Doug Beattie: Too early to say if I’ll run for UUP leader

The process by which Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has stepped down couldn’t be further from the way in which Arlene Foster was ousted from the DUP according to a senior UUP man.

By Graeme Cousins
Monday, 10th May 2021, 6:00 am
Outgoing UUP leader Steve Aiken with party colleague Doug Beattie, a potential new leader of the party.

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Outgoing UUP leader Steve Aiken with party colleague Doug Beattie, a potential new leader of the party. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Doug Beattie said the two leaders of Ulster’s biggest unionist parties leaving their positions just over a week apart was purely a coincidence and one resignation did not result in the other.

Mr Beattie said: “Change is change, sometimes it happens when you least expect it, sometimes change is planned.

“The DUP’s was pretty brutal, it was pretty surgical. Arlene now still doesn’t really have that full idea of what the issue was. I don’t think she’s seen the letter that was circulated behind her back by other members.”

He said the Mr Aiken’s decision to step down was an amicable one: “We’ve had long conversations with Steve face-to-face about how we move things forward, what direction that we need to go.

“Off the back of those conversations Steve has taken the decision that actually to be able to move forward, this next surge, we need somebody else to take over.

“He made the decision himself, it was his decision to make. I don’t think there’s any huge issues there. We go through change, we bring in a new leader.

“New leaders can energise, revitalise, it can be very positive in many ways.”

Over the next few days the process will begin to find a new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Mr Beattie said: “The party officers and the party executive will set the chain in motion. They will announce that it is open for anyone who is a paid up member of the party to apply for leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

“Depending on who that is will depend on where we go next.

“The one thing about the party is this, we won’t do anything behind closed doors. We’ll speak to the media, we’ll engage, we will lay out our stall.

“It may be a long, protracted affair – it depends how many people put their names forward. It may be a short sharp affair if there is limited people.”

Doug, himself a strong candidate for the role of leader, did not wish to put his name forward with his party leader’s resignation still fresh.

He said: “Steve has been very noble about this, very courageous and shown real morale courage. I think it’s right and it’s fair that we give Steve the time and the space to be able to resign before anyone jumps forward and says, ‘I’ll be the person to replace him’.

“As far as I’m concerned I’ll take soundings from my friends, from my colleagues, from party members, because it’s okay saying I want to be the leader of the Ulster Unionist, but do the Ulster Unionist Party want me as a leader.

“It’s not a one-way street here, it’s a collaboration. I will look at that over the next couple of days, but I’ll announce fairly early on whether I decide to stand or not.”

Asked if he believed the process can make the Ulster Unionist Party stronger, Mr Beattie said: “Absolutely. I think there’s a huge problem at this moment in time.

“People are using tag lines to describe the Ulster Unionist Party, they’re using them in a way to attack the Ulster Unionist Party. They’re using the term ‘DUP lite’ which doesn’t stand up to fact and scrutiny because our policies are so incredibly different.

“Maybe that’s our fault because our communication of our policies isn’t good enough.

“No one uses the term ‘Sinn Fein lite’ if the SDLP aligns itself to Sinn Fein. Nobody uses the term ‘SDLP lite’ if the Alliance Party aligns itself to the SDLP.

“But for some reason they do that with the Ulster Unionist Party and they do that to damage us and nothing more.

“We have to counter that, and the way to do that is make sure people understand better our policies and our rationale.

“The Ulster Unionist Party believe in the Union. So do the DUP but that does not make us DUP lite.”

Commenting on both of the largest unionist parties being left leaderless, he said: “Sometimes things just happen the way they do. We never saw this Arlene piece coming, it’s just a real coincidence that this has happened at the same time. We do not set our agenda by what the DUP does.

“Of course whichever direction they move to, if they move harder right then we will have to counter that with a unionist message which is the opposite to that, but that’s politics.”

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