McCallister: SDLP should follow UUP into Opposition

John McCallister speaking during the debat on his opposition bill in February
John McCallister speaking during the debat on his opposition bill in February

Mike Nesbitt’s old rival for the Ulster Unionist leadership – who wanted to take the UUP into Opposition four years ago – has welcomed the decision to form an official Opposition.

Former Ulster Unionist deputy leader John McCallister, who quit the party over a deal with the DUP three years ago, told the News Letter that the SDLP should now move in the same direction to form an alternative to DUP-Sinn Fein-led Executive.

Mr McCallister, who last week lost his seat as an independent MLA for South Down, welcomed Mr Nesbitt’s move, something which he said implemented “what I’ve been saying to the UUP for years”.

“They didn’t have the election they hoped for, so it is right and proper that the provisions are there for Opposition and they up those posts and hold the new administration to account.”

When asked if he would like to see the SDLP follow the UUP into Opposition, Mr McCallister said: “I would. I do think it is very hard to say when you lose a couple of seats – in the three elections since I joined the Assembly they have gone from 16 MLAs to 14 and now to 12 – to argue that you should still be in government.

“In the original opposition bill, I wanted to put a figure requiring 18 seats to qualify for Executive places...they’re well below that.”

Mr McCallister, whose own politics are centre-right, added: “It would be good to see that left and centre left position coming through from Opposition and the UUP and SDLP working closely together in looking like a credible alternative Executive.

“I think Mike has certainly stolen a march on them by making the move first, and I welcome it.”