Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

UUP must choose an option and stick to it

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt gave a good speech to the UUP conference last weekend, although he didn't say anything that we hadn't heard before.

He avoided all the contentious issues, including the key 'elephant in the room' of doing electoral pacts with the DUP.

Nesbitt's dilemma regarding this issue was fully shown on Monday's Nolan show, where he was discussing his idea for a trauma-mental health facility.

He was doing well in the interview but at the end, Nolan put to him the old chestnut of unionist-unity candidates at elections.

Interestingly, he indicated that agreeing to a unionist-unity candidate for the Mid Ulster by-election had, perhaps, been a mistake.

He also requested (no, grovelled) again that the DUP should announce they're running only one candidate in next year's Euro election.

It's a sad state of affairs that the once-mighty UUP is reduced to begging another party to run only one candidate as a way of them securing their own Euro seat.

However, even if the DUP run only one candidate for the Euro poll, the UUP will be left competing with the probable DUP line: 'Vote for us. We're the only unionist party that can top the poll.'

Many Ulster Unionist voters will think, 'why shouldn't I vote DUP No1 and then UUP No2 as a way of helping a unionist top the poll?'

This is a dangerous situation for the UUP.

Vote transfers play a part in proportional representation elections, but first preferences are always king.

The UUP needs to secure 75,000-90,000 first preference votes in the Euro election to have a chance of holding their seat.

My advice to Nesbitt is either go for a formal pact with the DUP, with a thought-out plan based on joint candidates and joint policies, or stay independent.

Don't go for a middle-of-the-road way, doing piecemeal pacts here and there and trying to be all things to everyone.

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