John McCallister joins the UUP leadership race

This morning, John McCallister – UUP Deputy Leader of the Assembly Group – has thrown his farmer’s cap into the ring to replace Tom Elliott as leader of the UUP.

In a statement McCallister calls himself an “unashamed liberal progressive unionist” and makes a couple of his policies clear:

  • UUP shouldn’t be allowed to float into the orbit of the DUP.
  • If elected, the UUP would go into opposition at Stormont.

The question now is whether Mike Nesbitt (who managed Tom Elliott’s leadership campaign) will be racing out of the pits before Friday to join Danny Kennedy and John McCallister?

Update – adding links to this morning’s News Letter front page and John McCallister’s article.

Photo used with permission of

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  • The future’s bright, the future’s orange

    McCallister’s statement of being an unashamed liberal Unionist may play against him. [Removed]

    Has anyone worked out who the Ulster Unionist Party Officers will be backing?

    My rough bet would be;

    David Campbell – definitely Kennedy
    Mark Cosgrove – probably Kennedy
    Jim Nicholson – definitely Kennedy
    John McCallister – himself
    Mark Ovens – probably Nesbitt
    Philp Smith – definitely Nesbitt
    Lord Rogan – Kennedy/Nesbitt
    Catherine Simpson – probably Nesbitt

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mike is looking pretty cool in his new white Suit.

  • andnowwhat

    Is wearing a helmet the length a UUP voter has to go to to be seen in public these days

  • dwatch

    McCallister states: “If elected, the UUP would go into opposition at Stormont.”

    I wish someone with better knowledge than myself of the D Hondt type system working now at Stormont can explain were is there a (POLITICAL LEGAL LOOPHOLE) in the 1998 GFA or 2006 St Andrew Agreement that allows for the UUP ( or SDLP & Alliance) to go into official opposition (like the Labour party in Westminister at present.

  • Mike the First


    I think the difference is between opposition (i.e. withdrawing from/not nominating to the Executive) and official opposition, the latter of which has no provision under the GFA/NI Act/StAA as far as I know.

  • Alex Kane


    There is no legal compulsion for any party to take seats in Executive. Similarly, everyone—including DUP— has talked about Opposition since 1998: but excuses are always found for doing nothing.

    McCallister is heading for the Field of Dreams option—“build it and they will come.” Yep, it is risky (and the membership may reject him/it) but it seems to me a better option than the Mushroom Strategy— in which the party stays in Executive, is kept mostly in dark about DUP/SF decisions and then covered in shit on regular occasions.

    Anyway, on way to Dublin now to explain joys of NI politics to a group of US students.



  • dwatch

    Thanks Mike the First,
    Thats what I thought, but if the UUP were to follow such a road and therefore relinquish one ministerial post plus other official committee positions, would they be allowed to sit in the assembly if there is no provision under the GFA/NI Act/StAA for to do so?

  • dwatch

    Thanks Alex, have a good day in Dublin. Dont forget to tell them about our whackey UUP up here in Norn Iron.

  • andnowwhat

    Surely the UUP cannot go in to opposition until after the next assembly election as it was not part of the mandate they stood on?

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    dwatch, I think they’d probably keep their committee positions as they are not positions of government and are one of the best scrutinising tools available to any party; but particularly for one that no longer has a foothold in the executive and wants to turn up the heat on the executive parties.

    I’m also curious about what happens to their ministerial portfolio. Is D’Hondt run as if they weren’t there? Or is the next party from the last running of D’Hondt in line for an executive seat entitled to it?


  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    They are also down to 15 seats since McNarry got the boot. Although I don’t think that matters even if D’Hondt was run however. Might be interesting if they manage to lose one more.

  • Politico68

    What is this ‘UUP’ everybody is talking about. Is it a new party or pressure group or something??

  • Progressive Unionist

    Very encouraging to see that Basil has come out and endorsed John McCallister for leader.

    John, while being unashamedly progressive, also has the potential to bridge the urban/rural divide in the party.

    He’s also a no bullshit kind of guy, and it’s refreshing to see a UUP figure just come out and say exactly what he plans to do – i.e. go into opposition.

    It’ll be interesting to see what Nesbitt does. And where his preferences go if he does enter the race but comes third.

  • My understanding is that it’s entirely in order legally for the UUP minister to resign and for the party to then decline to nominate a replacement, while keeping their seats in the Assembly, including Committee seats, if they so wish. Whether it’s politically a good move is another question; frankly I am open-minded on that.

    Not quite sure what is meant by CSPRG’s dichotomy of “Is D’Hondt run as if they weren’t there? Or is the next party from the last running of D’Hondt in line for an executive seat entitled to it?” It comes to the same thing, I think; either way, if the UUP don’t take up their seat, the tenth Executive place goes to the DUP. (If there is a tenth Executive place.) And seats are calculate on the basis of party strength at the first sitting of the current assembly, so subsequent changes of allegiance are not relevant.

  • London_Irish


    As others have said, the right to be in the Executive, doesn’t compel one to be so. A party can decline the positions they’re entitled to and the Executive can still function, so long as both communities have a minimum representation around the table. (See the Speaker’s ruling after the botched attempt at running d’Hondt in July 1999: )

  • London_Irish

    If the UUP were to withdraw their ministers from the Executive, d’Hondt would be re-triggered, and at the point of it being the UUP’s turn to nominate, in refusing to do so the process would continue without them, in that case the sequence of selection would be:

    DUP, SF, DUP, SF, SDLP, DUP, SF, DUP, Alliance, DUP

    So it is the DUP who would gain (with SF to get the next seat should Justice be selected by d’Hondt).

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru


    Its true that in both cases the DUP would pick it up.

    I imagined a scenario where the next available seats (had there been 11 or 12 ministries with the UUP) would be different from the d’Hondt running with the UUP absent. Having invented a couple I think you may be right although I haven’t entirely convinced myself the two situations are identical.

    I also agree that new party compositions are irrelevant, although its interesting to note that Mcnarry’s removal cost the UUP a committee chairship the week after. So the election time composition may only be relevant to the ministers themselves whereas the committee make ups may be composed in real time.

  • IJP

    It’s more interesting if you run it with nine places, as planned from May once DEL is abolished.

    If the UUP withdraws from the Executive, it hands the ninth seat to the Alliance Party, thus giving it the second overall seat in the Executive that it has just lost.

    That puts the caibosh of the DUP’s and SF’s “cunning plan”.

    However, Nesbitt was very vocal about the need for Alliance to lose that seat. The logic of that is that he cannot favour the party going into opposition.

    Although who knows what logic has to do with it?!

  • Drumlins Rock

    IJP, I presumed the new system was P&J are in d’Hondt but no-one picks it till the AP has its go.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Agree with you IJP.

    Logic has been lost in recent years. While the “ugly scaffolding” of the GFA is exactly that, it at least was designed to be wholly democratic and fair, however crude.

    The political wheeling and dealing of the DUP, SF and alliance means that the GFA has been perverted to give alliance two seats over SDLP and UUP. While it’s not not all that surprising that DUP/SF may do this, I’ve really lost respect for the alliance who, in 1998, were 100% for the agreement unlike say, the UUP who were split on it.

    Coming back to the issue I think its brave of McAllister to take the party into opposition because they were being out manouvered by the current bigger parties. Its either all or nothing. A cherry-picked GFA is meaningless and a farce. Divving up seats for the alliance party is probably a legitimate position to take but it should probably be put to the people to vote on in a referendum. If people replace the GFA with something else then fair enough.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Drumlin’s Rock,
    Its a good point, but have you read that anywhere or are you just doing some educated speculating at this point?

    If so, under these circumstances why on earth would the SDLP agree to this? Surely they’d take it upon themselves to take it for Allbran. They’ve considered it rightfully theirs since the last assembly.

    You’d probably say that it will be determined by a majority executive decision with poor old Alex huffing on his own. However, such demonstration of impotentence should almost provoke the SDLP into opposition too.

    Would there be anything to say that the SDLP MUST agree to turn it down?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Charlie, was just spculating i think, forget the detalis at the time, I suspect its a case of the SDLP goes with the plan or it just dosnt happen.

  • IJP


    No, the Assembly reelected Ford by cross-community vote.

    With 9 Depts, that has the same effect as what you suggest, but that is not how it works (and thus Alliance regains its “second” Ministry if any other party goes into opposition.

    Charlie’s guru

    Some good points, but in fact you’ve picked on the wrong party.

    It was in fact the UUP and SDLP who added “Junior Ministers”, thus giving themselves one more each; it was the SDLP which opposed the move away from election of FM and DFM by cross-community vote; yet it is the SDLP which now complains about the same system being used to elect the Justice Minister – instead advocating an 11th d’Hondt Minister in direct contravention of the 1998 Agreement it claimed to support 100%.

    The current system was far from an Alliance creation and, in fact, most Alliance supporters were most certainly not 100% pro-Agreement, opposing the “obligatory two tribes” approach built into it as a matter of founding principle (admittedly it was nothing like vocal enough about that point in the late 90s). If the SDLP had the guts to realise Alliance was right all along on this, the anomaly would easily be removed and proper democracy could break out.

    It is in fact the SDLP which was most blatant about using the system to its advantage and then moaning about others doing so when it inevitably got overtaken. Time for change!

  • Michael Shilliday

    “it was the SDLP which opposed the move away from election of FM and DFM by cross-community vote; yet it is the SDLP which now complains about the same system being used to elect the Justice Minister – instead advocating an 11th d’Hondt Minister in direct contravention of the 1998 Agreement it claimed to support 100%.”

    Err, that’s nonsense. The Belfast Agreement had OFMdFM ministers elected by the Assembly, everyone else by d’Hondt. The SDLP and UUP want that system restored from the bastardisation we have now. The Alliance want to keep it because it suits their pockets and egos.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Regarding the legality, the reallocation of ministerial positions is covered by the Northern Ireland Act, section 18.9 through 18.11 which basically say that if a minister resigns and the party’s nominating officer does not nominate a replacement within a given period of time, then the seat is reallocated according to the formula, sections 18.2 through 18.6 (ie d’Hondt). See here. There is no legal impediment whatsoever to this proposal for the UUP to go into opposition.

    The impediments are political, as IJP has noted, the UUP face a conundrum which is not quite immediately obvious. If they leave the executive, they hand a seat to Alliance – the seat that they argued that Alliance should be deprived of; and if the UUP don’t leave the Executive it’s business as usual.

    I am not sure that Basil, McAllister, Alex Kane et al have considered the depth of the risk involved here. Possessing an executive seat in and of itself grants unique political opportunities (media profile, big decisions, a chance to shine etc – who heard of Margaret Ritchie before she was DSD Minister?), and if Alliance ends up getting that seat then those opportunities will go to Alliance. On top of this, the further downside for the UUP is that Alliance would be a two-minister governing party and the UUP would not – if badly handled, this could backfire by reinforcing any perception the public might have that the UUP is simply irrelevant.

    Now that McAllister and McCrea have declared their hand very strongly for the withdrawal from the executive, will they be able to justify their ongoing membership of a party group that remains in the executive if they lose ? Is the UUP likely to be able to survive in its current form beyond the leadership vote ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Err, that’s nonsense. The Belfast Agreement had OFMdFM ministers elected by the Assembly, everyone else by d’Hondt. The SDLP and UUP want that system restored from the bastardisation we have now. The Alliance want to keep it because it suits their pockets and egos.

    Michael, not quite. The SDLP argue for the use of d’Hondt on the basis that the current system for electing the JM is an unfair stitch-up, hence IJP’s response which is that it is not, and indeed is arguably more consistent.

    It is a bit more reasonable to make an argument about the consistent application of d’Hondt, except that the SDLP’s case isn’t helped by the fact that they are themselves far from consistent in their support of using d’Hondt across the piece. They supported (along with Alliance) a “bastardization” on Belfast City Council (strongly opposed by all the unionist parties), and they opposed its use altogether in a couple of other local councils in situations where it worked against them. The only thing consistent about the SDLP approach is that they favour the system which benefits them and oppose it when it doesn’t.

  • alex gray

    Time to get real. Opposition is a pipe dream. Who will be the UUP’s opposition partner because they will need a partner because no-one will allow a government to exist here without it being cross-community, and rightly so ? The truth is that the people voted last year for making Stormont work and not for the terribly negative campaigning of the UUP – especially those cringe making party politicals. Opposition will mean endless negativity from the UUP making them even more unpopular. Where are the policies they are going into opposition with ? They have NO policies so they should get some before embarking on opposition. Read McCallister and McCrea’s speeches in the Assembly. They are endlessly negative. People want the serious economic problems sorted and not playing coinstitutional party games like opposition. To be fair, the Executive is trying to make the best fist of a difficult hand dealt them by Cameron. This is a DEVOLVED administration, There is a LIMIT to what they can do. What is opposition but opposition to trying to make this show work with limited finances? McCallsister’s vision is the vision of someone who is politically immature – a schoolboy who gets his essay back saying, work your ideas out to their logical conclusion please.

  • alan56

    Alex G
    Me thinks thou doest protest too much.!…(or something like that)

  • Gopher

    The UUP has to go progressive or die. Elliot by his failure proved there are no more votes left on the traditional side. Opposition is also the only way to go for the UUP.

    The Assembly can make it harder to MoT your car stop you buying a cheap bottle of wine in the supermarket and put CCTV everywhere for every eventuality. Seriously somebody up there needs to point out the nonsense that is going on up there.

    The first thing any competent devolved administration on an island would do would be get rid of passenger duty especially when their next door niegbours have done the same thing.

  • emanonon

    The UUP should have had the guts to go into opposition immediately after the last election. The success of Allister in opposition proves the point imagine having the whole party dedicated to dissecting the DUP and Sinn Fein and formulating new policies. The media need an opposition and the UUP will get more coverage than it does in the Executive. Sadly it won’t happen McCallister is going to get less than 30% and the old guard will win again.

    Respice ad finem.

  • RyanAdams


    The UUP were made to look idiots by frankly two terrible tv debates preceding the election, in which Elliot and indeed Richie were relentingly negative. Theres a difference between negativity and constructive critisism.

    As far as your point about a cross community government goes, I believe you but they don’t necessarily need an opposition partner. They and the SDLP are competing for differenting votes, if the UUP go into opposition and start to gain popularity among unionist voters that doesn’t mean they have to work with the SDLP, they would just replace the DUP as the leading unionist partner working with which ever nationalist party would be biggest at the time. Why should they sit in a government were they have virtually no power?

    Its a bit like you and me starting a business. We’re partners, but I make ALL the decisions without consulting you, and when the shit hits the fan your as much to blame as I am, sound good to you? But at the same time alike the UUP, your totally free to leave of your own accord …

  • dwatch

    alex gray “Time to get real. Opposition is a pipe dream.”

    Agreed, not one for giving the DUP any points, but when the first assembly was formed they were strongly opposed to the 1998 GFA. They did not go into opposition and snub their noses at ministerial positions.

    Had they done so their electorate would never have forgiven them for refusing to stand their ground from within the assembly.

  • IJP


    Err no, the Alliance Party preferred the 1998 system of FM/dFM election to the 2006 one, again as a matter of founding principle.

    The inconsistency is the SDLP’s (and UUP’s?) case for the 1998 system in one case but then not in another (Justice).

    The more fundamental point is that the SDLP and UUP no longer have relevant founding principles, hence the inconsistency on this and almost everything else.


    Spot on re risks of opposition.

    In addition, of course, it would inevitably draw the party closer to the TUV – surely not the effect intended! The UUP will not be organised enough to draw the distinction between opposing the government and opposing the institutions.