A former ministerial adviser to the DUP’s Sammy Wilson is to stand as an Ulster Unionist council candidate.
Graham Craig, who was the then Finance Minister’s special adviser (spad), told the News Letter that he retained great respect for his former boss but had joined the UUP because he believes that unionism needs to be “more outward looking”.
Mr Craig, who was in the highly unusual position of not being a DUP member although he was trusted by the party to hold the post, was Mr Wilson’s adviser from 2008 to 2011.
The economist, who was a member of the UUP in the 1990s until his membership lapsed, rejoined in December and has been chosen by the South Belfast UUP association to run in Belfast City Council’s Botanic ward. The UUP executive has yet to ratify that decision.
Mr Craig said that despite now standing as a rival to the DUP he would not attack Mr Wilson.
“I have an awful lot of time and respect for Sammy Wilson,” he said.
“I mightn’t agree with everything he says, but I found him to be entirely honourable and entirely honest which is something I wouldn’t say about too many politicians.
“I never had any personal difficulties with him.
“I just feel that the Unionist Party’s politics are more in line with my personal beliefs and objectives.”
Mr Craig said that despite deep animosity between the DUP and UUP, he did not believe that his background would put off UUP voters.
“Ultimately, I was utterly professional in my role so whether I was a [DUP] member or not, as far as I’m concerned, is irrelevant. I was working for the minister and looking out for his interests.”
The last council election saw the UUP decimated in the capital where it now has just three councillors.
Setting out his stall, Mr Craig said: “I’m a person who can work with everybody effectively. I’m not a divisive figure. I’m not a careerist politician and therefore I’m more interested in being a community representative.
“I’m not entering politics for a career; I’m entering it because I want to stand up for what I believe.
“I believe in the Union, I believe in a broader civic unionism and I believe that unionism needs to be more outward looking and be part of the wider UK conversation. An inward looking unionism is a great danger to the Union.”
Graham Craig said that prior to being appointed as Mr Wilson’s spad he “never had any relationship with Sammy at all”.
Spad positions are both politically sensitive and financially lucrative, meaning that they are normally given to loyal party members.
However, Mr Craig said that Mr Wilson, above, had taken the rare step of interviewing for the post and choosing a non-DUP member. He said that it had been an “interesting” role but “like everything else it runs its course and I had to move on. I wanted a change and the party was moving towards wanting spads to be party members.”
Mr Craig, who since leaving his Stormont role has worked as an economist at the Utility Regulator, said he hoped that his experience at the top of Stormont would “give people confidence that I’m the sort of person who can represent them and can look after their interests”.