David McClarty may return to UUP if Mike Nesbitt elected leader
Former Ulster Unionist David McClarty has said he may stand for the UUP at the next election if Mike Nesbitt is elected leader.
The prospect that Mr Nesbitt could lure Mr McClarty from the independent benches is a boost to his campaign and his claim that he can unite the party.
Last year Mr McClarty, a sitting UUP MLA at the time, was deselected in East Londonderry, but was elected as an independent while the two UUP runners were defeated.
As a direct result, the UUP lost one of its two ministries.
He has a relatively safe seat and, looking at the votes received by the official UUP candidates, could hope to bring a second runner in with him.
This would be a big boon for the UUP, which is struggling elsewhere.
Mr McClarty said that, out of respect for people who voted for him as an independent, he would not rejoin his former party before the next election.
However, he added: “I see Mike Nesbitt as the next leader of the Ulster Unionist Party; I think positive progress for the party can be made under his leadership.”
Asked if he could envisage standing for the UUP again, he replied, “never say never”.
“I still have an interest in the wellbeing of the party,” he added.
“I think politics in Northern Ireland is the poorer without a very strong Ulster Unionist Party.
“I believe that this leadership election could be the springboard for something new.
“The next election is a minimum of three, maybe four years away, so anything could happen,” he stated.
Mr McClarty said that he was a strong opponent of unionist unity which he believed could contribute to sectarianism, and he felt Mike Nesbitt would not form closer ties with the DUP.
“If there is unionist unity does it mean that nationalists and republicans should unite too?
“That would perpetuate the ‘them and us’ scenario and is the last thing Northern Ireland needs.”
He also favours an opposition at Stormont but feels that the UUP should negotiate one rather than withdrawing from the Executive with no guarantees.
“A fully funded opposition makes for a much better Government and a much better democracy,” he added.