Ulster Unionist winner: I voted for TUV, SDLP and more

Steve Aiken OBE and his wife Beth at the election count

Steve Aiken OBE and his wife Beth at the election count

One of the new UUP Assembly members has revealed that he not only acted upon his ex-leader’s idea to transfer votes to the SDLP, but that he also voted for harder-line unionist parties than his own.

Stephen Aiken OBE, who has just won a seat in South Antrim with a significant jump in his own vote, told the News Letter he was speaking for the “moderate voice of unionism,” which wanted to work in “partnership” with others.

In that vein, he was asked about the suggestion raised by Mike Nesbitt that unionists should transfer to some non-unionists.

On February 12 Mr Nesbitt had told the BBC: “In terms of preferences, I’m saying vote Ulster Unionist and then vote for any candidate that you trust will deliver for your community, for your constituency and for this country.”

He said he did not mean “specifically the SDLP,” but that he would be transferring that way himself.

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Mr Aiken said: “I transferred very clearly. I transferred to the opposition parties. I transferred to the Alliance, to the SDLP, the TUV, and I also transferred to Paul Girvan (of the DUP), because as far as I was concerned, Paul Girvan was the only DUP MLA there who actually was doing something substantial on the ground and I was working very closely with him.

“And I was very pleased to endorse those people as we went through.”

As to the next steps the UUP would take, he said he could not be sure.

However, “direct rule I think would be an absolute disaster for Northern Ireland”.

“You just have to hear what’s happening in England with healthcare waiting lists, issues to do with infrastructure, what’s happening with education, what’s happening with the policing and prison service – all these things,” he said.

“We need to be able to run Northern Ireland, because quite frankly the only people who know how to make Northern Ireland work are ourselves.

“We shouldn’t be asking people from outside to do it for us. Let’s get on with it.”

Elsewhere, fellow UUP winner John Stewart in East Antrim had noted that the elimination of the SDLP candidate there produced 200-plus transfer votes for him, helping him to win (though what ultimately pushed him over the line was a large transfer of surplus DUP votes).