Ahead of the UUP Conference on Saturday, Irish News political correspondent, John Manley sat down with the party leader, Mike Nesbitt to discuss Unionist unity and the upcoming Westminster elections.
Let’s begin with the UUP target seats for the upcoming election that Nesbitt thinks are ripe for his party
He identifies DUP-held South Antrim and Upper Bann as seats where the UUP is most likely to prosper, but admits that success elsewhere is likely to rely on a pact of some kind.
Earlier in the Summer, Manley reveals that Nesbitt reached out to the SDLP but eceived a “cool response.” The aim was to make some sort of trade-off involving Alasdair McDonnell’s seat and the Sinn Féin-held Fermanagh-South Tyrone.
It would send out a huge message to unionism that the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom is no longer in Sinn Féin hands but is back in unionist hands…Could that have been done through an understanding with the SDLP? We will never know.
Nesbitt also voices concern that after next May’s general election, unionism will be unrepresented in Belfast’s four Westminster constituencies. He explained his worry that North Belfast could fall to Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly at the next election.
For Nesbitt, being a proper Unionist means that “you’re not simply obsessed with your own party that’s where your focus should be…Yes, it would mean our candidates standing aside but we will do what’s right for Northern Ireland.”
Interestingly when it comes to East Belfast, Nesbitt refused to rule out his wife, Lynda Bryans as a candidate for the upcoming elections. Perhaps that will give Naomi Long a sigh of relief as she prepares to defend her marginal seat.
The full interview is in todays Irish News
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs