SDLP candidate Mark Durkan says he believes the extent to which unionists vote tactically for him in Westminster elections has been overstated.
But the two-time MP appreciates electors who don’t share his belief in a united Ireland have and will vote for him based on his reputation as a working MP and his stance on issues from welfare reform to cancer drugs and international development.
He also says that as an “honest legislator” he is unapologetic for his past support for gay rights and same sex marriage and his opposition to wars in the Middle East, amongst other issues.
He made the comments after DUP candidate, Gary Middleton, told unionists not to vote for Mr Durkan.
“I can’t pretend that in every vote I cast at Westminster I’m speaking for everybody in the constituency,” responded Mr Durkan.
“Clearly, some people disagree with how I might vote and what I might say on particular issues but I’m not going to hide where I stand on particular issues in terms of how the past has to be dealt with and confronting a range of outstanding issues for various victims.”
He continued: “I have been unapologetic in raising those particular issues in Westminster and elsewhere. Also, I know that when I voted for the equal marriage bill...I know that many people in my constituency did not share my view and people wrote to me and told me very clearly that they didn’t share that view but as an honest legislator I had decisions to make and judgements to make and couldn’t hide behind the pose that, ‘oh, because the bill was going through Westminster and was really about England and Wales I could get away with abstaining.’
“The fact is there are times when Westminster is legislating on matters where there are points of principle and precedent and it’s on a similar basis that I have voted in Westminster and taken part in debates about amending the 1967 Abortion Act, for instance as well.
“So I think that people here, of whatever political outlook can judge how I’ve gone about the job as an MP and where people disagree with it they are free not to vote for me or to vote for somebody else. I’m a democrat. I respect that.”
It’s clear from the poor showings of non-DUP unionists in Foyle over recent elections that a factor of Londonderry unionism does vote for Mark Durkan. But Mr Durkan believes this is overstated.
“I think there’s some exaggeration around the amount of so-called tactical voting there might be in the Foyle constituency in the Westminster elections and I also know that there are people who would tell me on canvass that they have voted for me before, that they do not share my belief in a ‘United Ireland’ but that they are happy to support me as a good-working MP.”