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Seven of nine UUP leadership contenders have less than a year's experience of Stormont

Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt last week announced he was to resign as leader. Picture by Hugh Russell

SEVEN of the nine possible Ulster Unionist leaders at the Assembly have less than a year's experience of Stormont politics.

Following Mike Nesbitt's dramatic resignation on Friday, the search begins for a new leader.

But with just ten members at the Assembly, including its departing leader, there are slim pickings in terms of experience.

Of the nine possible contenders, seven of the UUP assembly members were only elected last May or just last week.

Doug Beattie, Steve Aiken, Rosemary Barton, Andy Allen, John Stewart, Robbie Butler and Alan Chambers all have very little experience of Stormont politics.

Speaking in the immediate aftermath of Mike Nesbitt's resignation last Friday Upper Bann assembly member Doug Beattie said he did not feel he had the “depth of political knowledge” necessary to take on the leader's role.

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However, he has since told the News Letter that he would consider running for leader "if the party comes calling" but at present does not plan to throw his hat in the ring.

“I genuinely believe that as a politician I need to do an apprenticeship by serving the people of Upper Bann," he told the News Letter.

“So as it stands, I will not be putting my name forward. However, that could change if there is overwhelming support from within the party for me to do so.

“In my mind the country comes first, then the party, then the individual. So if the party comes calling, I would consider it.”

Just Robin Swann and Roy Beggs have more than a year's experience as assembly members.

Mr Beggs has the most experience of politics at Stormont. Named after his father, a former UUP MP, Mr Beggs was first elected an MLA for east Antrim in 1998.

As the party's spokesperson on social development, he has also served on numerous committees including health, environment and finance.

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Mr Swann (45) was first elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2011 and represents North Antrim. He has held the position of UUP chief whip since 2012 and chaired the Public Accounts Committee during the last assembly's mandate.

He has said he is not ruling himself out of the leadership contest.

While lacking in political experience, Doug Beattie and Steve Aiken have both been mooted as a possible successor to Mr Nesbitt.

The Ulster Unionist has two MPs - Tom Elliott, a former leader of the party, and Danny Kinahan.

The UUP is due to elect Mr Nesbitt's successor at its annual general meeting on April 8, however, it is understood the party's rules do not dictate that a leader has to be an elected representative.

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