson and aired my views, but he has given me no explanation. This isn't something that can be sorted out."
Ms Patterson said she did not know if she would attend the DUP annual conference this weekend. She claimed the party was "too technocratic, elitist and out of touch with the community" under Mr Robinson.
"Peter has surrounded himself with yes people, these special advisors who don't have the experience of grassroots politics" she said.
"The party has forgotten where it came from. The leadership are so disconnected from grassroots that they didn't even realise how bad it would look for Emma to accept a £45,000 severance package when she stepped down as a special advisor, then to walk into a ministerial job. It's not gone down well in South Belfast. I don't know if the electorate will endorse Emma next year.
"No matter how the leadership try and dress it up, she's just a very well paid blow-in and people don't respect that."