Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Is another split on cards for the UUP?

A major showdown is looming within the Ulster Unionist Party.

Its leader Mike Nesbitt has been trying to impose cohesion by taking a firm line with those who disagree with perceived policy, but it has looked like the wrong strategy for a party which has always had free thinkers like Basil McCrea.

In an exclusive article in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr McCrea makes clear his intention of voting against the UUP motion condemning violence and intimidation.

He is deeply disappointed that Mr Nesbitt has agreed to support a DUP amendment removing any reference to the Good Friday Agreement which Peter Robinson's party opposed in the historic 1998 referendum. This omission will also offend other UUP stalwarts who fought hard for the Agreement.

Mike Nesbitt's cosying-up to the DUP is also likely to lead to a takeover bid from that party.

Basil McCrea and former deputy UUP leader John McCallister have said repeatedly this is the obvious outcome, but their warnings fell on deaf ears.

On Friday, Mr McCrea faces a disciplinary hearing because of his principled view over the Union flag issue. He claimed that it had been party policy to accept designated days for flying the flag, even though three UUP councillors in Belfast voted to fly it every day of the year.

Whatever people think of Basil McCrea, he is a charismatic politician who has talked sense during the flags crisis. Mike Nesbitt faces massive challenges, and his party cannot keep losing talented colleagues like McCrea.

Sooner or later he and possibly John McCallister, another free thinker, may leave to form a more centrist party. This will form a major challenge to unionism, and McCrea and McCallister look to be on the right path.

Not all voters want to lock themselves into the type of pan-unionism which the new Forum suggests, and a more liberal grouping under Basil McCrea and his like-minded colleagues might tap into this support. This would be much healthier for unionism and for a wider choice in the politics of Northern Ireland.

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