Transferring votes to SDLP does not weaken unionism: Nesbitt

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has stood by his position that he will transfer his vote to the SDLP ahead of other unionist candidates.

Mr Nesbitt outlined his stance on BBC’s Sunday Politics yesterday, but he stressed that he would not be telling UUP voters how they should transfer.

His comments have drawn criticism from other unionist parties,with the DUP’s Nigel Dodds calling on UUP candidates to state whether they endorsed Mr Nesbitt’s sentiment and TUV leader Jim Allister saying that he feared that Mr Nesbitt was “losing his way”.

But on the Nolan Show this morning, the UUP leader defended his stance and refuted an assertion that transferring votes to the SDLP would weaken unionism.

Mr Nesbitt said: “I think it strengthens unionism to celebrate our diversity in Northern Ireland. On the other side (of the election) there has to be a cross community partnership government. I want a willing partnership and in my discussions with Colum Eastwood you have two leaders who get on and are willing to work together to make Northern Ireland work, no matter what the difference in motivation.”

The UUP leader also addressed comments made this morning by party colleague Danny Kennedy, who said he will be advising his supporters to give their second preference vote to the only other unionist candidate standing in the constituency of Newry and Armagh.

Mr Nesbitt said: “The party policy is that after you vote Ulster Unionist, vote for those candidates that you trust will do the right thing for the community, for the constituency and for the country.

“That will be different from constituency to constituency, so Danny Kennedy and I are not a different page. To say Danny and I are clashing is not true.”

Speaking about the East Belfast constituency, which he will be voting in, Mr Nesbitt added: “The first posters I see when I drive in (to Belfast) are DUP posters encouraging me to give a preference to Robin Newton, the former (Assembly) Speaker. This is the man I have been highly and correctly critical of. How could I do that and then turn round and vote for the man?”