TWO Ulster Unionists seeking re-elect in east Down will not be following their leader and supporting the SDLP over other Unionists.
At the weekend UUP leader Mike Nesbitt caused controversy when he said he would be giving the SDLP his second preference vote when he votes in his home constituency of East Belfast.
However, Philip Smith, who is standing alongside Mr Nesbitt in Strangford, and Harold McKee, who is defending his seat in South Down, have both said they will be voting for other unionists on the ballot paper before the SDLP.
Mr Smith said that while he will be transferring his vote to other unionists in his constituency, he would “struggle” to transfer to the DUP.
Mr Smith said his party leader’s comments were specific to him and the constituency he votes in.
He explained Mr Nesbitt is trying to build a consensus to make Northern Ireland work which will strengthen the Union in the longer term.
“This election is about who can be trusted to run our public services effectively and grow our economy,” continued Mr Smith. “On the basis of their track record on the Renewable Heat Incentive and other scandals, as well as failures in health and education, I struggle to transfer to the DUP.
“They have also left the door open for Sinn Fein to present a shopping list in post election negotiations due to their incompetence and arrogance. However, I will be transferring to other unionists as in Strangford the final seat will be in all likelihood between a unionist of some type and therefore my vote preference could make a difference.”
Mr Smith said there is a need to build a stable Northern Ireland with a more competent and functional government.
He added: “At this election I will transfer to other unionist candidates and others but I would struggle to support the DUP and Sinn Fein for that matter on their record in government, particularly RHI and other scandals which have yet to be resolved. I think it would be hypocritical of me to criticise the DUP, which I do for their performance, yet at the same time encourage people to vote for them.
“I will certainly be encouraging others to vote down the card for other candidates including other unionists. We are saying to people to vote for those whom you trust to run the country and its government and that will change depending on people’s areas and circumstances.”
Mr McKee said he wants to make his position “absolutely clear” and is advising his supporters in South Down to transfer to other pro-union candidates.
“This is vital in order to protect the two existing unionist seats in the constituency,” he declared. “Transferring between pro-unionist candidates in the past has ensured strong unionist representation in South Down.”
Mr McKee warned that not voting or transferring to pro-union parties will result in the fifth South Down seat going to Sinn Fein.
“My party leader was very clear in what he said last weekend. While he stated he would select the SDLP as his second preference after the UUP on the ballot paper, he said it was up to the party’s candidates in other constituencies to decide what they wanted to do. My position is also clear. I want my party supporters in South Down to transfer their votes to pro-union parties,” he declared.
Mr McKee revealed that during his canvass, many people expressed concern that there is an election after DUP First Minister Arlene Foster refused to stand aside to allow an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal which resulted in the collapse of the Stormont administration.