Abortion/LGBT matters: ‘New UUP boss must let members vote with their conscience’

One of the Ulster Unionists’ longest-serving figures has said that whoever takes over the reins of the party should make sure that members are allowed to vote with their conscience on social / moral matters.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 14th May 2021, 2:34 pm
Jim Nicholson, speaking at European Parliament, Strasbourg, 2017

Jim Nicholson – who was the UUP’s member of the European Parliament until Brexit and his subsequent retirement – said that to do otherwise would be “draconian”.

Mr Nicholson made the comments to the News Letter as it looks increasingly likely that Doug Beattie – one of he leading liberal voices within the party – will succeed Steve Aiken.

Unlike the DUP, the UUP has often exhibited a policy of allowing its members to vote with their conscience on matters such as abortion and gay / transgender issues.

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However, when a motion seeking to ban “conversion therapy” was brought forward by the UUP last month in Stormont, the party decided to whip its members behind it, compelling them to support the motion – leaving their longest-serving MLA Roy Beggs in a tough position, because he did not support it.

The idea of a ban on “conversion therapy” is a key objective of transgender and gay activists; however, the UUP motion failed to define what it actually meant by “conversion therapy”.

It is generally taken to mean any kind of process – whether entered into voluntarily or not – which seeks to alter someone’s sexuality or “gender identity”.

Critics have pointed out that such an expansive definition could even criminalise the reading of the Bible, or bar a therapist from exploring a child’s newfound belief that they are “transgender”.

“I’m a believer in the conscience vote,” said Mr Nicholson.

“I believe that’s the way the UUP has operated. I under stand that not everybody who supports the Union has the same views that I do.

“We’ve got to make sure that everybody has the right [to] express their particular point of view.

“I think that is the only way forward. I think it’s draconian if you actually go down the road of whipping people against their conscience. It’s not something that I’d like to happen to me so it’s not something I’d like to force on anybody else.

“There are issues where conscience votes should be allowed. These are very deep-held issues.”

Mr Nicholson said he was speaking about matters “abortion” and “LGBT issues”.

Allowing a diversity of opinion is important, he believes, because unionism must focus on strengthening the Union, and cannot allow itself to be “sidetracked”.

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