By Patricia Devlin
PATSY McGlone has described the fielding of a joint unionist candidate as a failure for the province’s unionist parties.
Mr McGlone, who increased the SDLP’s share of the vote in Thursday’s Mid-Ulster by-election, also questioned whether the decision was worth the Ulster Unionist Party losing two of its MLAs.
The Assemblyman, who pulled in an extra 650 SDLP votes in the Westminster by-election, made the comments following the March 7th vote which saw Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy win the seat.
Joint unionist candidate Nigel Lutton came second to Mr Molloy’s 17,462 votes (46.93%), with 12,781 votes.
Although the unionist share of the vote was up since the last general election, the number of votes cast was down.
“The unionist vote was down, by about 600 votes - I don’t think that’s a success,” Mr McGlone told the MAIL.
“I’m not sure if that will work for Mike Nesbitt, but that is his problem. He has already lost good representation and two high profile politicians. Two really decent men who I know well.”
Mr McGlone was referring to Basil McCrea and John McCallister who both resigned from the UUP after the party agreed to a single unionist candidate to contest the Mid-Ulster by-election.
The MLAs have since said they will set up their own party.
Mr McGlone added: “When you are losing people of that calibre from your party, it’s time to ask yourself some questions.”
“People don’t want someone who blows in and out, that’s not representation.”
Touching upon the increase of SDLP voters in the Mid-Ulster by-election, Mr McGlone said he puts that success down to the hard work of his campaign team and the focus on “issues that matter”.
“We made our campaign about the issues that matter to people - rural development, welfare reform... the future. That is what an election should be about. It should give people hope,” he said. “And that did make an impact.”
“These issues were almost forgotten by the other candidates in this election, which was a raw and sectarian election.
“It was about the past not the future. The SDLP did not want any part in that.”
Mr McGlone added: “I would like to say firstly a big thank you to those who voted for me and secondly I had a tremendous campaign team who worked day and night, and many early mornings to canvass and campaign. I couldn’t thank them enough.”
Mr McGlone was one of four candidates who contested the Mid-Ulster by-election after Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned from the seat.
Francie Molloy was selected to run as his replacement, winning the seat after polling 17,462 votes; joint unionist candidate Nigel Lutton was second on 12,781 votes. The SDLP’s Patsy McGlone polled 6,478, with the Alliance Party’s Eric Bullick on 487.
The overall voter turnout in the by-election was 55%, down from 63% in the last general election.