Former Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson’s assertion that Mike Nesbitt was responsible for losing her Assembly seat has been backed by a senior member of the party.
Outgoing party leader Mr Nesbitt came under fire from many unionists ahead of last week’s snap election, after revealing he planned to give his second preference vote to the SDLP.
In an interview in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Dobson claimed Mr Nesbitt’s remarks came as a shock to UUP members, and welcomed Mr Nesbitt’s decision to stand aside as leader.
She said: “I think he was right to stand down. His comments about transferring his vote to the SDLP were not helpful - especially without consulting party members and just two weeks out from an election.
“I’ve never seen the DUP jump on a get-out-of-jail-free card as quickly as they did with that. It changed the whole dynamics. While I appreciate what he was trying to do, it wasn’t how it was picked up by voters on the doorstep.”
And a senior party member, who did not wish to be named, has told the News Letter they “would not disagree” with Mrs Dobson’s comments.
“There can be no doubt that what Mike said cost us votes,” our source said.
“If the poll had taken place before Mike said what he said (about transferring to SDLP), then I am sure the party would have performed better.
“After he said his words, there was a mood change. I am not saying that what he said was a bad thing, but it didn’t need to be verbalised.
“It spooked a lot of people, and it could certainly be argued that it cost Jo-Anne her seat.”
Mrs Dobson also criticised Arlene Foster, blaming the DUP leader for the overall hit that unionists took across Northern Ireland in the election.
She told the Belfast Telegraph: Arlene Foster has done more in my living memory against unionism by not stepping aside.
“The cost has been 16 unionist seats. One woman has also been responsible for five hard-working, good women losing their seats. She has weakened unionism and helped the nationalist cause.”