South Down MLA John McCallister Resigns UUP Whip

BREAKING NEWS: 01.35hrs Friday 15 February 2013:  Below is an letter from John McCallister, South Down MLA, to his Ulster Unionist Party Leader Mike Nesbitt.dn_screen
John McCallister has resigned the party whip as he is unhappy with the path that the UUP is being steered in.
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An Open Letter to UUP Leader Mike Nesbitt from John McCallister MLA
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Dear Mike.
I first voted for the Ulster Unionist Party in 1992 because of the Party’s values.  I had no interest in supporting other narrow expressions of unionism, committed as they were to confrontation and triumphalism.     I saw in the Ulster Unionist Party the values which I believed necessary for Northern Ireland to flourish as a peaceful, democratic and reconciled society: the commitment to partnership, to normalising our politics, to recognising that support for the Union was not about a person’s background or religious belief, to acting in a spirit of generosity so that the entire community could benefit from Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.
It was such values which led to the Belfast Agreement, bringing an end to the Troubles and offering the promise of a pluralist parliament for a pluralist people. Since becoming a Member of the Legislative Assembly in 2007, I have sought to ensure that these values have been central to my words and actions as a political representative. Over the past year since your election as Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, I – both as Deputy Leader and a backbencher – have shared with you on a number of occasions my grave concerns over the direction in which you have been taking the Party.  Your failure to articulate and communicate a distinctive UUP stance – based on Ulster Unionism’s core values – on last year’s parades controversies, on the Covenant centenary, on the Union flag debate, on the misguided Unionist Forum and on the potential of electoral pacts with the DUP has unfortunately inflicted grave damage on the Party. 

Under your leadership a profound disconnection has occurred between UUP policy and Ulster Unionist values.  The policies have increasingly become alienated from the values which should guide and shape an Ulster Unionist leader.

Above all, your determination to act in concert with the DUP – over parades, flags and Forum – has significantly contributed to forcing Northern Ireland politics back into the sectarian trenches.  At a time of division and uncertainty in our society, Northern Ireland needed the UUP to set out with courage a pro-Union alternative to the politics of sectarian headcounts.

It gives me no pleasure to say that, under your leadership, the UUP has utterly failed to do so.  Rather than building a confident and generous pro-Union centre ground, you have opted instead to become Peter Robinson’s junior partner.

Your unwillingness to advance the cause of an Opposition in the Assembly – what you described in 2011 as the ‘game changer’ – has similarly damaged both the UUP and Northern Ireland politics.  You have taken no action or measures to move towards the creation of an Opposition, offering instead merely half-hearted words.The creation of an Opposition would not only offer genuine accountability in the Assembly.  It would also offer an alternative to the politics of the sectarian headcount propagated by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Your failure to act on this issue has resulted in a UUP incapable of meaningfully challenging the DUP’s current electoral position.

In your speech to the 2012 UUP conference, you described the UUP as “pluralist and progressive”.

I agree – Ulster Unionist values are pluralist and progressive.

Your actions since that conference speech, however, have entirely contradicted any sense that the UUP under your leadershipis pluralist and progressive.

You have abandoned pluralist and progressive pro-Union politics for a backward-looking, insular politics that is in the interests of neither Northern Ireland nor the Union.

The decision to repeat a failed electoral strategy and run a ‘unionist unity’ candidate in Mid-Ulster demonstrates the extent to which you have decided to abandon any pretencethat your leadership can make the UUP a home for pluralist and progressive pro-Union politics.

‘Unionist unity’ is an exercise in the politics of tribalism, declaring to voters that our society is forever divided between ‘Orange’ and ‘Green’ blocs.  It states that all other political issues and debates can be sidelined, because tribal identities must determine our politics.

I find it a matter of great personal sadness that the the Party which I have supported since 1992 is now acting in a manner which deepens and intensifies the divisions in our society.

You are aware that on a number of occasions I have stated that if you led the UUP into electoral pacts or shared candidates with the DUP, I could not and would not support such decisions because they are incompatible with authentic Ulster Unionist values.

It is therefore with immediate effect and deep regret that I resign the whip of the Ulster Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and my Party membership.

I will continue to give voice to the progressive pro-Union values which the UUP under your leadership has unfortunately abandoned.

It is my privilege to continue to represent and work for the people of South Down.

Yours sincerely,