Ulster Unionist deputy leader and South Down Assembly hopeful John McCallister may have helped spark a bad-tempered row after his Nolan Show rubbishing of the “we must stop Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister” sham fight, but it hasn’t made him any more convinced that it’s an issue on the minds of the electorate.
When I spoke to Jim Wells in Newcastle this week, he reckoned that the First Minister question was one of the main issues being raised with him on the doorstep. I asked John McCallister, who has been canvassing the same towns and villages of South Down, if he was having a similar experience.
No-one has even mentioned it to me yet – maybe because they know my views on it – but no-one has even mentioned that to me, no. It is about jobs, the economy, corporation tax … health and education – those to me are the biggies.
So, is this an issue for unionist voters – as Wells says, or a non-issue – as McCallister says?
When asked if Jim Wells is likely to get the better of him in the fight for the potentially single unionist seat in a constituency with redrawn boundaries, he acknowledged the possibility … but only if the DUP man is sufficiently ahead of him in first preference votes:
I’m a much more transfer-friendly candidate and a much more transfer-friendly party than Jim. I have actively, over the last fours years reached out beyond the bounds of unionism and said ‘I want to work for everybody in South Down’, and I would like the opportunity to continue to work for everybody in South Down.
I’m under no illusions of the difficulties that I face, so I do need everyone – if they want a moderate unionist voice – to get out and vote for me.
Whatever the local situation on the ground in South Down, is it still true more generally across Northern Ireland that the UUP remains more transfer-friendly than the DUP?