Ulster Unionist leadership challenger Mike Nesbitt has said neither unionist unity nor going immediately into opposition at Stormont can reverse the party’s decline.
In a rallying call to the party faithful ahead of this Saturday’s vote on who will succeed Tom Elliott, the Strangford MLA said he could not see the UUP increasing its power base “by walking away”.
The former UTV anchorman was speaking after his rival for the leadership — South Down Assemblyman John McCallister — accused him of having “left the door open on the unionist unity issue”.
Mr Nesbitt said: “In recent years, the party has searched for the ‘Big Idea’ to turn around our fortunes.
“If there is a big idea, it is not unionist unity; it is not a Conservative link, be it UCUNF or NICUP; nor is it opposition on Monday morning.
“No, if there is a big idea, it is ourselves; that we are the masters of our own destiny.”
Forty-year-old former farmer Mr McCallister has said his first move as leader would be to take the UUP into opposition.
“John McCallister and I agree that we do not have enough power and influence at present,” said Mr Nesbitt.
“Where we disagree is how to fix it. I want to increase our power base in councils, the House of Commons, Europe and the NI Assembly. I do not see that being achieved by walking away.”