Northern Ireland

NI assembly election: UUP leader Mike Nesbitt will transfer vote to SDLP

Mike Nesbitt
Image caption Mike Nesbitt said he would not tell Ulster Unionist voters to transfer to the SDLP

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said he will select the SDLP as his second preference after the UUP on his ballot paper in March's election.

But Mr Nesbitt said he would not tell UUP voters to follow his lead and transfer to the SDLP.

The UUP and SDLP were both opposition parties in the last Northern Ireland Assembly.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he would not be drawn on who he would vote for after his party's candidates.

Under Northern Ireland's single transferable vote system, voters rank candidates in order of preference.

Mr Nesbitt said that he was telling voters to "vote Ulster Unionist and then vote for any candidate that you trust will deliver for your community for your constituency and for this country".

However, he added that he would be "standing square" behind the notion of potentially going into government with the SDLP by transferring his second preference vote to the party.

"I think I understand Ulster Unionist voters and they don't like being told what to do," he said

"They don't, on some occasions, even like vote management where it's a situation where we want you to vote for this Ulster Unionist candidate first and this Ulster Unionist candidate second, because we have a vote management plan in operation.

"It's quite difficult."

Image caption Colum Eastwood said the SDLP and UUP can work together despite their differences

He added that his party was offering a party that was "willingly going into partnership with a party of nationalism because it's the right thing to do and the only way to make Northern Ireland work".

However, Mr Eastwood said he would transfer to the Ulster Unionist Party, but would be using his top preferences for the SDLP.

"I'll be voting for myself number one and I will be voting for Mark H Durkan number two," he told Sunday Politics.

"I haven't decided what I'll do next but I'll go right down the ticket.

"I will absolutely transfer to an Ulster Unionist candidate. But, I'm pretty sure we're going to get two SDLP candidates in Foyle and the number three I don't think will come into it. But that's just my personal situation."

When pressed on the issue of the parties working together despite their different views, Mr Eastwood replied: "We're all different and we have different perspectives and ideas.

"I want to see a United Ireland and Mike Nesbitt doesn't.

"That doesn't stop us working together. The system means we actually have to work together, so you can either vote for people who can work together or you vote for parties who have proven time and time again that they can't, and even when they do they don't deliver."

You can watch the interviews with Mike Nesbitt and Colum Eastwood on the latest episode of Sunday Politics on iPlayer.