Northern Ireland

Dobson says unionist co-operation must not break up UUP

Jo-Anne Dobson
Image caption Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson was speaking to BBC One NI programme The View

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson has said people are telling her there needs to be more unionist co-operation.

But wherever that leads, she is sure it must not cause the break-up of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which she says "founded Northern Ireland".

"I think it still is important that people have a choice at the ballot box and it is important that we are here," she added.

"I think it would be unthinkable to think that the UUP wouldn't be around for the centenary of our wee country (in 2021)."

She is hardly likely to want a merger with the DUP, since she blames that party for her losing her seat in this month's assembly election.

She tells the BBC One NI programme The View: "If the (then) First Minister (Arlene Foster) had simply stood aside we wouldn't have shed 16 seats in a slimmed down assembly, so for colleagues that were not returned I don't think it was necessary.

"If she had simply stood aside we wouldn't have been in this position."

New leader

But she declines to repeat criticism of her departing leader Mike Nesbitt.

In a previous interview, she also blamed his decision to reveal he was going to give his second preference vote to the SDLP.

The Ulster Unionists were the election's big losers.

Although their vote was marginally up - 0.3% - the decision to go from six-seater to five-seater constituencies cost the party dearly, and cost Mr Nesbitt his job.

In contrast, the SDLP vote was down by 0.1% and yet that party escaped with the same number of seats it held before the election - 12.

The UUP also had a higher vote share, but it is seats that count, and so next Saturday another new leader, Robin Swann, will be anointed to try to turn the once great party's fortunes around.

Image caption Robin Swann is set to be the next leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)

The UUP's only gain was in East Antrim. The new MLA there, John Stewart, rejects criticism of the fact there is no contest for the leadership job.

"I think it speaks volumes for the confidence the party has in Robin that nobody else has put themselves forward," he tells the programme.

"Robin will present himself at the AGM next Saturday to the entire membership base who will have to endorse him. He'll be able to take questions and people will all be able to challenge him if they so wish.

"But Robin has the support of every elected MLA, the MPs and the broad range of members across the party, so I have no doubt the party has faith in him."

However, former Ulster Unionist MLA John McCallister says a contest would have been useful, if only to tease out the question of whether they are going to go in the direction of closer ties with the DUP; of following the more liberal agenda of Mike Nesbitt, or remaining in opposition should an executive be reformed.

Former Ulster Unionist official Michael Shilliday has a warning for Mr Swann who declined to be interviewed for the programme

"What he does need to understand is that this David Campbell (former party chairman) vision of unionist unity happening quickly just will not happen," he said.

"If he seeks to listen to that guidance then he will be the final leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, because there are thousands of unionists who simply won't vote for it. I won't vote for it and there are plenty like me."

There will be more on this interview on The View on BBC One Northern Ireland at 22:40 BST on Thursday.

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