Sam McBride: Some logic, but not history, is on Mike Nesbitt’s side

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt at the Ulster Unionist Party conference at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast last year. 
Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt at the Ulster Unionist Party conference at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast last year. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

In this election, Mike Nesbitt’s role as leader of the opposition is coming into conflict with what would hitherto have been seen as the role of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Traditionally, Ulster Unionist leaders since Edward Carson have enunciated the concept that ‘united we stand’. The idea of voting for nationalists ahead of unionists – particularly in an era when nationalists opposed the very existence of Northern Ireland – would have been unfathomable.

Yet in Mr Nesbitt’s role as opposition leader it would be similarly unthinkable to urge people to vote for his party because of the failures of the governing party – but then to give one’s second preference vote to the governing party, helping them stay in power.

Mr Nesbitt’s comments will cause deep unease within significant sections of his own party.

But in some ways, he is articulating the logical stance of government and opposition – what is the point of the UUP standing as an alternative to the government if it is also urging its supporters to vote for what it says is a failing government?

Mr Nesbitt might have hoped for several years in which to resolve the issue internally but this snap election has hastened the position he yesterday outlined.